Former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson once said; ‘The greatest wealth one can earn is to be able to sleep well in the night’. But today a good number of people all over the world are unable to sleep well. Many use strong doses of sleeping pills regularly. Many are highly frantic about their sleeplessness, creating more health problems. Modern hectic life style, food habits and emotional problems are the root causes of insomnia. Many rich and wealthy people are really disappointed in not being able to achieve the real wealth: a good night’s sleep.
It is estimated that over 30% of people in developed countries are not getting enough sleep. According to a study of The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in USA, sleep deprivation reduces one’s emotional intelligence, empathy towards others, quality of interpersonal relations and ability to think positively. Insomnia may lead to serious physical and mental problems. Sleep deprivation interferes with growth hormone production, normally released by pituitary gland during sleep. A good night’s sleep nourishes your body, mind and soul.
Stages of sleep and sleep cycles
According to latest research findings there are 5 stages of sleep. Each stage serves a different and distinct purpose. A sleep cycle consists of these five stages and will be repeated several times in the night. Normally a sleep cycle lasts about 90 minutes.
First stage is the drifting stage, lasting five to ten minutes; allowing your muscles to relax. Second stage is light sleep in which the brain activity, heart beat rate and breathing slows down. During stage 3, one starts deep sleep in which the brain waves are slow delta waves but sporadic bursts of brain activity can occur. In stage 4, one experiences the deepest sleep with still slower delta brain waves. The deep sleep stages 3 and 4 can last 5 to 15 minutes each, but first deep sleep stages in the night is likely to last about an hour. The body does most of its repair and regeneration work during deep sleep.
The fifth stage is REM sleep during which rapid eye movements can be noticed. Most of one’s dreams occur in REM sleep. The muscles that move our bodies are paralyzed during dream sleep, thus preventing us from acting out the dreams. Breathing and brain activity are as active as in waking state. REM sleep occurs about an hour to 90 minutes in a full sleep session.
Neural connections are recharged and strengthened during sleep, enhancing different types of memory and creativity. Sleep is one of the greatest brain boosters known to us.
How much sleep one needs?
How much sleep is essential for an adult individual? This is a question we frequently hear. Generally 7 to 8 hours of sleep is enough for adults. But children require more. There are individual differences in the requirement of sleep. Some need eight hours; some others need to sleep for 6 hours only. Some great personalities had different sleep habits and sleep timings. Napoleon used to sleep for only less than four hours in the night. But the great scientist Albert Einstein slept for ten hours or more. Thomas Alva Edison slept for less than 5 hours in the night, but he catnapped in the day time. Winston Churchill was OK with 5-6 hours of sleep in the night with day time naps. The requirement of sleep may differ from person to person. The quality of sleep is more important than the duration of sleep. Anyway, a good night’s sleep is one of the greatest restoratives for the human body and mind.
An Australian study of healthy aging found that sleeping too much (more than 9 hours a night) increases the risk of premature death. Over sleeping is harmful to health as over eating. So, avoid both.
20 Super tips for a good night’s sleep
Leonardo da Vinci once said; ‘A well spent day brings happy sleep’. The following are 20 natural and practical ways you can follow easily for solving your sleeping problems. If you are using sleeping pills, you can try out these methods and gradually eliminate the pills.
1. Reduce mental stress and tension
The main cause of sleeplessness is the disturbed mind. So you have to reduce your stress and control negative emotions. That is why Mahatma Gandhi advised; ‘Man should forget his anger before he lies down to sleep.’
Stress can be reduced by regular exercise yoga, tai chi, laughter, charitable services, social activities etc.
2. Keep a time schedule
Live according to your circadian rhythm or your internal clock. There should be a time schedule for work, food, exercise, relaxation, sleep etc. Go to bed and wake up in the morning as per a fixed schedule. Punctuality will help you sleep well. Your mind will be conditioned to fall asleep during your regular time.
3. Exercise regularly
Those who do physical work during day time, will get a good sleep in the night. That is why the famous English writer, John Bunyan said; ‘Sleep is sweet to the laboring man’. You can do any physical exercise like running, walking, cycling and swimming for 30 to 45 minutes. It will be better to do exercise three hours earlier to your bed time.
4. Avoid TV, laptops, smart phones just before going to bed
Smart phones, laptops and television emit the blue light that can hinder the production of sleep inducing melatonin at bed time and this can negatively impact your sleep. It is better not to take your smart phones to your bed. You can read a book before going to bed but not a tablet.
5. Avoid alcohol
Many believe that alcohol will help them to sleep better. But research has shown that alcohol consumption reduces the quality of one’s sleep. Also, alcohol is a diuretic and makes you urinate frequently in the night causing disturbances to your sleep. Even beer has an effect of stimulating the urine production. So avoid drinking it, especially in the evening. Too much coffee or tea may cause difficulty in falling asleep. It is better to avoid these after the evening tiffin.
6. Eat supper early
In the modern life style many are habitually taking supper very late in the night. This practice is not good for your health and sleep. Make it a habit to eat it, at least two hours before you go to sleep. Over eating, as well as late eating, also can cause sleep problems in the night.
7. Make the bedroom comfortable and dark.
Avoid light, sound and dust entering the bedroom. Ensure good air circulation. Computer, TV, phones etc should not b e in the bedroom. Don’t use your bed for browsing, texting or phone conversations and arguments. Bedroom is a divine place for love and sleep only.
8. Listen to soothing music
Those who have sleeping problems can listen to music. In Indian classical music, certain ragas can induce sleep. Listening to ragas like Bhairavi will help you to fall asleep. Music compositions of Mozart, Beethoven and Handel have been found to be effective for inducing deep sleep. The required music can be down loaded from some websites.
9. Aromas for sleep
It is found that aromas of some flowers and spices are very powerful for reducing tension and anxiety and inducing sleep. Perfumes like Jasmine; lavender can calm your mind and lead you to better sleep.
10. Colours can help
It is scientifically proved that blue and green can calm your nerves and relax your mind. Red colour is stimulating and energizing and hence not good for sleep. It’s better not to use red coloured night dress. Blue or green coloured dress is preferable. Studies have shown that if the walls of the bedroom are painted in Sky-blue, that’s helpful for inducing sleep naturally.
11. Warm water bath before going to sleep
It has been found that a short bath in warm water just before going to bed, is highly soothing to the nervous system and can help you get a deep sleep.
12. Sleep inducing foods
A glass of warm cow’s milk mixed with a spoon of honey taken before going to bed is found to be helpful to get a good night’s sleep. Banana, kiwi, oatmeal, fish, beans etc. can be included in your daily meals for better results. Consuming almonds and walnuts will give excellent results as they are highly rich in sleep promoting nutrients like calcium and magnesium.
13. Reduce salt intake
A study in Nagasaki university in Japan found that eating less salt during the day may help sleep better. Consuming large amounts of salt increases one’s blood pressure and hypertension can affect his sleep. It is recommended that people with sleep problems must not take salty food, especially in the last hours of the day
14. Apply pure castor oil on eye lids
You can apply some pure castor oil on your eye lids and under your feet just before going to sleep. This is found helpful for sinking in to a deep sleep without much delay.
15. Avoid day sleep
After the noon meal a short nap is refreshing and rejuvenating, but long hours of sleep in the day time may cause sleeplessness in the night
16. Reading books before going to bed
It has been found that reading books, especially spiritual books, just before going to bed would help many to be relaxed and to fall asleep faster. A 2009 study found that just six minutes of reading could be enough to reduce stress levels and helping you sleep better. According to the famous cognitive neurologist, Dr. David Lewis; ‘Loosing yourself in a book is the ultimate relaxation.’
Deep and rhythmic breathing can reduce one’s stress levels. Pranayama is conscious, deed and rhythmic breathing. Anulom vilom pranayama (alternate nostril breathing) and chandra-bhedan pranayama (breathing in through the left nostril and out through the right repeatedly) are found to be powerful breathing techniques to induce relaxation and sleep. If you can spend 10 to 15 minutes daily for doing any one of these, your sleep problems will vanish wonderfully.
Studies have shown that daily meditation, especially before bedtime increases melatonin production and help to induce deep sleep. Yoga nidra is a powerful form of yogic meditation, in which you’re relaxing every part of your body that’s tight. You can do any form of meditation like transcendental meditation, vipasana meditation, reiki medetation etc. Meditation is a wonderful antidote to stress and sleep problems.
19. Maintain warm family and social relations
Social isolation and strained family relations can cause mental stress and lead to sleep problems. A loving and forgiving mind is the best remedy to your sleep problems. Harmonious and happy family relations and social and charitable activities act as a miraculous medicine for deep sleep.
20. Stop worrying about sleeplessness
As the famous writer, Deepak Chopra points out; ‘the biggest reason for insomnia is actually worrying about insomnia’. Many are too much anxious and worried about their sleeplessness and that itself will worsen the condition.
If you are not getting sleep, you can do yoga nidra in the bed or you can concentrate on your breathing or visualize happy incidents and beautiful scenes. All these will give you deep relaxation, even better than what the sleep can give. As the famous spiritual leader, Dalai Lama said; ‘Sleep is the best meditation’. Thomas Dekker, the well known English dramatist and writer, pointed out; ‘Sleep is the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together’.
About the Author:
Dr. JOHN MUZHUTHETTU is a Human Resource Consultant, National Trainer and Counselor. Formerly he was the Deputy Chief Engineer, Kerala State Electricity Board and is still working as an external faculty of HRD Programmes of KSEB. He is also a faculty of Department of Management Studies, Mar Augusthinose College, Ramapuram, under M.G.University, Kerala. He is the PG course co-ordinator of MHRM.
He is columnist in several Magazines, like ‘Business Deepika’, ‘Creative Business’, ‘Donbosco’ etc. His articles have been published in many magazines and journals. His several speeches have been aired by All India Radio. His interviews on various subjects have been telecasted by Power Vision TV . He is the author of five best-selling books:
- ‘Stress-Manassasthra- Aathmeeya Pariharangel’. (Current Books, Thrissur) 4th Edition
- Vijayiyude Vyakthithwam (Current Books, Thrissur)
- Jeevitham Santhushtamakan, Nithya Yauvanam Nedan.(css,Thiruvalla)2ndEdition
- Emotional Intelligence-Jeevithavijayathinu (CSS, Thiruvalla)
- Vijayarahsyangal (Current Books, Thrissur)
As a trainer, he has conducted more than thousand seminars and workshops for teachers, parents, students, executives and others, on several subjects like Stress Management, Time Management, Personality Development, Emotional Intelligence and Spiritual intelligence for Excellence, Communicative Skills, Assertiveness, Motivation, Study Skills, Effective Parenting, Counselling Skills etc. He is an external training faculty of Power Engineers Training and Research Centre of KSEB. He is an external faculty of IMG Cochin. He is also the Secretary of Upasana Cultural Centre, Thodupuzha.