Get Some Sleep
Sleep is designed to restore us to full function after a period (usually a day) of wearing ourselves out. During the night, tissues are repaired, organs rest or finish cycles such as flushing out toxins, and the brain filters the day's events. It’s as if a crew of cleaners move in to sweep, dust and repair the building, filing information, emptying bins, and restoring the building to working order for the next day.
Or, as Shakespeare more picturesquely put it, the unravelled sleeve of care is knitted back up, making it ready to wear once more.
This is why you can sometimes wake up with the answer to a problem that seemed insoluble the evening before - in the night the cleaning crew have organised your files, found the missing sheet of figures that had slipped down the back of the desk, rebooted your computer, put in the new numbers, and neatly printed out the answer for you. And all whilst you snooze. The night shift is really worth its weight in duckdown pillows.
A problem comes when sleep is elusive. Missing the time to repair and restore, we find our brains struggling to cope, memory slipping, concentration below par, muscles fatigued, skin dull and eyes lacklustre.
The longer this goes on, the harder it becomes to function properly. Imagine what your home or office would look like if bins weren’t emptied for a week, if nothing was ever filed or tidied, if the cupboards weren’t refilled with food, if the loos weren’t flushed. Your body finds it harder and harder to work effectively if it doesn’t have the time to replenish its stores, deal with its toxins, and filter the incoming information. Parents with new babies know how divorced from reality they feel after weeks of severely interrupted sleep; and torturers have long used sleep deprivation to unpick prisoner’s brains.
So, a good solid few hours of sleep will do wonders for everything from your skin to your soul. Why does it sometimes elude you?
- You may be taking too much caffeine, which stimulates the nervous system. Great if you’re running a race or chasing a deadline, but grim if you’re trying to fall asleep. Even a couple of cups of tea or coffee in the morning may be enough to interrupt your sleep if you are sensitive or going through a stressful period. Chocolate and fizzy drinks also contain caffeine. Swap to natural alternatives such as pure juices and dried fruit.
- Your life may be so hectic that you don’t have time to wind down before collapsing into bed. This prevents your nervous system from shifting into a pre-sleep pattern. Have a warm bath, read a pleasant book, don’t watch the nerve-wracking news or try to finish an essay just before bed.
- You may eat late at night, which means you’ll be digesting when you should be sleeping. You may then wake at 3am as the liver finishes its tour of duty, or your food will lie like a stone in your stomach all night. Either way, you don’t get the benefit of a refreshing sleep.
- You may have your bedroom packed with items such as televisions, computers or stacks of work. This makes it difficult for the brain to switch off and understand that it is supposed to be sleeping, not working.
The solutions are often practical. Take time to relax before bed, not working or watching adrenalin pumping films in bed, and altering your diet or mealtimes.
Another common aid to sleep is a herbal remedy. Many herbs are used to assist sound sleep. A combination extract of Valerian and Hops has recently been the subject of a clinical trial in a sleep laboratory in Germany. Forty-four patients experiencing difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep took part in a trial. Their sleeplessness was not due to issues such as back pain or depression, and they were otherwise healthy and had no physical or neurological problems.
The patients spent a night in a sleep lab, where their sleep pattern was monitored. The next night they were divided into two groups. One group was given 2ml (90 drops) of a combination extract of fresh Valerian and Hops; the other received 2ml of a similar tasting placebo. Neither the patients nor their physicians knew whether they had been given herbs or placebo. Their sleep was monitored by the sleep lab staff, to see not just how long they spent asleep but also how deep their sleep was.
Sleep should follow a cycle, whereby deep sleep is reached over roughly a 90-minute period, which ensures you feel refreshed on waking - sleeping at shallower levels doesn’t achieve a similar feeling, which explains why you sometimes feel terrible after a full night’s sleep.
The patients who took the remedy spent longer asleep than the placebo group, and a greater percentage of their sleep was at a deeper level.
The good news about this trial is that it shows that not only do the herbs work well, but can work the first time that they are taken, promoting restful, replenishing sleep.