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by Oren Landa (Osteopath, Naturopath)
You are not alone
Sleeping disorders are some of the most common problems of modern men and women. In some countries more than 40% of the population suffer from some form of sleeping disorder. That’s nearly 1 out of every 2 people! It’s such a big problem that sleeping disorders and associated treatments are estimated to cost the US government over 130 billion dollars a year. These figures reveal the depth of the problem, and that we should be treating sleeping disorders as a pandemic.
Although it is seemingly a minor issue to some, for those of us who suffer from them, sleeping disorders can make waking life extremely hard. In the short term, disrupted sleep can lead to physical fatigue, muscle pain, reduced cognition, irritability, anxiety, stress and depression. In the long term, sleeping disorders can lead to reduced vitality, hormonal diseases, lower immunity, digestive disorders and slower healing. There are even studies linking long term impaired sleep with increased risk of cancer. In most cases, it first and foremost substantially reduces our quality of life and enjoyment.
Sleeping is crucial to health
In the course of healthy living, there are fewer things more important than sleep. Besides being a pleasurable and much appreciated part of our day, sleep is an essential part of a healthy life. Our minds might drift away, but during sleep our body is extremely active. During healthy sleep, our digestion, detoxification and healing processes get the resources and time they need to work their magic.
For an action that requires seemingly no action at all, sleeping is an extremely complex and intricate thing to do. Like all complex things in the human body, it involves and is dependent on countless factors for success. This means that treating sleep disorders is hard, and sadly in many cases treatment only offers temporary relief.
Why are we not sleeping?
The interconnected systems and processes involved needed for and dependent on sleep make it really hard to determine the cause of bad or reduced sleep. Is sleep disturbance a disease that causes other symptoms? or is it a symptom caused by other factors? Of course this is very individual and every person is different. The most common sleeping “disease” is called insomnia.
Insomnia is not a disease per say, it’s a disorder. Similar to all disorders it is a collection of symptoms and criteria that are bunched together to describe a situation. In this case, a persistent problem of falling and staying asleep. From its definition, we can understand that insomnia is in fact addressing a symptom, which is disturbed sleep.
Our biological clocks regulate our body and tell it to release different hormones and signal molecules (such as cytokines for inflammation) during the night. Cortisol is secreted during the day peaking during the morning. Hormones for sleep and relaxation when the sun goes down, other for energy and power when the sun rises. When we lived closer to nature and more connected to the natural rhythm of our environment, this happened very naturally. Today we are living in a very different world. Lights during the night, including stressful stimuli such as blue light from screens, driving cars, working late hours and eating late at night are all counter intuitive for our bodies. An animal that is stressed cannot afford to relax and sleep. If there is a constant threat to it’s system (even if we don’t see it as a stress, I mean it’s just a movie) or to it’s family (financial concerns, domestic arguments and just day to day household chores) no animal would be able to enjoy a good sleep. Humans are the same.
Because sleep is such a sensitive mechanism, it’s natural that emotional or psychological dis-ease can impair sleep. Of Course physical pain such as back pain or neck pain can make sleeping a nightmare. Late night eating and drinking causes the body to secrete hormones that promote rest and digest, but do not support sleep. Especially if we need to wake up to go to the toilet.
Those of us that suffer from sleeping disorders would do anything for a good night’s sleep. At least to begin with. Conventional treatments offered by doctors and clinics focus mostly around symptom relief. The most common solution is medication known as “sleeping pills”. These synthetic chemical drugs over ride the body’s natural state and basically drug us into sleep. They do not treat the cause of the problem. In many cases, doctors will prescribe these again and again without even addressing some basic things that can have huge effects. Over the past decade, we are seeing an increase in doctors prescribing anxiety medication for sleep. These were never even intended for treating sleep, but because one of the side effects is drowsiness, and anxiety can cause or be caused by a lack of sleep doctors used them too often. Besides not treating the actual cause, these medications can be extremely dangerous. They cause dependency and you build up a tolerance for them very quickly. In some cases people can no longer sleep without them.
Another issue is that for those that do manage to get some sleep relief with medication, a major side effect is the feeling detached from life while being awake. Reports of a sense of having a vail between them and the world. Reduced pleasure, joy, sadness and a whole range of emotions and sensations that substantially reduce their quality of life.
We have the power – take control of your sleeping health
The wonderful thing about sleep is that it is very affected by our lifestyle, and therefore responds very well to lifestyle changes. Here are some simple, cheap, effective and easy changes that you can do to take control of your sleep.
You will get better
As with any long lasting disorder, healing takes time. You wouldn’t expect a fractured bone to heal in one night, or just after one day of rest and elevation. Sleep is the same. Small changes, persistent and with the knowledge that you will get better will improve your sleep. With the right attitude, mindset and patience you will get better, but only you have the power to change it.
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