In Search of ZZZs

Friday, 28 March 2014 | Tags: , , , , ,

No one ever told me that one of the joys of aging includes the end of regular long deep sleeps. I remember a time not so long ago when I'd be sawing logs before I was horizontal and I'd stay that way all through the night. Is this God's way of telling me that I'm getting closer to the really big sleep so it makes sense to deprive me of it now?

It is well documented that as we age our sleep patterns change.  Our bodies are producing lower levels of growth hormones, which results in the production of less melatonin.  Many people experience fewer hours of deep sleep along with several awakenings throughout the night.   And whatever’s on your mind along with your decrepid old body only makes things worse.

I get so worried about not falling asleep that I can’t fall asleep!  I stare at the ceiling and work myself into a tizzy, betting that I’ll still be awake at 4am.  When I finally do fall asleep I eventually roll over onto my sore shoulder, which wakes me up and the whole cycle starts all over again.

My first instinct is to reach for a “blue-ee” (Immovane. My Rx sleeping pill of choice) and down it with some Nyquil because I know that works. But my doctor’s been telling me to stop doing that.

Of course, setting yourself up for a good sleep requires that you don’t drink too much alcohol, avoid caffeine and don’t watch TV right before or, horrors, while in bed.  Also, regular exercise is key (especially aerobic) and reading before bed can help a lot. (An actual book is better than a backlit ereader.)

So I’m on the hunt for the best natural sleep aids.  The below is a list of things I’ve had some success with, but I’ve learned that at some point my body develops a resistance to almost everything.  If you too can relate to the search for slumber you may find this list helpful.  But more importantly please let me know what works for you and if there’s something I’ve missed. (And of course, talk to your doctor before taking any medications or supplements!)

– Get some sunlight.  It helps regulate melatonin levels and sleep-wake schedules.  Keep your shades open during the day and exercise outside whenever possible.  Ever notice how well you sleep after spending a day outside?  A couple of hours can make a noticeable difference.

Melatonin supplements. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the brain which is believed to help regulate sleep.  It’s available over the counter.  To be clear, melatonin helps regulate the body clock (so it’s a good remedy for jet lag).  It does not induce sleep.  Be sure to take it 2 – 3 hours before going to bed.

– Ortho·Sleep™. An over the counter sleep aid supplement that is a cocktail of sleep inducing ingredients including melatonin and valerian.

– Chamomile. Don’t count on it to knock you out, but this herb has long been used to remedy insomnia and while the hard evidence supporting it as a sleep aid is lacking, thousands of years of anecdotal evidence must count for something.  Available as a tea, ointment or extract.  I think it helps me because it’s part of my bedtime ritual (which experts say is also important). So, go to bed at the same time every night, draw a bath, read a book and drink some chamomile tea.  The message to the brain is, it’s time to shut things down.

– Turn down the temp.  A cool room is better for sleeping.

– Progressive Muscle Relaxation. Systematically tense and then relax all the muscle groups of your body.  It’s a method that’s been around for a long time  and helps promote overall physical relaxation.

Lavender aromatherapy.  Studies show a few sniffs of lavender can help you fall and stay asleep more easily.

– Block out the world. If your bedroom isn’t completely dark, wear an eye mask.  And earplugs have an amazing cocooning effect.  If that’s not enough consider buying a white noise machine.

– Magnesium.   A natural sedative, being deficient in the mineral magnesium can result in trouble sleeping, constipation, irritability and muscle cramps.  Foods that are rich in magnesium include dark leafy greens (Kale just might be the answer to everything), wheat bran, almonds, cashews and legumes.

As for how much sleep one needs, experts say most of us are at our best after 7 to 8 hours. But then there is that small sliver of the population that comprises the sleeping elite; people who not only get by on, but who do things like rule the free world or rule big business while living on just a few hours of sleep a night.  People like Bill Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Trump and Tom Ford are all known to be part of this club.

That’s about the same amount of sleep I get.  So now I guess I have to add “do something great” to my list of things to worry about at 4am.  Now I’m really never going to get to sleep.

 [Top image: Frederic Poirot]



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  • Lovannah Sirois

    I love the wisdom that comes with turning 40 (i’m I young 42 now). You let go of a lot of hang ups, a lot of things seem triviala, somehow they’re less important, I just seem to feel better in my my own imperfect skin. BUT, the sleep, where does it go??? I would look so much refreshed in the morning if I could somehow sleep better!!! Hang in there, 40 is great…I would never go back to the skinny, curly, fried haired teenager I was.

  • Jeremy Wallace

    “So now I guess I have to add “do something great” to my list of things to worry about at 4am.” Pfft, everything you both do is great! No need to worry there!

  • Sue

    I stopped sleeping through the night when I was in my mid-40s. I miss my 8 hrs of uninterrupted sleep! I’ve read that it’s best to go to bed by 10 pm. Since light causes cortisol to go up and melatonin to go down, sleep experts advise us to turn off the computer/tv and dim lights an hour or two before bedtime. A naturopathic doctor, nutritionist or functional medicine doctor can also recommend supplements/food choices for those who can’t fall asleep or who wake-up in the middle of the night.

  • Kerry

    Pretty well every night, after I have turned off the light, I listen to either the radio (on a timer), or a podcast or an audiobook story, all soft spoken word, at a quiet sound level, but loud enough that my mind isn’t straining to decipher the actual words. Rarely do I hear more than a couple of minutes before I am fast asleep. If I am overtired or wired from travel etc., it might take me up to half an hour before my mind gets distracted enough to fall asleep. Generally, once I fall asleep, I will sleep until morning. Personally, I prefer to listen to BBC4 Dramas on their iPlayer on my laptop. Just be sure to pick one that doesn’t have sharp voices. A narrated story is preferable to a play-type, as in a play the voices change a lot and there can be dissonant sound effects. I hope this idea helps someone

  • GTA_John

    Getting a good night’s sleep starts when you wake up. And when you wake up, you get up — no going back to sleep. (OK, if it’s 3:00 in the morning and you don’t have to be up until 8:00, go back to sleep. But in all other cases, you’re awake so get up.) You’ll have several hours before you were planning to get up so put them to use. Get out of bed, shower (if you’re a morning shower person), get dressed and get your day started: catch up on email, write a real letter, bake something, go for a jog on a treadmill … whatever floats your boat.

    Then let your day develop as it normally would. Commute, work, chauffeur, errands; you know, the usual stuff. But whatever you do, don’t nap. DO NOT NAP.

    As your day draws to a close, do your usual end-of-day routines, get tomorrow’s lunch ready, get undressed, shower (if you’re an evening shower person) and go to bed. For most people, that’s enough to get back on schedule. If it didn’t work, then do the same thing the next day. The trick is to get up when your body says “it’s time to get up” and to go to bed in a standardized routine that tells your body “it’s beddy-bye time!”