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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Inspired Sleep: A Few Tips for Overcoming Sleep Disorders

It took me several decades to realize how important good sleep habits are, and how valuable sound sleep is. It took that long to realize that some of my recurring health challenges were related to bad sleep habits. When I was in school, my tendency to stay up late reading or doing homework was directly tied to increased chances of catching a cold or suffering from respiratory infection. I finally realized that there is a raging battle between bacteria and me, and if I wore myself out, they would begin to win.

During the time I served as a bishop, I began to have some recurring frustrations with sleep. Insomnia struck occasionally and left me more weary than I should have been. I sought for solutions and found several things that help - at least that help me. Your results may vary. But the most important factor came from the LDS scriptures. Doctrine & Covenants 88:124 seems like basic wisdom, but it truly helped me:
Cease to be idle; cease to be unclean; cease to find fault one with another; cease to sleep longer than is needful; retire to thy bed early, that ye may not be weary; arise early, that your bodies and your minds may be invigorated.
So much like the old saying, "Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise." (A saying known as early as 1639.) By being taught in the scriptures, I was able to take this principle much more seriously. For my physiology and schedule, I have found that 11 pm is the time when faith needs to take over to help me obey what is a personal commandment for me now (with some flexible exceptions). It takes tremendous faith to walk away from my computer or stop whatever I'm doing to get to sleep. I've always got a dozen things on my mind and want to do so much more, but when I obey and get to sleep anyway, I'm able to arise early and get more done the next day than if I had stayed up another hour or so, for I'll be less effective in most cases by staying up later.

When I stay up too late, for some reason I find it much more difficult to get to sleep and and am more likely to wake up far too early. It's as if the most important sleep for me is early in the sleep cycle, and if I mess that up, even sleeping in the next morning (rarely possible) doesn't do a whole lot of good. If I get to bed on time, I also have better and more interesting dreams, often around 4 or 5 am, and I can arise early and be ready to go. In fact, with good sleep, many of my best ideas are brewing in my mind as I awake, along with occasional inspired guidance - I think that's a key time for personal revelation, somehow. Sleep and inspiration may have a connection, in my personal experience. Shame to miss out on either.

Here are some other things I've found in my observations and experimentation (they may not work for you):
  • Eating much food after 8 or 9 pm can reduce my quality of sleep. Ice cream in particular is not wise for me late at night, and other sugars and perhaps dairy products don't seem favorable for sleep. (A bite of apple, on the other hand, seems to help me, but not apple juice.)

  • Melatonin really helps me. It's a natural compound available in the vitamin sections of places like Walgreens and CVS. Helps your body sleep. I prefer the 8-hour time release (5 mg), sold by Walgreens, over regular melatonin. The regular stuff last for 3 or 4 hours only. First time I bought it, I thought it was like a vitamin and popped a pill around 1 pm, then went back to work. I was quite drowsy that afternoon!

  • Family scripture study and family prayer help me. If we've had them, I feel better about the day and that helps me sleep a little better. When I worry about the things where I messed up or failed as a parent, I sleep worse. So trying to live the Gospel helps. It really does bring rest. At least to those who feel guilty when they don't live it.

  • Breathing patterns make a difference when I'm struggling to sleep. Sometimes I do wake up in the middle of the night or struggle to get to sleep for various reasons anyway. I found that controlled breathing really helps me relax and fall asleep. I will slowly inhale as I count to 7, and then slowly exhale also counting to seven. Doing this for a couple minutes usually helps me get back to sleep. I owe this tip to my wife, who once purchased "The Wild Divine" biofeedback system for me to help me learn relaxation techniques as a step in helping me with my sleep problems. As strange as that New Age game was, it did help me learn that I can do a lot to control my physical state, and that by practicing controlled breathing and mentally relaxing, I really could change my physiology and improve things. Very grateful for that learning.
Helping tired people to sleep better is something I've been doing recently in my new calling. Seeing the weary filing get some deep sleep always makes me feel great at the end of a long talk as a High Council speaker. But you don't have to catch one of my sermons to enjoy such blessings.

I hope some of these suggestions might help you when you struggle with sleep.

14 comments:

Darion Alexander said...

Oddly enough I also struggle with this and I don't feel that it's a sleep disorder, but have come to terms that it is or will be. Working full-time, going to school and teaching part-time as well as spending time with my 4 kids and wife, I find it somewhat relaxing to stay up at night while everyone is sleeping, but I really feel it in the morning and even feel a little guilty because I just don't feel the Spirit like I should. I appreciate the post.

Bookslinger said...

Dittos on the timed-released 5mg melatonin from Walgreens. If you can't find the 5mg timed-release, the 3mg is the next best thing, but I just take ONE. The dollar-stores sell 300mcg (.3 mg) versions, but they are worthless.

Also, diphenhydramine hydrochloride (Benedryl) capsules, 25 mg, are an over-the-counter sleep aid. Interesting thing: if you buy it in the box labeled "anti-histimine" you'll pay a lot less per dose than if you buy it in the box labeled "sleep aid". Marketing.

FelixAndAva said...

I can't handle a dosage of melatonin over 1mg (which can be hard to find in stores). Higher doses leave me really foggy the next day and can cause nightmares. Very useful stuff, but I recommend caution on dosage.

David Murphy said...

I work 7 days a week 11 to 7 am. When our ward changed from 1pm to 9am church time I thought I would change my sleep pattern. I took four of my wifes sleeping pills and woke up 3 hours later. ;)

Anonymous said...

I've found a few things that work for me. Regular exercise. I get up at 5 a.m. and put in a couple of miles. The bishop just ruined this by calling me to teach early morning seminary. I guess I'll have to run after work.

A regular sleep routine. If I stay up too late, I can't sleep.

Regular calcium intake. Sometimes I get bouts of insomnia, but only if I'm not taking calcium suppliments. I don't know why this works for me, but it does.

Anonymous said...

You go to bed at 11 PM.. Egad! I'm lucky if I can survive past 10 PM and am able to pull myself out of bed by 6 - 6:30 AM.

Having served in the military for 20 years, I struggled to get out of bed at 4 AM and I certainly didn't like Charge of Quarters (CQ), where you are on duty for 24 hours. - The one thing I really hated about my military career. :P

There are times that I suffer from insomnia, who doesn't? But I find the time that when I do suffer from it, I use it to talk to my Heavenly Father while walking around the home in the dark. Some of these have been very spiritual and uplifting experiences, and even though I am physically a bit drained the next morning, spiritual I am full and able to make it through it.

Tony said...

Thank you for this. I need the reminder! I've been inspired to change my sleeping habits ever since I read "opening the heavens". I realized I couldn't put the principles contained therein to work until I started heading to bed earlier.

Rusty Southwick said...

Interesting, Jeff. The time of 11 pm was told to me by my doctor recently to be the cut-off point for good sleep, because, she said, the body releases a certain chemical around this time each night which aids sleep (sorry, I wasn't paying close attention to the name of it), and if you don't take advantage of it you miss it.

Also, even when you're dead-tired, if you continue to stay up into the night, after a while adrenaline can kick in and give you a false second wind. This is good for the short-term but bad for the long-term, and we shouldn't confuse it to mean that our body doesn't need the sleep it was earlier asking for.

Anonymous said...

A powdered ionic magnesium supplement before bed can help, as can formulas with Valerian root. Both help to relax muscles.\

Bret

Bookslinger said...

Daily magnesium and potassium supplements are part of my regimen. I often do cardiovascular exercise for 1/2 to 1 hour/day, sometimes running outdoors in hot weather. So I lose a lot of electrolytes by sweating.

I find that regular Gatorade is not enough for me, but instead of paying extra for the 'Extreme' Gatorade that has twice the electrolytes, I use a sugar-free generic electrolyte mix, and then crush an extra potassium tablet, and 1/4 of a magnesium tablet in each 16 ounce water bottle, along with 1/16 teaspoon salt.

Salt, magnesium, potassium, and calcium are the electrolytes that your body easily depletes through sweat.

Lack of those can also cause leg cramps at night.

Mike said...

I use melatonin 3mg and valerian. I also ensure that I get enough sunlight during the day that my serotonin levels have a chance to stabilize. Or vitamin D when I can't get out. I thinks its also important to use DHEA as you get older, I take 25 mg occasionally, sometimes up to five times a week, but I don't over do it. And women may need less. It's important to balance your hormones, especially in this day and age when hormonal imbalance is so prevalent and toxins hurt your thyroid system, so to that end I supplement with iodine. Exercise is important to get an oxygen exchange, and to flush out body toxins and so forth. I avoid caffeine. It constricts your blood supply and tears up your adrenals, which is part of the hormonal balance issue I spoke of.

Anonymous said...

I used to be a user of sleepy herbs; when I was young they helped a lot (especially passionflower)--

when I hit the insomnia of the late 50s . . .

I finally gave up and thought that sleeping 2 hours without waking was good enough, even if I had an hour or two awake--

and then maybe another 2 hours; life wasn't good, but I wasn't panicked about it--

then I discovered "Sleepytime" essential oil(s) made by Wyndham--

I pour a tiny bit of it in a terra cotta Bhudda (yes, you heard that correctly) with a little 'pot' on his head--

a tiny Bhudda--

(found at Whole Foods)--

every few days--and I place this little thing at the head of my bed--

and I am now waking only very briefly in 6-8 hours; this is bliss--

nothing else worked--

not exercise, not herbs, nothing, not even going to bed early--

and getting up early didn't help either--

this has challenged my entire perspective on life--

but I'm not complaining; I am enjoying being rested--

:)

le35 said...

I find it oddly interesting that you wrote about Elder Bednar's talk and the dangers of the time on the internet was your combined Relief Society and Priesthood lesson on the last Sunday in Aug. That was ours too.

Recovering Sleep-Deprived Pharisee said...

I've had some success in overcoming sleep disorders that I would like to share:

1. Give up on trying to control your life.

2. Quit early morning scripture study (especially getting up before the sun is up) unless your feel the spirit of love motivating you to do it.

3. Stop going to all these silly PEC, Correlation, and other church administration meetings. Most of them are a waste of time, and you'd be amazed how you feel if you got some sleep instead of attending these meetings.

4. 12 mg of Lunesta works great if you can talk your doc into it (I would recommend Ambien, except that it sometimes give people halucinations)

5. Quit your job so that you can labor for Zion rather than Mammon.

These steps have done amazing things in my life and lives of those close to me.