Photo by Alison Shaw
Sleepy? Sleep, like love, is much sought after and often elusive. But the exhausted are better off than the lovelorn, for there is much more solid information available on how to tryst with Mr. Sandman than entice Ms. Right. From sleep researchers to physicians, herbalists, yoga teachers, nutritionists and your next-door neighbor, everyone has a tip or two about finding the path to dreamland.
The mind-body connection
Wendy Chabot, MD, of Vineyard Mind-Body Medicine recommends behavioral changes for sleep issues. In her Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) sessions, Chabot uses meditation, gentle Yoga, and body scans to slow the overactive mind that undermines relaxation and sleep. Many participants in the sessions report sleeping better.
For an upcoming workshop — "Six Weeks to Healthier Sleep" — Chabot, who was a practicing pediatrician before founding Vineyard Mind-Body, combines the tools of MBSR with research from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, along with training by Gregg Jacobs, Ph.D., author of "Say Goodnight to Insomnia." His advice is founded on the evidence-based "Conquering Insomnia Program" from Harvard and UMass Medical Schools.
Dr. Chabot cited "the 3-P model". She said it's important to discover if there is a predisposition to a sleep problem, if something precipitated it, and if the person is doing things that perpetuate it.
Can't sleep? Dr. Chabot cautions against tossing and turning. She suggests getting up, doing a quiet activity or reading, and said it is important not to associate the bed with worry, sleeplessness, television, or work. "Your bedroom should be only for sleep and intimacy," she said.
Light exposure is a big factor in wakefulness, Dr. Chabot said, describing how the hormone melatonin that facilitates sleepiness increases as darkness falls. Bright lights disturb this process, so dim the lights an hour or two before bedtime and keep the bedroom dark to promote drowsiness. Using a computer or Kindle in the evening can contribute to wakefulness because of the screen's bright light.
Keeping a fixed bedtime and wake-up schedule helps the body get in the sleep habit, she said, and she cautioned against sleep medications except for temporary use.
"It's very important for folks to know there are very effective, empowering sleep aids that don't have the potential side effects of sleep medications," she said.
Cynthia da Silva of Hypnotic Healing in Vineyard Haven often works with clients suffering sleep troubles and sees positive results.
Ms. da Silva emphasizes that a hypnotherapy session is controlled by the client, who tells her what his or her goals are. During the hour-long session, Ms. da Silva guides the client through a gentle relaxation process. She then gives suggestions based on the stated goals. Ms. da Silva is producing a CD on sleep improvement for home use.
"People discover they are the ones that control their own body, mind, and thoughts," she said. "They will learn to release thoughts and be able to sleep, to put those thoughts to bed."
MJ Bindu-Delekta teaches iRest classes at her Sacred Circle of Yoga Studio in Vineyard Haven. IRest (Integrative Restoration), a form of conscious rest, is based on Yoga Nidra, an ancient meditative practice. It brings about deep relaxation through guided meditation and detailed body scanning.
Ms. Delekta explained that the concentrated rest in a short time (classes last an hour) helps combat insomnia and wakefulness by reducing stress, and can make up for lost sleep.
According to Ms. Delekta, research on meditation and iRest indicates that they lower stress, depression and anxiety, volatile moods, chronic pain, PTSD and more. Increases occur in energy, emotional balance, and sense of well-being.
Ms. Delekta recommended the "Earth Grounding Breath," a self-guided meditation, when the mind is racing and sleep won't come.
While inhaling, imagine breathing through the soles of the feet, up through the legs, to the belly. Exhale through the mouth and envision breathing down through the legs and out the feet. "It gets you out of your head and ready to sleep," Ms. Delekta promised.
A short nap can be beneficial by returning the jangled nervous system to a neutral state, said Ms. Delekta. But don't nap too long, descend into deep sleep, and awaken groggy. She recommends "Take a Nap, Change your Life," (Workman Publishing Co.) a scientifically based book by sleep researcher Dr. Sara Mednick.
Stroll and snack into sleep
"My favorite is exercise!" declared Marcia Denine, RN of Vineyard Nursing Association. A stroll before or after dinner is one of the best ways to prepare for a good night's sleep, she said.
Ms. Denine visits post-surgical patients and those with chronic health issues who often have trouble sleeping. She also conducts education sessions about diabetes for the M.V. Health Partnership.
Warm milk is high on Ms. Denine's list. She explained it releases the relaxing amino acid tryptophan when heated. A drop of two of lavender oil on your pillow or handkerchief nearby often induces slumber, she said. Or try a lavender sachet.
Recent nutrition school graduate Betsy Corsiglia of Oak Bluffs said a potassium-packed banana and glass of milk or calcium supplement makes a foolproof sleep aid for her and her husband.
A big meal just before bed is a "no-no" according to Prudence Athearn Levy, who operates Vineyard Nutrition with her husband, Joshua. She recommends two to three hours between dinner and lights-out. The body can't fully relax while it's busy digesting, she explained. But a light snack combining complex carbohydrates with small amounts of protein and fat can soothe nighttime munchies without upsetting sleep. Calcium-rich foods are a relaxing choice too.
Too little sleep can sabotage weight-loss diets, Ms. Levy said. Tiredness leads to a craving for sweets and not taking time to prepare healthy meals. According to Ms. Levy, research shows less sleep results in greater calorie consumption. Why? The "hunger hormone" ghrelin increases with low sleep while the satiety "I'm full!" hormone leptin decreases.
Ms. Levy advises no sweets before bed; they cause blood sugar to spike then drop, decreasing sleep quality. Alcohol disrupts sleep too, although it feels relaxing at first. Caffeine may cause sleep problems for some, Ms. Levy said. Lucky others can sip after-dinner espresso and snooze all night. Because not everyone metabolizes caffeine at the same rate, tolerance varies.
The homeopathic remedy Coffea, said to calm the overactive mind, helps many on their way to dreamland. Homeopathics are safe, with no side effects.
Hollly Bellebuono of Vineyard Herbs, Teas, and Apothecary said that certain herbs are beneficial sleep aids, safe for insomniacs of all ages. Along with being steeped into a soothing, hot tea, herbs can be taken as a concentrated tincture, the drops mixed into water or tea.
Ms. Bellebuono recommended purchasing herbs for tea in bulk from health food stores. She strongly encourages growing one's own plants for freshness and the soothing pleasure of preparing them, but cautioned that Valerian, often thought of as a sleep-inducing herb, can cause serious stomach upset in some people.
Get some support
For good rest it's important to get down to basics — your mattress. It has a big impact on quality and quantity of sleep and how you feel when morning comes.
"It's very important to have proper support," declared chiropractor John LaCoste DC.
A traditional firm mattress tops his list, along with an adjustable-firmness air mattress. He warns that extra soft, pillow-top, and memory foam mattresses don't always provide necessary support, especially for heavier sleepers.
"When you sleep your body weight pushes down, so you want the mattress to push up," he explained.
Choose a pillow that keeps the head in line with the spine, advised Dr. LaCoste. "Sleep like you're standing," with neck straight, head not tilted back nor raised. And not on the belly with head turned to the side, which can lead to neck or back pain.
Pat Chmura, who with her husband, Mike, has owned East Chop Sleep Shop since it opened in 1984, stressed that every mattress buyer has different needs and preferences. The Chmuras encourage customers to "rest test" various mattresses before deciding.
Ready for a big sleepover, the shop is packed with mattresses from traditional coil-spring, "hybrids" combining coil-spring with memory foam, Tempur Pedic memory foam, and futons. The shop's website is full of information for mattress shoppers.
Traditional mattress lifespan is about 10 years; foam products can maintain quality up to 20.
Ms. Chmura said mattresses and accessories have changed during the time she's owned the store. Mattresses are thicker than those of several decades ago, so older bed linens must be replaced. They do not require regular turning, as did older models.
A popular new accessory in this health-conscious, bedbug-wary time is a polyester mattress encasement. It is installed at delivery and remains on the mattress, protecting it from insects, allergens, dirt, and spills. Adjustable beds are growing in popularity too.
"The world is really tired," observed Ms. Chmura. "People are craving a good night's sleep."
Midnight Snacks and Sips for Better Sleep
From nutritionist Prudence Athearn Levy:
Banana with peanut butter or nuts
Whole grain cereal with milk
Whole grain crackers with peanut or almond butter
Small serving rice and beans
From Marcia Denine, RN:
Yogurt with fresh fruit
Celery and peanut butter
Hummus with veggie sticks
A steaming cup of warm milk
Herbalist Holly Bellebuono's favorite sleepytime teas:
Katama Chamomile Calming Blend Tea from her own Vineyard Herbs, Teas and Apothecary:
Chamomile flowers, Catnip herb, Spearmint herb, Rose petal.