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As creatures of habit, we thrive best on routine. The circadian rhythms of sunrise, sunset, sleep times, and work times keep us in sync, creating momentum for optimal productivity. Our nervous system’s physiology connects to these cycles with the hormones of wakefulness, metabolism, sleep, digestion, fight or flight, etc. Changing bedtime continually upsets the normal timing and production of neurotransmitters like melatonin—the sleep hormone, and this makes it difficult to feel sleepy when you need to.
Sleep experts highly recommend getting into a routine of going to bed and waking up at the same times as much as possible. Some work schedules foster this; others do not. So, this is part of mankind’s plight—how to make a living while also taking care of your health. The lucky ones have regular, repeating schedules so they can get into the habits of going to bed and rising at the same times each day. In this case, sleeping and waking become effortless.
“I can relate to this!” many of you are thinking. Stress and anxiety could be placed much higher on the list, but because levels of stress and anxiety vary greatly from time to time, it comes in at number 7. Though stress is usually episodic and temporary, anxiety can be a chronic condition, related to depression in its hormonal picture; therefore, a number of medications and homeopathic remedies can prove effective. Millions of people have experienced great reduction in symptoms after trying anti-anxiety or anti-depression meds. Certainly, a good psychotherapist can help if you are willing to talk and listen.
The hormone Cortisol rises in our blood when we are feeling stressed. Being a part of the sympathetic nervous system, cortisol interferes with falling asleep. Minds can “race” at night as if preoccupied with what must be resolved. Some people find it helpful to keep a notebook on the nightstand so they can write down their ideas for managing life, and this is comforting because they know it’s there to pick up the next day. They don’t have to worry about forgetting their thoughts because they’re written down. There are many ways to manage stress, such as regular exercise, music, meditation, enjoying water, yoga, comedy, worship, and service to mankind. All of these can bring relief. Often, forgetting about your own problems and focusing on helping someone else are very therapeutic and satisfying.
The mattress companies capitalize on this. If they can convince you that a new mattress will be the answer to your ills, they will sell more; indeed, an uncomfortable bed or pillow can be problematic. You don’t want to toss and turn all night with spinal strain on your neck or back because of a bed or pillow that is too hard or soft. “Kinked necks” are ubiquitous. Certainly, some beds and pillows are more supportive of the spinal curves; however, more important is the position of your body. Sleeping on your side or back is much preferred to sleeping on the belly. Side or back sleeping helps to retain the normal curves of your spine so the muscles are happier. Belly sleeping forces head rotation to breathe, and this strains and fatigues neck muscles. It also puts stress on the low back. When sleeping on your side, place enough pillow between shoulder and head to prop the head so the neck spine is parallel to the rest of the spine. This can reduce the number of visits to the chiropractor.
Besides the obvious factors or noise, light, and heat, other environmental factors can disrupt good sleep. You may be in an area where bugs and animals are prevalent; mosquitoes are a common problem. In mosquito-filled regions, netting around your bed will be necessary. Also, strong smells can interfere with falling asleep, but thankfully, the human olfactory sense is quite adaptable and can become accustomed to strong smells.
Many health conditions disrupt sleep for millions of people: menopause, restless leg syndrome, fibromyalgia, GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), Parkinson’s Disease, and sleepwalking are some of the common ones. For these, seek appropriate medical care.