Do you think that sleep is a ho-hum activity? Do you squeak by on four hours of nightly rest, bouncing through your day wired on grandé Americanos? You’re certainly not alone, but you’re probably not functioning at your best, either.
Adequate sleep is essential to our general health. It improves our immune response, our temperament, and our decision-making abilities. Yet our efficiency-obsessed culture underestimates both the importance and the sheer pleasure of a truly blissful forty winks, and the result is a somewhat sleep-deprived society. Stanley Coren’s book Sleep Thieves (Free Press, 1996) suggests that the Exxon-Valdez oil spill, the nuclear accident at Chernobyl, and the Challenger space shuttle tragedy all might have been prevented if the individuals responsible had slept well the night before.
Yet sleep is far more than a performance enhancer; it is a portal through which we enter a land of unlimited possibilities. Dreaming, with practice, can both entertain and heal. You can look forward to your nightly visit to Nod and the opportunity to soar over Pacific lagoons, speak fluent Urdu, or enter the consciousness of unknown characters.
Considering that sleep does so much for our physical, mental, and emotional well-being, why do so many of us get neither the quantity nor the quality of sleep we deserve? The reasons are varied: we have trouble shutting down our active brains, or we have difficulty getting physically comfortable. A neighbour’s car alarm might sound just as we’re about to drift off.
Whether you thrive on six hours or nine, how can you turn them into a restorative period that recharges your battery and boosts your immune system? How can you prepare your body for sleep and turn your bedroom into an oasis of relaxation?
You’ve probably heard the drill. Go to bed at approximately the same time each night and use your bed only for sleeping. Avoid excessive sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. Food additives can interfere with sleep patterns, so a well-balanced, organic diet will promote better sleep. Beyond that there are several simple ways to coax the muse of sleep.
Help From Herbs
Nature has provided us with a wealth of medicine for improving sleep. Plants recommended for inducing relaxation and/or sleepiness include camomile, California poppy, kava kava, lemon balm, peppermint, catnip, fennel, hops, wild lettuce, valerian, passionflower and skullcap. Some are available in capsule or tincture form from health food stores, or you could mix up to three types of loose herbs in a pre-bedtime tea. Rotate your choice rather than becoming dependent on any one, and consult a professional herbalist when combining herbs. They can help you find the variety and dosage best suited to your particular situation.
Calcium, magnesium, vitamins B6 and B12 are recommended for general sleep, and inositol improves REM sleep. Melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone, can help reset your internal clock and diminish the effects of jet lag.
Sweet Scents for Sweet Dreams
Aromatherapy will spread the mood of relaxation throughout both your bedroom and your body. Orange peel, cloves, and lavender can be stuffed into little pillows or sachets in combination with the herbs listed above, and placed under your main pillow. Essential oils such as lavender can be heat-diffused to create a calming environment. Camomile, lemon balm, and lavender can be added to bathwater to promote relaxation.
Often what prevents or disturbs a good sleep is intrusive noise. Some people have found that white noise, like the whir of a fan, helps to mask the invasive sounds. A more pleasant alternative is a sound therapy relaxation system. This small electric device can rest on your nightstand and generate a variety of calming sounds. Choose from ocean waves, rain storms, tropical birdcalls, frogs and crickets, or the trickle of a stream.
A Blissful Bed
Make sure your mattress is right for your body and replace it every ten years. Futons should be frequently turned and rolled according to the manufacturer’s directions, and pillows should support the curve of your neck. You might try a buckwheat pillow; people become evangelical about them to the point of cramming one into their suitcase when they travel.
Your body will stay at a more comfortable temperature if you use 100 percent cotton bedding and choose loose-fitting, natural-fibre pyjamas. If disruptive streetlight or daylight enters your bedroom, an eyeshade can provide you with the darkness needed for uninterrupted sleep.
As your sleep improves and the uninterrupted cycles lengthen, you’ll be able to explore the wonder and wisdom of dreams. The K.I.S.S. Guide to Dreams by Lisa Lenard suggests ways to help you get the most from your dreamtime by providing tips on using dreams to explore emotional upsets, and diagnose or heal medical conditions.