DR. KESTNER: Steps For A Better Night’s Sleep

DR. MARK KESTNER, Guest Columnist

As we work with patients to resolve their painful conditions, they often report a dramatic improvement in their sleep.

Patients routinely tell me they are sleeping more soundly and getting more hours of sleep.

Both the quality and quantity of sleep are important. Sleep is one of the most important aspects of vibrant health.

Although most people can recover easily from a brief period of sleep deprivation, ongoing sleep interruptions or too little sleep will almost certainly cause health problems.

Many conditions can cause sleep disturbances.

There are so many possible reasons for sleep problems that an article like this one would not even begin to touch the surface of overall sleep dysfunction.

Although there are many health conditions that can result in sleep problems, many sleep issues are brought about by behavioral habits.

For the average person that is feeling fatigued during the day, there are some steps that can be taken to minimize the problem. Some people have medical issues that are interrupting sleep, however, so it is important to have a professional evaluation if sleep problems persist.

One of the first most obvious steps to improve sleep is so simple that it is often overlooked.

Are you ready?

Here it is: Go to bed earlier.

Amazingly, most people that intentionally turn the television off, put away the smartphones, e-readers, tablets, books, magazines and puzzles and simply go to bed an hour earlier report that they are better rested and have more energy within a week.

In fact, this concept is so simple that many people with sleep issues will fail to even try it.

Or they will try it for a night or two and get frustrated because they can’t go to sleep.

It can definitely be aggravating to go to bed earlier than usual and find yourself wide awake, staring at the ceiling.

“What’s the point of this, I’m still awake?” is the question on most minds as the new habit is in the early phases.

With time, your body will adjust and you will likely find you are among the well-rested.

Although there are many drugs on the market that promise deeper sleep, side effects can be a significant concern. Developing a dependence on the drugs can be an issue as well.

More natural ways to help induce sleep can include deep, slow breathing exercises, a mildly warm bath before bedtime, very gentle, slow stretching routines and listening to slow, quiet music.

Even slow-paced talking can induce sleep.

I tell my daughter stories each night when I put her to bed.

I have found that no matter what the subject of the story, if I intentionally drag the pace of my narration so that I literally pause between each word, she falls asleep sooner.

I also have experimented with the inflection of my voice and found that softening each syllable and even slightly slurring the pronunciation can make her sleepier.

The interesting thing is that I have noticed that when I tell the stories this way, it even makes me sleepy!

I sometimes have trouble staying awake long enough to wait until she is sleeping.

By changing the way I talk, it seems to trigger a slowing of the physiology of my body.

This is why slow, intentional breathing patterns help. Think of your breathing as a tool to regulate your level of alertness.

Have you ever seen a bull getting ready to charge?

Notice that the animal increasingly takes shorter, more powerful breaths as he paws the ground in preparation.

In addition, he energizes his exhalation, making it brief and powerful. This action accelerates his heart rate, and diverts blood flow to the muscles, physiologically preparing him for action.

People can take the same steps to increase their alertness when they are tired.

When you need to be alert, try breathing like a bull with short, quick, powerful exhalations. It is quicker and more convenient than a cup of coffee.

Likewise, when getting ready to sleep, practice breathing very slowly, pausing between inhalation and exhalation, and breathe out very gently.

For better sleep, try it tonight!