Sleep. Sleep which knits the unraveled sleeve of care. Blessed slumber.
It may be the most important element of good health, and it's something many people struggle with night after night.
"I get more and more requests for sleep medications all the time," says Dr. May Fan of Sisters.
Studies point up the vital nature of a good night's sleep. We're out-of-sorts without it. Less acute and less productive at work. It's not just that losing sleep can make you draggy and cranky. It can kill you.
But first it will make you fat. Recent studies suggest that insomnia messes with hormones and metabolism, causing the body to store fat as it does when stressed.
Chronic sleep loss can reduce the capacity of even young adults to perform basic metabolic functions, such as processing and storing carbohydrates or regulating hormone secretion, according researchers from the University of Chicago Medical Center.
Researchers report that "cutting back from the standard eight down to four hours of sleep each night produced striking changes in glucose tolerance and endocrine function -changes that resembled the effects of advanced age or the early stages of diabetes - after less than one week.
Teresa Mahnken of Sisters says she used to fall asleep easily and was out through the night. Then, a couple of years ago, she started having trouble getting to sleep. She got caught in a classic cycle: Worry about whether she could sleep dogged her and the anxiety made it that much harder to fall asleep.
"It added this layer of anxiety," she says. "You're crawling into bed thinking 'am I going to fall asleep tonight?' It's really hard to live with every day."
Over-the-counter sleep aids proved unpleasant for her.
"I don't like the way I feel when I wake up," she says.
Recently, she discovered a night-time tea with valerian root - favored since ancient times for its mild sedative qualities. That's helped relax her and allow her to fall asleep.
"That has been very relaxing," she says. "That's been good."
Supplements such as those manufactured by Metabolic Maintenance in Sisters may help support restful sleep. Some people swear by melatonin and/or 5-HTP as beneficial supplements. Whatever supplements or herbs you choose to use, make sure you consult with a medical doctor regarding any potential interactions with medications, especially SSRIs.
Mahnken finds that she is more sensitive to noises now than she used to be and has taken to wearing earplugs to help her stay asleep.
It's not just those nights when you toss and turn and see every hour on the clock that pose a problem. You may not be getting good, restful sleep and not really know it. After a typical night's sleep, you may not feel restored and refreshed and be sleepy during the day, but be totally unaware that you are sleep-deprived or have a sleep disorder, Web MD reports.
You may have an undiagnosed sleep disorder such as sleep apnea.
If you have chronic problems falling asleep or staying asleep, it's a good idea to visit your doctor to find out if you have a sleep disorder or another underlying condition that is contributing to your problems. Check with your dentist about mouthpieces that can help with sleep apnea problems.
Dr. Fan acknowledges that medical sleep aids have a role, but people may rely too heavily on them when they need to address their overall health and lifestyle.
She encourages improving sleep hygiene as an important first step. There are many good habits that can help you sleep better.
Wind down. If you are working on the computer or watching TV right up till bedtime, you may be overstimulating yourself and interfering with your body's natural desire to shut down. Take an hour's worth of quiet time before bed with soothing rituals that relax you and prepare you for sleep.
If you are stressed about work or life issues, try to stop thinking about them before bed; put them in a mental box to be dealt with tomorrow.
Dr. Fan recommends cutting out the caffeine in the afternoon. She also notes that alcohol can interfere with sleep patterns. While alcohol is a depressant and can make you sleepy, the actions of your body in metabolizing it can make your sleep shallow and unrestful.
"I'm a big believer that if you don't sleep well, you shouldn't be drinking a lot of alcohol," Dr. Fan says.
Keep the bedroom at a consistent, mild temperature, and keep it dark and quiet. Earplugs can help people who are sensitive to small noises.
Regular exercise, in addition to all its other health benefits, will help you sleep soundly. Don't exercise right before bed, but get plenty of activity during the day to make sure you hit the rack ready to sleep. Exercise is also a great way to blow off that stress and worry that is keeping you awake.
If you can't get to sleep, it may be a good idea to just get out of bed and go read on the couch for a while. Laying there tossing and turning can reinforce a sense of anxiety about sleep that can carry over night after night.