Thursday, January 22, 2009

Surviving the night

I've always gotten a good night's sleep. It's one of the necessities of healthy living, which I took for granted all my life. That is until recently.

After the first few restless nights or incidents of waking up during the night, I wrote it off as something rare which would soon go away. It didn't and it hasn't. However, through common sense stra tegy and firm rejection of any narcotic sleep assistance, I've managed to cut my insomnia down by about ninety five percent.

Like any health advice, this isn't designed or intended to cure anything. It's merely worked for me.

Caffeine Drinks

It doesn't matter whether you're a coffee drinker, tea drinker or cola fan, drinks loaded with caffeine aren't a sleeper's friend. Drinking those even a few hours before bedtime can mean the difference between snoozing and losing - sleep that is. You can still have that cola or cup of tea in evening, but try to have the last one at least three hours before you hit the hay. Just by observing that one common sense rule has done wonders for my sleep.

Watch The Clock

Our lives are ruled by clocks - both artificial and natural. The human biological clock demands us active during the day and drowsy at night. Medical study after study shows us that though we'd like to be because of work or a partying spirit, we are not nocturnal creatures.

To prevent insomnia or restless sleep, go to bed the same time each night, and try to wake up about the same time each morning. It doesn't mean going to sleep exactly at the stroke of midnight - a small variance in time seems fine. However, if you try to hit the bedsheets at 10 or 10:30pm each night, you'll soon find you're resetting your biological clock which may have been offset by any number of reasons.

Don't Get Physical

Workouts are for daytime. In the evenings, we're winding down.
Resist the urge to dribble that basketball by throwing a few hoops in the backyard or getting in some Tae Bo before sleep. As with all these tips, common sense rules. It doesn't mean you can't get physical at night, but the c loser it gets to your sleep time, the more worked up you are, the less likely you'll get sleep. Heart rate, hormonal levels and the like are all influenced by physical activity. To make for a smooth sleep experience - wind down and read a book or watch a movie before bed, instead of aerobics. Of course sex may work wonders for sleep. On that delicate subject, I leave it to you and a partner to work it out.

Sunlight Brings The Sandman

Vitamin D is essential for our health. The main way our bodies produce vitamin D is through sunlight absorption during daylight hours.

Get out and get sunlight each day. It doesn't mean you need to be a sun worshiper for hours. Even as minimal amount of sun exposure as a half an hour seems to do the trick. Sunlight brings vitamin D which helps regulate our biological processes. Sunlight exposure also seems to help reset that biological clock . Conversely, when we are trying to sleep, complete darkness is most effective. You may be the type that likes a night light, that may be fine. However, sometimes even small amounts of light in a room can play a role in sleeping the night through or tossing and turning.

Don't Panic

This has helped me combat sleepless nights more than anything. When you can't sleep, when you wake up in the middle of the night, don't panic.

Don't get angry, don't get scared. Yes, it's easier said than done, trust me I've been there, however with a little practice it's possible to relax. If you simply can't sleep after trying to calm down, get up for awhile, but don't do anything too stimulating. Just sit in a chair and relax, play some some soothing music. One thing which has worked for me is relaxing visualization. Imagine things which calm you - a beach, a meadow full of flowers, an emerald green forest - or most anything which brings peace to you or serenity.

Like much in life, the mind controls much of how we react to and deal with external matters. By applying a basic common sense approach to sleep, you can alleviate the stress of insomnia, and avoid taking expensive drugs with negative side effects.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sleeping Pills

Sleeping pills are sedatives that depress the central nervous system of the human body. This results in tranquility, relaxation, less anxiety, sleepiness, slowed breathing, slurred speaking, staggering gait, poor judgment and slow, uncertain reflexes. They are also called downers, tranquillizers, depressants, anxiolytics, soporifics or sedative hypnotics.

Most sleeping pills are usually prescribed for patients with anxiety problems. However, those described as sedatives are also used to help people sleep. Long term use of sleeping pills is discouraged as they are addictive and could be dangerous to the health of the patient.

The human body has two basic drives which is the waking drive and the sleeping drive. During the day, the waking drive is strong and the brain remains active. As the day wears on, the waking drive becomes weaker and the sleeping drive strengthens. As evening approaches, the sleeping drive builds up and by the time night approaches, the body is ready to go to sleep. What a sleeping pill does is that it strengthens the sleeping drive in the human body. A person with insomnia has imbalanced sleeping and waking drives.

In normal people, the onset of darkness induces the pineal gland in the brain to secrete a hormone called melatonin which prompts the body to go into the sleep drive. The melatonin makes the body less alert, it slows down the body mechanisms and the person begins to feel the need to sleep. The action of sleeping pills is similar. It sends signals to the brain that approximate to the symptoms produced by the hormone melatonin. The central nervous system is dampened and its ability to function is diminished. This makes the person sleepy. Sleeping pills work less effectively when the patient has had long term insomnia or has had trouble staying asleep for a long time.

Most sleeping pills are Benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines are minor tranquilizers that belong to a class of drugs that are used to induce sleep. There are several drugs such as Nitrazepam, Loprazolam and Flurazepam that are categorized under Benzodiazepines. However, benzodiazepines are also used to tackle problems relating to anxiety, epileptic seizure and amnesia and it is important to choose the right benzodiazepine as a sleeping pill. Some of the trade names of benzodiazepines drugs are Mogadon, Remnos and Somnite. The natural herb Mandrake is also a common ingredient in these drugs. Mandrake is traditionally known as a drug that helps people sleep.

However, there are possibilities of side effects when taking sleeping pills. Most benzodiazepines have the same side effects- headaches, drowsiness, light-headedness, unsteadiness, confusion, forgetfulness, dependence, withdrawal, increase in aggression and muscle weakness. There are many drugs that one might be consuming that may interfere with the effectiveness of sleeping pills. These drugs themselves may be sleep inducing and taking sleeping pills in addition to such drugs will result in the effect of these pills lasting longer. People with respiratory problem, muscle problems, a history of drug or alcohol abuse or personality disorder, who are consuming sleeping pills, are advised to use it with caution and to consult their physician before taking any sleeping pill.

Moreover, some sleeping pills are known to cause amnesia. Patients have been known to perform several physical activities-even going on a binge on food-while completely asleep under the effects of the sleeping pill. Patients must, therefore, ensure that the instructions are followed meticulously and go to bed immediately after taking the sleeping pill.

Buying a mattress

What is Off-Gassing?
There are many different types of foams and batting materials used in mattresses these days; furthermore, there are many types of mattresses. If you go shopping you will undoubtedly encounter latex mattresses, memory foam mattresses, air mattresses (think Select Comfort calling itself the Sleep Number bed), innerspring coil mattresses, and futon mattresses.
Chemicals used in synthetic foams (mostly petroleum based) and some fire retarding agents emit fumes. Mattresses made using these chemicals can potentially cause reactions in people with chemical sensitivities. Some of these chemicals have not been tested on young children or in the proximity that is present in a mattress slept on for 8 hours a day. People with concerns about off-gassing would be well served knowing what is in the mattress they have or wish to purchase.
Here is how mattresses are made:
1. A memory foam mattress is not all memory foam. It is likely to be 5-6” of standard polyurethane foam topped with a visco-elastic layer, an open celled, slow recovery, poly foam . Both types of foam in these beds will off-gas . The odor coming off of these foams is from chemicals used in the process of making it. The chemicals emitted are potentially harmful to small children ( and people sensitive to such emissions may wish to select a different type of mattress.
2. A coil (innerspring) mattress can be made of several different components, and even different types of coils. Whether it be a pocketed coil, a continuous coil system, or any other type of coil, there will be an insulator pad between the coils and the comfort layers above. This insulator pad may be made from a high density polyurethane foam or recycled fabric layers (think carpet pad). On top of the insulator will be comfort layers used to give plushness. These comfort layers are mostly what differentiate mattresses. In most major brand mattresses these layers are polyurethane foams and therefore can off-gas. Many manufacturers, in an effort to be more “green”, are using some soy (can also be non-soy vegetable base) foams. Because soy foams only use about 20% soy oil and the rest is petroleum based, it does not eliminate the off-gassing, but it is a step in the right direction for people wishing to be “greener” and not chemically sensitive.
Wrapped around the mattress (all around in the case of two-sided, flip-able mattresses) is the quilting layer that gives the mattresses the finished look you expect. The puff in the quilt is usually polyurethane foam even in mattresses represented as natural.
An innerspring mattress can be made natural and non off-gassing with the use of a natural insulator, latex, wool and/or cotton comfort layers, and a quilt layer containing one of the same fillers.
3. A latex mattress should start with a solid latex core (sometimes manufacturers will mix layers of latex with other, less expensive layers). Latex comes in several varieties. There are different processes for creating latex. By definition latex is sap from a rubber tree, however there is also synthetic latex created in a lab with building blocks. Although synthesized latex may use polymers, there is little off-gassing and is likely to be a better choice than polyurethane.
Pure natural rubber latex comes from rubber trees grown near the equator. The process of extracting the liquid latex is much like tapping maple trees for syrup. Managed rubber tree forests make for a sustainable product. The molding of the latex cores can be accomplished with no added chemicals. Potentially allergenic proteins are at this point washed out in the cleansing process. With no chemicals to off-gas, pure latex mattresses are the best choice for healthy sleep. It is durable, comfortable and can be processed in different densities.
This is not the whole story however; just as memory foam mattresses are not all memory foam, latex mattresses are not always just latex. Comfort layers added will often be the same as used on innerspring mattresses and all the same cautions apply.
4. Air beds use vinyl or polyurethane bladders in place of innersprings or foam cores. The air chambers are protected by polyurethane foam, and are often topped with it as a comfort layer. It would be possible to make an airbed with comfort layers of wool, latex or cotton that would eliminate much of the off-gassing potential, however, we are unaware of any company producing such a mattress.
5. Futon mattresses are also an option. Most of them are going to have synthetic foams these days, and a synthetic fire barrier, but a non-off-gassing mattress can be done. You would want one with no polyurethane foam layers, and wool as the fire barrier. It is also possible to get latex layered with the other batting materials to make it more durable. As a rule, futon mattresses tend to matt and get pretty hard. Cotton is a cheap nontoxic batting material, but it is not ideal for a sleep surface.
Good choices of non off-gassing mattresses:
There are some good choices for non off-gassing mattresses, however, the information available from some retailers and salespeople is likely to be confusing and sometimes misleading. Prices are comparable to other better quality mattresses and you have the peace of mind knowing you are not being exposed daily to potentially unhealthy fumes.
Englander makes a limited line of natural beds and gives you the most bed dollar for dollar. Six Englander mattresses are particularly of note as having the least potential for off-gassing.
Natura makes some of the most popular and comfortably plush mattresses, many of them natural and non-off-gassing. Several also happen to be organic.
For overall purity, and commitment to non-toxic products, Organic Mattresses Incorporated (OMI) is a leader in non-off-gassing bedding. The purity of materials used and their handling is second to none. All of their products are listed as organic.
A little time spent researching construction materials can pay dividends when searching for the lowest chemical emission mattresses.