Volume three: Getting help with your sleep
[ Getting help with sleep problems || Technology from improving sleep || Supplements to help you sleep ]
Your comprehensive guide to a better nights sleep with advice on how to sleep better if you have insomnia with trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep.
This series is in four volumes that compliment each other.
Volume one: ‘Your sleep environment effects your sleep’ covers how to maximise the benefits of where you sleep.
Volume two: ‘Your daily habits effect your sleep’ covers what you do outside of sleep that can impact your sleep quality.
Volume three: ‘Getting help with your sleep’ covers getting help, supplements and alternative methods.
Volume four: ‘Your better sleep action plan’ takes a few basic idea’s and sets you the goal of doing them.
*Please talk to your medical professional if sleep is a major cause of interruption to your life. This is not a replacement for such advice but rather a list of added methods and idea’s for you to add to your knowledge to help improve your sleep.*
Volume three: Getting help with your sleep
I don’t need to tell you if you have trouble sleeping that a lack of sleep will affect your whole life. So if you have tried all the most common and logical methods to improve it and still aren’t getting anywhere, then maybe the next step is getting professional help and/or using supplements that have shown promise in helping others. In fact you should get medical advise on doing anything that is unknown to you.
The idea’s here and indeed in all the volumes of this better sleep series are to educate you so that you have options. From sleep specialists and doctors to hypnotherapists and meditation teachers there are plenty of people who will help you if you ask.
Getting help with sleep and insomnia
When you see your doctor or sleep specialist they will of course check things like your blood pressure and heart rate and ask you questions about your diet and stress levels. One of the other things they may test for is a condition called sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea results in short periods of not breathing during the night. For brief moments you actually stop breathing and then the shock of taking a sudden breath again disrupts your sleep and keeps you in a sort of stress state.
This may be something your partner may notice if you sleep close to someone as they would notice gasps of breath thoughout the night. Waking up with a dry throat, headache, still feeling tired or breathless.., or if you snore frequently could be indications of this condition also.
Your doctor can advise and test you and suggest help such as a constant pressure mask or a device that encourages nose breathing instead of mouth breathing. Certain breath techniques can also be beneficial that involve a type of purposeful limitation of oxygen concentration (referred to as hypoxic training). Discuss such techniques with your doctor before trying them if you are diagnosed with sleep apnea.
One thing that I have used for a type of personal test is to buy a pulse oximeter which typically is worn on a finger and converts measures of reflected red light (which is able to pass through skin) into concentrations of oxygen in the blood and records this over a period of time. Exercise can also help with sleep apnea.
Sleep medication and drug use
Your doctor may prescribe or you may buy over the counter versions of sleeping tablets to help you sleep. Always follow your doctors advice on this but be aware of the following when it comes to sleeping tablets and other types of drugs like cannabis or Valium (diazepam).
Using a drug to get you past a stuck point and then weaning off it is one thing. Using the drug for long periods of time can lead to relying on the drug and needing more and more of it as your body desensitises to it. Desensitisation is common as your body is designed to adjust to what it considers a new normal.
There is a bigger potential challenge though with prolonged use and that is the way these drugs work, especially the pharmaceutical ones.
They work by basically knocking you out and switching off the parts of the brain responsible for awareness and being awake. This may sound like just what you want. But unfortunately this is not the same as the natural increasing and decreasing of brainwave activity that happens during a typical sleep cycle.
Studies show that sleeping pills tend to restrict certain levels of sleep like the lower Delta and sub Delta levels. This is where important processes like neural detoxing, memory formation and deep restorative sleep occurs. This can lead to long term challenges and feelings of being slightly hung over in the morning. Alcohol of course literally does this.
There is evidence to suggest that the use of sleeping tablets can cause rebounds. After stopping using the drug people can experience withdrawal patterns and a return of the original sleeping problem.
Again your doctor will advise you on how to properly use sleeping medication.
Therapeutic help with sleep
Sometimes alternative methods of help may be just what you need. There are a number of methods that can often have fast and effective results. They can help you let go of stress and anxiety and change your habits of thinking about sleep and your actions thoughout the day to help with sleep onset.
There is even a chance that there may be underlying negative beliefs around sleep or being tired during the day that can actually be the cause of insomnia.
Hypnosis, NLP – Neuro Linguistic Programming, ETF, CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and others can all be effective at breaking the cycle of not sleeping well.
I remember a client I had many years ago for hypnotherapy that had a belief that if she fell asleep easily or slept deeply that she would be taken advantage of. This stemmed not from an assault, but a practical joke where someone cut her hair while she was drunk and asleep. Ever since then she had been nervous about being asleep but had not made the connection.
A simple process called the NLP fast phobia cure combined with resource anchoring and she slept like a baby. One popular mainstream therapeutic method that has shown to be effective with insomnia and sleep issues is CBT. The challenge for most people is finding a therapist to see on a regular basis. Now technology has gotten involved.
Recently trials were conducted with an online digital CBT version. The control group in the experiment were given advice on good sleep practices only while the test group did the online CBT course.
58% of the test group got significant improvements while only 20% got improvement from the advice only. A promising result.
And don’t forget meditation and breathwork. There are plenty of online or group courses and classes to get you started and keep you motivated to continue.
And one of my favourite sleep aids.., a massage! Sends me off every time.
Technology for improving sleep
Speaking of technology based methods of improving sleep, I will mention two other methods of helping with sleep that have shown promise also.
Biofeedback, where the person learns through EEG, heart rate or skin conductance feedback.., to train their brain to get into slower brain states. This takes some practice and commitment but once mastered becomes a new skill.
The other is audio visual entrainment or brainwave entrainment. This method uses both stroboscopic light and pulsed sounds to take advantage of what’s called the frequency following response (FFR). The FFR works by utilising the brains ability and tendency to synchronise to and then follow an external stimulation.
By using the information gained by many studies of what brain activity is present during sleep, this same brain activity can be mimicked within the flickering light and sound sessions to ‘entrain’ the brain. Over time and with repetition, these states becomes automatic.
The other useful effect of audio visual brainwave entrainment is in the synchronising of both sides or hemispheres of the brain. As discussed in volume two of this better sleep series this tends to make feeling anxious or stressed very hard.
The roXiva RX1 seen on this website is such a device that along with sleep improvement abilities has a number of other beneficial or entertainment uses. You can short cut years of meditation practice and use the RX1 to get relaxed when you need to be relaxed and creative when you need to be creative.
You just lie down, put on headphones and let the RX1 do the work with light and sound.
This can even be used in your bedroom to turn itself on in the morning to create a type of sunrise. Doing this and the use of specific techniques of speed and duration can reset your circadian rhythm otherwise known as your body clock. Your circadian rhythm works on a typical 24 hour cycle and can be easily upset by the use of artificial light.
Resetting your body clock
Which leads perfectly into the next idea. And that is resetting your circadian rhythm or body clock. We each operate on a 24 hour sleep/wake cycle.
As discussed in volume one, this depends largely on daylight and darkness being the main controllers of this cycle. Sometimes due to shift work or bad habits of staying up late or getting up late, we get into a pattern of not being able to get to sleep at a normal time and this pattern can be hard to break.
And sometimes this can lead to depression where the body and mind never really get going and motivation is very low.
Nature is the best solution to this if you have the willpower to get up early and get into natural daylight close to sunrise (20 minutes will be enough). Other than that you can artificially create a sunrise with light. The RX1 as an example of that. It can turn itself on and do it for you or in fact even more clever than that it can do so in a way that resets your body clock without waking you up. The result.., a slower but more comfortable change to your daily rhythms.
Supplements to help you sleep
There are so many options here that I am going to focus on just a few. Make sure you check with your doctor first with any supplements that you haven’t used before. There are of course blends of tea like chamomile that report to help with sleep but I’m going to only refer to supplements that are likely to more impactful than that.
Magnesium and vitamin D are two of those that can help with relaxation (and immunity) and are often lacking in people who experience a lot of stress. Epsom salts that are added to a bath contain magnesium and this can be a great way to get both the benefit of the Magnesium itself and warmth of the water to ease and relax both body and mind.
I prefer a capsule for consistency and a regular predictable amount. Other herbal remedies for sleep that have reported positive results include Kava kava, Valerian root and CBD oil. Flaxseed oil or fish oil with omega 3 can help too due to it’s anti inflammatory properties.
There are melatonin supplements available too which as described in volume one is the neurochemical responsible for normal sleep onset. If you choose to use them just be aware that long term use could lead to a dependency on them and a further reduction in your body making it’s own. I would suggest only occasional use.
One supplement that usually comes as a powder that you can mix with water worth a particular mention is an amino acid called Glycine which is usually gained from a balanced diet containing protein. Often we don’t get enough of this so it can have some significant effects if supplemented about half an hour before bed. Glycine has been shown to both regulate your blood insulin and sugar levels and help cool down your bodies internal core temperature. Cooling down your core temperature is vital for the deepest levels of sleep. Both of these effects will help you get to sleep and stay asleep.
There are two vitamin supplements (mentioned above) that I would highly recommend you start to take not just for sleep quality but for general health also.
Magnesium and vitamin D as worthy additions to any diet
Many diets are deficient in magnesium (esp vegan diets) due to overuse of the same land for growing crops and increasing rates of a lack in dietary variation. Magnesium is one vitamin that is worth trying if you have trouble sleeping as it helps with stress, muscle relaxation and mental clarity.
There are number of variations available but the one that gets the most praise for helping with sleep and stress is Magnesium Glycinate (Or BisGlycinate).
Why this variation? This variety is a salt of Glycine which as we just discovered above.., has it’s own benefits including sleep regulation. Many a review of this vitamin speaks of significant improvements with sleep, especially when taken in the evening.
If many people are deficient in Magnesium.., then even more people are deficient in Vitamin D and this is one vitamin that has gotten a lot of press lately for being essential for immune health. Vitamin D is responsible for a lot more than that though and is also responsible for the use of serotonin in the body and brain. Serotonin as I have already mentioned is partly used in the evening to covert to Melatonin which is the sleep hormone.
Studies have shown that a lack of Vitamin D can negatively effect sleep and the opposite of supplementation can help sleep. I would suggest you take vitamin D in the morning.
And for now, that is the end of a pretty comprehensive list of ideas on improving the quality and length of your sleep. Next in volume four, we take a few of the easy to implement idea’s from this series and create an action plan.
Remember to get medical advice if your sleeping challenge is serious and choose from these volumes of better sleep articles what interests you the most. Chances are that what feels right to try will give the best results. Or alternatively try something that you think is just so unique that it is worth a go.
Read volume four: Your better sleep action plan >>