If you are old enough to remember . . . I mean before TV (Channel 7 started in 1959 in WA) Friday night at the pictures was Kids Night and Saturday night was Family Night. We didn’t go every week, it depended on what was showing but I always thought it was a waste of time my sister going (she is only a year younger than me) because she was often asleep while the trailers were on – before the main film had even started. Whereas I was always wide awake till the end of the film 10.30 – 11pm! Dad carried her out to the car, fast asleep. I had to walk to the car because I was still awake. My sister still goes to bed and gets up with the birds, and I am still a night-owl.

Everyone has their own night-time sleeping patterns.

They are programmed into us and we shouldn’t change them. Interestingly, a study published in Diabetes Care in 2015, reported on a study of over 64,000 Nurses looking at the relevance of natural early-risers (larks) or late-to-bed (night-owls) people, shift-work and the development of diabetes and cancers, including breast cancer.

What they found was that we should have jobs where the work time fits with our natural sleep-time patterns. They found an equally poor long-term health effect for “larks” having to work late shifts, and for “night-owls” to have to get up for a 7am start. It was found that 35% were “larks”, 54% middle-of-the-road, and 11% were “night-owls”.

The Results of the Study:

“Imposing both partial sleep deprivation and circadian misalignment on participants resulted in decreased metabolic rates, increased plasma glucose levels, decreased insulin sensitivity; and work schedules that constrained individual natural sleep timing were associated with obesity. In conclusion, the results suggest that if work times interfere with individual natural circadian sleep timing, shift and day workers may be at an increased risk for type 2 diabetes.”

Diabetes Care. 2015 Sep; 38(9): 1707–1713. 

So when we go to bed is important and very individual. Our health suffers if we try to go against our natural pre- determined inclinations. Sleeping problems amongst WA polio survivors escalated from 36% in 1989 to 80% by 2004. This has reduced to 73% in 2014 since I have been working on ways for us to improve our sleep.

The problem of getting a good night’s sleep has increased in the normal population of late as well and the results of our survey of polio survivors in the other Australian states show levels of poor sleep ranging from 84% in SA and Vic to 88% in NSW, Qld and Tas. So this is a real problem and there are more dire health consequences than just being tired and grumpy.

People get stressed just because they think they are not getting enough sleep. My mother used to worry so much that she wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep if she was woken up – so I had a 12 midnight curfew when I lived at home in my twenties, before I was married!

I am one of the lucky ones! I am usually asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow and can go straight back to sleep if I wake during the night. In fact I feel cheated if I don’t wake a few times during the night – just to see how long the night is! – and these wakes are usually at the end of the REM times, as in the chart below. But I can’t get to sleep if I go to bed too early – and my natural pattern is to sleep in later. So I get a lot of my work done late at night.

My husband used to be envious as it took him half an hour to get to sleep. One of my sons is like me and the other like him. The same with two of my grandchildren.

So why are we all so different?

When I was a kid we had a definite sleep-time routine. After tea we read or played cards, (or watched TV when it came in) then had a hot bath, supper (hot milk cocoa, crackers and cheese or home-made cake) off to bed and out like a light.

Having a hot bath stimulates the para-sympathetic nervous system which actives while we are asleep so being warm helps us get to sleep. The sympathetic nervous system is active when we are awake and is stimulated by cold. So a cold shower wakes us up, & being cold or having a cold bed will keep us awake.

There are definite stages to the sleep cycle and if we don’t sleep enough hours, we don’t get the benefit we should. Stage 1 is a light sleep from which we are easily woken. We begin to lose muscle tone, causing twitches and jerks Stage 2 is marked by a loss of nearly all muscle tone. We spend around half of all your sleep in Stage 2; a light dreamless sleep. Stage 3 and 4 is known as slow-wave, a dreamless stage of sleep; it is actually the most likely time for sleepwalking to occur. REM Sleep marks the onset of dreaming. REM sleep deprivation impairs our ability to learn complex tasks and form long-term memories.

Solutions to common sleep problems

Not getting enough good quality sleep (7-8 hours) means that we cut short these sleep cycles and they do have a purpose. If we imagine our bodies like the supermarket at night, shelves are restocked, rubbish cleaned up and thrown out and tills tallied up and recorded. Everything is readied for the next day and our bodies do this while we sleep as well. Three of the most common complaints I get from people are:

1. I have trouble falling asleep at night.
The short answer to this one is- ZINC will usually fix this. In simple terms, zinc is low in our soil and most people are short on zinc. Taking extra Zinc turns off all the “racing” thoughts going round and round in the brain. I liken it to shutting down our “brain computer” and doing a “save”. We need zinc to commit short term memory from today’s happenings to long term memory, so we can remember important events later.
You may have heard of taking melatonin and GABA or even 5HTP to help us sleep. We don’t have to buy these. Our bodies normally make them as long as we have enough of the ingredients. Zinc is the major one we are missing so we should start there.
Melatonin results from the breakdown of an essential amino acid called tryptophan, which is found in most protein-based foods but is particularly plentiful in chocolate, oats, dried dates, dairy foods, red meat, eggs, fish, poultry, sesame seeds, almonds, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, bananas, and peanuts. We need zinc, B3, B6, C and magnesium to convert these foods to tryptophan then to 5HTP then to serotonin, and then into melatonin.
So this is where the hot cocoa, and cheese and crackers for supper, came in when we were young. We also need a dark room for the body to make melatonin, so pull the curtains and switch off or hide any night lights, including clock radios. Uncover if you need to get up for the loo.
GABA? – to make it we need glutamine and taurine (best taken in the morning) and again B6 and then zinc at night.

Zinc chelate 220mg x 4 taken 30 mins before bed. Take magnesium before bed too. Have a hot bath/shower before bed

Falling asleep

2. I wake after a few hours and can’t get back to sleep.
Again, try 2 more zinc as GABA is needed to get back to sleep. Also magnesium, potassium (soup or veggie water), glycine (gelatine – jelly or jelly lollies) or chocolate. Avoid artificial sweeteners, coffee, MSG or taking too much glutamine (and don’t take it at night as glutamine is for mental alertness during the day).
Other things that keep us awake are restless legs or cramps (need more magnesium), pain (often need magnesium for muscle aches – try cutting out cheese and yoghurt; take manganese for painful hip or shoulder or stiffness; gelatine and borax for arthritic pain). Frequent trips to the loo and incontinence may respond to taking cranberry tablets – not juice, it is too sweet. If we eat sweet foods before bed this can cause a rise in blood sugar, followed by a sharp dip a few hours later which wakes us. Getting up to go to the loo will raise blood sugar, which may then allow you to go back to sleep. A better idea is a bit of protein for supper – ie crackers with cheese, egg or fish to even out blood sugar. Nuts and seeds or carrot/celery sticks act as resistant starch so help maintain an even blood sugar too.

You need more GABA – so take glutamine and taurine + B6 in the morning and zinc chelate x 4 before bed. Have some protein for supper and eat some chocolate. Jelly helps too. Fix pain problems.

Waking up

3. I wake up every morning feeling tired.
You may not be getting enough dream time. Dreams are one of the ways your brain consolidates memories. During dream time, your brain can reorganize and review the day’s events. It also connects new experiences to older ones. That’s why getting enough REM sleep can enhance learning as well as memory.
The second thing that happens during REM sleep is that your body’s muscles completely relax. This state of relaxation allows you to feel energized and rejuvenated the next morning.
As you can see, REM sleep is crucial to helping you feel sharp, healthy, and well-rested during the day. But if you are getting plenty of shuteye and still waking up tired, it may be because you’re not getting enough REM sleep. Lack of health-restoring REM sleep leaves you drowsy and fatigued the next day. It makes it hard to focus, remember names, or recall where you put your car keys. Even worse, it can do lasting damage to your memory. Taking Vitamin B3 in the morning can help you make more 5HTP which helps your dream time. L-theanine is a substance in green tea that helps as well and sea salt has 84 minerals you need.

Check for sleep apnoea. Do you snore?

Morning tiredness

Salt is vital for sleep regulation
• Before getting into bed drink a full glass of water then put a few grains of good quality sea salt on your tongueas you lay down and let it stay there.
• You will fall into a natural deep sleep!
• (Don’t take salt without the glass of water – it can make your nose bleed.)

What Your Sleeping Position Says About You and Your Health
by Chief Scientific Advisor, Dr. Victor Marchione, M.D. 14 February 2014

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