To Sleep, Perchance to Heal

” ‘tis sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care.”

by Michael Braunstein

Cool Autumn nights are made for sleep. A cozy comforter and a warm bed can trigger that hibernation urge. But for millions of Americans, sleep does not always come easily or linger pleasantly. Inadequate sleep or outright insomnia can torment modern man as terribly as it did Macbeth.

Sleep disorders take many forms. They may include difficulty falling asleep, waking several times in the middle of the night, struggle to return to sleep after waking, light or troubled sleep or waking too early in the morning.

Sleep dysfunction is more than just inconvenience. It can lead to poor health. In September of 2006, “The Archives of Internal Medicine” dedicated an entire issue to the relationship between sleep and health. Research connects inadequate sleep with hypertension, weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, cancers and stroke to name but a few health risks. It seems every organ depends on sleep to balance and heal. It’s silly that we need a research study to convince us of these relationships. But then again, sometimes common sense is all to uncommon.

Beat it. The heart especially benefits from a good night’s sleep. During sleeping hours, the heart can actually get some rest, at least comparatively. Blood pressure lowers, heart rate decreases and that most vital blood pump has it much easier for those few resting hours.

Daytime performance can be impaired by sleepless nights. Productivity at work, common decision-making and even safe driving are now linked to how much or how little sleep we get.

The current dictum from sleep docs is that the best number is seven hours of sleep. Less than that, or more than that, and they see a bulge in the numbers of health difficulties. 4.5 hours or less is considered a real no-no and 10 hours or more is also significantly less healthful.

When sleep difficulties creep in, the common medical approach is to get to the doctor and ask for any one of the several prescription drugs advertised on TV and everywhere else. None are intended as a long-term solution, however, and usually come with a warning about dependence.

Before we buy into the ads with the elusive “butterfly of sleep,” there are many, more natural options one may consider.

How’s your day been? If you are having trouble sleeping at night, take a look at what you are doing during the day. Are you eating right and at the right times? Dining too late and on a heavy meal can certainly affect nighttime sleep. What about stimulating foods or beverages or those that may not agree with you? It seems obvious, but stimulant drinks like colas, coffee and tea deserve consideration as a hindrance to quality sleep.

Are you getting adequate exercise during the day? It’s not about simply tiring the body out. Exercise helps to regulate hormone levels and that has tremendous effect on sleep patterns.

Are you taking time out to meditate or do a true relaxation technique to help release stress during the day? After all, how many times can the complaint be traced to an overactive mind in the middle of the night? It’s usually our thoughts that keep us awake and training the mind is an important, if not the important first step. An enlightened health care professional is often more likely to suggest a routine of stress reduction like meditation, tai chi or massage over a chemical intervention.

The mechanics. There are certain proactive mechanical steps one can take to help usher in the Sandman. They include keeping the bedroom as a place of sleep only, keeping a cool but not cold room temperature, retiring at that perfect sleeping time of 9:30 or 10 p.m. Avoid mind-stressing things like television or quarrels.

Alcohol has a devastating effect on ability to sleep. Excess bypasses the natural process of the body in falling to sleep. Many Alcoholics Anonymous attendees point to terrible sleep problems. If I were having sleep problems, one of the first things I would look at is alcohol consumption.

Natural aids. When sleep is a problem, some people find that certain herbal teas work well. I have found that whole teas made directly from the herb work far better than capsules of powdered herbs. For one, there is a little better knowledge of what you are using when you can actually see the small pieces of valerian root or the actual chamomile flowers, for example. Both of those herbs and many others have been used as sleep aids. A little research will yield many possibilities and a visit to a licensed herbalist will do even more. One should always seek the advice of a health care professional when self-prescribing certain herbs. Some can be very powerful.

Onion soup for the soul. Don’t overlook old wives’ tales. Many former insomniacs claim onions can induce sleep. Methods include sniffing diced onions before going to bed. Friends of mine have simply had a nice bowl of French onion soup in the evening and it works for them.

So put down that iPhone — far away from the bed — and dream.

Be well.

Heartland Healing is a metaphysically based polemic describing alternatives to conventional methods of healing the body, mind and planet. It is provided as information and entertainment, certainly not medical advice. Important to remember and pass on to others: for a weekly dose of Heartland Healing, visit

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