Sweet Dreams

The frantic deadlines and crazy schedules of modern life make it difficult to unwind and relax. This can affect your sleep patterns. We spend a third of our lives sleeping, and sleep is the more restorative of all activities, yet it's among the most neglected.

Take a moment to evaluate your sleep habits and ask yourself the following questions. Do you:

• Go to bed at different times every night 

• Have difficulty falling asleep 

• Depend on alcohol, medicines or sedatives to fall asleep? 

• Snore loudly 

• Experience sleep interruptions, tossing and turning 

• Wake up tired and restless, possibly with a headache 

• Doze off at work

Some of the symptoms above may indicate sleep apnea (breathing that is blocked or partly blocked during sleep). Obstructive sleep apnea is largely undiagnosed (and potentially dangerous) because most individuals don't even realize they have a sleep disorder (unlike an insomniac who stays up all night). According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, over one in four Canadian adults (26%) was at high risk for having obstructive sleep apnea.
 
The Hidden Link Between Metabolic Syndrome and Sleep 

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have discovered a link between sleep and metabolic syndrome, which is a combination of factors that includes heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. If you have a sleep disorder, it is likely that your body is producing higher levels of stress hormones, which can cause high blood pressure, high blood sugar, low "good" cholesterol, high triglycerides, and excess belly fat.

How much sleep do you really need?

There's no set number, but most adults need seven to nine hours a night; others manage just fine with six to seven. It's even possible to get too much sleep, because spending too much time sleeping may indicate depression or chronic fatigue syndrome.

Problems with the quantity or the quality of your sleep may not be obvious, but will silently take their toll on your body. A key indicator of good sleep is your willingness to get out of bed (do you wake up alert and refreshed?) along with your energy level (are you irritable, sleepy or tired?) during the day. 

Sleep Strategy 

• Gentle, restorative stretching and controlled breathing as instructed by your physical therapist can help you relax and reduce muscle tension. This will put you in a better state of mind before you go to bed. 

• Excess weight may contribute to sleep disorders. A physical therapist can also assist you with a safe, effective weight loss program and a regular exercise program designed to relieve muscle tightness and increase flexibility, which will assist you to sleep better.

• Eliminate caffeine and soda before bed time (the earlier in the day you can cut these out, the better). Depending on your caffeine fix, you may need to eliminate them around lunch time. 

• Avoid heavy meals before bed time. A combination of healthy carbohydrates and protein during dinner team containing tryptophan, an amino acid that converts to sleep-promoting serotonin in the body is beneficial. You may want to consider whole wheat pasta, fresh vegetables and parmesan cheese, yogurt sprinkled with cereal, milk and graham crackers etc. For best results, consult a nutritionist for advice about which foods can facilitate (and may adversely affect) your sleep habits. 

• Your body needs to cool to a certain temperature to reach a sound state of sleep, so if you tend to take a hot bath right before bed time, you may want to do it sooner (right after you get home from work). Cooling your bedroom before bedtime is also a good step. 

• Your bedroom must be as quiet as possible. Consider soothing music, ear plugs to buffer unwelcome sounds. 

• Switch off all lights in your bedroom. Dim the lights before bedtime if possible, since this is a biological trigger to 'wind down'. It's unlikely that you will go from the bright lights of a computer or the television to sound sleep since your body is in a 'daytime' mode. Installing dimmers in your bedroom and other rooms is valuable because your body needs darkness to unwind and relax. 

• Leave all thoughts of work and all to-do lists outside the bedroom. Ban televisions, computers and cellphones from your bedroom, since your body is cued to respond to these devices even if they are in vibrate/silent mode. Resist the urge to use your cellphone as an alarm clock (you may want to switch it off completely) and get an alarm clock with a soothing, relaxing wake up reminder. 

Consult your doctor if you want to reduce your dependence on sedatives and alcohol to fall asleep. Contact your physical therapists to help you with a stretching routine, deep breathing exercises and weight loss programs.