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Home » Wellness » Sleep: Why It’s a Necessity, Not a Luxury
Dr. Birgit Högl

Dr. Birgit Högl

President, World Sleep Society

Not getting enough high-quality sleep is a common predicament, but it can often be resolved through everyday lifestyle changes.

An estimated one in three people has trouble sleeping. A lack of high-quality sleep is tied to many health ailments, and sleep-deprived people often experience daytime sleepiness or fatigue, irritability, moodiness, and difficulty focusing and concentrating. Despite these negative consequences, many overlook the importance of sleep.

The importance of healthy sleep

We all know how essential sleep is, but it’s easy to lose precious Z’s due to stress, insomnia, and various sleep disorders.

If you have a sleep disorder — such as sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome — it’s important to have it diagnosed in order to treat it. Not getting enough high-quality sleep has been linked to higher rates of diabetes, chronic illnesses, and high blood pressure. Certain sleep disorders are also indicative of a risk of future neurodegenerative diseases.

Often, however, getting high-quality sleep can be achieved simply and easily, through various lifestyle changes.

How to quit counting sheep

Healthy sleep is sleep that’s restorative and energizing, and that leaves you feeling wide awake, energetic, and lively all day long. Does it sound too good to be true? It’s possible, but it’s important to follow certain steps.

First, it’s essential to simply plan enough time for sleep and to make it a priority. Next, make sure that the environment in which you sleep is appropriate — it should be dark enough, and you should have warm hands and feet as you fall asleep. Another often-overlooked environmental factor is sound. Try to protect yourself from sounds, because even low sounds that may not fully awaken you can disturb sleep integrity.

The World Sleep Society has a handy checklist of sleep hygiene habits to follow. When seeking an optimal night’s sleep, work to:

  • Establish a regular schedule for sleeping and waking
  • Avoid drinking alcohol four hours before bedtime
  • Quit smoking
  • Avoid caffeine for six hours before bedtime (if you’re sensitive to it)
  • Avoid eating heavy, spicy, or sugary foods four hours before bedtime
  • Avoid going to sleep hungry
  • Stop using smartphones and tablets around bedtime
  • Reserve your bedroom for sleep and sex only (avoiding work or study)
  • Leave the bedroom if you haven’t fallen asleep within 20 minutes, and only go back to bed when you’re tired so that your body will begin to associate the bedroom with sleep
  • Exercise regularly, but not too close to bedtime
  • Avoid sleeping or napping for more than 30 minutes during the day

If you’re still having trouble sleeping, consider consulting a sleep specialist. Getting enough shut-eye is essential for your health, and there are solutions available.

Chronic Insomnia: Learning to Rebalance the “On/Off” Switch in Your Brain

Dr. Jaan Reitav

Dr. Jaan Reitav is a clinical psychologist with 35 years of experience, specializing in sleep medicine and cardiac rehabilitation.

Dr. Celeste Thirlwell

Dr. Celeste Thirlwell is a psychiatrist and sleep medicine specialist who specializes in chronic insomnia, traumatic brain injury, and trauma.

Insomnia negatively impacts quality of life. Insomnia affects emotion (e.g., increased irritability, anxiety, and depression), cognition (e.g., poor memory and concentration), psychosocial function, and occupational performance.

Acute insomnia is a short-term disturbance, generally involves an acute stressor, and responds to good sleep hygiene. Chronic insomnia — a condition that continues for more than three months — is much harder to tackle.

Chronic insomnia is the result of a faulty “ON/OFF” switch in the autonomic nervous system (ANS) in your brain. The ANS has two parts, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which is the “ON,” and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which is the “OFF.” The “ON” switch is the “fight, flight or freeze”mechanism of your brain that has been set up through evolution to respond to danger. The “OFF” switch is the “relax and restore” mechanism that allows you to fall asleep and stay asleep. In chronic insomnia, the brain is set to high alert/protection mode. There is too much “ON” and not enough “OFF.” The sum total of all the stressors in your life, from childhood to present, determine your ability to turn “OFF” at night. A traumatic childhood, school stressors, relationship issues, toxic work environments, and medical illness can cause the “ON” switch to be in overdrive. Therefore, the brain requires retraining to promote more “OFF,” to rebalance the ANS, and to promote a greater sense of safety and relaxation.

The NeuroRelaxation Treatment Program is an eight-session program for chronic insomnia. It is designed to rebalance the “ON/OFF” switch in your brain, so that you can have a relaxing, refreshing sleep and a better quality of life.

Another focus is training allied health care professionals to recognize the bidirectional role chronic insomnia plays in physical and mental illness. The two-day NeuroRelaxation Professional Workshop is designed to teach practical tools for the screening and treatment of insomnia, to optimize sleep health and wellness.

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The NeuroRelaxation Treatment Program is an 8-session program meant for those who suffer from insomnia. 

Dates: Weekly sessions begin Wednesday, May 13, 2020.

Schedule icon

The NeuroRelaxation Professional Workshop is a 2-day training in practical tools for the screening and treatment of insomnia.

Dates: May 23-24, 2020.

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