Tuesday, September 1, 2015

SLEEP CONDITIONING

Does this ever happen to you? You are exhausted, you finally get to go to bed, but you are wide awake? Or, are you dragging your feet -heck- your entire body in the morning and won't make it too far without your first cup of coffee?

I wondered how many of us are affected by sleep disorders, so of course as any of us would do, I Googled it. "According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, about 40 million people in the United States suffer from chronic long-term sleep disorders each year and an additional 20 million people experience occasional sleep problems." Combined that's 60 million people! In case you were further wondering, like myself, there are 318.9 million people in the US (2014). So, if we lined up everyone in the United States, approximately every fifth person would have some form of sleep dysfunction.

Why is this so alarming? Because our bodies have certain requirements that must be met in order to survive and function properly. Just as we need to eat and drink to fuel and hydrate our bodies, we also need sleep for many things including maintaining our minds. So, why is sleep so important? Without sleep our brains will perform slower and affects both our cognitive skills and emotional well being. I had read an article recently how some companies in Asia (I believe it was Japan) schedule naps for their employees because it promotes a better working environment and increases their productivity. It's true! Lack of sleep will significantly decrease many aspects of both your mind and body. Long-term sleep deficiency can even cause serious health issues. So, we can all agree that sleep is a necessity, correct? Now, how do we break the vicious cycle of insomnia? Easy, we recondition our brains. Think of it like you are rebooting and reprogramming your computer; except this might actually be easier.


First Things First

In order to reclaim healthy sleeping habits, you have to think of a circle, within that circle there are three main goals that must be achieved daily; mind, body, and soul. When we connect the trinity, we can connect to a well being, and ultimately a healthy and happy state. There are many aspects of everyone's "circles", but for now, we're focusing on achieving and maintaining healthy sleeping patterns. 

If you were to research ways to help you sleep, many articles will tell you to eat healthy, exercise, and allow yourself adequate down-time. What this translates to is to cut your caffeine intake (especially in the afternoon and evening hours - trust me once you are sleeping regularly you won't need multiple cups of coffee a day, you won't even need that morning cup to get you going), it also means to take notice of what you are actually eating as some things can contribute to heart burn and so forth, and could cause you discomfort before bed and further complicate the vicious circle you are trying to break free from. The easiest way during this transition is to do a somewhat cleanse, by eating healthy and doing away with carbonated drinks, and especially caffeine. 


Warning: if you regularly consume caffeine daily, then you could experience caffeine withdraw (that's right people, just like a drug). Have some Excedrin: Migraine or whatever you might take for headache's handy, and don't forget to drink plenty of water. I'm not saying you have to go green or anything, just try to make the conscious choice to eat healthier (at least for a week or two). 


Now that we are starting to work on your body; exercise is another key factor. If you are like me and are limited in this area, it doesn't have to be strenuous activities. I've noticed my best sleep cycles occur during the spring and summer months because that is when I am the most active. 

When we exercise there are so many good chemicals released in our body, and those good chemicals are sparking our brain to function properly. You can start by parking your car farther away from the store so that you have to walk a little further; when you are walking try picking up your natural pace. 

Whatever your activity is, it's working your body, which is producing more chemical firing for a healthier state. Everyone is different, if you haven't exercised in years, your body isn't conditioned to run a marathon. It's wise to consult with your doctor and communicate with them about your health concerns and needs. 

My only concern with the medical field, or at least it has been my experience, that they are too quick to prescribe medications. There is this mentality in our culture that a pill can fix anything and I have a huge problem with this. Of course, there are serious conditions that do require medications, I'm not saying don't take your medicine, I'm saying be careful. 

At one point in my life I was on so much medication I felt like my life revolved around taking pills, and it truly did to some degree (I have chronic pain and severe nerve damage). However, I am happy to state that I am pill free. Does this mean I never take medication? No, it does not. I only take medicine when my body tells me to, when I am experiencing true pain. I say true pain because we can have phantom pain and other types of pain, our bodies can become addicted to medicine without even really knowing we are, so our brain tells us that we are hurting so that we will want or believe we need to take medication to feel better... yet another vicious cycle. Have you ever read the warning labels on your pill bottles? Just watching a single medicine commercial should tell us that it's not necessarily to our benefit to take! Again, please consult your medical professional before detoxing from your medications. 


Read Labels: a side effect could intrude on your ability to sleep properly. Know what you are putting into your body, just don't accept and trust that everyone else has your best interest and health as a priority. Unfortunately, there are so many chemicals in our environment that can seriously hurt us. Just ask my father who is a victim of Agent Orange and now has diabetes because of it.


So, we've tackled the body and part of the mind, now we have to address the rest of our mind and how it connects to our spirituality. I understand not everyone is religious, and I'm not saying you have to be; it's your life. However, I will explain how my spirituality ties into my health and ultimately has helped me in sleeping better. I'm not trying to convert you, I'll just share my life's journey and where I am now. 

I've always been spiritual, you can say it's part of being Native American, you can say that it's because I've experienced trauma, but I say it is because I am faithful and believe in the one and only God. I have been studying the Bible, not that I can throw down Bible versus or anything, but I study as a tool. It helps me to grow and rejuvenate my spirit, as well as builds on my personal relationship with the Lord. 

Many people are plagued with negative thoughts or some form of fear(s). Did you know that there are 365 passages in the Bible that directly state not to be fearful, its literally telling us every day of an entire year not to be afraid (I had read this in a devotional). So, why are we so fearful? That's a much deeper question and will change for each and every one of us. Our society is constantly putting fear into our subconscious, and while some warnings are to our benefit, other's are a direct attempt to keep us in fear. Why? Could it be so that as a mass people we can be controlled? If we have nothing to fear, then why would we have a need? It's a deep question and something to ponder over, but certainly don't do that heavy lifting before bed!

My point was, that by connecting to your spirituality you can experience that fresh breath of air; where you can have a true experience and sense of peace. So, where do we start? Some people are turned off to studying the Bible because to them it's a difficult trillion pieced puzzle that they don't even want to begin to tackle. Rome wasn't built in a day, right? Just take it one day at a time.

When I was in my twenties I attempted to read the Bible from front to back and somewhere in the middle I seemed to get lost in the words. Toward my later twenties I discovered an amazing learning Bible, which I still love, because each script was broken down and explained into more details (which was great for me and how my brain works). But, eventually that too got pushed to the side. Now, I have a Bible app! It's been wonderful and honestly, I probably didn't utilize it for the first few years I had my smart phone. Now, I get push notifications daily of scriptures, it's truly wonderful and has blessed my life.


Conditioning 101

What is conditioning? You might think of conditioning as something an athlete does, and you would be absolutely correct. An athlete has to condition themselves or else they won't make the cut or could be seriously injured. Look at it this way, if we are not getting enough sleep we are hurting our bodies. In order to not cause yourself any further self-harm, start making the choices with the knowledge that you have the power to condition yourself. It's an easy formula to put your brain on the right path. 

Many of us are negative; an easy conditioning exercise is for every negative thought or statement, to immediately think of or state two positives. So, for instance, if I were to say or think that my writing sucks, I would immediately have to say or think two positives: I communicate well through my writing, and I have a gift for explaining things and educating others. For this exercise you can enlist the help and support of friends and family. Let them know you are working on yourself and if they hear you say anything bad about yourself, that they are to remind you to say two positives about yourself.

Why do you need to condition your thoughts? Even if we think negative thoughts, it will affect what you think about yourself. I'm not saying to be a narcissist, quite the contrary, I'm saying don't down-yourself because negativity begets more negativity; and that darkness can swallow you and before you know it your staring down depression and wondering how you got there. Have enough self-worth and believe in yourself. You are a unique wonderful human being and don't forget it. If someone makes you feel any different, then it's time to evaluate the relationship. Toxic relationships aren't healthy ones and they will invade our thoughts as we're attempting to fall asleep. But, how can I stop my brain from thinking like this? Take control of your thoughts. 

When you are going to sleep, if you start thinking of work, or a relationship, immediately go to your happy place. This is part of conditioning too. Our happy place is whatever it needs to be, a (healthy) fantasy, or something or somewhere where we feel or think we would feel happy. One of my happy places is a deserted island, which might not be for everyone because you might stress about finding shelter and other things. I have found that happy places should be fictional; somewhere where those stresses don't apply. When I'm thinking of my island, I'm thinking warm sands between my toes, crystal blue waters, and a perfect sun filled day. Start thinking from your head to your toes, how the sun would feel warm on your head, how the breeze would caress your skin, and how the sand feels between your toes. This is a conditioning tool to help sedate your mind, it will help you slip more effectively into your sleep state. 

Another conditioning process is to have an activity you do before bed, and do it every night before you go to sleep, this will trigger your body and brain that by doing this it's time for bed. Mine activity is my Bible app, I have a daily devotional that I do, currently is is Joyce Meyer: Promises for your everyday life, I'm currently 52% through this devotional, each day it will give you a different passage in the Bible and then there is the devotional, where it describes the passage and how it is applied to our daily lives. 

Be careful with electrical devices before bed though, it has been proven that exposure to your electronic devices before bed can disturb your circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm is our 24 hour biological process that our body goes through. While I might use the Bible app on my iPhone before bed, the majority of the reading has a black background with white (or red) lettering as not to disturb this process. Be mindful of how much time you are staring at an electric screen in the duration of a day. Combined with doing a certain activity regularly, you're putting yourself on a schedule, and you might not like schedules, but it helps our bodies to know when to start powering down; it helps our brains to go into sleep mode, and our spirit to work while we are sleeping to rejuvenate and get us ready for the next day.

You can do it! It might seem like a lot, it might not. Either way, follow through with the process and see if you don't experience a better night's sleep. After I had a nervous break-down a few years back and had to do an outpatient program, these basic concepts were shared; eat regularly, get adequate sleep, and don't stop working on yourself. We're a constant work-in-progress.

Someone around this time in my life told me, if I was working too hard then something was going to give. What they meant was that there was too much going on, I was the primary caregiver for my special needs son, I was working full-time, obtaining a college education, working on relationships, trying to maintain a home, and everything else.

We all take our daily activities for granted in various ways, but each should be considered and valued (like money). We have so much to spend each day, if we spend too much, something eventually is going to give. Once my "going to give" gave, I did reevaluate my life and made serious changes; life's definitely not easy, sometimes we can take that easy path, but sometimes that easy path doesn't pay-off either. Either way, when we take care of ourselves, it will reflect in our lives. So please, take care of yourself and sweet dreams.

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