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Russell Setright

Napoleon once said that a man needs four, a woman needs six and a fool needs eight hours sleep a night. I don't believe that this is the truth; however, many people believe they need more sleep than they are actually getting. What is more important is the quality of sleep. If we are tossing and turning and waking up continuously during the night or are woken up during the deep sleep stage, then we would indeed feel run down and exhausted the next morning.

While some people may require eight hours sleep, others can be well rested and function properly with as little as four hours sleep. This depends on the physical activity and lifestyle of the individual. Other factors such as age and pregnancy also affect the length of sleep required. A young baby requires up to twenty hours sleep a day whereas someone in their seventies only requires four to six hours a night.

True insomnia results when we are unable to achieve the amount of sleep we need. In fact almost one-third of the population can be affected with this common condition. We need sleep for our nervous system to function properly. If we are deprived of sleep for long periods, we may suffer from irritability or even hallucinations and delusions.

The causes of insomnia include biochemical imbalances and psychological problems. Biochemical imbalances can be treated by diet and natural remedies.
We go through four stages of sleep.
The first stage of sleep is the lightest where there is slow eye rolling, some muscle twitching and a drop in body temperature.

Sleep deepens slightly during the second stage. EEG (electroencephalograph) measurement shows some bursts of activity.
When we reach stage three, this is a much deeper sleep and the EEG now slows to a larger wave pattern.
About forty minutes after falling asleep stage four occurs. This is when we are at our lowest ebb. We stay in this pattern for approximately forty minutes and the EEG pattern is now a slow wave. It is also at this stage that bed-wetting can occur in children.

It is possible to be easily awakened just before this very deep sleep of stage four. We may all have experienced how difficult it is to fall back to sleep if awakened at this stage.

We now return to stage one that is called REM (Rapid-Eye-Movement) sleep.  This is our dreaming phase when our breathing becomes irregular and our eyes move quickly from side-to-side although they are still closed. If we do no achieve REM phase, we can awake still feeling a need for sleep. This is also a phase where the slightest sound can wake the light sleeper. This pattern continues 4 to 5 times a night concluding with our awakening.
Exercise, dietary adjustments and the addition of herbs can help many poor sleepers achieve this normal sleep pattern, one which will make them more mentally alert, rested and active.

A combination of the herbs, valerian, Melissa officinalis (Lemon balm), Passiflora incarnata (Passion flower) and Humulus lupulus (Hops)  will help us to achieve a more restful sleep without daytime drowsiness and addiction. They are best taken about an hour before bed with a glass of warm low fat milk or soymilk.    
These herbs have been traditionally used for their sedative and gentle anxiety relieving effects. Passionflower also helps to relieve insomnia due to mental worry and anxiety, racing thoughts or "mind chatter" by helping to calm the mind these can be found in Blackmores Executive Sleep Formula and Sleep Sound Formula

Dietary changes can help insomniacs.
Serotonin, a natural hormone that helps regulates mood, appetite and sleep is converted from the amino acid L-tryptophan with the aid of vitamin B6. L-tryptophan is also converted into vitamin B3. To ensure that L-tryptophan (a natural occurring amino acid found in protein foods such as milk) is converted with the aid of vitamin B6 to serotonin and not vitamin B3, we may need to include extra B3 and B6 vitamins in our diet ensuring this conversion as adverse mood/emotional conditions can affect the ability to fall asleep as well as reducing sleep quality.

A warm drink of low fat milk or soymilk before bedtime can help ensure adequate intake of dietary L-tryptophan as both are sources of dietary L-tryptophan. To help adequate absorption of tryptophan into the brain, dietary protein is best minimised in the evening meal and instead substitute carbohydrates as the main component of the meal.

There are other factors that will help improve sleep. One of these is going to bed at the right time. If our bodies only require six hours sleep to be fully rested, then going to bed at 8.00 p.m. at night will result in wakefulness at approximately 2 am. in the morning. Many people unfortunately may think this is insomnia and take sleeping tablets so they can resume their sleep pattern for the rest of the night. This habit, especially when taking prescribed sleeping medication, does not give the same quality of sleep as natural sleep nor does it rest the body in the same way.

It would be much better to postpone going to bed until later in the night and enjoy the extra time by either reading or partaking in some other relaxing pastime in preparation for a good night's sleep. However one of the most important factors in being able to have a good night’s sleep is the production of melatonin (the hormone of sleep).

Melatonin the sleep hormone
Melatonin, often referred to as the sleep hormone, in humans it is produced by the pineal gland in the presence of darkness and reduced light (night time). The melatonin signal forms part of the system that regulates the sleep–wake cycle by chemically causing drowsiness and lowering the body temperature, the central nervous system (specifically the suprachiasmatic nuclei, or SCN) also plays an important part in controlling the daily cycle in most components of the paracrine and endocrine systems.

In the morning bright light (sunlight) stops the production of melatonin and is needed to wake up fully. A lack of darkness at night and or bright sunlight in the morning can interfere with your body clock.  
Bright light at night from smart phones and pads which emit a blue light interferes with your melatonin production more than other light wavelengths do. As a result this bluish light throws the body's biological clock, the circadian rhythm, out of whack and sleep suffers. Worse, research shows that it may contribute to the causation of some cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

Some tips for a good night’s sleep
1. Go to bed at the right time to give you the hours needed for a good nights sleep, turn off or dim the lights two hours before bed.

2. If you need a night light, red colour light does not interfere with melatonin production and makes a good night light.
3. DON”T get on the smart phone and Pad in bed.
4. Avoid eating a large protein meal just before bedtime and also restrict the intake of caffeine found in coffee and cola drinks.
5. A good drink before going to bed is a cup of chamomile tea. This is relaxing and tasty and will help you sleep well and awake well rested and ready to tackle the day.
6. When you get up in the morning go out into the sunlight. This is very important as it will help keep your body clock in equilibrium.
7. Sleep well and enjoy your life more.

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