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Fundamentally, dreams — like effective cognitive psychotherapy — “are about abstraction, the ability to pan back, get bigger than, stretch into the remembrance of a larger sense of self,” Naiman says.
And in this hard-charging, info-slurping, sleep-deprived era, in which about 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep disorders (and depression is also suspiciously widespread, affecting one in eight women), he and many other sleep experts are more convinced than ever of the link between mental health and a full nightly menu of sleep.
We asked the experts for their best tips to help you get restful sleep — ideally, seven to eight hours of it — that will yield all the dreams you’ve got coming to you.
Drink Moderately, And Mind Your Meds
“A glass of wine with dinner is fine,” Naiman says, but excessive alcohol will cause you to wake up after two or three hours when the sedative effects wear off; this interacts with the first significant REM cycle and disrupts sleep further from there.
Also, many medications — including a number of antidepressants, over-the-counter painkillers, and even, ironically enough, sleeping pills — suppress the hormone melatonin and/or the nutrient choline, both of which mediate REM. It’s always wise, Naiman says, to ask your pharmacist before taking any medicine if it has a REM suppressant and, if it does, whether there’s an alternative.
Utamaro Kitagawa, Bijin Combing Her Hair, 1750-1806
Establish A Presleep Routine
Take a 20-minute soak in a hot bath two hours before bedtime, Cartwright says. The body’s effort to cool itself after the bath mimics the cooling that occurs naturally as our bodies prepare for sleep.
If your logical waking brain is reluctant to let go of the same old anxieties, Cartwright suggests writing down the day’s cares (well before bedtime) in a worry diary, then literally closing the book, telling yourself, I’ve done my worrying for the day.
Create A Restful Environment
Use blackout shades or a sleeping mask to make the room as dark as possible; darkness prompts your brain’s pineal gland to make melatonin. Also, keep your bedroom at a comfortable 60 to 65 degrees; even subtle shifts in body temperature can disrupt sleep cycles.
create a calm environment
Put Technology To Work
Relaxation CDs have moved beyond ocean waves; new versions actually have frequencies embedded in the sound tracks to encourage slow-wave sleep. (Check out sound therapist Jeffrey Thompson’s sleep-enhancement collection atneuroacoustic.com.)
Soothe Yourself If You Wake Up
If you have trouble falling back to sleep, Cartwright advises adjusting your strategy depending on the time of night. If you’re waking up after only an hour or so, try some boring mental exercise: See if you can name all 50 states alphabetically, or count backward from 100, inhaling deeply and slowly, then exhaling with each number.
Use a Gentle, Chiming Alarm Clock to wake-up so that you will be calm in the morning.
Woodson Merrell, M.D., chairman of the Department of Integrative Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, advises trying to remember the dream you were having when you woke up — even if you can recall only a detail or two — and focusing on it to see if you can drift off again.
If it’s close to your usual wake-up time — say it’s 5 a.m. and you usually wake at 7 — your core body temperature will just be starting to rise to get you active for tomorrow, which may make it hard to go back to sleep, Cartwright says. “The best thing is to take a positive attitude and don’t say to yourself, I’m going to be draggy all day,” she advises. “Instead say, Great, I have two more hours to rest!”
“People with insomnia are hyperaroused — pushing, pushing,” Naiman says. “We’re all working so frantically to get a chance to rest. But the paradox is that rest is free.” And, he adds, the great beauty of dreaming — in which “parts of ourselves that recede during waking life” roam freely and creatively — is that “you don’t have to force it to happen. It’s just there for you when you stop.”
Whole Living, November 2010
Text by Louisa Kamps
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