DR. LEPISTO: Good night and sweet dreams | PostIndependent.com

DR. LEPISTO: Good night and sweet dreams

Christoper Lepisto, N.D.
MEDICINAL ROOTS
Free Press Health Columnist

There are a few near-certain ways to invite hell's fury. First, go more than a day or two with negligible sleep and you are likely to find out that you, The Grinch, will indeed feel like stealing Christmas. Second, try commenting on a young mother's sleep-deprived appearance. At that moment, your profound lack of wisdom will be sharply reflected to you by the glare on her face. If you do not have the Grinch within you and are one of those wise enough to leave a young mother be, you still undoubtedly know someone who has genuine trouble getting a good night's sleep. Chances are that you are the one who is not getting it.

According to my colleague Catherine Darley, N.D., founder of the Institute of Naturopathic Sleep Medicine in Seattle, if it takes you longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep or you are awake in the middle of the night, you are experiencing insomnia. This is a growing trend and Americans are now more sleep deprived than ever. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) states that this "public health epidemic" is connected to medical errors, industrial disasters and motor vehicle crashes. And in The National Sleep Foundation's 2005 Sleep in America poll, researchers found that more than 60% of adult U.S. drivers (about 168 million people) have driven a vehicle while feeling drowsy in the past year, and more than one-third (about 103 million people) have actually fallen asleep at the wheel. Yikes!

So, how much sleep do you really need at night? The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night, but data from the National Health Interview Survey show that nearly one-third of us are getting six hours or fewer. It is probably translating in ways that you may not even directly connect to lack of sleep, such as anxiety, irritability or lack of focus. You might even think that you are just "getting old." In general, most people will have situational insomnia at one time or another in their lives, such as the experiences of profound grief, a big test coming up, a paper due, or a child on the way. This is completely normal and will pass, but if you are going more than a week or two having trouble finding those Zzzz's, it is probably time for some additional help. The following are a few naturopathic suggestions, starting with sleep basics. You can find more details in my previous Free Press article, "Getting the sleep you need," by searching gjfreepress.com.

HOW TO IMPROVE THE QUALITY OF YOUR SLEEP

1. Maintain consistent sleep and wake times, even scheduling sleep, if necessary.

2. Create a quiet, cool and comfortable sleeping environment.

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3. More electronic devices such as clocks, stereos, TVs and computers at least 10 feet from the bed. They generate electromagnetic fields that can disturb sleep for some people.

4. Exercise regularly to decreases the time it takes to get to sleep and increase the amount of deep sleep you get.

5. Get exposure to sunlight early in the morning and late in the afternoon or evening to encourage a healthy sleep rhythm. The hormone, melatonin, which helps create a sleep state in the body, is suppressed in light and secreted in darkness.

6. If you have problems with waking during the early hours of the morning, have a small protein snack just before bed to ensure consistent blood sugar levels throughout the night.

COMMON THINGS THAT INTERFERE WITH SLEEP

1. Alcohol.

2. Caffeine.

3. Nicotine.

4. B-vitamins.

5. A big meal right before bed.

A few months ago I was having trouble sleeping myself. After a week, someone brilliantly suggested to me that I try melatonin. Since I have prescribed melatonin safely to many patients, it came as a smack to my forehead that I hadn't thought to use it on myself. I started with a 3mg sublingual tablet (start with 1mg if you have never taken it before) 30-60 minutes before bed and lo and behold, I started sleeping significantly better until my situational insomnia passed. In general, melatonin is very safe, although it is a good example of a supplement to be used with caution because of drug interactions. At the very least, if you feel hung over the next morning you have taken too much. As always, please make certain that you know the interactions with any medication you are already taking before you begin any supplement regime, and seek professional help if you need it.

Here's to a good night's sleep and no Grinch.

Dr. Christopher Lepisto graduated as a naturopathic doctor (ND) from Bastyr University in Seattle, Wash. He is a native of Grand Junction and opened his practice here in 2004. Previously, Lepisto lived and worked in New Zealand, where he developed a special interest in indigenous herbal medicines. For more information, visit http://www.grandjunctionnaturopath.com or call 970-250-4104.