Caroline Shannon-Karasik’s AfterGlo

Sing me a lullaby

By Caroline Shannon-Karasik

It’s 3:13 a.m. and I’m awake.

I’ve already, unwillingly, opened my eyes at 12:34 and 2:26 a.m. As it is, I had a hard time falling asleep because I couldn’t get my mind to stop racing, moving through to-do-list tasks that include work obligations, dinner ideas, emails to send, phone calls to make and, “Did we remember to feed the cats today?” When I finally do fall asleep, it’s often a fitful one, laden with frenzied dreams, night sweats and, ultimately, long periods of waking up and lying in bed with nothing to do but think and wait to fall asleep again.

I’ve read every article that lists tricks for earning more restful sleep and tried several of the suggestions, including setting a bedtime in order to establish a routine, sleeping with a fan to drown out noise, calming tea before hitting the hay and black-out curtains that keep light from interfering with sleep. One study even suggests swapping a hammock for my ho-hum bed, but I haven’t tried that one – yet.

“Basically, gentle rocking, as one might experience in a hammock, may improve restorative sleep because it seems to stimulate the type of well-synchronized brain activity that produces sleep spindles in your brain,” said Teresa Aubele, co-author of the book, “Train Your Brain to Get Happy.” “These sleep spindles seem to minimize disturbances from external sounds, as well as improve the sleeper’s inner tranquility. As a bonus, these sleep spindles also seem to help you integrate new information into existing knowledge.”

Aubele put it into perspective for this sleep-deprived brain, citing a study published in Cell Biology which was aimed at explaining why rocking, as if in a hammock, promoted sleep. She said the group found participants who took a 45-minute nap in a rocking bed (versus a stationary bed) fell asleep faster and had notably different patterns in their brainwaves during sleep. Researchers also found rocking promoted stage two sleep, where the brain begins to produce bursts of rapid, rhythmic brain wave activity (spindles!), the body temperature begins to decrease and heart rate starts to slow.

“Interestingly, spindles have been shown to aid sleeping in the presence of disruptive external sounds, and there is a correlation between sleep spindles … and a sleeper’s ability to maintain tranquility,” Aubele said.

Hey, spindles, you can join me in bed any night. (Wink.)

And I’m learning Mr. Spindle and I are not alone in our restless marital bed. The more I talk to people about my lack of quality sleep, the more I hear similar complaints:

“I know; I’m so tired!”

“My mind is constantly racing and I can’t fall asleep!”

And Facebook and other social media complaints abound:

“Why am I awake right now?”

“INSOMNIA!”

“Help … I can’t sleep!”

But back to sleeping and the hammock: It all makes sense to me. Like a baby who wants to be rocked by her mama, I’d thoroughly enjoy an opportunity for the swaying motion of a hammock to sing me a sweet lullaby every night.

One Reddit user tried the hammock solution and posted in a forum under the heading “Hammocks saved my life.” He told the story of how, at 15 years old, he discovered a more restful sleep after sleeping in a hammock during a summer vacation. When he was 16 years old, he asked his parents for a hammock for Christmas and they obliged. Thrilled, he set it up that night and wrote, “I slept for 18 hours. Hammocks cured me of my insomnia (of 15 years) and I am forever grateful!”

Of course, while 18 hours of sleep sounds like a dream, I don’t think I will be swapping my bed for a hammock any time soon. So, I asked a few experts what I might be able to do to earn me a little more shut-eye.

Dr. Virgil Wooten, Medical Director of the UC Health Sleep Medicine Center in Cincinnati, said balance is a large contributing factor to a solid night of sleep.

“The number one cause of poor sleep is stress,” Wooten said. “An unbalanced life leads to poor sleep and illness.”

Wooten also recommended staying on track by sticking with a regular “get up” time and getting an adequate amount of sleep while learning the benefits of not oversleeping.

“Try to find the amount needed on a nightly basis to feel rested and alert the next day and stick with it,” Wooten said. “Spending too much time in bed will cause frustration by lying awake, and as we all know, practice (lying awake, for example) makes perfect.”

Dr. Robert Oexman, director of the Sleep to Live Institute in North Carolina, said reducing caffeine and limiting the use of alcohol can also help to ensure a better night’s sleep, in addition to cutting off light exposure 30 minutes to one hour before bed. That means no falling asleep in front of the television or staring at a computer into the wee hours of the morning.

Oops.

“We need to make a commitment to get at least eight hours of sleep,” Oexman said. “Some people may need more (especially young children and teenagers). If you are unwilling to make that commitment, all of the tactics to improve sleep will fall short.”

I’m all about these docs’ suggestions and committing to a sleep diet, but the suggestion that really rocked my world was one made by Dr. Nancy Irwin, a hypnotherapist in Los Angeles, Calif.

“Massage right before bed,” she said.

Well, how about that? Sounds like my husband just earned himself a new job. Talk about helping a girlfriend out.

What about you? What are your tried-and-true tricks for catching more snooze time? Send me an email with your suggestions!

Caroline Shannon-Karasik is the author of The Gluten-Free Revolution and a certified health coach. She is also the author of the popular gluten-free blog, sincerelycaroline.com. Her writing and recipe development has been featured in several publications, including, VegNews, Kiwi and REDBOOK magazines. Caroline lives with her husband Dan and four adopted cats in Pittsburgh, Penn. Caroline can be reached at
afterglo@daytoncitypaper.com.

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