Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Troubleshooting Guide to Better Sleep

Our bodies are masterpieces of engineering designed for functionality far beyond our imagination. Every living body on this planet is capable of performing extraordinary feats, mental and physical, but in order for the body to provide longevity and maximum performance, it needs to be treated like the highly advanced mechanism that it is and be maintained accordingly. Luckily for us, for such an advanced piece of engineering, it is relatively easy to do because the body actually maintains itself! We just have to provide the right conditions for that to happen.

But just for a moment, let’s suppose we did have to do the maintenance ourselves. Imagine having to coordinate the multiplying of the trillions of cells in our body, and ensuring every single one of them is getting the right type and amount of nutrients and the right amount of oxygen. Imagine having to regulate your heart-beat, breathing, temperature and balancing the body’s chemistry. Imagine having to find, extinguish and dispose of invasive organisms or our own cells that have gone bad. It would be literally impossible for us to do because this mechanism, our body, is literally designed with engineering far beyond our imagination and complete comprehension. We would be beyond overwhelmed!

So it’s best to let our body do its own maintenance and all we have to do is set the right conditions for it to happen. A great deal of it actually happens during sleep, thus, sleep is exceptionally important. Unfortunately, a great many of us have trouble with sleep, but the good news is that this can usually be fixed by identifying the reason for it and applying the corrective actions. This can be done by your own observation and taking the appropriate action. You can start by noticing how you feel as you wake up and throughout your day, observing your daily activities - mind activity, physical activity and emotional activity, noticing factors in your environment that affect you, being vigilant and selective of what you allow yourself to interact with and enter your mind and knowing how all of this affects you. It may take some time to learn to really observe and bring all of this activity into your awareness if you’re not used to it, but with daily practice, just as with any new skill, you can get better at it with practice. To help you get started, based on my own experience and observations, I’ve listed 10 items below that you may or may not be aware of that are affecting your sleep, and suggestions on what to do if you are experiencing any of these.

Problem: Incessant or compulsive thinking. Our minds are often out of control. Their nature is to think, and that’s what they do best, but sometimes more than what is helpful to us.
Solution: Our minds are like a puppy, very alive, very active, very untrained and very smart. While you won't be able to control it, you can train your mind to work for you, rather than against you, by constantly observing all of the activity that goes on within it. Just by being aware of what goes on in your mind rather than letting it act on its own and not being aware of what it’s doing, as if on auto-pilot, will open up possibilities to you where you can choose to stay with that current thought pattern, seize it, or replace it with another one. Whether the compulsive thinking is mild or severe, you can interrupt it by going to a quiet place, closing your eyes and taking a deep inhale and exhale while attentively focusing on your breath. This might just be what’s needed to put aside that constant worry or restlessness or anxiety, and replace it with clearer thinking and peace of mind. You can take this further by starting a meditation practice and really learning to become aware of exactly what goes on inside your mind at every moment of your waking hours. You may find that becoming aware at every moment will open up choices that allow you to change your mind’s direction consciously and purposefully. In turn, if your mind is tranquil, you will find that, provided all of the other conditions are set, you will be able to fall asleep more easily and allow your body to perform its maintenance.

Problem: Constant worry over something you need to do or a situation you can’t do anything about. If there is a particular and constant worry that is plaguing your mind because there is something that you know you should do and have not done it, it may cause you to have sleepless nights. Similarly, if there is a situation that you are constantly worrying about and there is nothing you can do about it, it may also cause you to have sleepless nights.
Solution: Take action to resolve the situation or accept the situation completely. By taking action, or at least by creating a plan to take action as soon as you are able to, you will take a step towards alleviating that constant worry. Of course, if it’s something so important that it creates this kind of worry, addressing that issue will be of greater importance than that of eliminating your worry. Whether the action that you take resolves the situation or not, if you have done everything you can and there is nothing more you can do, this itself will create a space in your mind free of worry, a kind of peace. If there is nothing that you can do to resolve the situation that is making you worry, then accept it completely. By accepting it you are no longer trying to operate against the flow of what’s happening and your worry will turn into something more productive.

Problem: Physically charged up. Our bodies are made of energy, a combination of electrical activity, chemical reactions and metabolic processes. If you are very active toward your bedtime, such as by working out, playing an engaging video game, having an intense conversation, experiencing any sort of confrontation, working on a very important project, listening to upbeat/hyper/intense music, or any other of the infinite activities that may charge you up, then your body has altered its energy to deal with those things and thus will remain a state of alertness rather entering into rest mode.
Solution: You’ve probably noticed that once you are in a tranquil environment and enough time has passed for the chemistry of your body to change and the energy level to adapt, only then you will be able to sleep. So if you notice that this is what’s keeping you wide awake as bedtime is here, make the necessary adjustments as needed to do these things at another time, minimize them or completely eliminate them if they are unproductive in the first place.

Problem: Environmental factors. Environmental factors such as chaotic noise, bright lights, extreme temperatures, uncomfortable sleep area, tight clothing, tightly bounded hair, jewelry, interruptions and anything else that is physically disturbing will inevitably cause you to stay awake or interrupt your sleep.
Solution: You may not be able to address every one of these things, especially if you live with a lively family or next to an active train track, but the ones that you can do something about will make a big difference and your body will adapt to those remaining things that you can’t change, so taking the time to get ready for sleep makes a valuable contribution towards your Zzzs. Going around turning off lights, eliminating sources of noise, arranging your sleep area, changing into comfortable clothing and addressing anything else that’s within your control will promote a good night’s sleep. Furthermore, turning it into a ritual will help condition your body to know that bedtime approaches and thus will help set the chemistry for sleep.

Problem: Information Overload.
Many of us like to know what's going and can't seem get enough information, perhaps from around the world, from your country, city, neighborhood, a certain industry, your company, your areas of interest or countless other sources. You watch television, listen to radio, hop into a cab and watch news, get into an elevator and get more information, read the newspapers, magazines, newsletters, social media, you talk to someone who's been there and get the scoop, your neighbor might also know what's going on, you check your work email outside of work and your personal email constantly, and the number of sources of information never end. Sometimes we seek them out and sometimes they’re all around us, and we often tend to allow ourselves to absorb all of them. It’s enough to leave anyone dazed and confused in a not so obvious way. With all that information floating around in our mind, consciously, unconsciously or subconsciously, it is bound to have an impact on the very organ that regulates sleep.
Solution: Being aware and up to date isn't a problem in itself. Subjecting yourself to absorb every piece of information that is put in front of you, on top of the information that you seek out, might be. Many theorists suggest that the human brain can remember everything we ever encounter, every word, every sound, every sight, but even if their theories are not proven, the brain does store far more information than we realize, it’s just that we don’t realize it because most of us cannot not consciously recall everything we come across. So rather than letting everything in your environment enter your mind, just like when making choices about proper nutrition, sound business decisions, or choosing what to wear, choosing what you allow to enter your mind will have a positive impact on your mind, sleep and overall wellbeing.

Problem: Unconducive or counterproductive sleep patterns and habits. We all do it from time to time. We stay up late with friends or family, work until well past our bed-time, entertain ourselves with a book, movie or a tv show, or find some other way to stay awake a few extra hours. The problem really starts to build when we frequently do this that it forms into a habit. Continuous repetition of this behavior affects your sleep for that night, but in addition, creates irregular patterns that the body tries to adapt to unsuccessfully. This can severely affect sleep for many days at a time and greatly reduce the ability for your body to perform its own maintenance. Once you get a good night’s sleep your body may still not be well maintained since it was in recovery mode rather than in maintenance mode.
Solution: Cut it out! Your body can actually sustain itself pretty well going a few nights with a little less sleep as long as you allow yourself a short nap during the day or a little longer sleep session after a few days, so use this to your advantage to plan well and stay up late when you want to - just choose consciously - while getting the right amount of sleep that you need to. Keenly pay attention to how you feel every day and every moment and you can actually achieve great flexibility without compromising your sleep quota. With the right practice, proper nutrition, and well-disciplined habits, you can even reduce the amount of sleep you need, freeing up hours at a time to do all of the things that you want to do.

Problem: Chemical imbalance. Our body’s chemistry is something we don’t often think about, and that’s probably because it’s one of those things that we are simply not aware of or leave entirely up to our body to regulate, which is actually the smart thing to do. However, when we do not provide the right conditions for a well-balanced chemistry, the delicate balance goes haywire, causing adverse effects on our sleep among countless other disruptions. You can often notice chemical imbalances in your mood and emotions as well physically. Your mood can be low and accompanied by any sort of negative emotion including nervousness, aggressiveness, irritability, fear, depression, resentment or any other obscure negative emotion. Physically, if you keenly observe, you can notice it in the white of your eyes, the sparkle of your eyes, the texture of your skin and hair, your balance, coordination and strength or other physical characteristics.
Solution: The same way as the body performs its own maintenance, it also performs its own repairs, and again, all we have to do is set the right conditions. With the exception of severe chemical imbalances due to reasons outside the body’s control that may actually need medical attention, many chemical imbalances can be fixed by providing the body with the most optimal sources of food, proper amount exercise and a well-rounded spectrum of healthy and productive activities. The relationship of the two is one that feeds off of each other - eating healthy and exercising promotes a healthy chemical balance while a healthy chemical balance facilitates wanting to eat healthy and exercise, but the polar opposite is also true - so it may be difficult to get started at first. You may have to put all you have into it to start your routine but it will get easier as you progress. Who knows, you might reach a point of infinite possibilities!

Problem: Poor nutrition. There is a war raging today, every man for himself, except for the bonds within certain organizations and political groups, in our world. A war that has entities fighting over the general population’s choices of consumption. As a result, once quality food sources are processed and dressed up so much that they become from mildly recognizable to completely transformed, all in the pursuit of stimulating our taste buds with the most intense tastes that exist in nature only in small amounts, with the ultimate end goal of acquiring our money. It is always nice to indulge and experience complex, intense and often beautiful tastes, but when we let ourselves go and become completely absorbed and won over, we often willingly lose our power to choose. Then it becomes a problem that affects not only our sleep but our whole life.
Solution: Learn to choose consciously what you eat. Know what you need at any given moment and weigh whether eating a tastier but less healthy item is appropriate for your overall well being. Tasty but often unhealthy food often does wonders for the soul, so it is not to be discarded entirely, but rather chosen responsibly. Make it a challenge and an adventure to seek out and discover tasty and healthy foods. Detox your taste buds with a period of eating only clean and pristine foods so you become able to taste the subtle tastes available in raw foods that you might avoid. Know what is in the food items that you are consuming and consciously make the choice yourself whether to eat or not to eat. This will pay dividends to your overall well-being and to your sleep which might just project you into an upward spiral.

Problem: Late eating. The digestion process actually takes vasts amount of work and energy for your body to perform, thus the sensation of tiredness we often feel after a heavy meal, or sometimes even a after light meal if we didn't get the proper amount of sleep. If you are often going to bed with a full stomach, your body is not performing the maintenance that it needs to it’s maximum potential. Instead, it's digesting and processing food.
Solution: Give your digestive system a rest.Rather than making your body perform the energy-intensive process of digestion during sleep, let it focus on the maintenance duties that it needs to accomplish for it to be able to provide you with optimal performance. If you have experienced one sleep session having not eaten for three or four hours before bed, you may have noticed that you woke up feeling just a little better than usual, with a little more energy and even a spontaneous smile, and you may have slept a little less. That happened because your body was free to carry out all of the maintenance work that it needed to do to make that happen. If you are working out or have a condition that requires you to consume food, make a smart choice and eat something that is easy to digest. Depending on what your situation is, this may be a freshly made juice, a serving of organic plant-based protein mixed with water, or a particular nutrient that you require in a form that it is easy to digest.

Problem: Coffee or other stimulants. Although I do not drink coffee now, but rather green tea or an occasional espresso, I find that it definitely increases nervous system function, allowing my brain, and in turn my mind, to become more alive, creating the effect of providing more energy. While it does not actually provide more energy, it does facilitate tapping into energy that is already stored in the body - thus its a stimulant - which is what makes it so attractive. It probably isn’t counterproductive to our health in and of itself when consumed along with proper nutrition, but its effects can become enticing enough not to over-consume, specially if we find ourselves with a little melatonin (the chemical that regulates sleep) circulating in our brain during the middle of the day. We may end up with too much of this alluring chemical in our body, or having it too close to our bedtime, and it ends up continuing to stimulate us as we attempt to sleep. This can easily turn into an endless cycle producing long term ill-effects. We all react differently to caffeine and stimulants and our own day to day reaction will vary depending on other factors, so it can become quite unpredictable just how much of an effect it will have an each one of us. Other stimulants may be detrimental in and of themselves, specially because a lot of them are not well-studied and poorly or minimally regulated.
Solution: Coffee is not a quick fix to your sleep problem. If you are constantly needing coffee or other stimulants, then look at your sleep situation. From the list of problems we’ve just covered you might find that applying one or more of the solutions suggested will help improve your sleep and coffee then becomes an option of pure enjoyment.

Thank you for reading. I wish you a restful night of good maintenance and pleasant dreams.

Jessy Hernandez
Instructor | Parkour Ways
jessy@parkourways.com | www.ParkourWays.com