Friday, 23 May 2014

Sleeping on the radio

Not literally sleeping on the radio, but I'm gathering  my thoughts together because I will be talking about sleeping problems on RTE national radio next week with Sean O'Rourke on Monday 26th May 2014 between 10.30 am and 12 md. So here are some tips for improving your sleep:

Well I don't have to do too much research as I thoroughly investigated the topic prior to setting up our Sleep Clinic and we have had the experience of running the clinic for the past year. 

So here are two scenarios:
You race through your days building up tension, rushing around doing three things at once, you collapse in front of a TV programme and then go to bed with a TV programme on, and a clutter of dirty washing and piles of clothes to be sorted. Then you expect to sleep, you expect to go unconscious to the world in the middle of this chaos.
Another scenario is that you are super organised, jet-propelled and a nail biter, always vigilant in preventing disorder. You end the day exhausted from the effort of keeping life's clutter and disorder at bay. Then you go to bed and expect to lose complete control while sleeping.
Of course these are both extremes, but it is worth thinking about which camp you are most like to be in, because if you are chaotic and busy you need less chaos and more order so that you can end the day relaxed but tired and ready to sleep. If you are a 'control freak' you need more delegation, more fun and to realise that we control very little. You need less attention to detail and more spontaneity.

So seek general advice, choose what is relevant to you and then change things. Make three changes at a time, don't try to change twenty things at once. Plan the changes, tell friends and family and ask for support. For example if you decide to be in bed every night before 11pm explain this to family and friends and ask them to give you a time check at 10.30 so you can wind down.
Understand and take on-board the advice that  is relevant to you. Remember, change your habits three at a time.
Take action: maintain these actions for a minimum of 6 weeks and preferably 12 weeks. If the sleep problems are severe or chronic, or accompanied by other health problems consult a medical herbalist. See  for herbalists with a BSc in Clinical Herbal Medicine.

Whatever herbs you use to help your sleep take them for a minimum of 6 weeks for mild short-lived sleep problems and a minimum of 12 weeks for chronic or severe sleep problems. Early morning waking can be an indication of depression and you should seek professional advice. St John's Wort is a herb used for the treatment of mild to moderate depression with equal benefits compared with anti-depressants. It is available from medical herbalists. It is a very safe herb that is traditionally used to improve the quality of sleep.

Herbs for sleep need to be taken throughout the day from breakfast until bedtime. For insomnia I recommend any of the herbs included in Dr Clare's Valerian Relax Blend (Contains Chamomile, Crampbark, Vervain, Elderflower, Hawthorn, Jamaican Dogwood, Lavender, Valerian, Limeflower & Passionflower) which can be purchased here to be taken at breakfast, lunch, early evening and an extra dose 20 minutes before bed, every day until you have slept well for 2 weeks, or for 6 -12 weeks depending on the severity of the problem. Then taper down the dose over two weeks.
Not all of these herbs are for the nervous system, some of the herbs calm the 'fight or flight' reaction of the adrenal glands, others calm the digestion or relax the muscles that can become tight with tension.

At the same time take 3 tsps. per day of Dr Clare's Relax Tea (Contains Chamomile, Lemon Balm, Passion flower, Rosemary, Skullcap, & Wild Oats.) which can be purchased here. You can watch a short video by Dr. Clare on how to make perfect herbal tea here.
If you are stressed and exhausted I also recommend straw and seed of wild oats added to the tea blend. If you are heart-broken or bereaved I recommend hawthorn leaves, flowers & berries and rose petals. Add 1-2 teaspoons per day of these herbs to your teapot.
For waking in the middle of the night I recommend 2 Passiflora capsules(240 mgs per caps) immediately you wake up and it often helps you get back to sleep more quickly, this can be repeated once more during the night if necessary.
Hops Pillows can be placed under your pillow slip and can be helpful especially for older patients.
Burn essential oils: clary sage for hormone related sleep problems, mandarin and lavender oil are popular. Children respond well to the mandarin as a massage oil.

So you might think this is easy: you just swallow the medicine and leave it to work its magic.
Well think again. There are lots of ways to help your body to expect to sleep rather than not sleep. Here are the conditions that make sleep more likely and you have to create the conditions.

  • Eat the right foods see Sleep Leaflet
  • Stop eating the wrong foods: mainly sugar
  • Don't eat late in the evening
  • Walk after your evening meal
  • Release tension as you go through the day; punch a pillow, sit quietly for 5 minutes every two to three hours, take a 10 minute walk during and after the work day, burn essential oils to remain relaxed etc.
  • Sleep in a 'bat cave' bedroom: that is complete darkness. Blackout the windows, no mobile phone display, no computer. This is important for melatonin, this is a hormone released from the Pineal gland and it responds to light and darkness regulating sleeping and waking
  • Go to bed at a regular time before 12mn
  • Clear the decks in the bedroom. The bedroom is sacred for sleep and intimacy. If you have plans for new habits then kick-start them with a de-clutter of the bedroom and a spring clean. When redecorating choose relaxing colours
  • Create the right bed conditions: House dust mite excluding mattress, duvet and pillow covers for wheeze, cotton or wool covers for urticaria or eczema. If your mattress needs changing consider a natural latex mattresses (you can purchase them here), organic sheets and pillows (the sky's the limit, do your best and remember a mattress is for ten years, so mentally divide the cost over 10 years, and remember you will be lying on your mattress for one third of the next ten years)
  • Find a comfortable temperature for your needs. Too hot or too cold will disturb sleep
  • Deal with other health problems that disturb sleep. Common sleep disruptors include: bladder problems, joint pains, itchy skin, wheeze, nasal drip and chronic sinus problems, menopause and pre-menstrual syndrome etc. If these conditions are affecting your sleep there are natural health solutions for these problems. Digestive problems often accompany sleep problems and would be a priority from a herbal medicine point of view.  Funnily enough being in love also disrupts sleep, as does a visit from Santa Claus when you're 6 years old, but not many patients come complaining of being in love, and Santa comes only once a year.. So over-excitement of the nervous system is a cause for less sleep.
  • Deal with worrying: waiting wide awake for your teenagers to come home will not keep them safe, it will just make you cranky. Write a gratitude diary every day: write down three things to be grateful for every day. Before bed write down the worries rattling through your head and leave the notebook downstairs, to be dealt with in the morning
  • Occupy your mind with distracting thoughts. I recall the towns in Ireland I can remember that begin with any random letter. You can think of train stations, mountains, world deserts etc. this disengages the brain from the daily concerns, successes, highs and lows
  • Many people read before dropping off to sleep and it works for them. I was in the habit of reading myself to sleep, the problem was that the light was left on all night. I now use a timer so the light goes off and this helps maintain my melatonin levels. These levels naturally drop after 45 years so anything that supports melatonin is to be encouraged
  • Remember that it is normal to sleep less when you are older, this is not to be worried about so long as you feel energetic and refreshed
  • To re-set your sleep pattern avoid getting out of bed. On no account do the ironing or other household chores. Stay in bed and listen to anything that has a relaxing effect. Focus on deep breathing and relaxing your body from your scalp and forehead right down to your toes. Go to meditation classes or try visualisation techniques to keep you in bed. The one that works for people with busy minds is available at and I have had good feedback from patients to whom  have recommended
  • If you snore you need other advice, if your partner snores you need a lot of patience. I will do another blog on snoring. But if you are waking yourself with snoring or your partner tells you that you stop breathing when your snoring builds up to a crescendo then you need to be referred for sleep studies. This can be a serious health risk for high blood pressure and using the PAP breathing machine has changed lives dramatically for the better
  • If you have established routines that include all of these instructions regularly and have done so for three months and you still can't sleep then you should seek professional advice, you need individual assessment
  • Epsom salt baths are a good source of magnesium, and seaweed in the bath supplies Iodine necessary for thyroid function
Well lots of food, actions and ways of relaxation to help your body fulfil the expectation of sleeping. 
Be happy and laugh lots, always good for sleep and happiness.

Dr Dilis

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