"In his third book, The Promise of Sleep: A Pioneer in Sleep Medicine Explains the Vital Connection Between Health, Happiness and a Good Night's Sleep, which he co-wrote with Christopher Vaughan, Dr. Dement cites evidence suggesting that the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the Challenger space shuttle explosion were the result of poor decisions made by sleep-deprived people."

- from American City Business Journals Inc. 2001

Poor sleeping habits have a profound impact on your ability to function, and the symptoms vary:

physical symptoms

- Pounding heart;

- Cold hands / feet;

- Sweating;

- Nausea;

- Diarrhoea;

- Constipation;

- Back pain;

- Digestive difficulties;

- Headaches;

- Irregular breathing;

- Fatigue;

- Tension;

- Voice / hand tremors;

- Dry mouth;

- Dizziness;

- Impaired immune system;

- Shortness of breath;

- High blood pressure;

- Vague aches / pains; and

- Difficulty breathing through nostrils.

psychological symptoms

- Boredom;

- Nightmares;

- Confusion;

- Helplessness;

- Tearfulness;

- Dissociation;

- Lethargy;

- Urge to escape;

- Fretfulness;

- Anxiety;

- Paranoia;

- Nervousness;

- Impaired focus; and

- Negativity.

behavioural symptoms

- Fidgeting;

- Smoking;

- Substance abuse;

- Reliance on medication;

- Impulsiveness;

- Reclusion;

- Defensiveness;

- Disorganisation;

- Eating disorders;

- Decreased sex drive;

- Aggression;

- Clumsiness;

- Inflexibility;

- Cynicism;

- Impaired efficiency;

- Decline in performance;

- Nagging;

- Poor self-care; and

- Withdrawal from supportive relationships.

the purpose of breathing

"The purpose of breathing is to bring vitality and oxygen into our blood stream. But there are also many other crucial aspects in breathing: such as assisting the heart's pumping action, the flow of endocrine hormonal emission from the organs as well as the movement of the cerebral spinal fluid in the spinal cord."

- Sat Chuen Hon, The Tao of Breath

human sleep patterns

"Our sleep patterns are intimately related to the natural world. The planet turns on its axis once every twenty-four hours, giving us cycles of light and darkness, and living organisms seem to cycle with it, as seen in diurnal changes known as circadian rhythms.

"These rhythms show up in daily fluctuations in the release of neurotransmitters in the brain and nervous system and in the biochemistry of all our cells. We have these basic planetary rhythms built into our systems. In fact, biologists speak of a 'biological clock', controlled by the hypothalamus, which regulates our sleep / wake cycle and which can be disrupted by jet travel, by working the night shift, by stress and lifestyle patterns.

"We cycle with the planet, and our sleep pattern reflects this connection. When it is disrupted, it takes us some time to readjust, to get back to our normal pattern."

- Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living

circadian rhythm

The circadian rhythm is the twenty-four hour cycle and regulates the body's rhythms from digestion and elimination to the growth and renewal of cells, inhalation, exhalation, and the rise and fall of body temperature.

All these processes are triggered through a network of chemical messengers (hormones) and nerves via signals from the hypothalamus. The circadian rhythm ensures that body functions and sleep patterns run to a cycle of approximately twenty-four hours, irrespective of our environment.


Melatonin is produced by a pea-sized gland at the base of the brain called the pineal gland. It is the hormone that causes sleepiness and sound sleep. Darkness is one of the main triggers for melatonin production to increase, causing the body to start slowing down in preparation for sleep.

Light entering the eye through the retina causes melatonin production to reduce, causing the body to awaken. The pineal gland's capacity to keep up the production of melatonin declines with age.

ultradian rhythm

A one-and-a-half-hour cycle, the ultradian rhythm produces altered states of awareness naturally and rhythmically throughout the day and night. Each cycle lasts twenty minutes and seem to be the natural healing state of the mind and body.

These cycles provide a natural "time out" when conscious awareness is toned down. We need to learn to recognize this rhythm in ourselves and flow with it without resistance.

the stages of sleep

stage one

- An electroencephalogram (EEG) displays wavy lines during this stage - fairly regular, small undulations;

- Drowsiness dominates: a light phase, lasting approximately five minutes;

- You can be awoken by a sharp sound;

- All muscles slightly relax;

- Your eyes slowly roll back and forth, not REM (Rapid Eye Movement - eyes jerking back and forth under closed eyelids);

- Your thinking is less logical; and

- Dreams are remembered if you awaken.

stage two

- It is a little harder to awaken;

- Two new types of brainwaves appear - sleep spindles and K-complexes. These occur regularly and last only two to three seconds;

- A sleep spindle is a sudden, short burst of pointed waves with frequency of 2 / 3 time (the background of theta waves);

- K-Complexes are large waves that seem to come out of nowhere, and are thought to reflect massive changes in the processing of sensory information in the brain; and

- Most sleep talking and tooth-grinding takes place during this stage.

stage three

- Occurs after another five to ten minutes;

- You slip into moderately deep sleep;

- It is now difficult to be awoken;

- Delta waves - larger, more regular waves - come into play;

- Theta waves, spindles, and K-Complexes are still occurring, if harder to detect; and

- Delta waves become increasingly dominant.

stage four

- Slow-wave sleep;

- The deepest level of sleep;

- You are now extremely difficult to awaken;

- All sleepwalking, bedwetting, and night terrors occur during this stage;

- Your heartbeat and breathing are regular;

- The growth hormone is released;

- Blood cells and body tissue rebuild, especially your skin;

- Energy levels are slowly restored;

- There is no conscious thought; and

- Some dreaming, but you will have no memory of it if awoken.

NOTE: Artificial sedatives significantly decrease REM sleep.

chronic insomnia

Chronic insomnia may develop slowly or as a result of a long-lasting emotional or physical situation that has not been resolved. Four main factors need to be considered: -

psychological factors

- Anxiety;

- Stress;

- Arguments;

- Depression;

- Loneliness;

- Grief;

- Dissatisfaction; and

- Illnesses such as schizophrenia.

medical factors

- Heart disease;

- Lung disease;

- PMT;

- Asthma;

- Ear, nose, throat infections; and

- Thyroid function.

chemical factors

- Side effects of prescribed medications;

- Alcohol;

- Tobacco;

- Narcotics; and

- Caffeine (tea, coffee, cola, chocolate).


- Allergies to foods, chemicals, or mould.

- With rare exceptions, insomnia is a symptom, not the cause. Consult your naturopath, acupuncturist, or homeopath for an accurate evaluation.


A strong stimulant that impairs absorption of iron and, as a result, causes tiredness. Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, cola drinks, chocolate, and cocoa.


A depressant, alcohol may send you to sleep quickly but your sleep does not reach the deeper delta levels and you are likely to awaken in the early hours or sleep fitfully.


Another stimulant, nicotine raises blood pressure, alters breathing, and triggers adrenaline (which also interferes with digestion).

prescribed medication

Chemicals always have side effects, and a common one is sleep disturbance. Always check with your doctor before changing or ceasing to use medications.

starch, salt, sugar

All three can keep you awake.

sleepytime snacks

- A warm blend of milk and water with a little sugar or honey;

NOTE: Those suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder should avoid honey as it is very high in salicylates (strongly linked with hyperactivity and impaired memory function and also possibly containing allergic plant pollens). ADHD sufferers should also avoid all artificial sweeteners - in particular, the controversial sweetener Aspartame (aka NutraSweet, Equal, Spoonful, and Benevia), which has been held responsible for significant health and behavioural problems.

- Cheese on toast;

- A boiled egg (protein helps your body access the amino acid tryptophan, a precursor to melatonin production);

- Lettuce soup, juice, or just lettuce eaten raw ...

"All modern lettuces are descended from the original wild lettuce used by the ancient Greeks to make sleeping draughts. The sap contains a plant chemical that has an action similar to mild opiates. Though modern lettuces aren't as potent as the wild variety, a glass of juice [with lettuce in it] will still make counting sheep redundant. The mild hallucinogenic effects of nutmeg also guarantee sweet dreams."

- Michael van Straten, Good Mood Food

seducing sleep ... naturally

Renowned naturopath Michael Van Straten's slumber-inducing superjuice


- 3 carrots

- 2 juicy English apples, such as Cox, Bramley, Russet, etc

- cos lettuce

- A sprinkle of nutmeg

1. Run the first three ingredients through a juicer; and

2. Pour in a glass, sprinkle with nutmeg and serve.

Chef's note: don't be tempted to use any other lettuce than cos for this recipe. It's rich in betacarotene, has a stronger flavour and contains more of the snooze-power chemicals than the paler green varieties such as little gems or iceberg.

sleeping tips

- Keep your room dark;

- Keep work out of your bedroom;

- Don't read or chat on the phone in bed;

- If you can't sleep, get up and do something mindless and/or repetitive - embroidery, cleaning, stroke the dog or cat, boil some cocoa, etc.;

- Go to bed at the same time every night;

- Listen to soothing music;

- Have a hot bath sprinkled with lavender oil - available at some supermarkets and most health food shops - before bed;

- Sprinkle lavender oil on your pillow or burn it in an aromatherapy burner in your bedroom;

- Practise inhaling, holding for a count of ten, exhaling, holding for a count of ten, and keep doing this until you feel tired;

- Practise calming visualizations;

- Strange as it may seem, masturbation greatly aids sleep (sex is even better);

- Gently massage your wrists and temples.

recommended reading

- Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness by Jon Kabat-Zinn;

- Wherever you go, there you are: Mindful Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn;

- Melatonin by Hasnain Walji;

- Minding the Body, Mending the Mind by Joan Borysenko;

- Ageless Body, Timeless Mind by Deepak Chopra; and

- Good Mood Food by Michael van Straten.

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