News /Workshop teaches ABCs of getting your Zzzzzzs
Effective sleep management is key to preventing major illnesses and minimizing symptoms of mental health challenges, according to Alternatives presenter Larry Fricks.
It is especially important to give one's body the required 7-9 hours of sleep each night, says Fricks, because research has shown links between insomnia (the inability to fall or stay asleep) and depression. While depression has been linked as a cause of insomnia, untreated insomnia may also be a risk factor for depression.
Fricks started the session by sharing how and why he is so committed to sleep maintenance and regulation.
"I think sleep has been key to me having a strong recovery and staying clean and sober for 26 years," Fricks said. "I was hospitalized three times, struggled with mania, and almost lost everything. I think people with bipolar [disorder] have a valuable window of opportunity. If they can get back to healthy and consistent sleep patterns, they are less likely to have a manic episode."
And while Fricks touts the benefits of sleep in downplaying or eliminating bipolar symptoms, research has also shown that sleep is essential to the prevention of major physical illnesses. For example, a lack of sleep increases risk for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, said Fricks.
"By not getting enough sleep, we all become more stressed," Fricks said. "And when we become stressed, our bodies automatically turn on the fight-or-flight response, which corresponds to a state of high alert and increased blood pressure and production of stress hormones."
The human fight-or-flight response was originally meant for escaping prehistoric enemies, according to Fricks. But in this day and age, he says, such predators are no longer a threat; instead, our stress response is triggered by factors like interpersonal conflict, financial woes, or anger at uncontrollable events.
"Those chemicals and hormones are left in our systems," Fricks said. "If I can't get out of the stress and back to homeostasis, I find myself with racing thoughts and increased blood sugar via fight-or-flight, which in turn can also lead to weight gain."
The act of reverting to a once calm, relaxed, or sleepy state is not always easy or quick, but it is possible, Fricks says. To do so, he recommends an exercise called the Relaxation Response.
"The Relaxation Response is a state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional responses to stress and decreases heart rate, blood pressure, rate of breathing, and muscle tension," Fricks said. "It decreases metabolism, breathing, heartbeat, blood pressure, oxygen consumption, and harmful metabolites."
The Relaxation Response consists of only two steps. First, one must repeat a word, sound, phrase, or muscular activity, such as deep breathing. Second, one must passively disregard everyday thoughts that come to mind and return to repetition.
To check whether or not the Relaxation Response is working, Fricks recommends obtaining a biodot, attaching it to the skin, and analyzing its color after a series of deep breaths. Fricks also advises to practice the Relaxation Response as much as one needs until the dot turns a color reflecting a relaxed state.
"The Relaxation Response almost immediately counters the fight-or-flight response," Fricks said. "You can't control the fight-or-flight response; it's automatic. But you can control the Relaxation Response. And it works."
Tips to improve sleep:
- Keep consistent sleep and wake times
- Try to avoid napping during the day
- Do not read or watch TV in bed
- Exercise regularly, but not for at least four hours before bedtime
- Avoid cigarettes, alcohol and caffeine for at least four hours before bedtime
- Avoid large meals and excessive fluids before bedtime
- Make your bedroom restful
- Relax before bedtime