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11 Easy Ways to Rest Better--and Why That's So Important

By , Dr. Steve Amoils and Dr. Sandi Amoils
Editor's Note: Today we're sharing an excerpt of Get Well & Stay Well, a book by two of the foremost experts in integrative medicine, Dr. Steve Amoils and Dr. Sandi Amoils. The Amoils are co-medical directors of The Alliance Institute for Integrative Medicine  (AIIM) in Cincinnati. AIIM is one of the Bravewell Collaborative's leading clinical centers of Integrative Medicine in the U.S. Both Steve and Sandi are adjunct assistant professors in the Department of Medical Education at the University of Cincinnati. Beyond that, Drs. Amoils have the "SparkGuy" stamp of approval. Chris "SparkGuy" Downie has been working with them to manage his own severe allergies, with great success. They'll be sharing more info on integrative medicine in the coming months here on dailySpark.

Do you ever wonder where you go when you sleep, or why we even need to sleep? Sleep is not only essential for physical rejuvenation; it also provides an opportunity for the memory to integrate information, as if file clerks were coming in on the night shift to file away the experiences of the day.

Sleep also appears to offer the body an opportunity for internal housekeeping. Research from the National Institutes of Health has found that immune chemicals rise as we drift off to sleep, recruiting immune cells to cruise the body and lowering bacteria levels throughout the system. Clearly, if we don’t get enough sleep, we are much more prone to illness and accidents. In addition, lack of sleep raises the stress hormone cortisol, which can lead to weight gain and type 2 diabetes.

When you sleep, you move back and forth through various stages several times. As you fall asleep, you go into a light sleep, known as Stage 1 sleep, where you drift in and out of sleep. You then go through Stages 2 and 3, finally reaching Stage 4. Stages 3 and 4 are referred to as deep sleep, because this is where your body hardly moves. During deep sleep, you ordinarily generate the neurotransmitter serotonin. If you don’t get enough deep sleep, you are thus more prone to depression, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, premenstrual syndrome, migraines, and a host of other problems.

The next stage of sleep is a very important one called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, where you dream. During this phase, your breathing speeds up, becoming irregular and shallow. Your eyelids jerk rapidly (hence the name “rapid eye movement”), and your limb muscles are temporarily paralyzed. Brain waves during this stage increase to levels experienced when you are awake. The heart rate increases, blood pressure rises, males develop erections, and the body loses some ability to regulate its temperature.

REM sleep and dreaming appear to help us sort out our daily stressors. This is the time when the mind appears to process emotions, sort through memories, and help us cope with stress. A person deprived of REM sleep can suffer from mood and memory problems.

Over-the-counter sleep aids that contain diphenhydramine (Benadryl®) induce Stage 2 and 3, but not Stage 4 sleep, reducing your ability to regenerate serotonin. Utilizing these aids on a regular basis can therefore result in depression. There are other options for improving sleep. Herbs such as valerian root and supplements such as taurine, 4-amino-3-phenylbutyric acid and 5-Hydroxytryptophan are often extremely helpful. Drugs such as zolpidem and trazodone maintain what is called normal sleep architecture, allowing a person to pass through all the different stages of sleep. However, these drugs are associated with side effects such as memory loss and dependency. Long-term use should be discussed with your physician.
Keep reading for a giveaway--and 11 tips to help you sleep better.

A Healthy Sleep Cycle

Disrupted sleep or not enough sleep can result in feelings of fatigue and irritability, and can cause daytime sleepiness. It also raises stress hormone levels, which can cause a long list of health problems. Cultivating a healthy sleep cycle is crucial to overall health.These are suggestions we make to our patients who have trouble getting restful sleep.
  1. Sleep only when sleepy. If you can’t fall asleep within 20 minutes, get up and do something boring until you feel sleepy.
  2. Aim for a steady and regular bedtime.
  3. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and heavy or spicy meals for four to six hours before bedtime.
  4. Exercise earlier in the day if you can. Avoid exercising after dinner.
  5. Create a nightly sleep ritual. A warm bath about ninety minutes before bedtime or a cup of herbal tea may serve as reminder to your body to calm down. Don’t study hard, watch suspenseful television shows, or otherwise stimulate your mind, and then expect it to turn off suddenly.
  6. Read a relaxing book. Listen to music. Practice a relaxation technique.
  7. Use your bed for sleep and sex only. Avoid watching television in bed.
  8. Create a comfortable sleep environment, including a dark, quiet room, comfortable bedding, and a suitable temperature.
  9. Establish a day/night rhythm. Aim to get up and go to sleep at the same time each day.
  10. Get some sunlight exposure for at least fifteen minutes when you wake up.
  11. If you need to nap in the day, sleep less than one hour.

About the book

Get Well & Stay Well: Optimal Health through Transformational Medicine® is your personal guide to a remarkable and very effective new approach to health care. Written by Steve Amoils, M.D., and Sandi Amoils, M.D., Get Well & Stay Well is grounded in modern scientific medicine and the latest thinking in integrative care.
This groundbreaking book goes beyond treating illness and disease. Get Well & Stay Well helps you learn to use a medical problem as a way to transform your health and your life for the better. It takes a wider view of well-being, looking at how Transformational Medicine can help you not only feel better but get better and stay better. The information in this book can help restore you to long-lasting, vibrant good health.

Transformational Medicine makes use of all effective therapies, both conventional and alternative, to achieve remarkable results in treating and preventing illness. Get Well & Stay Well is a fascinating and revealing journey into the heart of healing.
Get Well & Stay Well can help start transforming your health now. In this beautifully illustrated, clearly written book, you'll learn the practical steps you can take, starting today, to feel better.
  • Discover and deal with your medical problems.
  • Learn to transform stress into success.
  • Learn to optimize your hormone imbalance.
  • Learn to heal your body.
  • Learn what others can do for you, and what you can do for yourself.
Transformational Medicine is about transforming your health every day. The same approach that takes away your current problems can also help you heal old problems and prevent new ones. Get Well & Stay Well puts you on the path to enduring health and well-being.

The proceeds from the book benefit the Integrative Medicine Foundation, a 501(c)3 that treats the medically underserved in Cincinnati and offers education to health-care professionals and the public about integrative medicine.

We're giving away a case of Get Well & Stay Well books and audio relaxation CDs. Click here to enter (the usual rules apply)

Tell us: When it comes to sleep, what is our biggest challenge?

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My activity levels at my job changed, contributing to a weight gain of about 18 pounds. What never changed was the environment I live in, however. I live in overcrowded, noisy and physically unstable conditions. I walk a fine line with my self-sequenced yoga practice and bellydance videos, etc. A lot of it is cross-training to be sure, because it's a fusion of yoga with pilates. I have to continually reassess my sequence to make sure my yoga practice never generates too much "prana "(actually it couldn't–I'm not athletic enough for that), and instead engages my parasympathetic nervous system, such as it can (a very tough call, as doing aerobics too close to bedtime used to be an issue for me)--being postmenopausal does not help in the sleep department, even under ideal conditions. Noise from neighbors and vibrations and rattling from machinery within the building I live in, need me to sleep the sleep of the dead, as much as possible at night. I'm serious! When it works, I could arise before my alarm sounds, even in winter. Report
Hot flashes at night - What is sleep? Report
I went to war on '91 and returned with chronic problem to sleep. I use medications; but help a little. Report
Me want book! Report
Really helps alot thanks so much Report
The book does sound good. there was no information on when the drawing is but I signed up anyway.

This is one of the best articles I have read on sleep! Because it explained what goes on in each stage and most importantly (to me) side effects of not getting the deep sleep stages. What a big host of problems that causes. Report
My biggest sleep challenge is waking up in the middle of the night and tossing and turning rather than getting up. Getting up and doing something -- including exercising -- for 30-60 minutes is pretty successful at breaking the tossing-and-turning cycle, and then I can actually sleep. But it is really hard to get out of bed when what I feel like doing (but can't) is going back to sleep. All suggestions welcome! Report
Turning the lights off and listening to a book on tape with an mp3 often helps me. Report
I too am an Insomnia, have been most of my life. As I neared menopause it got worse, so I started taking Ambien, then switched to Lunesta. Problem is, I can't sleep without it. I wake up several times a night, and have a hard time falling asleep. I think I'm addicted. Report
I have an awful time winding down and getting to sleep. Sometimes, I can't stay asleep. I always read, have baths, whatever helps. Report
Tried it all. Ambien gets me to sleep between 7-9 hours. Without it chronic pain keeps waking me. Report
My brain keeps on working at bedtime. Doing nothing before bed doesn't help as my brain doesn't seem to need stimilation to keep it moving. Report
I usually can get to sleep just fine but since I had an intruder at 1:30 in the morning, I find I wake about once a week at that time and take a while to get back to sleep. Often, I will read for an hour to get through that period. I never read anything exciting when I wake in the night. Report
I sleep better after losing some weight... Report
I sleep better after losing some weight... Report
I sleep much better since I got a CPAP. But still can use some help for stressful times. Prefer herbs to test tubes. Report
Great. But don't work on me. I have insomnia chronic since '90. Report
as a former shift worker it was terrible staying on a sleep pattern. Now that i'm not working, I sleep much better. Report
Dad & I sleep soundly, but Mom is insomniac and sister not much better. Book will definitly be helpful. I look forward to learning more about sleep disorders. Report
Sleeping all the way through Report
Book sounds like a must have. Report
im an insomniac and i never sleep well. i toss and turn all night waking up every hour and sometimes never get to even stage 2 sleep. hell sometimes i never get to stage one and i just lay awake all night. im always tired during the day. ive been taking valerian root at night and it helps me stay asleep better but once in a while i have to take strong sleeping pills like when im in pain or i just cant sleep. ive had the sleeping problems since i was 14. im 22 now. Report
pain and inability to get into a comfortable position; the book sounds wonderful! a must-have! Report
gettting to bed on time Report
I like this a lot, thanks. Report