2006-08-18 / Columnists

Health & Harmony

To Sleep, Perchance To Dream
By Dr. Nancy Gahles

DR. nancy gahles
DR. nancy gahles "To sleep, perchance to dream."

This quote from Shakespeare has always been a favorite of mine. Shakespeare, the master of narration of human complexities, ironies and intrigue was anything but subtle in his tales of woe. I was taken to thinking about this quote of his as I walked the beach and noticed the people nodding off in their chairs or sleeping on their beach towels. Basking in the warm sun and dozing. I mean to say resting. Catching up on some well needed rest, no doubt, as I have been seeing the harsh realistic counterpoint to this state in my office in the form of exhaustion and the "summer cold." The major complaint is fatigue.

Everyone is worn out.

The summer is drawing to a close and the frenetic pace has taken its toll.

What happened to the concept of vacation? It seems that it morphed into a hybrid of the incessant work/ activity that characterizes the rest of the year. In the absence of the routine of school, moms are schlepping the children to every conceivable program from swimming lessons to golf camp to art programs to SAT classes and tutoring lessons and all manner of action oriented "play." The days are longer so we can, indeed, fill that time up to the very brim.

Sleep cycles become disrupted during the summer. The biological sleep clock in the brain, which regulates body temperature, hormone levels and sleep patterns among other body functions can go out of synch with our daily circadian rhythm and create problems. eight hours of sleep after 16 hours of activity is a proper cycle. Many of us, I daresay, most of us, do not get our required amount of sleep. That is, the amount of sleep that allows us to wake refreshed and energized and have the ability to be alert throughout the day and come to a resting state in the evening.

Rest. Not sleep, but rest, is a luscious state of peace. Rest is relief or freedom from the disharmonies within and without. Rest is an emotional and mental tranquility. Rest is a state of ease or refreshment. Rest is the ceasing of all activity. Rest is what those people dozing on the beach are doing. Rest is what the heart does after a burst of activity. Rest is an interval of silence in music. Rest is what we are all craving for when our bodies break down and become sick and when our moods become irritable and when we cannot pay attention any longer. To sleep, perchance to dream. We can dream of the time and occasion when we will be able to get some rest, however, if we do not make it happen...it will not happen.

Now is the time to begin to honor our daily rhythms by slowing down. Our biological sleep clock is triggered by light and dark. Rising with the sun and resting as dusk approaches is a good way to segue into a peaceful sleep. Plan your dream life for the fall. Forewarned is forearmed and you can be sure that the schedules will be burgeoning from September on. Planning ahead to assure correct amounts of sleep will go a long way to sustaining good health and preventing the lowered immunity that accompanies stress and fatigue. This translates into less colds, flu's, strep throats, headaches and general crankiness.

Assess your sleep needs and those of your family. The natural time for sleep, according to the Sleep Foundation, is from midnight to 6 a.m. Different age groups have different requirements. Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep. Children from ages 5-12 need 10-11 hours of sleep. Teenagers need nine to nine and a half hours of sleep. Teens do have a delayed sleep clock. Going to bed at 11 p.m. or later is natural for them and getting up later is too.

Unfortunately, the world of academia as well as the work force requires them to get up around 6 a.m., leaving them open for sleep deficit and the "head on the desk" syndrome. One way for all of us to get some rest periods throughout the day is to take 5 minute breathing/meditation breaks whenever you can. Deep, focused breathing can restore the integrity of your nervous system and give you a sense of repose.

Quieting your mind for five minutes, clearing it of all information, can create focused illuminated space that will provide for easier listening and retention.

Close your eyes, breathe deeply and evenly, let all thoughts drift away and enter your dream space. Stay there for five minutes. When you return to your present reality, you will feel refreshed and able to integrate all your experiences in a more efficient way. You will be able to give an appropriate "answer" or reaction to events that occur when your body/mind/emotion/spirit are in a dynamic state of freedom.

It's the stuff that dreams are made of.

May The Blessings Be!

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