2007-02-16 / Columnists

Health & Harmony

Sleep
Commentary By Dr. Nancy Gahles

Commentary By Dr. Nancy Gahles

DR. Nancy gahles
DR. Nancy gahles Contrary to popular belief, the number one killer of women is heart attacks, not cancer. Interestingly, a major cause of heart disease in women is lack of sleep. As a woman, I can tell you that getting enough quality rest time, let alone sleep itself, is akin to the search for the holy grail!

A recent evening news program featured a story about corporations instituting sleep pods into the office so that employees can have naps on the job. Research shows that by taking 30 minute naps three times a week one can lower heart attacks by 37%.

It is clear that when one feels tired and run down a whole host of issues arise. Irritability is a feature that abounds. Short tempers, flare-ups that disrupt relationships at the office and at home are predictors of a downward spiral into ill health. Both lack of sleep and irritability lower the immune system. A lowered immune system increases the risk of susceptibility to acute diseases such as the garden variety of viruses that are "going around." Left unchecked, an immune system working at suboptimal function predisposes you to a plethora of chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes and arthritis.

It is also true that reality rears its ugly head with the glaring facts of the issues behind sleep deprivation. Hormonal disturbances such as hot flashes at night create insomnia for many women. New mothers are the caregivers and feeding stations for their babies throughout the night. Mothers in general are caregivers on a 24/7 schedule. Men are not excluded from the lack of sleep arena. Worries, anxieties, physical pain and long hours at work are all contributing factors.

While it is always easy to identify and name the issue, the solution needs to be addressed as well.

In my experience, it may not be possible to get the allotment of sleep that you need in one quantum sleep package of eight hours per night. That is why the corporations created sleep pods on the job. For those of us who do not have that luxury, my advice is to begin a practice of deep breathing that evolves into a state of meditative relaxation for 15 minutes per day. We used to call this a cat nap or daydreaming. Simply close your eyes and begin with an exhale. Start to breathe through your nostrils in a way that brings the breath deep into the belly first and then fills the lungs so that the rib cage rises and expands and then empties fully on the exhale. Take 20 long, deep breaths like this and you will feel very refreshed. The longer you can remain in this state of deep, relaxed breathing, the more benefit you will get. You may be surprised at the difficulty of maintaining focus for 20 deep breaths. It requires concentration. The beauty is that in concentrating on breathing, one must leave the "monkey mind" behind. The monkey mind is the chatterbox of the head. Rushing flows of thoughts that do not stop. These are tiresome and draining. Let go of them while you breathe and when you return to conscious awakening you may find that you are able to dismiss many of those thoughts as unnecessary and re-prioritize the rest of your day. Do this before retiring for the evening in order to clean your slate for a deeper, more peaceful rest.

May The Blessings Be!

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