Can’t sleep? We quiz the experts on different approaches to sleeping

The integrated sleep program
Doctor of traditional Chinese medicine and co-founder of Koh Samui’s Kamalaya Wellness Sanctuary health retreat Karina Stewart deems sleep so integral to health, it’s a staple of Kamalaya’s customisable program. The sleep enhancement program is geared towards setting guests up for lifelong better zees (not just sleeping like a baby on a special selection from the a la carte ‘pillow menu’).

A specialised program of integrated treatments and therapies spanning naturopathy, traditional Chinese medicine, massage therapy and mind-body balance answer all the principles of healthy sleep patterns. And it’s not just chronic insomniacs who can benefit. Mild sleep imbalances are also fair game for the five, seven or nine-day program incorporating naturopathic assessment, massages, herbal foot baths and supplements.

“Herbs and nutrients are nourishing to the body and can assist in restoring regular sleep-wake cycles, encouraging adequate rest and improving overall wellbeing,” Stewart says. If it all sounds like an excuse for pampering, Stewart assures that the acupuncture, Ayurveda, chi nei tsang, pranayama and reiki, and mind-body balance sessions are therapeutic.

“It’s a holistic approach to improving the quality of sleep – the health benefits achieved are not the direct result of any one treatment alone, but the combination of treatments, therapies and other services including the people and environment.” Diet also is tailored to optimal shut-eye, with a schedule of fresh, natural, chef-prepared meals overseen by a resident naturopath.

The yoga approach
The health benefits of yoga have been widely known for decades, so it’s no wonder that somebody’s cottoned on to how it can help us to rest easy at night. Founder of Melbourne’s One Hot Yoga Lucinda Millls says that unlike with other hot yoga types, One Hot Yoga’s sequences are adapted to different times of day. “The energising kapalabhati breath is fantastic to do in the morning, but when performed in the evening classes it can be over stimulating and make it difficult to get to sleep,” Mills says. On the flipside, evening classes use calming breath techniques such as nadi shodhana, which alternates nostril breathing. It has demonstrated efficacy in calming and balancing the nervous system, with flow-on effects for sleep, Mills says.

The diet approach
Diet is inextricably linked to how well you sleep, according to nutrition health and lifestyle coach Susan Kath. While the owner of About Nutrition cites the usual suspects, striking off items containing stimulants such as caffeine and guarana (that’s cest la vie to the Cherry Ripe and can of V), she also takes aim at the glycaemic index of foods and vegie quotients. Over-tired during the day but can’t sleep at night? Try reducing the number of high GI foods you consume. “Hyper and hypoglycaemia mean your energy levels will peak and slump, leaving you exhausted during the day,” Kath says. Another reason for waking up feeling as though you need more sleep is booze.

“More than one glass can disrupt your sleep by reducing REM sleep, causing fitful sleep,” Kath warns. The surprise player in the sleep equation is protein, which Kath says can influence how much sleep hormone we produce.

“Amino acids, the building blocks of protein make neurotransmitters and hormones. One such amino acid is tryptophan, which is used to make serotonin – important for assisting the onset of sleep,” she explains. Serotonin is converted into sleep hormone melatonin. But don’t forget the carbs. “Carbohydrates help increase the amount of tryptophan that crosses into your brain by diverting other competing amino acids.” If you’re eating well but counting sheep, it might be time to get tested for magnesium and folate deficiencies, which can cause cramps and restless leg syndrome that can disturb sleep, Kath says.

The breathing approach
Breathing is an automatic bodily process of moving air in and out of the lungs. What’s to learn, right? Cue the sound of the Wheel of Fortune buzzer. It seems a lot of us have dodgy breathing, and it’s messing with our naps.

Physiotherapist, breathing educator and author Tess Graham says that more than 30 percent of middle-aged women habitually snore. And it’s not just bad news for staying in hostels – heavy snoring can be an early manifestation of the much more serious sleep apnoea, the author of Relief from Snoring and Sleep Apnoea warns.

Sleep apnoea is where you stop breathing temporarily during sleep for up to a minute (‘apnoea’ means ‘without breath’). So what? “You wake up feeling like you haven’t slept at all” and the fallout can include trouble concentrating at work, being tired and irritable, getting anxious and feeling depressed.

Snoring and sleep apnoea also increase the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke, and research has found that sleep apnoea sufferers are two to seven times more likely to have a traffic accident, Graham says. In fact, she says that ‘over breathing’ during snoring and ‘lack of breathing’ during apnoea can send blood chemistry out of whack, impacting delivery of oxygen to your brain, heart and everywhere else. The tricky bit is that, unless you ask someone to count your breaths, you mightn’t know you’ve got a problem. A healthy adult should breathe around four to six litres of air a minute at rest. This equates to about eight to 10 gentle breaths per minute. “The average breathing rate I have observed over 20 years of working with people with sleep problems is over 16 breaths a minute.” Graham’s top tips? Try to manage stress, work on your posture, skip sugar and starch, and attend to chronic pain and illness.

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