Did this summer fly or is it just me? Taking off the month of August was supposed to be a restful few weeks to unwind and let my brain relax, but you know the saying, "If you want to make God laugh, make plans."
I was so busy this past month, I might as well have gone on as usual! I didn't even have time to read "Killing Lincoln" by Bill O'Reilly, which I was saving for my "downtime."
One of the reasons my vacation wasn't very restful was that I really found it very hard to get to sleep. I have always been a minimal sleeper. I drove my parents mad because I just didn't sleep. All my life I have slept only around four to five hours a night.
My normal bed time is 2 a.m. As I have gotten older, the sleeplessness has begun to concern me, especially with all the new studies about lack of sleep and depression, illness and all manner of mental and physical woes. It's also a sad fact that as we get older we sleep less.
In my case that could mean remaining awake for the rest of my life. So one night last month at around 4 a.m.M, wide awake with my eyes pin wheeling, lavender oil and chamomile tea flunking out, I got out of bed and went to the computer to search for natural ways to fall asleep. I reasoned that if all else failed, the computer would place me into a stuporous trance and I could amble back to the bedroom and pass out.
Instead, I found the very interesting web site of a Russian doctor who posited that we are sick and sleepless because we don't breathe properly. He "re-trains" people to breathe and this "cures" illness and insomnia. He also wrote a great deal about the KGB persecuting him and other doctors for their unorthodox views, often in a most lethal fashion. His chilling account was enough to give me nightmares and keep me awake for weeks.
Talk about cross purposes! I decided to take his advice and try one of his breathing exercises for falling asleep. After all, I won't take Ambien, Lunesta or any other sleeping pill since I don't want to be found sleep-driving down Middle Road in a yellow straw hat and purple short shorts looking for Corey Beach!
The exercise he suggested was almost too simple. Could it really help me to sleep? I had to try since melatonin takes three weeks to kick in and I wanted sleep NOW! So following his instructions, I laid down on my left side and relaxed my body as much as I could. Then, as calmly as possible, I began to take easy, short breaths through my nose, not panting, just not filling my lungs with air. Think of them as "half-breaths."
After about seven of these, I found it impossible to breathe in this way and I just had to take deep, full breaths. I woke up several hours later, feeling refreshed and rested. Of course this had to be a fluke. It was far too easy. No drugs, no drama, just air! So I did it again that night and the night after. I was astonished to find I was sleeping easily and through the night. If I had to get up to use the bathroom, I fell back to sleep almost immediately. I had more energy during the day and was a lot less cranky.
As a bonus, I stopped worrying about not falling asleep. I found that the main cause of my insomnia, a mind that doesn't wind down, seems not to be an issue because the breathing allows my thoughts to slow and me to relax. I have always been a proponent of deep breathing, knowing that we need to give our brains more oxygen and feed our bloodstream as well. I have often given my patients deep breathing exercises for panic attacks and stress.
But it was this particular technique of left side, small breath breathing that helped me. No matter how much you know, you can always learn something new. And it's very good to realize that there are answers to every health problem that don't require drugs. I am happy to pass this on in case you, like me, are not good at sleeping. See if this works for you.
It costs nothing, gives you restful sleep and fills your body with oxygen. What could be bad about that? If you would like to learn more about these breathing techniques, e-mail me and I will send you the web address.
Dr. Kleine regrets she cannot give advice by phone or e-mail. For an appointment, call 631. 472. 8139, or e-mail us at Drfootsi@myway.com.