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Connie Eckman: Whatever happened to counting sheep?

Picture this: Sunlight softly hitting your face along with a smile as you roll over and notice your alarm clock hasn’t even gone off yet…

Was that you this morning?

Dr. Connie Eckman

Or did you fall out of bed, while trying to turn off your alarm clock, only to stub your toe on the way to the bathroom and perhaps using some unkindly adjectives?

The amount and quality of sleep you or your children are experiencing each evening will definitely impact your morning wake up call.

With the chaos everyone seems to experience on a daily basis, we should never underestimate the importance of a good night’s sleep.

While you rest, your heart gets much-needed downtime. Your blood pressure is lower as your heart muscles and circulation reset and repair for the day ahead.

Your spine elongates and decompresses in the evening, which relieves it of the tension it feels during the day. Muscle energy restores with sleep, when hormones like adrenaline and cortisol decrease to make room for the HGH (human growth hormone).

HGH is needed to grow, repair and maintain your muscles. Remember the saying, “You need your beauty sleep”?

A good night’s sleep will go further than expensive surgeries and moisturizers when it comes to fighting fine lines and wrinkles. Skin can be repaired and strengthened at night when collagen proteins are released.

Have you noticed that you have a greater tendency to come down with a sickness when exhausted? A good night’s rest will help boost your immune system.

In order for your digestive system to work optimally throughout the day, it needs to slow down at night.

I bet that 9 p.m. bedtime is looking much better right about now.
As more adults and children are experiencing disrupted sleep, people are reaching for both prescription or over the counter sleep aids to help get quality rest.

I often hear patients talk about using Benadryl to help them sleep. Melatonin has also become one of the most popular and easily available supplements when it comes to improving sleep for both adults and children.

This hormone, produced in the body with the onset of darkness, is not regulated in the U.S. and can be purchased just about anywhere.

Isn’t it crazy to think that you can purchase a hormone at your local gas station?
Purchasing a supplement from an unknown source is never ideal. The quality and dosage of this poorly labeled synthetic version is simply risky and unhealthy.

In other countries, melatonin is available only by prescription and usually not given until the age of 55.

The effects of long-term supplementation with melatonin in kids is unknown and some people use it on their children and themselves for years at a time.

Sleep aids made for adults are often given to children at much higher dosages than a small child should be taking. Like so many over the counter meds, melatonin is just a Band Aid for possible behavioral patterns that have developed in your lifestyle.

I’ve had patients tell me they can never fall asleep at night, only to inadvertently find out they have been napping daily after 4 p.m. In my experience, it seems there’s always at least one aspect of your day that can change in order to help improve your sleep habits.

My kiddos and patients often hear me encourage quiet activities at least one hour before bedtime.

Does that mean staring at your phone while it is on silent?

Quiet activities can include praying, meditating, coloring, reading or taking an Epsom salt bath.

Stay away from electronics of any sort. Exposure to these types of blue and white lights will negatively affect your melatonin.

Give your brain a rest. Keeping your room dark, quiet and not too hot makes for a perfect sleep environment. The darker the room the better since sleeping in a completely darkened room without lights from alarm clocks or televisions will allow your body to produce and secrete its own melatonin to keep you asleep.

Try not to turn on the light when you have to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. That will just shock your system and may make it difficult to get back to sleep.

Adopting a regular bedtime routine where you try to go to sleep at the same time and wake up at the same time will also be helpful. You’ll appreciate this habit now that school is back in session.

Avoiding caffeine, nicotine and alcohol before going to sleep is also a good idea.

Try brewing yourself a cup of camomile tea for a more restful sleep. Its calmative and anti-inflammatory benefits are much gentler for your body than benadryl.

Eating dinner at least two hours before bed is helpful and try to avoid napping during the day.

Foods higher in magnesium will help relax your brain in the evenings. Magnesium works well with melatonin.

Almonds, avocados, pumpkin seeds and green leafy veggies are all greats sources.

I love walking into the kids rooms and opening the blinds even before they are awake. My thoughts are that the natural sunlight will help them ease into their morning waking process.

Getting at least 15 minutes of sunlight in the morning helps regulate the production of melatonin. This means melatonin levels will drop during the daytime making you feel awake and will then sleep better at night.

Modeling healthy sleep habits for your children goes a long way considering they’re always watching.

Perhaps you enjoy the soft hum of your bedroom fan, or some form of white noise (there are apps for white noise nowadays). These are better alternatives prior to taking something.

Always aim to improve behavioral patterns and sleep hygiene before resorting to medicated sleep aids. Don’t just take what is worked for a friend, or something you’ve seen on TV.

Discuss the issues with a practitioner who can steer you on the right track, and don’t forget you can always try counting sheep….

Connie Eckman is with Albemarle Chiropractic Clinic.