Whenever I have a new patient come to my clinic, I like to spend at least 45 minutes with them. I want to get an idea of what it is like to live in their skin. I believe talking with your patient is the most important part of determining if you can help them or not.
I fondly remember a surgeon that I conducted my residency with. He said that 90 percent of the patient's diagnosis will come from clinical history. If the doctor is doing all the talking then he is not listening.
Routinely, people will come in with headaches or back pain in search of a solution. Many are surprised at some of the questions I ask them. Some of these questions include: How much water do you drink? Who do you have to talk with about your most personal questions? What hobbies do you have? How many meals a day do you eat?
Invariably, I always ask some of my most important sleep questions. What positions do you sleep in? How much sleep do you get a night? Do you wake frequently? Do you wake feeling rested or telling yourself that you will go to bed early tonight?
I am amazed at just how sleep-deprived our society is. Many of my patients do not understand the vital importance of allowing proper time for rest and recovery. Sleep is that all important elixir of health. It is in that slumber state that your body repairs itself and recovers from the day's events. Sleep keeps your immune system in line and allows you to make healthy, optimistic choices the following day.
Many studies have clearly demonstrated the necessity of appropriate sleep. When one is deprived of enough sleep, they can exhibit signs of psychosis and agitation. Their memory becomes impeded and they are more susceptible to depression. Have you ever noticed that after you burn the candle at both ends, live in stress and burn yourself out, that you later come down with a cold or the flu?
How much sleep is enough? There is no magic number. Children and young adults who are growing require more sleep than one who is elderly. Make healthy choices about the amount of time you sleep. I recommend a good number to start with is eight hours dedicated to sleep, not watching TV, or dosing in the tub.
I often talk about something called sleep hygiene. This is the routine you follow before going to bed. For some, it may include a hot bath with Epsom salts, for others it may include writing in a journal for 30 minutes before retiring for the day. In any event, it should be a time specifically set aside for you and your debriefing from the day.
Sometimes I have to suggest to my most difficult sleepers that they may want to try meditation or prayer before they go to sleep. Simply put, just calm your mind. Sometimes the hardest thing to do in the world is to relax. It takes no effort, yet only a few can achieve it.
There are many good reasons why the sandman may be ignoring you. They include unresolved issues that are personal to you or a bad mattress that is as old as the underwear you had when you were in high school.
Some major "no-no's" to avoid:
- Avoid over stimulation (yes, this includes your cell phone!)
- Don't drink caffeinated drinks after 2 p.m.
- Avoid alcohol before bed
- Avoid exercise too close to bed time
These things rob you of the most important phase of sleep recovery called the REM phase. I never watch the evening news because I find it too upsetting just prior to bed. Don't go over your finances or bills just prior to sleeping because there is nothing you can do about them until the next day.
One of the most common causes of loss of sleep is some sort of pain. My clinic is a chronic pain clinic and I see a lot of people who are in a lot of pain a lot of the time. There is no way in the world you can convince me that a significant amount of pain does not sap you of your precious energy. I see it every day. When the pain is at a certain level, it becomes all consuming. It affects your energy, your immune system, your work and your relationships.
If you are suffering from pain, ask for help and get it! Do not accept that you are going to have to live with it. There are many forms of help out there but the answer will always be "no" to the questions you don't ask.
Your sleep hygiene is vital to your health and well-being. It is one of the most important things you can do for yourself today. Ask yourself these three questions:
- Do you wake feeling rested?
- How many hours of sleep do you get each night?
- Do you dream at night?
If you are not dreaming, you may not be entering that all important REM phase of sleep. Allow time for your sleep. It is the most critical part of your healthy day.