Can’t sleep? The bad news is that, according to new studies, insomnia increases our mortality risk threefold. The good news is that other new studies suggest enticing non-drug cures.
A National Institutes of Health-supported study found that literally cooling the brain’s frontal cortex ― lowering its metabolism by inducing “cerebral hypothermia” with a soft, water-filled plastic “cooling cap” ― helps insomniacs drift off nearly as quickly, then sleep as long, as non-insomniacs.
A Japanese study affirms the power of high-amplitude “delta” brainwaves ― which can be induced via peptides (amino-acid bonds used in drugs) and brain-entrainment audio sessions ― to deepen sleep. And a tasty new British study proclaims a sleep-boosting superfruit: tart cherries, packed with the “sleep hormone,” melatonin.
Cherries are cheery, but Dr. Rubin Naiman ― author of The Yoga of Sleep ― says nature’s richest melatonin source is purslane, the sour, plump weed that was Gandhi’s favorite food.
“We become melatonin-suppressed as we age and through excessive exposure to bright light,” says Naiman, sleep specialist at Andrew Weil’s Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. “We need melatonin- replacement therapy.”
Naiman also charges Western culture with waging war on its own circadian rhythms.
“We battle daytime sleepiness, tossing coffee at it. We battle nighttime wakefulness, throwing expletives at it. We use drugs as bombs.”
Melatonin, delta waves, and cooling caps sidestep what Naiman calls the most common sleep-wrecker: 21st-century hyperarousal.
“Here in the United States of Consciousness, we put a tremendous premium on thinking. We define our self-worth by our productivity. In terms of heart rate, cortisol, metabolism and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, we’re excessively awake. We rise daily like Learjets to 10,000 feet ― so even when we descend 3,000 feet, we’re still way up in the air.”
To descend from the stratosphere, Naiman suggests using melatonin ― either in foods such as cherries and purslane or in supplement form, as pills or nasal sprays. Also prescribed frequently to insomniac patients at ACIM ― as it has been by healers around the world for nearly 2,000 years ― is the herb valerian.
“Whatever you might take to help yourself sleep, it’s crucial not to let it undermine your faith in your own ability to sleep.”
Psychology is key. Far too often, Naiman explains, the main reason we can’t sleep is simply that we believe we can’t sleep. Insomnia is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“Sleep is natural. It’s just another state of consciousness. Trust your body and spirit to find it. When you climb into bed at night, learn to let go of the right things.”