Do you fall asleep easily, stay asleep deeply and restfully through the night, dream happy dreams, and wake up fully rested ready for your day? Right, few people do. Some people with brain related issues like Parkinson’s disease, Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD), cognitive dysfunctions, autonomic nervous system disorders, changes in the sense of smell, and vision issues have even greater sleep challenges than most people. Here is what the medical research says about four exercises or self-care approaches that can help.
1Notice Blue Light
As some people age the lens of the eyes yellow and filters out more blue light than normal. This blue light is important in regulating the brain and the circadian rhythms which influence the sleep-wake cycle, so that we sleep deeply and have lots of energy when we are awake. One solution is surround yourself with blue light or looking more often at things that are blue or reflecting blue light, like blueberries, blue spruce, the blue sky, even a blue car or blue clothing. The more you look at something blue the more blue light is striking the lens and the retina, even if it is a smaller percentage. This is what researchers said in the 2011 study, Sleep Disturbances Are Related To Decreased Transmission Of Blue Light To The Retina Caused By Lens Yellowing.
“Sleep pattern and circadian rhythms are regulated via the retinohypothalamic tract [from the retina of the eye to the hypothalamus or hormone regulation system] in response to stimulation of a subset of retinal ganglion cells, predominantly by blue light (450-490 nm). With age, the transmission of blue light to the retina is reduced because of the aging process of the human lens, and this may impair the photoentrainment [balancing] of circadian rhythm leading to sleep disorders. The risk of sleep disturbances was significantly increased when the transmission of blue light to the retina was low, even after correction for the effect of age and other confounding factors such as smoking habits, diabetes mellitus, gender, and the risk of ischemic heart disease.”
2Imagine Your Self Flying
During the day we can imagine ourselves running, bicycling, skipping and without actually moving our body our brain communicates with the muscles and can increase muscle related skills or motor function. While we sleep we also dream about flying, jumping, dancing and more. Normally the connection between the brain and the muscles shuts off and while our mind is dancing our body lies peacefully still sleeping. This is not true of people with REM sleep behavior disorder. While dreaming that they are fighting, swimming, or running they toss and turn, hitting spouses, or falling out of bed. One man with REM sleep behavior disorder gave his wife a black eye while dreaming.
The research indicates that improving one’s ability to visualize or practicing motor imagery while awake can influence the depth and restfulness of sleep. Try this for 10 minutes, an hour or so before you go to bed: sit or lie quietly and imagine yourself doing your favorite sport. In the visualization your are a master whether it is basketball and every shot you take swishes through the basket or swimming where you see each detail: the dive into the pool, the strong strokes, the flip turn at the other end of the pool, the pulling ahead of the competition as you finish strong and then the touch of your fingers on the wall of the pool ahead of the competition. The crowd cheers as you stand on the podium to receive your gold medal. Here is what researchers said in the 2016 journal article, Motor Imagery In REM Sleep Increased By Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation Of The Left Motor Cortex.
“The results indicate that more motor imagery, and more athletic motor imagery, are induced by anodal transcranial direct current stimulation in comparison to cathodal and sham transcranial direct current stimulation. This insight may have implications beyond basic consciousness research. Motor imagery in REM sleep has been hypothesized to serve the rehearsal of motor movements, which benefits later motor performance. Electrophysiological manipulations of motor imagery in REM sleep could in the long run be used for rehabilitative transcranial direct current stimulation protocols benefitting temporarily immobile clinical patients, especially those who cannot perform specific motor imagery tasks – such as dementia patients, infants with developmental and motor disorders, and coma patients.”
3Shun Artificial Light Before Bedtime
While exposure to artificial light at night is common, it is not beneficial in getting a good night’s sleep. This is how researchers explained the effect in healthy young men in the article, Exposure To Dim Artificial Light At Night Increases REM Sleep And Awakenings In Humans.
“We found that dALAN [dim artificial light at night] during sleep affects sleep structure. Exposure to dALAN during sleep increases the frequency of arousals, amount of shallow sleep and amount of REM sleep. This suggests adverse effects of dALAN during sleep on sleep quality and suggests the need to avoid exposure to dALAN during sleep.”
(Chronobiology International, 2016)
4Eat Vitamin B12 Rich Cheese and Eggs
Eggs, milk, cheese, and other milk products, as well as meat, fish, shellfish, poultry and fortified soy and rice milk contain Vitamin B12. Here is what researchers said about the effect of a combination of vitamin B12 and light in the journal article, Effects Of Vitamin B12 On Bright Light On Cognitive And Sleep-Wake Rhythm In Alzheimer-Type Dementia. Not only can the B vitamins help with sleep, dreaming, and energy levels, it can help with cognitive function.
“The present study investigated the effects of vitamin B12 on circadian rhythm in Alzheimer-type dementia. Twenty-eight Alzheimer-type dementia patients were treated with bright light therapy for 8 weeks. For the latter four weeks, half were treated with bright light therapy plus Vitamin B12. After the first four weeks bright light therapy improved the circadian rhythm disturbances and cognitive state especially in the early stage of Alzheimer-type dementia. These results suggest that vitamin B12 has some efficiency to enhance vigilance for Alzheimer-type dementia patients.”
(Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 2001)
So, you might consider eating a cheesy omelet outdoors in the bright sunlight (no artificial light) while looking at a bluebird and imagining yourself running through a field of blue wild flowers. Or just do the exercises one at a time.