By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness
I recently had an older patient who told me she couldn’t sleep at night. Every time she closes her eyes, all she does is worry about her children. They’re not doing well, and it is the only thing she can think about.
This is very common among our senior citizens. They become stressed out over their children who are having a rough time. Or maybe their grandkids are having problems. They might even have great grand children who aren’t doing well.
I hear this a lot. And it is a big concern.
We often forget about all of the stress our elders are under. They constantly fear for the health and well-being of their offspring. They have generation after generation of worry on their minds.
At the same time, they are still dealing with the day-to-day concerns of finances, home repairs and their own health. They still have to deal with traffic jams, conflicts and disagreements.
We all have to navigate what life throws at us, and it can be overwhelming. So there are a lot of reasons our brains start chattering and buzzing as soon as we turn the lights off at night.
That can make it hard to get a good night’s sleep.
Why are You Stressed Out?
It all starts with our body’s fight or flight response. Whenever we perceive something as stressful or threatening, our bodies trigger an acute stress response by activating the sympathetic nervous system.
Cortisol levels increase. Our hearts beat faster. Blood pressure rises. Our breathing quickens and muscles become tense.
In the short term, this is protective. It sharpens our senses so we can fight off a threat or run to safety. But over the long term, chronic activation of this stress response can keep you awake at night and have a harmful impact on your health.
Chronic stress suppresses your immune system and contributes to many health problems, including cardiovascular disease, depression, headaches and memory issues.
So we need a way to tone this stress response down by deactivating the sympathetic nervous system and allowing cortisol levels to fall.
The best way to accomplish this and calm your body down is by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the soothing and harmonious system that we all have to restore balance.
The more time we spend in a parasympathetic nervous state, the more relaxed and healthier we are.
And there is an easy way to reclaim this state of being. In fact, it’s the only proven non-pharmacological way to decrease stress cortisol levels in the body.
Breathe Your Way to Sleep and Relaxation
I’m talking about a type of mindful breathing called the 4-7-8 breathing method. It’s based on the principles of pranayama. Basically, it works to modify the amount, quality and flow of your breath.
This type of slow breathing triggers signals to your nervous system to reduce cortisol and lower both your heart rate and blood pressure.
It’s important to understand the technique, because it’s one of the best stress relievers in your arsenal. Not only can it keep you cool, calm and collected throughout the day. It can also help you get rid of nighttime brain chatter so you can fall asleep more easily.
Just slowly inhale through your nose for a count of four, and hold it for a count of seven. Then exhale through pursed, rounded lips for a count of eight. Continue breathing this way for about five minutes.
Do this whenever you’re feeling overly stressed and it will immediately trigger parasympathetic nervous system activity so that your cortisol levels drop, your heartbeat slows and your muscles relax.
You can also do it before bedtimes. While the breathing itself doesn’t actually put you to sleep, it does ease tension and promotes relaxation so that it’s easier to fall asleep.
And here’s a little bonus tip. If you’re ever in pain, 4-7-8 may be able to help. Deep, slow breathing exercises increase pain thresholds by influencing nerve activity and pain processing.
Plus, the deeper you breathe, the more oxygen will fill the cells of your body and organs. It brings in fresh oxygen allows you to exhale toxins and carbon dioxide.
So just breathe! Practice 4-7-8 whenever you feel you need. You will feel better, you will sleep better and your body will thank you for it.
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