Sleep Well
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
by: Pat Buchanan, PhD, ATC, PT, GCFT, Chair, Esther Thelen Research Committee

Section: Art of Living

Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together. Golden slumbers kiss your eyes, Smiles awake you when you rise. -Thomas Dekker, writer, 1572-1632 -Quoted by The Beatles in "Golden Slumbers" on Abbey Road

I love a good sleep. Sleep could come in the form of the traditional nighttime repose; I especially love it when I sleep the seven to nine hours recommended for adults. Less frequently now as an adult, sleep may come during the day as a cherished nap.

After a solid sleep, I sense the liveliness and responsiveness of my body. I acknowledge my emotional brightness and resilience. I am grateful for my attentive and creative mind. Conversely, I miss it and I feel it when I don't get a good rest. I notice that I am slow on the uptake, quiet, cranky, and achy.

Even though Decker penned the opening lines for this article five centuries ago, he captured many of the benefits of sleep that scientific studies are now confirming and explaining. Two feature articles in the April 2013 issue of NIH News in Health summarized the importance of sleep. Sleep has positive effects on physiological and psychological well-being through its widespread effects on nearly all tissues in our bodies and systems, including endocrine, cardiovascular, and immune functions. It keeps us on our toes and out of accidents. It impacts our digestion and weight. It promotes learning, memory, and decision-making. "Sleep on it" is truly good advice. Researchers are gradually figuring out how sleep does all this. We recently learned one important mechanism: it seems that sleep helps cleanse the brain.

Articles in the October 2013 issue of Science (see references) put a positive spin on "brainwashing." Researchers (Xie et al) used special methods to confirm with mice the brain cleaning process that happens during sleep. The interstitial spaces between brain cells increase, as does the circulatory exchange between the interstitial fluid and the cerebrospinal fluid bathing the brain and spinal cord. The result is a flushing out of waste products from the brain. Theoretically, the accumulation of these waste products triggers our sleepiness and encourages us to enter a state that clears our brains. In the long run, failure to regularly wash out these wastes disturbs normal neural function and can result in various health problems, including migraines and Alzheimer's disease. Xie et al reminded us in their introduction, "Sleep deprivation reduces learning, impairs performance in cognitive tests, prolongs reaction time, and is a common cause of seizures."

Sleep is a necessity, not a luxury. Readers can explore the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site for basic information about sleep disorders, recommended sleep needs, tips on falling asleep, and in preparation for visiting a physician if lack of sleep is a persistent problem.

So, what does one do if sleep is not coming easily? And why am I writing this column about sleep? Figuring out the reason(s) for the difficulty is important and may require the assistance of a health care provider. The NIH News in Health ("The Benefits of Slumber") reported, "Sometimes medicine is prescribed. But consult a doctor before trying even over-the-counter sleep pills, as they may leave you feeling unrefreshed in the morning." How about another option, something that might resonate with the Feldenkrais® community? The article also stated, "Common therapies include relaxation and deep-breathing techniques." Aha! There's the connection with the Feldenkrais Method® of somatic education.

As a Guild Certified Feldenkrais Teacher®, I know from repeated experience that Feldenkrais lessons can create relaxation and lots of deep breathing, including plenty of yawning. My students and I can be guided to relax and fall sleep by many Awareness Through Movement® or Functional Integration® lessons. That response is usually quite welcomed by fatigued, stressed, injured, or ill persons. The much-needed sleep may occur in the midst of the lessons, later in the day, or during the night. Some Feldenkrais Teachers specialize in assisting students with sleep problems.

The Feldenkrais community has many reports from students and teachers of the relaxing and often sleep-inducing effects of Feldenkrais lessons. We do not as yet have systematic studies confirming all these anecdotes that Feldenkrais lessons can positively influence sleep patterns. Let's see if we can change that and inspire some formal research studies by starting our own informal project here and now!

I have put together a very short survey about sleep and the Feldenkrais Method. Really, it only takes a few minutes to complete. If you have experienced a Feldenkrais lesson as a student through a live, recorded, or printed lesson, or if you are a teacher, I invite you to share your experiences of the effects of Feldenkrais lessons on sleep. Take the sleep survey between December 13, 2013 and January 11, 2014. (The survey is now closed.) I promise to share the results with readers in the next issue of SenseAbility.

Researchers continue doing the hard work of connecting the dots and identifying the mechanisms to clarify that relaxation and sleep are not simply feel-good luxuries. Indeed, sleep is a necessity that clears waste from our brains, contributes to healing, helps us learn and remember, restores many aspects of health-promoting homeostasis, and enhances our feelings of well-being and love.

With a little help from the Beatles, I wish for you Feldenkrais lessons that bring you sweet dreams and lots of love!

Oh yeah, all right
Are you going to be in my dreams Tonight?
. . . .
And in the end
The love you take
Is equal to the love you make.

-The Beatles, "The End" on Abbey Road

Pat Buchanan, PhD is a Feldenkrais teacher, physical therapist, and athletic trainer in Toledo, OH.

References: Herculano-Houzel, S. "Sleep It Out." Science 18 October 2013: 316-317.
Underwood, E. "Sleep: The Brain's Housekeeper" Science 18 October 2013: p. 301.
Xie, L et al. "Sleep Drives Metabolite Clearance from the Adult Brain." Science 18 October 2013: 373-377.
NIH News in Health, April 2013 "The Benefits of Slumber: Why You Need a Good Night's Sleep and "Sleep On It: How Snoozing Strengthens Memories."

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