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The Catholic Doctor: The gift of a good night’s sleep

What is it with teenagers? It’s nothing for them to sleep 12 hours or more if given the opportunity. I can still remember that in college it was not uncommon for me to sleep until noon on weekends. What happens as we age that shortens our sleep cycle and for many of us causes insomnia?  Life! We begin to worry about our job, our friends, our parents, our spouse, our children, our bills and our soul.

There are a number of different patterns of insomnia. If it takes you over 20 minutes to first fall asleep you are experiencing one type.

Then there is the kind that I have struggled with for years now: waking up in the middle of the night and having trouble falling back to sleep (I have seen the clock hit 3 a.m. too many times over the past decade).

Then there is waking up an hour or two before your friendly alarm startles you. This last type is frequently correlated with depression.

As a physician discussing insomnia, I must go through the obligatory checklist of things that contribute to insomnia.

Avoid caffeine for at least six hours prior to going to bed (no big revelation here). Drinking alcohol late in the evening or even right before you retire may help you fall asleep but frequently contributes to insomnia in the middle of the night.

Exercising before you go to bed can cause significant difficulty falling asleep by stimulating your adrenal gland. But everyone is different, and in my case, exercising late in the evening is just about my only option. It actually helps me get a good night’s sleep and does not cause insomnia for me.

The sleep experts use a term called sleep hygiene. Part of sleep hygiene means avoiding mental stimulation and stressors for at least one hour before you plan to sleep. Watching a news show that is debating politics right before you go to bed would be considered bad sleep hygiene, and it may actually be detrimental to your mental health as well! Checking your email right before you settle into bed is more likely to stir the brain up, not settle the brain down. Then there are those who don’t shut their phones off and continue to receive texts through the night.

There are also specific sleep disorders that may contribute to insomnia or a poor night’s sleep, like sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome. These are best diagnosed in a formal sleep lab study and are beyond the scope of this article.

Now for the Dr. Kaminskas’ plan of treatment, which will not be found in any scientific journal. There is no better plan, as part of good sleep hygiene, than to spend a few minutes with your Creator before you go to sleep. Possibilities include reading a chapter in a book written by one of your favourite Christian authors, say a prayer, grab your rosary and head out for a walk, or read a passage from the Bible. Very importantly, hand over your worries to God before you retire for the night - the best way to settle an overactive mind that I know. Dr. David Kaminskas

Lord, grant us a quiet night and a perfect end.

To Thee before the close of day, Creator of the world, we pray That, with Thy wonted favor, Thou Wouldst be our guard and keeper now.

From all ill dreams defend our eyes, From nightly fears and fantasies; Tread under foot our ghostly foe, That spot of sin we may not know.

O Father, that we ask be done, Through Jesus Christ, Thine only Son, Who, with the Holy Ghost and Thee, Doth live and reign eternally. Amen.

Te Lucis ante terminum -

Office Hymn for Compline

Dear God, as I lay me down to sleep,

relax the tension of my body; calm the restlessness of my mind; still the thoughts which worry and perplex me.

Help me to rest myself

and all my problems

in your strong

and loving arms.

Visit, we beseech Thee, O Lord, this habitation, and drive far from it all the snares of the enemy. Let Thy holy angels dwell herein to preserve us in peace; and let Thy blessing be ever upon us, through Jesus Christ our Lord, to Whom with Thee and the Holy Spirit livest and reignest, one God, world without end. Amen.

Thou knowest, O Lord my Creator,

the sleepless vigilance of my invisible enemies and the frailty of my weak body. Into Thy hands, therefore, I commit my spirit. Cover me with the wings of Thy goodness, that I may not sleep unto death. Enlighten the eyes of my spiritual understanding, that I may delight in Thy divine words. Calm my body and stop the barrage of worldly thoughts

that keep me awake at night. Fill my mind with Thy heavenly thoughts so that I may rise in the morning to pray with renewed vigour. St. Antiochus

Be, Lord, my watchfulness and my peace,

that I may find in you the ease to let go,

the means to my peace,

and the blessing of longed-for sleep......

Giles Harcourt

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I offer to you my heart and soul.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, assist me in my last agony.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, may I breathe forth my soul in peace with you.

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