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Those who enjoy it every night do not realize its innumerable benefits. Restorative and regenerative, sleep is a real youth bath for the body and mind. However, it is believed that one third of the population of industrialized countries suffers chronic or transient sleep disturbances. If in some cases a doctor’s intervention is necessary, in others it is possible to solve the problem by observing some simple rules of hygiene of life and possibly resorting, for a short period, to a drug available without a prescription.
The benefits of sleep: why and how
Sleep is a physiological state that reproduces according to a circadian rhythm (biological rhythm over 24 hours) and which allows the body and mind to rest. A night of sleep usually takes place over the arc of alternating phases (four on average), of different depth (wakefulness threshold) and neurological activity: four stages of sleep called orthodox lasting from 1 to 2 hours separated by a stage of sleep called paradoxical with rapid eye movements (in English REM, rapid eye movements). Orthodox sleep is divided into phases of different depths, the highest wakefulness threshold (deep sleep) occurs mainly at the beginning of the night and then falls on the thread of the hours. Sleep gradually loses depth so relatively weak external stimuli are enough to cause you to wake up in the morning. REM sleep represents the privileged moment of dreams (dream activity). The observations of neurologists already led to this discovery in 1951, which made it possible to evaluate the importance of this phase of sleep. If a person or animal is prevented from dreaming (awakening during REM sleep), severe psychological and emotional disturbances occur in the short or long term. Recent discoveries in neurobiology suggest that the dream performs the function of a sort of “scavenger” of the brain: it would allow the brain structures to be freed from parasitic thoughts of all kinds that hinder their proper functioning.
When sleep doesn’t come
Recognizing the cause of insomnia or difficulties in falling asleep is crucial in order to find the appropriate remedies. Not infrequently, the disorder comes from a psychological or physical difficulty that can be treated directly, allowing sleep to be normalized. This is the case, for example, of depressive states or anxiety but also of pain and fever, hormonal dysfunctions and certain heart and respiratory diseases. In the event of serious personal difficulties (marital separation, job loss, etc.) that cause significant insomnia, it is often essential to consult a doctor who will prescribe a sleeping pill for a few weeks.
There are, on the one hand, ancestral remedies based on plants (phytotherapeutic, see below) and, on the other, modern substances, much better tolerated and significantly less dangerous than those of forty or fifty years ago. Most of the sleeping pills prescribed today belong to the benzodiazepine class, effective but capable of causing addiction. For this reason they should not be taken for an extended period or, if necessary, always under medical supervision.
Available without prescription
Considered sedative plants that promote sleep par excellence, lemon balm, passion flower, valerian and hops are included in the composition of numerous preparations (herbal teas, tablets, syrups, etc.) for sleeping. Orange blossom, lavender or verbena are also known for their sedative action.
Another class of substances used against sleep disorders is that of antihistamines (histamine antagonists, which, among other things, is an allergy mediator). But beware, not all antihistamines are sleeping pills. Mostly these are substances used mainly as anti-allergic agents (hay fever, urticaria, etc.). However, some, such as diphenhydramine and doxylamine, have remarkable sedative properties and have shown some efficacy in treating sleep disorders, even if accompanied by allergic reactions. Diphenhydramine slightly shortens the REM phases (dream phase) and the risk of abuse is very low. Moreover, thanks to its duration of action (4-6 hours), this substance helps to fall asleep and prolongs sleep, minimizing the risk of accumulation and hang-over (drowsiness or other undesirable effects upon waking). Available in tablets and, recently, in drops, diphenhydramine is an effective and well tolerated drug which, however, like any sleeping pill, should not be taken for a long time.
Life hygiene rules
In many cases, before resorting to a drug or medical consultation, it is worth respecting some appropriate hygiene rules in order to be able to fall asleep easily and improve sleep quality. Here they are:
And if sleep still doesn’t come:
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