Many people take sleep for granted, simply because they fall asleep with little or no effort. In a bus, i have witnessed situations in which some passengers were fast asleep when the bus arrived at their destinations. They were either woken up by their neighbours or woke from sleep a few bus-stops away. Such people may suffer from sleep attacks.
One man who intrigued me about how easily lost in sleep he could be was my gate-man when I lived at 34, Ajanaku Street, Opebi, Ikeja, Lagos. At about 11p.m one day, an air conditioner fire broke out in the children’s room. I was lucky to be home early from work that day, and to be able to get my family to safety on the road, guarded by our faithful dog named mercury or merc for short. Our neighbours called the fire service, and upturned almost every property in the house while trying to put out the fire before the fire-men arrived. Before these events, the gate-man had retired to the boy’s quarters to sleep. He always did that whenever he knew we were all in-door. This day, he was dead asleep, as we often say. By about 3a.m, the fire engines departed, and we managed to sleep in the kitchen area, far away from the smell of soot. The night shift gate-man changed duty with the morning shift gateman with the following entry in their security report notebook…“everything normal”. That was his typical entry every day, and on this day. And it was to become my nickname for him. He was shocked to his marrows the day after when he read my own report in their notebook for their supervisor. There are other people who do not sleep stone-dead like this man, but who are, nevertheless, easy sleepers. They fall asleep at meetings, in church, and can’t help naps in the office. They are a contrast to Al Herpin (1862-January 3, 1947), the American who was nicknamed “the man who never slept”.
We learn of this rare man and his sleep problem from the website https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Herpin, which says:
“Al Herpin, who lived in Trenton, New Jessey, claimed to have developed a rare case of insomnia, whereby he could not sleep. The supposed cause is unknown, although it may be linked to his mother suffering a major injury a few days prior to his birth. In the late 1940s, Al Herpin’s claim attracted the attention of several medical professionals; inspecting his house they found no bed, or other sleep related furniture, but only a rocking chair. Herpin claimed that after a long day’s work, he would rest in his rocking chair reading the Newspaper until dawn, then return to work. He was in good health, and had a constant level of high awareness, defying all scientific understanding for the necessity for sleep. Al Herpin died on January 3, 1947, reportedly at the age of 94; However, this is inconsistent with the previous assertion that he was born in 1862. His death saw another New York Times story of his claim…’death came today for Alfred E. Herpin, a recluse who lived in the outskirts of the city and insisted that he never slept. He was 94 years old and when questioned concerning his case of sleeplessness, maintained that he never actually dozed but merely rested. No other person with total insomnia has lived for such a long period of time. It was likely that he died for other reasons, not sleep deprivation, as his insomnia did not seem to have any effect on his health’ “.
Alfred Herpin’s case is an extreme condition, no doubt. And it is doubtful if there is another person like him.
But there are millions, if not billions of people worldwide, who hardly sleep well, going by the volume of world market business in sleep inducing medications. In 2012, for example, Gaylord Hospital sold to Norwood National sleep therapy its sleep medicine equipment which had fetched 72million US dollars that fiscal year. No fewer than 18million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, a condition in which the airway is temporarily blocked during sleep, making the sufferer feel suffocated and dying. Nigerians who express this symptom often call it a “spiritual attack”, claiming that an unseen force presses them down with intent to kill them. The sufferer feels he or she is dying, but comes around, nevertheless, if he or she is able to move a limb or scream. One of the most popular sleep medicines sold in Nigeria is Valium. It affects chemicals in the brain that may be unbalanced in their functioning or synegistic ratios in people who suffer from anxiety and, as a result, cannot sleep well. It is also prescribed for muscle spasms and alchohol withdrawal, among other conditions. But it is unknown to many people who self-medicate that valium is contraindicated for narrow angle glaucoma, sleep apnea, severe breathing problem, asthma, seizure and so on.
There may be a thousand and one reasons or a combination of some of them why it may be impossible for one to sleep well. Sleeping well means achieving not just stage one sleep but stage four sleep, also called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. You can imagine driving a car over hundred kilometers in uninterrupted traffic on gear one or
gear two. That may damage the engine. The ideal gear to drive the engine over such a distance is gear four or gear five, depending on the gear system of the car. A person who achieves only stage one or stage two sleep is a light sleeper, and is unlikely to wake up in the morning, refreshed and bubbling with a kick-and-go body full of energy and drive. There are too many reason for sleep problem to mention here. Some insomniacs are sugar lovers. Sweet foods and drinks may cause a sugar overload in the blood, as in pre-diabetes or diabetes. Sugar congested blood moves sluggishly and may not promptly deliver blood and oxygen to the brain, and take away the waste products of brain’s metabolism. Either way, the brain may come under stress, and a distressed brain may not induce sound sleep. If the sugar overload encourages the overgrowth of candida, a yeast form, the yeast infestation may become systemic, that is afflict some organs, and if the brain is one of the afflicted systems, the nervous system may be on fire, literally speaking. It would require candida cleansing to restore normalcy.
Many insomniacs cannot withstand stress. The imagery of stress I enjoy most is this. We live in a pressure-packed world. Imagine how a pressure cooker works. In it, you can boil rice for a meal for 10 people in only three minutes. The pressure-cooking pot impacts terrible force on the cell wall of the rice grains. And because their resistance is poor, they break down quickly. On this earth, we human beings are as though in a pressure-cooking pot. The pressure is to help us become inwardly more mature as we move against it and overcome it. If the pressure within us cannot overcome the pressure acting against us from outside, we break down. But we are meant by our creator never to succumb. In fact, we need this pressure to sprout, flower and fruit. The seeds we plant in the soil push the soil away and move against the force of gravity to come to topsoil, sprout flower and fruit. In our case, all we need to do is understand why we are here on earth and understand, also, the concepts we encounter in everyday life.
These concepts are keys to the doors of life. If you insert the wrong key in a door, it would not turn the lock to open the door, and you may stand before the door banging on it and stressing yourself to no avail. Marriage is a concept. So is love. So is the child. So is earthly possession. So are work and duty. So is attachment or independence. So are birth and death. The death of a loved one may rattle some people for months or even years. But what if the departed is enjoying himself or herself elsewhere while we are killing ourselves here? Wouldn’t that be selfishness on our part? I was told of a man, who was bed-ridden for months, suffered from severe bed sores. He was on life support. Then, after some weeks, he came around, and the first words he uttered were “so, I am still here” Apparently, in his state of coma from which the doctors were trying to revive him, he may have been experiencing life in another world! So soon after, he returned there, to the sadness of his children!
Psychiatric hospitals are filled with women who either found out about their husbands “other women” or who were jilted or divorced. Would they go through this trauma if they knew that neither a husband nor a wife was the property of the other, but a mere companion? Gibran in his book, the prophet, says that, in marriage, spouses should drink together, but not from the same cup. This suggest that they are individuals and should always allow space between them. This suggests, also, that a marriage is not a merger or fusion of two souls, but a union. And aren’t unions dissolvable when the right conditions call for it? and aren’t there many possible companions for each person to choose from? To only one’s creator, therefore, should one be attached.
There are other sources of stress, no doubt. School fees, hospital bills, house rent examinations, job security and even the fear of the traffic jam are yet others. To these you may add environmental stressors such as polluted air, water and food, and noise-making.
The sum total of what these stressors do is that they overwhelm the adrenal glands. An adrenal gland sits on top of each kidney. They are like the shock absorbers of a car which protects the car from the rattle of road bumps. They produce stress chemicals which enable us cope with every-day stress upheavals without feeling their impact. But we need the right understanding of these events to prevent us from unnecessary attachments or clinging which must cause pain and stress when, in the lawful order of Nature, we must be forcefully turn away from them to teach us a lesson. If the pressure becomes too much for the adrenal glands to cope with, we may suffer from adrenal burn-out or adrenal collapse. Hormones become disarranged, the kidneys suffer, and there is an imbalance in the brain-calming chemicals, particularly the ones which help the brain to calm the nerves at nightfall and to induce sleep. In this situation, we can help sleep function by eating foods and using herbal supplements which supply the body with these exhausted chemical substances.
Some other causes
A deficiency of calcium and magnesium can cause disorder. Magnesium in particular promotes sleep. Too much calcium and too little magnesium may cause contractions such as restless leg syndrome in which knee or leg jerks awake the sufferer from sleep. Magnesium relaxes, on the other hand. The brain needs calmants such as Omega-3 (DHA) oil, lecithin (for choline and inositol), proper blood circulation (Ginkgo biloba, cayenne e.t.c), energy (Ubiquinol), Nerve Growth Factor (NGF), to improve nerve flow and repair damaged nerves (Lion’s Mane mushroom) and, if you like, the proprietary product Amazon Brain Support and Amazon CNS (central nervous system) support. Depression is another major road block against restful sleep. It robs the brain in particular of Dopamine and serotonin and Melatonin, all neuro-transmitter. Dopamine is also called “the happy juice”, because people who have enough or a surfeit of it are happy and active people, and people who have a deficiency of it are sad and inactive. And hardly sleep well. Some recreational drugs which cross the brain-blood barrier may damage cells which produce dopamine. Dopamine supply to the brain can be enhanced by consuming Tyrosine-rich foods or by taking the supplement since Dopamine is synthesized from Tyrosine. Evidence abounds that Omega-3 fish oil is linked to Dopamine production. Eggs contain tyrosine. So does Spirulina, the green-blue algae. Ditto Kale, which, being rich in folate, triggers dopamine production. Some others are Red beets (Beet root) which contains Betaine (acting as an anti-depressant) and tyrosine, Apple (Quercitin prevents neuron-degeneration and encourages Dopamine production). Even Banana boosts Dopamine output. Strawberries and Blueberries, like bananas, boost Tyrosine levels. Green tea, too, has a hand in Dopamine production. In the realm of herbs, the top shots are Ginkgo biloba, Nettle, Dandelion and Ginseng. Exercise boosts Dopamine and serotonin levels in the blood.
We learn more about sleeping and waking for the website https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/melatonin-and-sleep:
“The pattern of waking during the day when it is light and sleeping at night when it is dark is a natural part of human life. Only recently have scientists begun to understand the alternating circle of sleep and waking, and how it is related to day light and darkness. A key factor in how humans sleep is regulated, is expose to light or to darkness. Exposure to light stimulates a nerve path way from the retina in the eyes to an area in the brain called the Hypothalamus. There, a special center called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) initiates signals to other parts of the brain that controls hormones, body temperature and other functions that make us feel sleepy or wide awake.
“The SCN works like a clock that sets off a regulated pattern of activities that affect the entire body. Once exposed to the first light everyday, the clock in the SCN begins performing functions like raising body temperature and releasing stimulating hormones like cortisol. The SCN also delays the release of other hormones like melatonin, which is associated with sleep onset until many hours later when darkness arrives.
‘Melatonin is a natural hormone made by your body’s pineal gland. During the day, the pineal is inactive. When the sun and goes down, the darkness occurs, the pineal is ‘turned on’ by the SCN and begins to actively produce melatonin which is released into the blood. Usually, this occur around 9p.m. As a result, melatonin levels in the blood rise sharply and you begin to feel less alert. Sleep becomes more inviting. Melatonin levels in the blood stay elevated for about 12hours…all through the night, before the light of a new day when they fall back to low day time levels by about 9a.m”.
Today, I would like, in addition to the a fore mentioned, propose Blue vervain (Verbana histata) as a sleep aid because of its tonic effects on all parts of the body working synergically to promote restful sleep. A few years ago, I wrote elsewhere the following about Vervain:
“Vervain is reputed in herbal pharmacopeia as a mild sedative and digestive herbal tonic that will also strengthen the nerves and gently ease nervous tensions. It is, besides, credited with some dental care attributes. The warm water infusion is indicated as a diaphoretic (sweat-promoting herb) especially in the early stages of fevers. It is said to bring high temperature down by increasing capillary blood circulation which, in turn, encourages moisture and heat loss through the skin. Vervain may be found soothing, also, to the nervous system in conditions such as nervous headaches, sleeplessness, mild depression and melancholia. As a digestive tonic, it is believed to stimulate the production of some digestive juices, including bile salts, for proper digestion of fats; it cleans up the stomach and awakens the sluggish liver. As a galactogogue, it would encourage and increase the secretion of mother’s milk. And, as an emenagogue, it would promote menstruation. For this reason, it should not be taken during pregnancy as it may stimulate uterine contraction. As an anti-spasmodic, vervain has been reported to ease spasms of muscles, whether in the airways, stomach or intestine. For upset stomachs, vervain is more effective in easing the spasms if the tea is sipped rather than gulped or rushed”.
I remember vervain everyday. It was the first herb, along with Basil ocinum, I gave a neighbours of mine when I decided to try my hands on alternative medicine about 1994. He was an Igbo trader. He had been vomiting food and water for about three days running, and was weak. His stomach and intestine were afflicted with spasms. I prepared the powder of both herbs and gave to him. He was to sip one tablespoonful of the solution every 15minutes or thereabout. That was on a Saturday evening. The following day, I went for worship. When I returned in the evening, my wife suggested I check him up. When he sighted me, he screamed ‘it’s a miracle…it’s a miracle’. That Saturday evening, the spasms eased. He asked for boiled rice and did not vomit it. A few hours later, he asked for Eba and it went down. This miracle encouraged me in this practice.