Category Archives: Sleep

Loneliness – The “Illusion” That Feels So Real

Scan 5Many of us are lonely today. It crops up in my own life from time to time even though I am married, do work I enjoy, and have a few people I care deeply about and who also care about me.  You don’t have to be alone be lonely.

It is my nature to question things and look deeper (both a curse and a blessing!), so I’ve delved into this feeling of loneliness almost as an afterthought from writing about happiness. I believe that loneliness is a common and misunderstood obstacle to happiness.  Loneliness is a serious issue and impacts the quality of our lives.  There are many different kinds of loneliness. It is sort of a catch-all term that says very little about what is really going on. Are you lonely because you miss a best friend?  Do you miss being part of a group, something larger than just you?  Does it make you feel unseen because you do not have a place that seems familiar, where you are known? Are you missing a romantic partner in your life?  Are you feeling overwhelmed because you don’t have someone around whom you can lean on and depend upon when things get difficult?  Loneliness has so many faces and so is harder to pinpoint.

A sense of connection is often the missing link in our lives and is a common thread with loneliness. The Welsh have a word for a special kind of loneliness, called Hiraeth. It doesn’t have a precise English translation, but in general means “a homesickness for a home you cannot return to, or that never was“.  It is similar to the Portuguese “saudade” which is the theme of Fado music. Hiraeth is a mix of longing, yearning, tinged with grief or a sense of loss and a desire to connect with or touch that which has been lost. It is the feeling of separateness or disconnection that is at the root of any type of loneliness. There is help for this deep existential form of hiraeth  as well as the temporary fleeting feelings of loneliness we all experience from time to time.

Nurturing a sense of connection is the best (and maybe the only) way to shift a feeling of loneliness. I believe that we are all interconnected and interdependent with each other, but the illusion of separateness persists due to our egoic minds, modern life, and our culture of fear and lack. But since I also believe our view of reality is almost entirely perceptual, the “illusion” of loneliness is a very real part of a lonely person’s life.

I do not intend to trivialise the problem of loneliness, but sometimes actionable steps are simply the best way out of a bad cycle.  Just taking a step in the right direction immediately improves our perception and thus our situation.  Try some version of my suggestions, tweak them as much as you need to so they are meaningful to you. and take a step out of any bleak feelings you are having. (The only reason I “know” about this is because I have felt it myself, and edged my way out of bleakness by trying something different.)

  • Make a habit of nurturing others. For happiness in general, studies show that it is just as important to give support as to get support. Make eye contact and smile at someone. Even if they don’t smile back, it cost you nothing to do this and is likely to bring about a lovely smile in return. Offer to get groceries for an elderly neighbor, foster a dog or cat, take care of a friend’s children, teach a class, volunteer in your neighborhood or community. Giving support to others creates a feeling of connection.
  • Make real attempts at connecting with other people. Sign up for an exercise, language, art, sewing, craft class, join a book group, show up at the weekly office coffee hour, take a minute to chat with a co-worker, neighbor, or acquaintance, attend a community talk or lecture, start or join a local walking group. (Yes, I know. All the advice we’ve all heard before. But it really works!)
  • Get better sleep. Sleep deprivation under any circumstances brings down people’s moods and exacerbates negative feelings. You will not feel like building connections if you are suffering from chronic sleep deprivation. It is important to tackle this issue. Give it your attention by trying different things for a couple of weeks at a time. (There is a mountain of information out there to cure insomnia, but my next blog will be about this very thing.) Chronic sleep problems are usually the result of bad habits that need to be changed. 
  • Make a habit of staying open. This can be as simple as being aware of the next breath you take or the food you are tasting. It involves staying open to life and experiences as much as staying open to people. I know that loneliness itself can make people feel more negative, critical, and judgemental. Sadly, people who are lonely are far less accepting of potential new friends than people who are not lonely so the hurdle comes down to feeling what you are feeling and gently pressing on anyway.
  • Ask yourself, “What is it that I really want?” We often avoid this question in anything but a trivial way because it can be painful and can bring up what is “missing” in our life. But it is easier to know how to address an issue if you are clear what you really want. Chances are, you do not really want the third chocolate brownie or the 5th piece of pizza. Overeating is a common quick fix for feelings of lack or of not “being” enough. There are other things we do to mask discovering what it is we really want of course, but by far overeating is the most common. Without getting into a deep rut with this, touch into the question “What is it that I really want?” for a few minutes each day. Beginning to feel comfortable with this question – and the resulting answer – will go a long way in resolving feelings of loneliness and unhappiness.

Sometimes the wanting or longing you feel can be a marker for you to follow along your path. I wish you well as you listen to the whisperings that come along when you ask the important questions.

If you try, or have tried, any of these ideas to step out of feelings of loneliness and darkness, please let me know how they worked for you.

Sleep – One of the Four Pillars of Health

sleeping woman -blog imageMy last blog was devoted to the four crucial components for good health – diet, exercise, sleep, and mental outlook.  I’ll look at each one in a little more depth, and sleep seems a good place to start.  If you’re not getting proper sleep, life is just not going to be as good as it can be, full stop. The fact is, you cannot be completely healthy if you don’t get good sleep. There is some wiggle room as far as how much sleep an individual needs but the amount of sleep you need is what’s important. It is probably going to be between 6 – 8 hours per night.

Lack of energy, fatigue, and brain fog are bad enough, but these are not the only problems associated with lack of sleep. Poor sleep can lead to depression, pain, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and even more. Lack of sleep causes our bodies to secrete too much cortisol, which is very serious in the long term. When we sleep, our bodies rejuvenate on a cellular level and our brains “flush out” and reset. Sleep is crucial to our health and it is not possible to be healthy without getting good sleep consistently….at least, much more often than not.

For chronic problems with sleep, the cure can take time and seem very elusive. This is true for any chronic health problem and generally requires some lifestyle changes. For starters, we must go to bed and get up at the same time every day. When first starting to do this, it may seem difficult because you may not be sleepy at night, or you may be very sleepy when it’s time to get up. But persevere….it will help your sleep in time.

Also important: turn off all devices (including TV) at least an hour before you turn in. The blue light emitted by these devices is stimulating to your brain and it does ot allow the body to produce enough melatonin, which is a very important hormone that signals our bodies to get sleepy.

Almost all experts agree: use your bed for only sleep and lovemaking. Do not bring work, mail, games, etc. to bed with you. If you want good sleep consistently, follow this advice.

Create a bedtime ritual, which can be anywhere from a few minutes to half an hour or so. It can involve your bedtime ablutions (teeth brushing, face washing, hair combing), or be more elaborate such as a warm soak with essential oils, lighting a candle, meditation, stretching, or writing a list with tasks for the next day so you don’t have to trouble yourself with thinking about these things.

Many people have been helped by regular meditation, massage, hypnosis, and acupuncture, and also by getting more exercise (early in the day; not right before bedtime!). If your problem with sleep is long standing, it pays to commit to taking steps to resolve it. It can be trial and error to unravel the problem because there are so many causes for insomnia…. so be patient. If these “sleep hygiene” pointers have no effect, you may want to consider supplements. This approach should be handled with a light touch, however. Though there are some tried and true natural sleep problem remedies, many supplement companies have jumped on this bonanza and are marketing questionable products. Here is an overview of some of the supplements available for sleep issues:

GABA: Study results can be read in PubMed; also in ANH-USA database. There is some debate whether GABA can cross through the digestive system and remain intact enough to offer real benefits, but the good news is there doesn’t seem to be adverse effects from taking this. Try combining with Niacin if it’s not effective on its own for you. There is good empirical evidence that it does work for some people, so it is worth a try.

Theanine: Can be supplemented but also found in green tea. This is why green tea has a relaxing effect, despite the fact it contains some caffeine. Start with a low dose; remember organic substances do not have the “knock out” effect of pharmaceuticals, so don’t over supplement with Theanine.

Kava Root Extract: This is good for chronic anxiety. (Nutrition and Healing, October 2013).

Lavender Oil: (Lavandula angustfolia or Lavandula officinatis) Lavender has shown in studies to slow the activty of the nervous system (University of Maryland Medical Center, USA). No reported negative effects, bust just a few drops is all you need. Splash out too much of this lovely substance, and it could have a stimulating effect on the nervous system!

Magnesium: This should be in a chelated from (citrate, ascorbate, orotake, glycinate). Good documentation from many sources that magnesium has a natural muscle relaxant effect, and is soothing to the nervous system. For problems with sleep caused by tension or overactive nervous system, take 400-500 mg. Only reported negative effect is some people can get diarrhoea from the citrate form.

Valarian: This has been used for anxiety for a very long time. 300-400 mg. is probably needed; take note that many commercial brands do not have enough of the active substance, so read labels. As in most herbal remedies, I think a liquid tincture is most effective.

Melatonin: I though long and hard before including melatonin, because there is some dissent whether this is a healthy supplement. Melatonin is a hormone produced naturally in the body, based on the cycles of light and dark and your circadian rhythms. The argument is that modern life has blurred the cycles of light and dark with the use of so much artificial light, so supplementation may be necessary for some people. The other side of the argument is that the body stops producing melatonin efficiently following prolonged supplementation, particularly in doses that are high (higher than 3mg.)  Most articles I have read state a person is not at risk of dependence if the dose is not higher than 1 mg. Also, melatonin’s main benefit is when the circadian rhythms are seriously out of sync, as in jet lag. So, for short term use when travelling between time zones, a higher dose is effective and safe. This is probably about 7 days or less at the higher doses (+3mg).

Tryptophan: I almost did not include this at all, and do not recommend it. I did include it to encourage all who read this to explore further before supplementing with Tryptophan. There have been some serious side effects recorded, and some quite dangerous. I do not recommend this and would not take it until more conclusive studies are done. (Read