How to sleep better, worry less and feel happier
Author: Dr Giresh Kanji. Pp 175 ISBN978-0-473-46743-2
Review: Dr Sylvia Rosevear
This is a little book that with economy of effort one gets maximal scale. It has just been published and is on the top 10 best sellers list for non-fiction in New Zealand. It is an easy read for doctors or lay people on the complexity of the interaction of neurological and physiological principles and functions, that produce anxiety, depression and insomnia. The aim is to provide information to reduce the adverse effects of stress on our own health or our patients. It was written on a background of enquiry as a result of the author’s own childhood trauma. His intelligent research seeks to define, treat and annihilate the result of stress, to prescribe a life of vitality, energy and joy.
It is a book written by a well-qualified, musculo-skeletal pain specialist, (editor of the Australasian Musculoskeletal Medicine Journal) who gives solutions to common conditions in espousing the holistic with the commonly known, and common sense with scientific validity. There are 17 short chapters, sometimes just a page and a half, that elucidate information on anxiety, depression and insomnia. Chapters 18-30 are solution based.
It begins by introducing the concept of ‘stress’. The ‘stress response’ activates all the senses, including sight, sound, touch, and smell and keeps us alert and anxious by activating electricity in nearly every part of the brain. At least six stress chemicals are released in the brain, including adrenaline, noradrenaline, serotonin, histamine, corticotrophin-releasing hormone and acetylcholine. The stress response also prepares the whole body to ‘fight or flee’, releasing adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol from the adrenal gland. He points out the stress response is activated by psychological stress, illness, viral infection, chronic pain, nightmares, smoking, alcohol and intense concentration.
He identifies an additional mechanism to reduce stress - reducing Gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) levels– the neurotransmitter that shuts off electrical channels. Stress causes wakefulness because of increased electricity in the brain.
There is a chapter on the menopause as a stress because of the withdrawal of estrogen, aggravating insomnia, anxiety and depression, especially in those with a ‘wound up stress nervous system’. Mindfulness based stress reduction improves the quality of life, sleep quality, anxiety and stress at the menopause. Yoga, massage and regular exercise improve menopause-related insomnia.
He identifies the cause of ‘brain fog’ – the poor memory and concentration that accompany most stress related disorders that may be explained by a reduction in the size of the hippocampus. This reduction in volume of the hippocampus predisposes to poor memory, which may hasten the onset of dementia with age.
Unwinding the stress nervous system and restoring the neurons in the brain that act as an off switch can be achieved with mindfulness, exercise, sauna, meditation/breathing, yoga and Tai Chi performed for a minimum of 3-5 times per week. The stress nervous system is unwound by biofeedback for instance, slow breathing that stops the drive to release of stress hormones. Similarly, heat dilates blood vessels being a biofeedback to stop the release of stress chemicals that cause vasoconstriction. Staying in the moment calms the stress nervous system. Meditation calms the brain resulting in reduced electrical activity in the brain.