Sleep deprivation is similar to alcohol intoxication in how it impacts our ability to function. 50 to 70 million people in the US suffer from one or more sleep disorders and it’s no wonder. Only 21% of Americans get the recommended seven to eight hours sleep each night.
The number of distractions and lifestyle choices that interfere with healthy sleep are seemingly endless. Electric lights means we no longer go to bed with the setting sun, portable screens means we’re staring at blue light on our phone or tablet well into the wee hours, hectic schedules and expanding workdays have us eating at erratic times, fueling our bodies with stimulants and sugar, working earlier and later, sacrificing exercise and and downtime. The cost to our health is high and research is consistently revealing new information about just how high. With this in mind, it’s time to take control of your health, starting with a good night’s sleep.
1. Set a regular bedtime and wake time.
Link to Fall Transitions article. Once you’ve reached a workable bedtime, aim to stick to it. If you have to stray, aim to stay within an hour, two at most, of that time everynight to maintain it. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Make sure your bed and surroundings are comfortable. Keep your bedroom dark and quiet. Use your bedroom for sleeping only; don’t work or watch TV in your bedroom. Avoid napping too much during the day. If you can’t sleep, get up and do something relaxing until you feel tired. Don’t stay in bed worrying about when you’re going to fall asleep. don’t exercise within 2-3 hours before bed time.
2. Try not to nap during the day.
While short power naps can be beneficial to some, long or irregular naps during the day can negatively impact your sleep. Sleeping in the daytime can confuse your body’s internal clock, making it harder to sleep at night.If you must, do so for no more than 10-30 minuts around 2-3pm.
3. Time your light exposure.
Avoid bright light in the evening, especially blue light (ie: phones, tablets, TVs and laptops) and expose yourself to sunlight in the morning. Light is the single most important external factor that influences circadian rhythms. Modern humans living in industrialized societies typically don’t get enough natural light exposure during daytime hours, and conversley, get too much artificial light at night. Light expures in the evening hours tricks your brain into thinking it is still daytime. This reduces the production of sleep hormone melatonin, which helps you relax and fall asleep. By limiting your exposure to artificial light at least an hour before bed, you can support melatonin production help your body prepare naturally for more restful sleep.
4. Avoid alcohol in the evening.
While it’s tempting to have a drink to relax in the evening, it can negatively affect sleep. Alcohol is know to suppress melatonin production, cause or increase sleep apnea and snoring, and negatively impacts your circadian rhythm, reducing the ability of your master biological clock to respond to the light cues that keep it in sync. It also leads to light, restless sleep and diminished sleep quality overall.
5. If you can’t sleep, get up and do something relaxing.
If you haven’t fallen asleep in 20 minutes get out of bed and change locations. This is not the time to turn on your favorite show or peruse yoru inbox or anything online for that matter. Read a book (under dim lights), listen to slow, soft music, knit or play solitaire if you have to. Ironically, trying to stay awake may have you nodding off sooner than expected.
6. Try Acupuncture
In China, acupuncture has been used successfully for thousands of years to treat sleep problems. Research also has shown acupuncture to be helpful in relieving insomnia. Here are some points acupressure points you can press on yourself (without needles) for a DIY solution in between visits to your practitioner.
7. Consider these supplements (with professional guidance)
Melatonin can help re-adjust your internal time clock due to jet-lag or a disruption to your sleep cycle and can help you fall asleep faster. Start with a low dose to assess your tolerance, and then increase it slowly as needed. Since melatonin may alter brain chemistry, it is recommended that you check with a medical professional before use.
GABA is helpful if you’ve got anxiety or monkeymind before bed. GABA is our bodies natural stress inhibitor and one of the only neurotransmitters that counteracts excitatory chemicals in our body such as adrenaline. In addition if you tend to be tense, easily upset or frustrated, or overwhelmed by deadlines your GABA could be depleted.
5-HTP, a neurotransmitter precursor to serotonin, may help if you’re feeling down or ‘not-yourself’. Serotonin has many profoundly important functions, including a role in sleep, appetite, memory, learning, temperature regulation, mood, sexual behavior, cardiovascular function, muscle contraction, and endocrine regulation. Don’t take these if you are already on an SSRI or SNRI. Our naturopathic physicians, Dr. Katherine Walker and Dr. Nicole Kilian can help you choose the best supplements for your needs.
Magnesium, an essential mineral responsible for hundreds of chemical reactions within your body, can dramatically improve relaxation and enhance sleep quality. People with low magnesium often experience insomnia or restless sleep, waking often at night. Magnesium plays a role in supporting deep, restorative sleep by maintaining healthy levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that promotes sleep. Research indicates that magnesium supplements can improve sleep quality in people with poor sleep or who are struggling with sleep related disorders such as insomnia and restless leg symdrome.
8. Try breathing exercises right before bed.
Using a countdown of the breath. Starting with a number, say 27, feel the rise and fall of your chest and belly. Inhale, think 27, Exhale 27. Inhale 26, Exhale 26. Inhale 25, Exhale 25… If you forget your place, or reach zero, start again, or, you can try the 4-7-8 technique, which some claim will have you asleep in 60 seconds. You can also do a roving body check – start with your awareness at the top of your head and move to different parts of your body until you reach the bottom of your feet.
9. Optimize your sleeping space.
Make sure your mattress is the right combination of soft supportive for your body, invest in comfortable pillows and soft, cool sheets. Turn the thermostat down to between 60-68 degrees, the ideal temperature for good sleep. Turn off all lights, unplug all devices and if noise is an issue, consider a white noise machine, air filter or fan to drown out sounds that may rouse you unecessarily. If you like essential oils like lavender and chammomile, consider mixing a few drops with water and sprtizing your pillow before turning in. An eye mask can also do wonders for blocking out ambient light and keeping you asleep longer.
10. Exercise regularly, but not within 2 hours of bedtime.
Exercise is one of the best science-backed ways to improve your sleep and health. It can enhance all aspects of sleep and has been used to reduce symptoms of insomnia. Get at least 30 minute sof moderate aerobic exercise 3 or more hours before bedtime. Brisk walking, jogging, bike riding, dance, a vigorous yoga or a barre class are all good options. While moderate aerobic exercise increases the amount of deep sleep you get, exercising too close to bed may keep you up due to the release of endorphins and increase in core body temperature.
If you need help figuring out how to get the zzzz’s you need, we invite you to schedule a complimentary consult with one of our naturopathic doctors. Call our Irvington Location at 503-288-7668 or our Slabtown location at 503-292-7669 to book, or book online.
Join us November 13th for Wellness Wednesday to enjoy a mini chair massage and learn the best ways to optimize your sleep with our panel of sleep experts.