Click here to read our entire online February e-newsletter on Insomnia.
Dr. Sonya Nobbe, ND
Our ability to enjoy good quality sleep is one of the ultimate indicators of balance in our lives. Poor sleep is a risk factor for a multitude of health conditions, including obesity, breast cancer, depression, and heart disease. Severe sleep problems have many contributing factors and the underlying cause may take some time to resolve. However, these tips are an important first step and might be all that you need to achieve a good nights’ sleep.
1. Get your circadian rhythm on track.
a. Keep your bedroom entirely dark. Even the light from an alarm clock can reduce your body’s production of the essential sleep hormone melatonin.
b. Obtain at least 20 minutes of exposure to full-spectrum light every morning to stimulate production of daytime hormones.
c. Keep a routine to retrain your body to secrete hormones at appropriate times of the day. This includes waking, exercising, eating, and sleeping at the same time every day.
2. Address body temperature.
a. Keep cool. An overall drop in body temperature is required to induce sleep so some people benefit from avoiding hot baths and keeping the bedroom cool.
b. Keep warm. The body dilates blood vessels in the feet to draw blood away from the core, keeping the feet warm and the core body cool. Warming your feet with a hot water bottle at bedtime induces sleep extremely well for some people!
3. Reduce exposure to electromagnetic radiation (EMR).This absolutely includes keeping your cell phone out of your bedroom and avoiding electric blankets. Research in the field of EMR and health is exploding recently. Please review our old e-newsletters online for more information.
4. Watch your blood sugar. Blood sugar crashes in the middle of the night can send surges of stress hormones through the body that cause night-time waking. If this is your problem, have a small amount of protein before bed, such as half an avocado or a few walnuts. Avoid alcohol, sugar, and juice.
5. Relax your muscles. Tense muscles tell the brain that you’re in danger. Relaxation might be accomplished by light stretching, a massage, magnesium supplementation, or by focusing on relaxing areas of tension with your mind.
6. If your busy mind keeps you up, avoid exercise, reading, or watching television, before bed and learn deep breathing exercises or meditation practices that help to shift your body to “parasympathetic mode” (i.e. the relaxed part of the nervous system).
7. Avoid stimulants. This includes caffeine (e.g. coffee, green or black tea, chocolate), which can take up to 14 hours to be eliminated from the body. Other stimulants may include antihistamines, cold medications, and some headache medications.
8. Avoid chronic use of pharmaceutical sleeping pills. Even the “non-addictive” ones can impair your body’s ability to achieve the deep stages of sleep required to repair the body.
9. Upgrade your mattress. People without latex allergies may benefit from a natural rubber latex mattress (not memory foam) that omits the metal springs and volatile fumes.
10. Rule out sleep apnea, particularly if you snore. Sleep apnea is a risk factor for an incredible number of health problems and may occur in anyone regardless of gender or weight. Proper diagnosis requires a referral from your family doctor to a sleep lab, though some places offer ambulatory machines that you can take home for the night to screen for the condition.
After all of these points have been addressed and you’re still not sleeping, it’s time to acquire some professional help. Neurofeedback and counseling are very helpful for some people. Other people might benefit from therapies that address estrogen imbalance, inflammation, and adrenal gland dysfunction. While working on fixing the underlying problem, your Naturopathic Doctor can also help you choose from hundreds of natural health sleep products, including GABA, melatonin, valerian, passionflower, theanine, and 5-HTP. Professional advice here is recommended so that you find a sleeping aid that supports rather than hinders your progress with the underlying cause of your sleep concern.