Sleep is an active progress of internal restoration and recuperation, despite misconception that it is a time to “turn-off.” All organ systems are in full function and nothing shuts down. Sleep is actually associated with producing substances in the body. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommend that adults sleep at least 7 hours each night to promote optimal health and well-being. Sleeping less than seven hours per day is associated with an increased risk of developing chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, frequent mental distress and earlier death.
Quality of sleep is just as important as the quantity of hours spent sleeping. Daytime sleepiness is a time that you may be sleep deprived and experts suggest that if you feel drowsy during the day you haven’t had enough sleep. Other signs of being sleep deprived are falling asleep within 5 minutes of hitting the pillow, napping easily or needing an alarm to awaken in the morning.
When considering a plan to address poor sleep, major contributing factors should be considered:
Mind-Body. Address the mental and emotional factors contributing to this sleep disorder. It has been found that counseling and/or stress reduction techniques may be very effective such as meditation, yoga, acupuncture, massage therapy and guided imagery.
Regularity. Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up around the same time. This helps to set your internal clock on a healthy rhythm. Make it your goal to be asleep by 10pm. The most restorative hours of sleep are attained between 10pm-2am. 1 hour of sleep during this time frame is equal to 2 or 3 hours of sleep after 2am. Go to bed when you are drowsy, don’t push yourself to stay up later to “get things done.” This has a negative impact on your health and it is more important to get your sleep!
Avoid disruptions. Eliminate factors known to disrupt normal sleep patterns such as coffee, chocolate, tea, alcohol, marijuana (and other drugs), over the counter medications, prescription drugs and hypoglycemia. Avoid coffee and black tea as these are taxing on the adrenal glands and disrupt healthy sleep cycles – instead drink green tea during the day before 2pm. If drinking coffee or tea, drink before 2pm. Avoid alcohol after dinner. Although alcohol is a depressant to the nervous system and can cause sleepiness, it also decreases the quality and restfulness of sleep and affects blood sugar regulation throughout the night. Do not go to bed too full or too hungry. Have a small snack before bedtime containing carbohydrates. Limit large or spicy meals for dinner.
Move it! An exercise program should be implemented with the help of your physician. The program should consist of a minimum of 20 minutes of exercise per day. Physical activity helps to alleviate stress and fitness is associated with better sleep. Limit vigorous exercise 4-6 hours before bed.
Relax. Relaxation techniques done before bedtime are helpful. These may include stretching, deep breathing, meditation, journal reflection, warm bath/shower or warm chamomile tea. Using lavender, ylang ylang or chamomile in an essential oil diffuser also helps to calm the nervous system and fall into sleep. It is also warming and calming to burn a stick of Palo Santo wood or beeswax candle before bedtime.
Sun down, lights down, wind down. When the sun starts to go down, start to wind down and dim lights in your home, turn off lights and perhaps use candles. Get into something comfortable to sleep in, not tight or restrictive and remove bra and jewelry.
No Screens. Turn off Electronics and TV. Looking at a screen prevents your body from releasing the hormone called melatonin which helps you fall into a restful sleep. It is helpful to avoid use of all electronics at least 1 hour before bed. Leave electronics powered off, outside the bedroom. Turn off the WIFI in your home at night to limit EMF stimulus. Turn cell phone on airplane mode and leave outside the bedroom.
Bed as a sanctuary. Bedroom is for sleeping or intimacy. Limit all other activities in bed. In bed, DO NOT: eat, read, watch TV, computer, iPad, study, do work or hobbies. Limit clutter in the bedroom and in bed and keep temperature in bedroom cool, but not cold. If you are waking up feeling dry in the winter months, use a humidifier to achieve about 40% humidity in your bedroom. A firm bed is best along with having a properly sized pillow to support head and neck. Have comfortable sheets and bedding.
Intervention. If all of the above produce little or no response, more aggressive measures can be employed with the use of certain supplements and botanical medicines. It is very important to consult with your physician prior to starting any new supplements or botanical medicines. Once a normal sleep pattern has been established, it is highly recommended that the supplements and botanicals be slowly decreased. Consult your physician for recommendations that would be best for you and avoid interactions with any medications you may be taking.
Seek help. Consult your physician if sleep is a concern for you. Your physician will help to determine if you may need a sleep study.