Sleep gives our bodies the chance to heal from all the wear and tear we experience throughout the day. Good quality sleep has many benefits; it strengthens immunity, increases metabolism, balances and regulates hormones, increases physical & mental energy, and improves memory (1, 2, 3).
Sleeping poorly once in a while is not ideal, but pretty normal. The problem happens when inadequate sleep becomes the norm, not the exception. Chronic sleep deprivation is related to a myriad of health issues, including insulin resistance, weight gain, inability to lose weight, poor cardiovascular health, increased inflammation & oxidative stress, cognitive impairment, and an increase risk of some types of cancer (4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12).
Here are a few tips we can use to help us to sleep well, restfully and long.
SUPPORT YOUR NATURAL CIRCADIAN RHYTHM
The amount of light entering our eyes is the strongest regulator of our sleep-wake cycle (14). Knowing this, we can use light exposure to hack, or support our natural circadian rhythm. This hack involves two steps:
Manage your Stress
We all experience stress. It is how we deal with it that will make us or break us. If our stress response is stimulated from the moment we wake until the moment we go to bed at night, it is unlikely that we will be able to get into the restful state we need to be in to fall asleep. Instead, we will likely lay in bed for hours, unable to shut our minds off. We have all been there. Stress management techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, breathing, yoga, tai chi, qi gong, and acupuncture enable us to switch off our stress response, therefore improving our sleep (19, 20, 21). Stress management not only helps improve sleep, it helps improve gut health, hormone levels, energy, and mental focus.
What I Do: When it is bedtime, I find a short guided meditation on Youtube that I like, such as this one. I load it up on my phone, plug headphones into my ears, place a sleep mask over my eyes, and drift off to meditation land while laying in bed. This helps me let go of the day's events, feel deeply relaxed and fall asleep super fast. Just don't forget to turn your phone onto airplane mode after the meditation is over!
Acupuncture from a skilled practitioner can help with insomnia and poor sleep. Acupuncture regulates hormones, and can help increase night time melatonin secretion. Also, acupuncture can effectively switch off the "fight or flight" mode, and switch on the "rest & digest" mode. Acupuncture can also help treat other health issues that keep you awake at night, such as chronic pain, hot flashes, stress, etc (22, 23).
Keep your bedroom dark
Many people are sensitive to even just a little bit light entering their bedroom while trying to sleep. We want total darkness while we sleep. Blackout curtains in the bedroom are AWESOME. They block out any light that tries to creep in and disrupt our sleep. We can also, get rid of those bright alarm clocks while we are at it. Who invented those anyhow? What I do is set the alarm on my smartphone, and turn it to airplane mode. No bright alarm clock light, and no texts or calls. Just sleep, glorious sleep.
Keep your Bedroom Cool
We have all had those hot sleepless nights in the middle of August, during an unbearable heat wave. A hot room is not conducive to a restful night sleep. When we go to bed, our body temperature naturally drops, which enables us to fall asleep. Keeping the temperature in our bedrooms between 15C and 19C is ideal for a restful slumber. Any warmer or cooler can cause restlessness, negatively affecting our ability to fall asleep, and our quality of sleep (24).
Have a bedtime snack
If you are the type of person who falls asleep easily, but wakes at 2 or 3 am every night, it could be your dropping blood sugar that is stealing your zzz's. When our blood sugar drops, our body releases cortisol to help bring it back up to a healthy range. Cortisol not only helps regulate our blood sugar, but also regulates our stress response. We don't sleep when cortisol is pumping through our blood. To prevent our blood sugar from dropping, and cortisol from being released in the middle of the night, consider having a little snack before bed. Make sure your snack contains healthy fat, and protein; not just carbohydrates. The protein and fat will help stabilize blood sugar much longer than carbohydrates alone will. A great snack idea is a scrambled, or sunny side up egg in half an avocado, with a cup of sleepy time tea and a drop of honey.
Limit Coffee and Alcohol Consumption
Most people know that drinking coffee late in the day disrupts sleep. It is recommended to avoid coffee or any other caffeinated beverages past 2 pm, or even earlier if we are sensitive to caffeine.
Not a lot of people are aware that alcohol actually disrupts sleep. Many people with insomnia use alcohol to help with sleep, because alcohol does make it easier to initially fall asleep. Unfortunately, alcohol disrupts and lightens sleep during the later half of the night, and disrupts our REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage sleep. Our brains only go into REM sleep once all alcohol is metabolized out of our system (25, 26).
Develop a bedtime ritual.
Developing a bedtime ritual tells our bodies that the day is coming to an end, sleep is near, and we should start producing melatonin. Have a bath, read a relaxing book, enjoy a cup of chamomile or passionflower tea. Anything that you find relaxing and calming will work. Avoid stress provoking activities such as watching the news, reading emails, or discussing a hot topic with your partner when it close to bedtime.
Exercise during the Day
Dance, hike, yoga, tai chi, swim, walk the dog. Find a form of exercise you enjoy, and do it! But do it during the day, not right before bed. Daytime exercise reduces insomnia, and helps us sleep more soundly. Exercise does raise cortisol. Therefore, when we exercise too late it interferes with our sleep (27, 28).
Magnesium is an essential mineral for health. More than 300 enzymes in the human body require magnesium to function. Magnesium deficiency has been associated with diabetes, migraines, PMS, hypothyroidism, muscle tension, constipation, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and insomnia (29,30).
Magnesium is a difficult nutrient to obtain, in the amount we need, strictly from diet. Nuts and seeds are high in magnesium, but nuts and seeds also contain phytates which prevent the absorption of this valuable mineral. As well, our soils are becoming more and more depleted in magnesium, reflecting the low levels of magnesium in modern food.
Supplementing with a high quality form, such as magnesium glycinate, in the evening can help improve sleep quality, and eliminate insomnia (31, 32).
I would like to hear from you!
Do you have trouble sleeping? What steps do you take to get a good night rest?
Lindsay Rusk, R.Ac., fmp
Lindsay Is a Registered Acupuncturist, Functional Medicine Practitioner, Health Investigator, Paleo Enthusiast, and Blogger.
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