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The A to ZZZZs on Sleep

Why is sleep important?               

Long-term health depends on the regeneration that occurs during deep sleep. Growth hormone, or the “anti- aging” hormone, is secreted during sleep, which stimulates tissue regeneration, liver cleansing, muscle building, break down of fat stores and normalization of blood sugar. During sleep free radicals are scavenged in the brain, minimizing its aging. Many health problems are aggravated by inadequate sleep. Sleep gives us a more positive outlook on life and energy with which we can be best prepared to handle anything the day brings.

Symptoms of inadequate sleep

All of the following can occur with a poor night of sleep or sleep deprivation: drowsiness, fatigue, decreased concentration, impaired memory, reduced stress tolerance, mood changes, irritability, muscle tension, and even immune suppression. 

Improving the quality of sleep

  1. Timing: Maintain consistent sleep and wake times. Do not push yourself to stay up past the initial signs of sleepiness. This can create epinephrine production, causing more difficulty getting to sleep later. It is good to have a “getting ready for bed” routine to relax and prepare your body for sleep. Avoid taking naps if you have trouble sleeping at night. 
  2. Don’t multitask in bed: Reserve the bed for sleep and sex only. Do not read, watch TV, eat, or worry in bed. Solve daily dilemmas outside of the bedroom. If you find that you’ve been lying awake in bed for 15-20 minutes, get out of bed. Do something mundane until you feel sleepy, and then go back to bed. Repeat this as often as needed. 
  3. Environment: Your sleeping environment should be quiet, cool and comfortable. The room should be clutter- free. Reduce the amount of ambient light as much as possible. Electronic devices such as clocks, stereos, TVs and computers generate electromagnetic fields that can disturb sleep for some people. Experiment with moving these into another room or using EMF shields. Feng Shui, the Chinese art of placement, can be valuable in creating an optimal sleeping environment. 
  4. Movement: Exercise regularly. Exercising during the day or early evening decreases the time it takes to get to sleep and increases the amount of deep sleep obtained. Most people do better avoiding exercise late in the evening.
  5. Sunlight: Exposure to sunlight early in the morning and late in the afternoon or evening encourages a strong circadian rhythm. The hormone melatonin, which helps create a sleep state in the body, is suppressed in light and secreted in darkness.                        
  6. Snacks: If you have problems with hunger during the night or with waking during the early hours of the morning, have a small protein snack just before bed to ensure consistent blood sugar levels throughout the night. 

Improving overall health will improve the quality of your sleep. Work towards improving or eliminating health problems. Treatment modalities such as massage, acupuncture or cranial sacral will help to relax the body. Effective stress management is essential.

Preparing the Body for Sleep             

  • Warm baths: especially with adding Epsom salts or lavender oil                       
  • Meditation for 10-30 minutes: meditation and prayer can help calm the mind. Try the Calm or headspace app if you need guidance on where to start                     
  • Breathing exercises: look up and try the “4-7-8” method or the alternate nostril breathing method
  • Progressive muscle relaxation techniques: Focus on tightening each muscle group in your body one by one then progressively relaxing each one by one
  • Botanical treatments: such as encapsulated lavender extracts or magnolia bark (follow your physician’s guidelines for dosing)
  • Aromatherapy: try calming essential oils in a diffuser such as lavender 
  • Magnesium supplementation: follow your physician’s guidelines for dosing and finding the right type of magnesium for this indication

Things that interfere with sleep                       

  • Drinking: Although alcohol may make you fall asleep, the sleep obtained after drinking is fragmented and light.
  • Caffeine: The stimulating effects of caffeine may last up to 10 hours in some people. Avoid caffeine intake past noon. Caffeine is present in coffee, black tea, chocolate and even some medications (pain relievers, decongestants, energy supplements, etc.)
  • Blue light: Exposure to blue light from TV or phone screens decreases your melatonin production, a hormone necessary for a healthy sleep cycle. Change the settings on your device a few hours before bed and consider blue light blocking glasses if complete avoidance is not possible within 2 hours of bedtime
  • Smoking: The stimulating effects of nicotine (first- or second-hand smoke) can last several hours.
  • Sedative medications: Sleeping pills, aside from being highly addictive and full of side effects, decrease the amount of time spent in deep sleep and only increase light sleep.
  • Certain vitmains: B-vitamins and Vitamin D supplements can increase energy that keeps some people awake, if taken before bed. It’s best to take these earlier in the day.                
  • Incomplete digestion: Do not go to bed with a very full stomach. Large quantities of protein can be stimulating to the body as digestion occurs. It’s best to finish eating at least three hours before going to bed.

Our licensed naturopathic doctor and experienced functional medicine practitioner offers comprehensive functional medicine consultations in Meridian / Boise, Idaho. Free discovery calls are available!