“Dear sleep, I know we had problems when I was younger, but I love you now.” Anon
How do you sleep? Do you wake up feeling refreshed and ready to tackle your day?
Adequate sleep is essential to health. Your body and brain do most of their repair work at night while you sleep.
Our sleep-wake cycle is primarily set by 2 hormones – melatonin and cortisol. Melatonin is released from the pineal gland in response to darkness and makes us feel sleepy. Cortisol is released from the adrenal glands and enables our daily activities. Ideally, cortisol peaks around 8am and declines throughout the day. Interruptions in the levels and responsiveness to these 2 hormones contribute to sleep problems.
What you do both at night and during the day can make or break this balance and result in sleepless, restless nights.
Here is a list of considerations. Take a look and see what you need to adjust in your lifestyle to improve your quality of sleep.
Routine. Your adrenals crave routine. Getting up around the same time every day is the most important followed by eating and going to bed at the same or similar time. Also, establish a bedtime routine that clearly signals your brain that you intend to go to bed. The more your body can acclimate to a schedule, the more optimal your cortisol levels will be (high in the morning, declining all day and low during sleep).
Light/Dark. We evolved in an environment where we had little control over light and dark, and so it governed our lives. Now we manipulate our environment such that is can be artificially light whenever we want. This could be the single most sleep disruptive factor. You can still enjoy the benefits of modern life with a few tweaks that will help you sleep better. Go outside for at least 20 minutes each day – even if it’s not sunny and preferably in the morning. The sun’s rays have different properties than the artificial light that you are normally exposed to and these properties are likely important in determining your alertness during the day. In order to emulate the dark cycle, approximately 2 hours before your scheduled bed time, turn down the lights or light candles if that appeals to you. Ideally, stop screen time at this time too – but if that’s impossible, at least let the rest of your home be dark. You can purchase amber glasses that filter out blue light which can also be helpful. Your pineal gland will become primed to produce melatonin, the hormone responsible for sleep onset and maintenance. While sleeping, your bedroom should be completely dark – use blackout blinds or curtains and remove all lit screens. Even a clock radio can be too much light for light sensitive individuals. Don’t turn on lights if you go to the bathroom at night. Use dim night lights if necessary to avoid tripping hazards.
Stress and Adrenal Fatigue. If you have been under stress for a long period of time, your adrenals may be over or under-producing cortisol or surging too late in the day. It is underappreciated that low cortisol may result in the inability to stay asleep, which is a common complaint. Address stress. Consider meditation. Practicing self-hypnosis and progressive relaxation has really helped me!
Blood sugar regulation. How well you manage your blood sugar all day affects the quality of your sleep. This is because when it is not well managed during the day, it isn’t during the night either. A common reason that people wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back to sleep is because their blood sugar has dropped too low and the brain can’t maintain the proper balance of neurotransmitters to stay asleep. In addition to eating a low glycemic load diet all day, having a small protein snack before bed can alleviate this problem for certain people.
Inflammation. Our brain is affected by any systemic inflammation in the body. Examples include dental infections or digestive inflammation caused by food intolerances and food sensitivities. Ultimately, sleep can be quite disrupted. Identify and eliminate these sources of inflammation.
Caffeine and other stimulants. Are you the type of person who can’t drink a caffeinated beverage too late in the day or it will affect your sleep? If so, then that means you are caffeine sensitive. It also means that the caffeine you are consuming early in the day could be disrupting your sleep. If you are really serious about better sleep, you may need to try a caffeine elimination period to see what happens. Many have been surprised that eliminating a single morning cup of coffee improves their sleep dramatically.
Alcohol. Alcohol may seem to help you fall asleep but it certainly doesn’t help you stay asleep. It also changes the sleep cycle pattern making sleep less restful.
Herbs and supplements. There are a number of herbs and supplements that can support sleep while you are working on the lifestyle factors. Some people respond really well to them and others find they don’t help at all. The point here is that experimentation is generally required. Certain ingredients may work for you better than others and not all products will have the same effectiveness, even if they contain the same ingredients. It can be frustrating but worthwhile if you find the right combination for you.
**All information contained on this website is intended for informational and educational purposes only, and is neither intended nor suited to be a replacement or substitute for professional medical treatment nor for professional medical advice relative to a specific medical question or condition.