Sleep is necessary for memory, physical performance, mood stability, weight maintenance, and muscle and cellular repair. Without it, we set ourselves up for chronic illness. For instance, shift workers whose circadian rhythms are regularly disrupted suffer from much higher rates of heart disease, digestive disturbances, and emotional and mental problems than the population at large.
Insomnia can be a condition in itself, or it may be a symptom of another condition. Before moving to any sort of naturopathic or medical treatments, I always begin with First Line Therapy, meaning diet and lifestyle adjustments. Here are some tips which may be adequate to restore normal sleep for many patients.
- Try to go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning, even if you’re not tired at night and/or got very little sleep by morning. It is best to wake with the sun in order to reset your biological clock, and go to bed early enough that this will give you as many hours as you need to feel your best. Adequate hours of sleep varies per person, however – it is a myth that everyone needs eight hours of sleep in order to function optimally.
- If you cannot fall asleep, get up and do something else. The anxiety of trying to fall asleep can actually exacerbate the problem.
- The last hour (or at least half an hour) before you go to bed, do something very calming — read a book, listen to music, pray, or meditate in bed until you start to nod off. Try not to watch TV right before bed. Do not take any stimulants or engage in stimulating activities before bed.
- Consume little or no alcohol before bedtime. Alcohol may help you fall into a light sleep, but it maintains only lighter stages and prevents REM and deeper stages of sleep. This means you can be awakened more easily. This is why drinking alcohol before bed is associated with waking in the middle of the night.
- Give up smoking. Like those who have night caps right before bed, smokers tend to sleep very lightly, and wake after 3-4 hours of sleep due to the nicotine withdrawal.
- Avoid caffeine after 2 pm. Although the half life of caffeine in the bloodstream is four hours in theory, this depends on the individual’s metabolic rate. Some people process caffeine faster and some slower. It’s best to err on the side of caution.
- Get enough exercise: 20-30 minutes per day.
- Keep your room cool. You lose your ability to regulate body temperature during REM, so abnormally hot or cold temperatures in the environment can disrupt this stage of sleep.
- Write down the thoughts that keep you awake. Some people have difficulty sleeping due to an overabundance of thoughts. If you find that you cannot help but continue to problem-solve, get out of bed and write them down on a piece of paper until you can think of no more.
- Try not to nap much after 2 pm if possible.
Still having trouble? There are some other tricks of the trade, and a whole arsenal of natural sleep aids ranging from homeopathics to botanicals to hormones. Your body may just need a little extra kick to get on a regular schedule, or it may be that we haven’t yet gotten to the root cause. Come in and see us for a full case history and personalized recommendations.