Sleep is a much-touted subject, and there’s a good reason for it: Consistent, restorative sleep is very lacking in today’s society due to hectic schedules, electronics, and general overwork. I see it as one of the major health pillars missing with my most of my new patients, which is unfortunate.
After all, according to the National Sleep Foundation, most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night for optimum performance, health, and safety (2014). When inadequate sleep or sleep deprivation accumulates, “sleep debt” occurs. This affects growth hormone secretion and the body’s ability to use insulin, which can lead to diabetes and/or obesity. Poor or inefficient sleep is also linked to hypertension and cardiovascular problems, and numerous other scientific studies show correlations between poor sleep and disease (National Sleep Foundation, 2014).
To get a restful seven to nine hours of sleep each night and reap the resulting health benefits, I often recommend the following tips.
1) Ready your environment for sleeping.
Make sure your environment is semi-dark before going to sleep, because too much light at night can shift your internal clock and makes restful sleep difficult to achieve. Also, make sure the bedroom is absolutely dark and cool, because this promotes restorative sleep.
Note: If you have a baby, putting he or she to sleep in a different room than their bed can cause restless sleep. Make sure your baby is laid to sleep in the room that he or she is going to sleep in for the night!
2) Eliminate stressors and address nocturnal hypoglycemia.
If you’re not dreaming during sleep, that indicates that you haven’t gone through all of the sleep stages successfully, and you need to reexamine your lifestyle and eliminate stressors as much as possible.
Such stressors – whether emotional or physical – can cause tension and anxiety, and vastly affects sleep. It can also cause overstressed adrenals, which may lead to nocturnal hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar levels that wake you up around 3 AM. While eating half of a baked apple before bed can help regulate your blood sugar levels, addressing and removing your stressors altogether is a much healthier long-term solution.
Often, one major overlooked stressor is a lack of regularity in the structure of your day. I’ve found that even simply establishing a regular eating schedule can be very helpful for reestablishing good sleep hygiene.
3) Avoid stimulants after 3 PM.
For those with sleeping problems, caffeine, alcohol, and other stimulants should not be used after 3 PM. If you do want some caffeine, I recommend green tea, because it has a different kind of caffeine called theophylline. Theophylline is much gentler and beneficial for sleep.
4) Avoid sugar and other additives, and eat no later than 3 hours before bed.
As referenced above, the overconsumption of sugar and its corresponding low blood sugar levels can cause inflammation and nocturnal hypoglycemia. It’s phenomenal how sugar can irritate the brain, and how avoiding it, along with food colors and artificial sweeteners, can improve sleep quality.
Also, aim to eat at least three hours before bed, because eating a heavy meal right beforehand can interrupt a good night’s sleep.
5) Take a 15 – 20 minute walk after dinner.
I like taking a light walk after supper; it tends to be very relaxing, helps to rid of the days’ stressors, and also helps regulate blood sugar levels.
6) Refrain from using nighttime technology at least 1 hour before bed.
More than half of Americans use a computer, laptop, or tablet device every night or almost every night (National Sleep Foundation, 2013). This exposure to “blue” light, which mimics daylight, suppresses the natural hormone cascade that readies the body for sleep. This not only affects sleep intensity; it’s shown to affect focus the following day (Korn, 2014).
Folks, put the smartphone down, turn the television off, and read a book or chat with your spouse! It will improve both your sleep quantity AND quality.
7) Implement a bedtime routine 30 minutes before bed.
Just as babies typically sleep better when a bedtime routine is present, adults do as well. Create a routine 30 minutes before bed that involves a quiet activity to unwind and ready your brain and body for bed.
8) Avoid sleeping pills.
It’s been published in the British Medical Journal that taking sleeping pills can increase cancer risk and mortality risk by four to five times (Salahi, 2012). Even short-term use can cause dependency and change the way our brains operate. I know several neurologists that are vehemently opposed to sleeping pills because they are so addictive and dangerous.
Instead, I recommend some of the nutraceuticals used in Europe, such as a homeopathic remedy from Germany called WellMind™ Tension Relief (available in-store only). This is very effective for insomnia, restless sleep, and an overactive mind. It’s also very safe for babies, children, and adults.
is another favorite supplement to use. It supports GABA function (a neurotransmitter that sends chemical messages between the brain and the nervous system) which is used to promote sleep and calm. This supplement can be especially helpful for those who have stress-related sleep loss.
in a pharmaceutical grade can also be very helpful. However, I would recommend avoiding use with children, because there is limited evidence that it may limit growth hormone in children.
is a magnesium powder combined with vitamins B6 and B12 as well as folate and taurine. In combination, these nutrients have been shown to promote restful sleep and relaxation as well as benefit positive mood.
is another remedy carried by Nature’s Remedies, which includes traditional elements like valerian root and Chinese skullcap to aid in sleep. For those with sleep troubles or finding a way to retrain good sleep habits, this is DBC’s preferred remedy.
I hope these tips help you to tweak your sleep hygiene habits to achieve consistent, restorative sleep. Sweet dreams!
2013 International Bedroom Poll. 2013. National Sleep Foundation.http://sleepfoundation.org/sites/default/files/RPT495a.pdf.
Korn, M. 2014. Smartphones Make You Tired and Unproductive, Study Says. Wall Street Journal.http://blogs.wsj.com/atwork/2014/02/06/smartphones-make-you-tired-and-unproductive-study-says/.
Myths – and Facts – About Sleep. National Sleep Foundation. 2014. http://sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/myths-and-facts-about-sleep.
Salahi, L. 2012. Sleeping pills linked to almost fourfold increase in death risk. ABC News.http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Sleep/sleeping-pills-linked-times-increased-death-risk/story?id=15803687.