Natural Solutions for a Good Night’s Sleep
As we prepare to move our clocks forward this month it’s a good idea to set up healthy sleep habits to make the transition to daylight saving time easier and less disruptive to our sleep schedule. Many people, including myself, dread the ‘Spring forward’ time change because it throws off our entire sleep-wake cycle and can take weeks for our bodies to adjust. And if you’re already struggling with sleep issues, the time change can make it even worse. So what’s the best way to make the shift to daylight saving time easier?
IMPROVING THE QUALITY OF YOUR SLEEP
Maintain consistent sleep and wake times. Do not push yourself to stay up past the initial signs of sleepiness. This can create epinephrine (adrenaline) 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.
Reserve the bed for sleep and intimacy 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.
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.
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 since endorphins are released immediately after exercise which can be stimulating and core body temperature goes up post workout which also signals the body it’s time to be awake. It’s best to exercise at least 1-2 hours before going to bed.
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.
If you have problems 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. Consistently get exposure to sunlight as late in the day as possible.
Boost melatonin levels by eating melatonin-rich foods. Studies have shown that certain foods can naturally raise melatonin levels which not only enhances sleep and restores a healthy circadian rhythm but also provides antioxidant activity, boosts the immune system, protects against cancer and provides anti-aging effects.
- Tart Cherries
- Sunflower seeds
- Flax seeds
THINGS THAT RELAX THE BODY AND PREPARE IT FOR SLEEP
- Warm baths, possibly adding Epsom salts or lavender oil
- Meditating for 5-30 minutes
- Breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation (various recordings are available) or any other means of inducing the “relaxation response”. Daily practice brings greater results.
- Botanical treatments and aromatherapy using herbs and their essential oils (examples include chamomile, valerian, vervain (verbena), hops, lavender, passionflower, avena (oat straw), lemon balm and scutellaria (skull cap) to relax and calm the nervous system can assist the body in preparing for sleep.
- Magnesium citrate or glycinate supplementation. Magnesium calms the nervous system and helps relax muscles. Start with 200mg at bedtime and gradually increase until you find the dose that works best for you. Magnesium has natural laxative effects so if you experience loose stools after taking magnesium, reduce the dose.
- Melatonin supplementation. When your sleep cycle is off and you’re not getting the normal cue that it’s time for bed (ie feeling tired and ready for sleep by 9-10pm), melatonin can help reset your natural circadian rhythm to get you back on a normal sleep schedule. Dose: start with 1mg of melatonin taken 20-30 min before your desired sleep time. Once you’re back on track, you can discontinue the melatonin and take only as needed.
THINGS THAT INTERFERE WITH SLEEP
- Although alcohol may make you fall asleep, the sleep obtained after drinking is fragmented and light.
- The stimulating effects of caffeine may last up to 10 hours in some people. Avoid it in the afternoon if getting to sleep is a problem. Caffeine is present in coffee, green tea, black tea, chocolate and some medications (pain relievers, decongestants, thermogenic weight loss products, energy supplements, etc.)
- The stimulating effects of nicotine (first- or second-hand smoke) can last several hours.
- 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.
- B-vitamin supplements can increase energy that keeps some people awake, if taken before bed. Take B-vitamins earlier in the day.
- Do not go to bed with a very full stomach. Large quantities of protein are stimulating to the body as digestion occurs. It’s best to finish eating at least three hours before going to bed.
If you still have a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep after following the above suggestions, you may have an underlying hormone imbalance, nutritional deficiency or other health condition that is interfering with your sleep. Work with your naturopathic doctor to help you discover the root cause of your sleep issues.
- Dement MD PhD, William. The Promise of Sleep. 1999. Dell Publishing. New York, NY.
- Jacobs PhD, Gregg. Say Goodnight to Insomnia. 1998. Henry Holt and Company. New York, NY.
- Ross DC, Herbert, Brenner Lac, Keri and Goldberg, Burton. Sleep Disorders. <AlternativeMedicine.com> Tiburon, CA. 2000.
- Xiao Meng, Ya Li, Sha Li, Yue Zhou, Ren-You, Gan, Dong-Ping Xu, and Hua-Bin Li. Dietary Sources and Bioactivities of Melatonin. Nutrients, 2017 Apr; 9(4): 367. PMCID: PMC5409706. PMID: 28387721