Five Ideas for Better Sleep

Insomnia is known to affect 1 out of 3 people in the united states. According to the National Sleep Foundation, insomnia is difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. People with insomnia can feel dissatisfied with their sleep and usually experience one or more of the following: fatigue, low energy, difficulty concentrating, mood disturbances, and decreased performance in work or at school.  Chronic insomnia is when a person has trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or waking up too early at least 3 nights per week.

 

Causes

Changes in a person’s environment, travel (especially outside of your normal time zone), shift work, and even medications are known triggers and causes for chronic insomnia.  If you suffer from insomnia, or simply notice you have a hard time falling asleep and average less than 7 hours of sleep per night, then I suggest you start investigating your specific cause and getting to the root of the problem because the long term effects are quite scary.

 

Effects

Simply one night of sleep loss can wreak havoc on every system of the body.  Most commonly, someone will suffer “brain fog”, inability to concentrate, fatigue, dizziness, irritability and tremors.  Those side effects could be the result of just one late night out partying, working or studying.  Now, think about three or more of those nights each week and imagine that it’s a chronic condition.  If that’s your frustration or struggle, or you may have given up trying to sleep and accepted you just “don’t need that much sleep”.  Here’s a list of issues developed over long term sleep loss: cognitive impairments, chronic fatigue syndrome, memory loss, ADHD, leptin resistance (risk of Type 2 Diabetes), suppressed immune system (chronic illnesses such as colds), migraines and tension headaches, mood disorders, depression, anxiety, decrease in performance of the thalamus and prefrontal cortex of the brain, Dysglycemia, and decrease in the integrity of the muscular system and bone structures.  Without sleep, our tissues and cells cannot be regenerated.  The human growth hormone (Hgh) is released by the pituitary gland during sleep.  This occurs during the first half of the sleep cycle (10pm-2am). This is important to know because if you aren’t going to sleep until midnight every night, then you’ve missed that half of that window and are prone to physical pain and injuries, muscle and joint pain.  On the flip side, our cognition is repaired in the second half of the sleep cycle (2am – 6am), so if you’re always waking up too early such as 4am or 5am, then you are at risk for mood disorders, brain fog, ADHD, and will have a hard time with concentration and recall.

The effects of sleep deprivation are endless because every system of the body is connected to how well we repair ourselves with sleep.  Without repair, we’re likely to substitute energy in the form of caffeine because our tank is running on empty.

student sleeping on table 

A Few Ways to Better Sleep Quality:

  1. Reset your circadian rhythm – this is your own body’s rhythm of time between waking and sleeping.  For best hormone balance and health, we should be awake when the sun is up and asleep with the sun is down.  That’s the easiest way to remember.  If we’re always waking up too early and going to sleep too late, then our circadian rhythm is off balance and our health suffers.  Ways to get back on track are things like:
    1. Getting outside, no matter the weather, when the sun rises and when it sets.
    2. Avoid blue light after 8pm, such as phones, computers, tvs or other electronics that give off the blue light.
    3. If you work inside an office, try getting near a window or taking breaks outside throughout the day.  
    4. Change your workouts to noon or after work (5-6 pm) if you find yourself waking up before sunrise to go for a run.  This could mean changing your schedule around, changing some habits and re-prioritizing, but it can and needs to be done!
  2. Adjust your meals – erratic eating patterns can cause blood sugar spikes and dramatic, subsequent dips and if you’re not eating a balanced diet then you will likely feel fatigued and tired. This leads to behaviors and choices that interfere with sleep, such as caffeine addiction (mentioned above).  It can also cause you to take more naps during the day which leaves you less tired when you should be falling asleep.  Try:
    1. Eating the energizing foods for breakfast and lunch.  These include healthy, nutrient dense carbohydrates such as fruits, veggies, and tubers.
    2. Eat less energizing foods for dinner, more protein and fat to use up energy, which will create a sense of calm and peace and help with melatonin production before you retire for the night.
    3. Don’t skip meals!  Even if you’re just not hungry until noon (another sign that your hormones are off balance and blood sugar regulation is not where it should be),  eat small, healthy snacks if you have to to begin resetting your body’s digestive rhythm.
  3. Eliminate or cut back on caffeine
    1. Caffeine after 3pm does not clear out of your system until well after midnight, which means it will continue to stimulate you during sleep.  If you’re asleep, you’re still not getting full REM recovery.
    2. Caffeine has a half-life of about six hours. That means if you have a cup of coffee with 300 mg of caffeine at 12pm, there will still be 150 mg in your bloodstream at 6pm and another 75 mg at midnight.  
    3. If you are used to drinking several cups of coffee throughout the day, I recommend cutting it back to consuming your coffee only in the mornings, and follow it up with a protein-fat meal to slow the processing of caffeine in your system.  This will help to prevent crashes later on and allow the caffeine to slowly enter the system and stimulate you gradually and for longer periods.
    4. If you are having a hard time sleeping (or staying asleep) due to adrenal fatigue, I suggest you take steps to eliminate caffeine altogether.  Replace it with a good herbal coffee that is caffeine free.
  4. Take a cold shower– the higher your body temp, the harder it is to fall asleep. Cooling our body temperature helps to slow the system down.  It can also shock the nervous system and reset the mind so it’s easier to fall asleep.
    1. Taking a cold plunge or standing in cold water can be hard at first, so try it gradually.  Turn the water cooler and cooler as your body adjusts.  Start with 5 minutes and work your way up to 10 minutes and do this about 1 hour to 30 minutes before bed.  You’ll find that you fall asleep easier and stay asleep!
    2. Keeping the room temp lower, about 65, is also known to help as well. A lot of athletes use this trick to get the sleep they need (and increase their Hgh!), but don’t forget to reset your temperature unit in the morning or you may end up with a large bill next month!

 To enhance your efforts, there are some good supplements I usually recommend people try in pairing with the above lifestyle changes:

  1. Tart cherry juice (taken an hour before bed)
  2. Magnesium (Natural Calm is a good one)
  3. l-tryptophan