These days, insomnia or non-restful sleep is a very common complaint practitioners hear. There are numerous factors that can affect our sleep, but there are also a few easy-to-apply practices that we can implement to help us with better sleep

Throughout the night, the sleep cycle consists of five or six cycles of sleep. Each of these cycles is about 90 minutes long. During this time the body shifts from light sleep, REM sleep to deep sleep. There are a number of factors that can affect the ability of the body in initiating and maintaining sleep.

When we wake up in the morning, cortisol, which is a hormone, levels increase. Cortisol helps us wake up fully to take on the day! This is also the dominant hormone when we are stressed. Stress seems to be the most common deterrent to effective sleep. Cortisol levels vary throughout the day. As evening approaches and the sun starts setting, the decrease in natural light tells the body to convert cortisol to melatonin. This is the hormone that initiates sleep. 

There are a few factors that negatively affect this process. Nutrient insufficiencies, food sensitivities, EMF and fluorescent lighting, hormone imbalance in perimenopause and menopause can all play a role in disturbing our healthy sleep cycle. In Traditional Chinese Medicine the hours between 10pm and 2pm are associated with the cleansing and detoxifying of the body by the kidneys and liver. When the body is too toxic, it’s more challenging to get to sleep and stay asleep during this time. Consequently, it’s important that we get to sleep before that time so that the healing and cleansing can actually take place.

As we sleep, the body uses this time to repair and heal.

Consuming caffeine later in the day can interrupt sleep. If there are food intolerances or nutrient insufficiencies the body is often in discomfort. Alcohol can be a stimulant for some people as well.

Electromagnetic radiation (WiFi) has been shown to disrupt sleep cycles. Turn off your router and/or put your phones on Airplane mode when you sleep. Some people are readily affected in their sleep patterns.

Good Sleep Hygiene Practices

  1. Don’t eat or drink anything with caffeine after mid-afternoon. If you do eat before bed, be careful to keep your snack light and easy to digest. Alcohol and sugary foods add drink may be culprits as well.
  2. Avoid using bright lights after dark. Turn down the lights in the early evening to help the body initiate melatonin production.
  3. Use the bedroom only for sleep and sleep-related activities. The bedroom should be in soft lighting, or dark with no tv, phones or laptop. This trains the body and mind that when it’s in the bedroom, that it’s time to go to sleep.
  4. Electronic devices like phones and tablets emit blue light. Blue light actually interferes with the conversion of cortisol to melatonin. Cortisol keeps us awake and melatonin puts us to sleep. EMF (WiFi) should be unplugged or in ‘airplane’ mode while you sleep.
  5. Elevated stress also interfere with this brain-sleep axis. When we are stressed in the evening, the body is unable to make melatonin. It’s imperative that you find an activity that relaxes you every day. This only needs about 15 minutes a day. It can be light exercise, reading a book or taking a bath. Consciously making the body relax will shift the body system from the Sympathetic (stress mode) to the Parasympathetic (calming mode). 
  6. Eat a balanced diet of healthy proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Carbohydrate consumption should be primarily from vegetable sources. Eat protein at every meal. Healthy fats help our brain function, our mood stabilize, our hormones balance and satiety.  A balanced, healthy diet will go long way to replenishing the body with vital nutrients it needs to build, heal and repair itself while you sleep.
  7. Get some exercise every day. High intensity interval training (HIIT) is a great way to get your training in in a short time. If you are suffering from chronic fatigue, adrenal overwhelm or exhaustion throughout the day, then do a gentler workout like walking, yoga or moderate cycling. Aim for 20-40 minutes daily.
  8. Have a calming cup of herbal tea before bed. There are a number of wonderful teas in your local health food store, or herb garden!
  9. See your practitioner about trying a gentle herbal product or nutritional supplement that promotes restful sleep. Nutritional supplements like melatonin can be used for up to a week. Herbals like valerian, chamomile, lavender and lemon balm can be used functionally every evening if tolerated.

Getting a full night’s sleep should be in every person’s healthy lifestyle regimen. Sleep is restorative at a cellular level. Without sleep, the body in unable to ‘keep up’ with the demands of daily life.