Sleep is a natural restorative, an antidote to the damage done to our bodies during the day. It allows the body to replenish its immune system, restore adrenal function, detoxify the brain, eliminate free radicals, and ward off heart disease, memory loss, and mood imbalances.
Do you suffer from insomnia, have trouble staying asleep, or are you unable to fall asleep?
Poor sleep and chronic insomnia are symptoms of deeper underlying imbalance that needs to be explored.
If you’re unable to fall asleep, the problem is often a need to balance the central nervous system (sympathetic and parasympathetic) and correct mineral deficiencies. If you’re able to fall asleep, but unable to stay asleep rule out adrenal dysfunction, blood sugar handling problems, insulin resistance, hypoglycemia, underlying infections, and gut dysbiosis.
Create an environment for good sleep as the sun goes down and evening approaches. Use candles, turn on some salt lamps (one of my personal favorites), and dim the lights in your home to sleep better. Switch light bulbs to old-fashioned incandescent bulbs in your home.
No artificial blue light at night, which suppresses your normal production of melatonin, increases blood glucose, and disrupts hormones that control hunger. Blue light at night impairs memory, increases risk of diabetes, dementia, depression, heart disease, breast cancer, mitochondrial dysfunction and obesity, negatively impacts sleep quality and quantity, and alters your body’s natural circadian rhythms.
Unplug the Wi-Fi. Turn off your computer, iPad, smartphone and television at least 2 hours before bedtime, preferably by 8pm.
Studies have found that a two-hour exposure to bright light from self-luminous electronic devices (computers, iPads, and smartphones) within 2 hours of bedtime will delay sleep, increase awakenings, disrupt your natural circadian rhythm, and suppress melatonin by 23 percent!
Exposure to blue light at night, and heavy cell phone and computer use has a direct link to sleeping problems, anxiety and depression. Those exposed to mobile radiation take longer to fall asleep and spend less time in the deeper stages of sleep.
Sleep in complete darkness. Make your bedroom pitch black to sleep better. If there is even the tiniest bit of light in the room, it can disrupt your pineal gland’s production of melatonin and serotonin. Minimize light in the bathroom too, in case you get up in the middle of the night. Keep the lights off if you go to the bathroom at night. As soon as you turn on that light, you immediately stop production of the important sleep aid, melatonin.
Keep electronics out of the bedroom, including electric alarm clocks, electric blankets, smartphones, TVs, tablets and computers because of electro-magnetic fields (EMFs).
Never charge your cell phone on your nightstand or sleep with your smartphone. Always charge your phone in a room other than your bedroom.
Loud alarm clocks can be very stressful on your body. If an electric alarm clock must be used, keep it as far away from the bed as possible, preferably at least five to six feet. Be sure to cover it and remove it from view as it will only add to your worry when constantly starring at it… 2 AM…3 AM… 4:30 AM…
Magnesium, “nature’s natural muscle relaxer and anti-stress mineral” has a calming effect on the nervous and muscular system. Magnesium acts as a natural tranquilizer and is very helpful for inducing restful sleep. Magnesium deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies.
Install F.lux on your smart phone and computer. F.lux is a free app that when enabled on your computer, filters and reduces blue light emissions by adjusting the computer’s color temperature according to your location and time of day. There are many free apps available for your smartphone.
If you must expose yourself to bright screens or artificial lighting at night it is important to wear amber-colored, blue blocking glasses.
Food sensitivities disrupt sleep and contribute to sleep apnea. The main culprits include dairy, sugar, soy, eggs, wheat, artificial sweeteners, corn and gluten.
Hypoglycemia and blood sugar imbalances can be the very reason you’re unable to stay asleep during the night. Eat a balanced meal for dinner that includes protein, a slow releasing carbohydrate, veggies and healthy fats will help you sleep better. Another option is to consume an easily digestible protein shake with one teaspoon of raw, organic honey, pinch of sea salt and sprinkle of cinnamon 3 hours before bedtime to provide your body with L-tryptophan needed to produce melatonin and serotonin as well as blood sugar stabilization. Avoid alcohol and sugary snacks that raise blood sugar and inhibit growth hormone release.
Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day even on the weekends to program your body into a healthy sleep rhythm. Doing so makes it easier to fall asleep and get up in the morning. Erratic schedules disrupt your body clock.
Go to bed earlier. One hour of sleep before midnight has the quality of two hours of sleep after midnight! Our body, brain and hormones, particularly the adrenals do a majority of their recharging, repairing and recovering when we’re asleep. Approximately 80% of growth hormone is secreted between 11pm to 1am. This is when the gallbladder meridian is most active as well. If you are awake during these hours, the toxins back up into the liver which then secondarily back up into your entire system and cause further disruption of your health.
Love your liver. Consistently waking up between the hours of 1am to 3am may indicate liver congestion and a sign that your liver needs some extra TLC.
Healthy adrenal function. Consistently waking between 3am and 5am is a strong indicator of adrenal insufficiency and oxidative stress, and a need for more antioxidants.
Easy on the alcohol. Although a nightcap might make you drowsy, the effect is short lived and you’ll experience interrupted sleep, often waking up several hours later, tossing and turning, and unable to fall back asleep. Alcohol prevents deeper stages of sleep, disrupts blood sugar, hormones and inhibits growth hormone production. A Friday night alcohol binge disrupts your sleep until the following Tuesday.
Avoid caffeine later in the day. A study found that in some individuals caffeine is not metabolized efficiently, and these folks feel the effects long after consuming it. Beware of various drugs, OTCs medications and diet pills that contain caffeine.
Daily exercise. Exercising for at least 30 minutes every day encourages deep restful sleep. However, exercising too close to bedtime may keep you awake. Remember, muscles are worked in the gym, fed in the kitchen and built in your sleep. Train smart, fuel your body with real food, value the importance of rest, recovery and relaxation, and don’t skimp on sleep.
Get a handle on stress. According to sleep experts, stress is the #1 cause of insomnia and interrupted sleep.
Read something spiritual, preferably from an actual book, not a tablet or smart phone! This will help your mind relax so you can sleep better. Refrain from reading anything stimulating, such as a mystery or suspense novel that can have the opposite effect.
Hydrate during the day. When you’re dehydrated, production of cortisol increases, and melatonin and growth hormone decrease, which will disrupt sleep. Stop drinking fluids two hours of going to bed to reduce the likelihood of needing to get up and go to the bathroom (or at least minimize the frequency). If you do need to get up for the bathroom, refrain from turning on lights.
Journaling. Gratitude log. Before bed, jot down 3-5 things or people you’re grateful for. Recall 3-5 things that went well for you during the day. Fill your mind with positive, loving thoughts as you get ready to retire for the evening.
Morning sunlight! Spend time in nature. Go camping. One week of camping without electronics resets our biological clock, circadian rhythm, and synchronizes our hormones such as melatonin with the sunrise and sunset. Watch the sunrise and the sunset.
Morning sunlight has a bigger effect on sleep than almost any other variable. The magic amount seems to be about 30 minutes of exposure within an hour of waking. The bright sunlight exposure tells our brain that 14 hours from now it is time to sleep.
Keep the bedroom dark and cool. Many people keep their homes, particularly the upstairs bedrooms too hot. Ideal sleeping temperature is 68°.
Aromatherapy. Sprinkle a few drops of your favorite essential oil such as lavender, frankincense, chamomile or sandalwood oil on your pillow or rub into the temple area and back of your neck.
Yin yoga and meditation. Meditating for as little as 2-5 minutes before bedtime calms the ‘monkey mind’ and induces restful sleep.
Balance your neuroendocrine system with yin or restorative yoga poses such as legs up the wall pose or any forward fold pose. These simple yoga asanas are especially beneficial before bedtime as a natural sleep remedy inducing feelings of calm, restoration and relaxation. Legs up the wall shifts blood from the extremities to the abdomen which turns on the parasympathetic (calming) nervous system. Legs up the wall pose also reduces water retention in swollen feet and ankles, and it’s super healing and nourishing for the adrenals and lymphatic system.
Breathing exercises. Are you a mouth breather? Do you wake up with a dry mouth? Practice these breathing exercises to retrain your breathing pattern to its natural state by breathing through your nose vs mouth breathing.
The 4-7-8 breathing method. Practice deep, belly breathing and calming yin yoga postures such as forward folding and legs up the wall and you’ll sleep better. Breathe into your belly for a count of 4; hold without tensing your jaw or shoulders for a count of 7, and slowly exhale for a count of 8 to ease anxiety, tension and stress.
Wearing mouth tape and nasal strips at night can help to increase oxygen, nitric oxide, stop snoring, sleep better, and breathe better. However, when you practice, retrain and regain your natural breathing pattern, you will not have to tape your mouth.
White noise, guided meditation or relaxing nature sounds. Some people find the sound of white noise or nature sounds such as the ocean soothing for sleep. Listen to relaxing music while lying with your legs up the wall yoga pose before retiring.
Lose weight. Being overweight increases the risk of sleep apnea, which prevents your body from falling into a deep, restful sleep.
Avoid OTC and prescription sleep aids, which negatively affect sleep. In 2012 alone, 49 million prescriptions for sleep medications were written. OTC and prescription sleep aids are highly addictive and come with serious side effects including hallucinations, memory problems, depression, diabetes, excessive daytime tiredness, increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, sleep walking and engaging in other behaviors such as eating and even driving while not fully awake and alert. These drugs are a band-aid that mask a deeper, underlying problem and imbalance.
A study published in the British Medical Journal reported that people who take prescription sleeping pills regularly are nearly five times more likely to die within 2.5 years and have four times a higher rate of cognitive dysfunction compared to those who do not take the drugs.
Taking benzodiazepines that are used to treat anxiety and insomnia is associated with a 51% increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. [Source: BMJ, Sept 2014]
Tea time. Sip on a cup of Sleepy Time, chamomile or passion flower tea 2-3 hours before bedtime. Stir in a small amount of raw, organic honey and a pinch of Celtic sea salt will help you to sleep better.
Listen to calming or classical music. Listening to relaxing classical music, binaural beats, singing bowls or Solfeggio frequencies for before going to bed improves sleep quality. Music therapy has been used for centuries to calm anxiety, relax the nervous system, soothe the brain, restore energy, improve mood, and help the body heal naturally. Music has a profound impact that reduces sympathetic nervous system activity, decreases anxiety, blood pressure, heart and respiratory rate, and has positive effects on sleep via muscle relaxation and distraction from thoughts.
Take a warm bath, shower or sauna two hours before bedtime. Add 3-4 cups of Epsom salts to the bath (the magnesium is absorbed through your skin), which promotes muscular relaxation. Add some baking soda, ginger powder and apple cider vinegar to aid in detoxification and reducing inflammation. Add a few drops of essential aromatic oils, such as lavender, frankincense or sandalwood, which will induce a state of calm, enhancing sleep.
Cold water immersion two hours before bedtime. After soaking in the Epsom salt bath, step into the shower and rinse with 3-4 cycles of cold/hot for 20-30 seconds each. Always end with a cold cycle.
Lab testing helps to identify nutrient deficiencies, possible health conditions or underlying infections, which may be the root cause of insomnia and sleep problems.
Test hormones, including thyroid and adrenals. Hormonal disruption occurs during peri-menopause, menopause, andropause and high-stress lifestyles. Insomnia is often a symptom of overtaxed adrenals.
Rule out Candida overgrowth and intestinal parasites. Parasites tend to be more active at night.
Wear socks to bed. Your feet have the poorest circulation in the body and will usually feel cold before the rest of the body. A study has shown that wearing socks to bed may reduce waking up throughout the night and help you sleep better.
A small glass of organic tart cherry juice with Celtic sea salt in the evening boosts melatonin levels naturally. A study in the European Journal of Nutrition reports that cherries are high in potassium, antioxidant-rich containing anthocyanins that are excellent for reducing inflammation, preventing and healing gout, lowering uric acid levels, and helpful for falling asleep quicker.
Add 1/2 teaspoon of pink Himalayan salt or Celtic sea salt for additional minerals and to prevent waking during sleep to use the bathroom.
Stress-reducing, sleep-inducing nutrients. In addition to magnesium, consider taurine, vitamin B6, ashwagandha or VHP (a blend of Valerian, Hops and Passion Flower, an excellent herbal tranquilizer without side effects) to sleep better.
Melatonin. What about melatonin? If behavioral or environmental changes don’t work, melatonin can be beneficial for some individuals.
However, note that exogenous melatonin in excess can inhibit the thyroid, adrenals and immune system, and may inhibit your body’s natural production of melatonin.
Ideally, it’s best to increase levels of melatonin naturally with exposure to bright sunlight in the daytime (along with full spectrum light in the winter) and by avoiding blue light at night from screens after 8pm. Your bedroom should be completely dark so no light is coming in from the outside. 5-HTP should not be used during pregnancy or lactation, or by individuals taking antidepressants or anxiety drugs or those with cardiovascular disease. Always discuss with your health care practitioner prior to using.
The take away message: honor and respect your body’s innate natural circadian rhythm and value the importance of quality sleep. Less screen time, shut down all electronic devices around 8pm and always unplug the WiFi router in your home. Dim the lights in your home around 8pm. Get your butt in bed no later than 10pm and rise with the sun. Sleep in a pitch dark bedroom. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day (even on the weekends). Consider taking some magnesium to sleep better. Sweet dreams!