Sleep like a baby again – 15 simple hacks to a better night’s sleep:

Sleep like a baby again – 15 simple hacks to a better night’s sleep:

 

When we don’t get enough sleep, we are unable to repair the body and the nervous system becomes fragile.  Our brains get tired too because thinking during the waking state is highly consumptive.  Staying awake too much is like leaving all the light on and the appliances running in your house 24 hours a day.  You run your energy bill up really quickly.

Does this sound familiar?

  1. You wake up tired but you’ve got a lot to do.  You need a kick to get going
  2. You reach for either sugar or caffeine to boot up your brain
  3. You jump in your car and run off to start your day but soon you start feeling hungry.  You’re busy and there’s no time to stop and eat so another coffee or some grab and go snack will do (fruit, sports bar, vending machine snack)
  4. Your blood stream surges up with each addition of coffee or refined carbs
  5. Your stress hormones release in response to the stimulation and the fight or flight response kicks in.
  6. With the increase in sugar, insulin is released to break it all down before it damages your nerve cells and other tissues.  Soon, the insulin does it’s job and leaves you feeling tired, wired, and hungry.
  7. The process repeats it self over and over until its time to clock out for the day.
  8. You go to bed exhausted but as a result of the caffeine and stress hormones from the day, you can’t get a restful night’s sleep.

 

Goal:  Get to sleep by 10 pm so you don’t miss your body’s natural repair cycles, get 7-8 hours of good quality sleep:

 

Before Bed Strategies:

  1. Monitor your alcohol intake Alcohol may give the perception of relaxing you but alcohol consumption leads to poor quality of sleep with more frequent, often unnoticeable wake-ups throughout the night that leave you zonked in the AM
  2. Monitor your caffeine intake -  Whatever your caffeinated drink of choice is, be sure not to drink it after 3:00 in the afternoon.  Stimulant beverages tend to elevate the stress hormones in your body leading to poor quality of sleep because the hormones that are released to help you sleep better are antagonized by the stress hormones that are elevated from the caffeinated beverages.
  3. Avoid Blue light – Smart phones, iPads, TVs all emit blue light which interferes with your melatonin, a hormone that tells your body its time to sleep.  As soon as the sun sets, use a blue light blocking strategy to help you sleep better.
    1. Shut off screens well before bedtime (ideally 2 hours)
    2. Activate night time setting on your device.
    3. Try a blue light blocking device like a screen protector or glasses. 
  4. Eat a high protein / high fat / low carb nighttime snack – if you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night and unable to get back to sleep, try eating a high protein, high fat snack close to bedtime.  (some tuna or egg with an avocado or a spoonful or two of nut butter should do the trick).
  5. Sleep supplements –
    1. Melatonin – Melatonin is a potent hormone and antioxidant which your body is supposed to produce on its own if you get real darkness and enough sleep.  Since you probably get neither, and especially if you’re having trouble falling asleep, try taking a low-dose bioavailable source of melatonin.  Melatonin is a natural hormone that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle (circadian cycles). Studies show that melatonin not only helps some people fall asleep, but also enhances the quality of sleep. Melatonin comes in two forms -- extended release and immediate release. If you tend to wake up in the middle of the night, you may want to take extended release before you go to bed. If you have trouble falling asleep, try immediate release.
    2. Magnesium -  Insomnia is a common symptom of magnesium deficiency. People with low magnesium often experience restless sleep, waking frequently during the night. Maintaining healthy magnesium levels often leads to deeper, more sound sleep. Magnesium plays a role in supporting deep, restorative sleep by maintaining healthy levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that promotes sleep. Research indicates supplemental magnesium can improve sleep quality, especially in people with poor sleep. Magnesium can also help insomnia that’s linked to the sleep disorder restless-leg syndrome.
    3. 5-HTP – The amino acid tryptophan is converted to 5-HTP which is then converted to serotonin and melatonin (the hormones that make you happy and sleep). Your body can sometimes struggle with these conversions. Supplementing with 5-HTP is the easiest way to support your levels of mood-lifting and sleep-inducing brain chemicals. Basically, you’re giving your body a little break at making the chemical conversions itself. This can be super helpful if you’re having trouble sleeping. Cycle on and off with this one or use as needed.
    4. Valarian – Seems to be more beneficial for anxiety-related sleep issues.  A review of 16 small studies suggests that valerian may help people fall to sleep faster. It also may improve the quality of sleep. Valerian becomes more effective over time, so it's best to take it every night for a short period of time.
  6. Replay the day – Close your eye and do a replay of the day allowing the key moments to pop into your minds eye in as much detail as you can remember.  This playback of your day allows you to shift your brain into power down mode.
  7. Journaling – Use a journal to unload the to do list that’s running through your brain and making you anxious.  Be sure to include a “next step” for each item.  Our brains are wired to remember tasks that are incomplete, writing down the task and one thing you plan to do to complete it will help take those thoughts off repeat.
  8. Wash the day off
    1. Shower before bed.  Going to bed clean and fresh has a relaxing effect, it also helps to NOT put any non-organic commercial scents, oils, or hygiene products on your body at night (most of these products have toxins that elevate stress hormones).  If you enjoy fragrances, try using some essential oils, lavender is a good nighttime choice.
    2. A little more indulgent way to wash the day off – Taking a nice warm bath not only a relaxing way to end your day but also helps increase slow-wave (deep restorative) sleep.  It has to do with the down shift in body temperature that happens when you step out of the bath, mimicking how your body is supposed to naturally cool down at night.  That change in temperature signals that the body is ready for bed.

 

The room environment:

  1. Temperature – Most people sleep best when there is fresh air in the room and it’s about 60-65 degrees.  Being too warm can actually be a form of stress for the body.
  2. Light – Even the smallest amount of light can wake people up, this is one of the most common causes of premature awakening.  Streetlights, headlights, and lights from electronics in the room can all disrupt your ability to sleep deeply.  Make sure the windows are well covered.  If you sleep near a street, consider blackout shades or curtains.  Also beware of exposure to light in the middle of the night, it can be enough to reset your internal clock.
  3. Sound – Less than 60 decibels (a muffled chat in the next room) is all it takes to disrupt sleep for some.  If you cannot control for the noise (especially when traveling) ear plugs and or white noise machines can help.  At home, tapestries can be very helpful.
  4. The right amount of support - a good pillow should position your head, neck, and spinal cord in one line.  Side sleepers need a bigger pillow with more volume, back sleepers need less volume and neck support.  If you suffer back pain after sleeping, a pillow between your knees can help though some focused effort on getting your hip flexors and glutes more mobile will probably be the best long term solution.

 

Waiting for sleep:

  1. Zone out / Drone out
    1. Zone out: Meditation – Relaxation is key because it activates the systems in your body that are in charge of repairing and rebuilding as well as the digestive systems.  Meditation throughout the day (1-2 minute breaks) but at night especially. 
    2. Drone out (Go to sleep podcast) – Normally we all avoid it but listening to someone drone on can be exactly what the doctor ordered for getting to sleep.  Subscribe to this podcast designed to bore you into dreamland called Sleep with Me on iTunes.  It’s free and it consists of impossibly uninteresting bedtime stories designed to distract you from your anxiety.

 

Other considerations:

  1. Circadian Rhythms – your body has natural rhythms that cycle very closely with the rhythms of the sun.  For example, the rising of the sun triggers the hormones that wake us in the morning and the setting of the sun triggers the hormones that put your to sleep and repair your body during the night.  If you don’t get to bed by 10:00 pm, you are cutting into your natural bodily repair cycles.  Physical repair cycle runs from 10:00pm-2:00am and addresses muscles, bones, joints, and organs.  The Psychogenic repair runs from 2:00am-5:00am tending to the nervous and hormonal systems.  If you find yourself cutting into your prime recovery phase, don’t be surprised by more chronic injury and/or nervous system fatigue.
  2. Gut Bacteria – Emerging science suggests that not having enough of the right intestinal bacteria can affect sleep quality.  While the link is not yet fully understood, eating a high fiber, probiotic rich diet can help boost the diversity of the bugs in your gut.  If you’ve been on antibiotics recently, especially more than one round you should assume that your good gut bacteria have been compromised.  Stay tuned, at the beginning of the new year, we will be using a nutritional challenge to restore good gut bacteria, and increase overall wellness.

 




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