Millions of Americans suffer from insomnia or sleep disorders. Some people have a difficult time falling asleep, others have a difficult time staying asleep, but either way not getting enough sleep can make it difficult to get through your day and be productive. Insomnia can greatly affect your mood, weight, immune system, and overall wellbeing.
The Sleep Cycle
Getting a good night’s rest is absolutely essential for your brain health. According to Sleepdex.org, there are four stages of sleep plus REM (rapid eyes movement). As you sleep, you progress through each stage including REM and then cycle back again. Earlier in the night, REM is shorter and deep sleep stages are longer, but as the night progresses REM becomes longer and deep sleep time decreases. Each stage of sleep is unique because your brain waves, body temperature, heart rate, and muscle activity change. Sleep is the brain and body’s time to repair. Without good sleep you can become irritable, lack energy, have difficulty concentrating, and lower your immune system’s threshold, which can increase your risk of infection and even cancer.
Quit the Caffeine
It is a vicious cycle of needing coffee to stay alert, but also not being able to sleep at night because of too much stimulation. Stop drinking all caffeinated beverages after 2:00 pm. Instead of reaching for a soda, tea, coffee, or energy drink in the evening, hydrate with water, sparkling water, or herbal tea. If this sounds too difficult to initiate then create a step down method to allow your body adapt to less caffeine. Switch to half-caffeinated coffee, or a lower caffeinated beverage and then work your way down to no caffeine. If you experience headaches as you reduce your caffeine intake then increase your water intake. If you still have a headache, try turmeric or white willow capsules. These are natural herbs that can help reduce pain.
Gut Out the Bedroom
The bedroom should be a sacred space in which you only use for sleep and sex. Take the television and all other electronics like tablets and video game consoles out of the bedroom. Put these items in a spare room or living room where you can enjoy them without them being in your sacred sleeping space. Invest in a great pillow that supports your neck and is comfortable. Leave your cell phone to charge in another room overnight. If you need your cell phone as an alarm them make sure you can hear it from another room or buy a battery powered alarm clock. Many people feel like they have to watch television before bed, but often this is too stimulating for your brain and does not signal to the body it is time for sleep. Instead, use the last hour before bed to wind down. Try drinking a hot herbal tea like chamomile and doing some stretches or light yoga moves before bed. Listen to some peaceful music or nature sounds. It is important to create a sleep ritual that works for you and stick to it! A sleep schedule is key, especially when training your body how to sleep well.
Counting Breaths Not Worries
For many people, lying in bed means going over all the worries in their head or making a check list for the next day. When you find yourself becoming anxious about issues you cannot possibly tackle when it is bedtime, then try this tip. When you are lying in bed trying to sleep, scan your body mentally. Start at your toes and work your way up to your head. Notice any tension in your body and notice your breath. Begin a technique called progressive muscle relaxation (see link below to learn more). Starting at your toes and working up to each muscle group, flex/tense each muscle group for 20-30 seconds and then release. Do this technique all the way up to the muscles in your face. An example of doing this to face muscles is lifting your eyebrows or making a grimace. This technique may take practice to get down but it will help relax your body for sleep and get your mind off of your worries and bring you back into your body. Try doing a couple cycles of this and see if it helps you doze off into sleep.
Teas, Homeopathy, and Vitamins
There are tons of herbal medicines, homeopathic remedies, and supplements that can help you get a restful night of sleep. Navigating through all your options can be difficult, so seeing an herbalist, acupuncturist, nutritionist, or naturopathic doctor can be very helpful. In the meantime, start to become aware of what might be keeping you from getting good sleep. Jot down your observations. For example, if you had a night of little sleep, write down what you had for dinner the night before or any thoughts or stressors you were experiencing. If you get a great night of sleep take note of this as well so you can get clues of what works for you. Be patient with yourself, because teaching your body how to sleep again can be difficult and is a process. Acknowledge all your hard work and when you make improvements no matter how small, celebrate!
Dr. Sanchez. ND