Sleep is essential to feeling refreshed and rested and is an indispensable part of a healthy lifestyle. Insomnia is a common problem that affects millions of Americans. It can present as difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or both. Identifying the source of the problem is vital in successfully treating insomnia. There are many potential causes of insomnia. One of the benefits of seeking treatment from a Naturopathic physician is that they spend the necessary time with their patients, gathering clues about what might be causing or contributing to their sleep difficulties. Lack of sleep affects our energy, but it also plays a role in various other problems, including poor memory, low mood, difficult concentration, weight gain, body pain, compromised immune function, and low libido, to name a few. In treating insomnia, it’s always helpful to start with the basics of good sleep habits. Another term used for this is “sleep hygiene.”
There are several simple things you can do to improve your sleep hygiene, leading to improved quality and quantity of sleep:
- Create a regular sleep schedule: This is vitally important. Training your body to wind down for sleep and waking up at a specific time helps set your body’s normal circadian rhythm. If your sleep schedule varies each night, your body can’t find the right rhythm for good sleep.
- Minimize time spent in front of a bright TV or computer screen and keep your lights low: Not only is this stimulating to your mind and body, but you are exposed to lots of artificial light. Melatonin, which is the primary hormone in the body that contributes to healthy sleep, is produced in the absence of light. Before the advent of the light bulb, people would generally fall asleep with the setting sun and rise with the sun.
- Wind down with a hot shower or bath: This helps put your body in a state of relaxation much more conducive to good sleep. Adding Epsom salts (Magnesium salts) and essential oils like Lavender can help to relax your muscles and put your body into a parasympathetic relaxation state.
- Do some deep breathing or meditation: Studies have shown that these practices help to switch your body from the sympathetic (active mode) to the parasympathetic (relaxation mode). There are simple techniques that can be done in bed as you are preparing for sleep. Try 3 minutes of long, deep breathing and feel the relaxing effect on your mind and body.
- Avoid caffeine or alcohol close to bedtime: These are chemicals that are stimulating to the body and can interfere with sleep. Also, for women that suffer from hot flashes and night sweats that disrupt their sleep, caffeine and alcohol typically worsen these symptoms, leading to poor quality sleep.
- Avoid large meals close to bedtime: Eating large meals before bed can contribute to heartburn. Also, if your body is using energy to digest your food, it may interfere with your ability to sleep.
- Avoid excess napping: Short, power naps can be helpful to give you an energy boost for the second half of your day. However, if you nap for longer than an hour, it can affect your ability to fall asleep when it’s time to go to bed.
- Avoid stimulating activities: Nighttime activities should be focused on winding down and relaxing.
- Create a cool, dark, and quiet environment for sleep: Your sleep environment can significantly impact your ability to get good quality sleep. Use soft earplugs or a comfortable face mask to create optimal conditions for sleep.
- Exercise in the morning or afternoon: Even though exercise, in general, can help with sleep, it should be done early in the day as it can be too stimulating and interfere with sleep if done near bedtime.
Following these guidelines for good sleep hygiene is helpful for many people, but sometimes there are deeper physiological reasons for insomnia that may need to be addressed. A few possible causes are stress on the adrenal glands, which influences the normal rhythm of cortisol, an imbalance in neurotransmitters such as Serotonin or GABA, lack of melatonin (the primary sleep hormone), and hormonal changes in women, especially during menopause. Simple tests can be done to rule out any of these factors when evaluating potential causes of insomnia.
Good quality sleep is extremely vital to optimal health and vibrant energy, so if this is a problem for you, call 480-588-6856 for a free 10-minute meet and greet with a Naturopathic doctor at Living Wellness Medical Center for easy and effective solutions for good quality sleep.