When life is overwhelming, when solutions to problems elude us, I find sleep is the best remedy on the market. But what can we do if we can’t sleep? Let’s explore why getting ENOUGH sleep is so important for our overall health and what we can do if we desperately need to get a better quality snooze…
Why Getting Enough Sleep Is Vital:
For a number of decades I have been known to say, “I’m not attached to sleep” now it seems that I have a growing addiction. After years of pushing myself as a nerdy student, followed by years of babies and toddlers waking at night interrupting my sleep, combined with a workaholic nature, I now find myself choosing to work smarter and resting more. I am trying to listen to my body and learn the art of going to bed early and ‘sleeping in’ when a weekend allows.
Repairs damage caused by stress and environmental toxins. The downside of thinking you’re superwoman or superman, is that at some point your body starts to give you signs that you need to slow down and honor yourself better. Just as clean food and activity are healing, so to is sleep. During sleep, our body repairs damage caused by stress or environmental toxins and allows our body time to recover and rejuvenate, preparing us for the following day.
When we get less than six hours of sleep each night, our risk for developing disease begins to increase, blood pressure increases and excess stress hormones are pumped out. Of course, getting little sleep once every now and then isn’t a huge issue, but long-term we can easily get caught up in a bad cycle.
I think most people would agree, there is no better feeling than waking up in the morning after a good, peaceful night’s sleep. It allows us to be more focused when completing tasks and also lifts our mood by allowing our body to produce enough serotonin, a feel-good brain chemical.
Helps you maintain a healthy weight! Another benefit of adequate sleep is maintaining a healthy weight. Studies show that a lack of sleep impacts hormones in the body that affect your appetite. People who get fewer than seven hours of sleep a night are more likely to put on weight, or may find it harder to lose excess weight.
Improves overall function. If your life is particularly busy (juggling work with family etc.) you may find yourself saying as I have frequently done, “who has time to sleep!” It’s important however to remember that lack of rest can be detrimental to your overall well-being. There is nothing worse than being tired throughout the day, minutes can feel like hours and the more you push yourself the fuzzier your brain becomes. Adequate sleep energizes you, and put simply, if you are exhausted, your body is exhausted and won’t be functioning effectively, which will result in many of us reaching for a coffee or energy drink to fix the effects of not sleeping well the night before.
The point to take home here is that giving your body the rest it needs will allow you to function better throughout the day, rest is a priority and one of the simplest things you can do to ensure that you are looking after yourself.
What To Do If You Can’t Sleep…
So, now we can appreciate the importance of sleep, what happens if we struggle to fall asleep each night? This is an incredibly common issue and can itself “cause stress.” The good news is there are many things we can try to help our body drift off to sleep at night and we’ve outlined some of these below.
If inadequate sleep is an ongoing issue I recommend talking to a health practitioner who may be able to identify if there is an underlying health issue that needs addressing. For example one may have food allergies or gut issues that may be exacerbating sleep issues as irritability and inflammation in the gut can impact the quality of our sleep. A holistic practitioner can help guide you and provide you with the tools you need to combat this problem rather than masking the problem with medication.
Below, I have listed some general tips to ease getting off to sleep and to improve the general overall quality of our sleep.
A study of more than 2,600 men and women (Journal Mental Health and Physical Exercise 2011), ages 18-85, found that 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a week, which is the national guideline, provided a 65 percent improvement in sleep quality. People also said they felt less sleepy during the day, compared to those with less physical activity.
2. Up your water intake!
Instead of using “uppers” I’d encourage you to “up your water intake.” Water is responsible for transporting nutrients in the blood that we use for energy, as well as helping to flush out unwanted toxins within the body. Hydration levels play a big role in energy levels and without water, we can’t adequately metabolize the food we eat during the day, which may result in us feeling sluggish.
3. Cut Back on the Giddy Up.
Caffeine (coffee, black tea and chocolate) or nicotine and sugar on a daily basis, especially after 3:00pm. These are all stimulants.
4. Refrain from Eating Before Bed.
Eat at least three to four hours before going to bed, allowing your food time to digest. This is also a great idea when wanting to maintain an ideal weight. People who eat before bed tend to gain weight because the body does not have an opportunity to utilize these calories.
5. Back Away from All Digital Devices.
Ideally an hour before going to bed or at least 30 minutes quit all digital devices. This helps to relax the brain and allow for a more peaceful sleep.
6. Get Adjusted.
If you feel all “out sorts” and stressed perhaps you’ve missed your wellness checkup – make sure you get your spine and nervous system checked by your chiropractor.
7. Have a Bath Fit for a Diva.
Sorry fella’s I don’t mean baths are just for the female race I just mean – orchestrate the most indulgent bath you can so that you really feel indulged and completely relax. Candles work, bubbles work, beautiful oils do as well.
8. Try teas, Herbs, Supplements and Therapies.
Grab some “sleepy” herbal teas that include Chamomile, Lemon Balm, and Lavender perhaps from your health food store. I love the Ayurvedic Tea – Slumber Time Tea or you could make up a Ayurvedic night time treat of warmed spice milk – warm one cup of milk (whole organic milk) add a pinch of ginger, cinnamon, cardamom and/or turmeric and sweeten with honey if you like.
Alternatively a naturopath will probably suggest some useful dried herbs that you can use to make a sleep tonic and some supplements to calm your adrenal glands. Or you could see a Chinese Medicine practitioner – acupuncture is fantastic for calming the mind and adrenals typically with a Magnesium base.
9. Create a soothing sleeping environment.
No messy bedroom or television blaring with violent shows.
10. No iPhones or laptops in the bedroom!
The light from your phone or computer screen can delay your melatonin production (the sleep chemical) so removing them helps to keep your bedroom as dark as you can. Wearing an eye mask is wonderfully therapeutic too.
11. Meditate or read prior to bed.
But clearly “Thrillers” before bed are a no-no.
12. Comfort is key!
Do you have a supportive pillow and mattress? This very important not just for quality sleep but for your spinal health. A study conducted by the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine in 2009 showed that patients who slept on a mattress 5 years old (or older) experienced a lesser quality of sleep. When the old mattress was replaced with a new, firm mattress patients reported the new bedding system increased their sleep quality and reduced back discomfort.
13. Adopt a healthy posture in bed.
Don’t sleep on your stomach – seriously stop that! Sleeping for hours with your head forced to one side puts unnecessary pressure on your neck due to twisting of the head, and also strains your lower back. Lying on your back and side are the best sleeping positions. When lying on your side, try placing a pillow between your knees or under your upper knee and the mattress for support if you typically bend one knee. When sleeping on your back, try placing a pillow under your knees to help reduce the strain on your lower back.
If you feel your sleep issues continue and fatigue is unresolved then I urge you to seek out the cause or real health issue, which is not always easy to determine. Long term and hard to beat sleep issues may be the result of a gut issue, an underlying infection or perhaps even the result of mitochondrial dysfunction. Whenever possible, find a holistic practitioner who can help you resolve any underlying cause for sleep issues naturally.
Happy sleeping team!