Many in today’s population are suffering from a lack of sleep. The majority of people report difficulty falling or staying asleep on a regular basis. Sleep is an important part of a healthy life. Our body uses our sleeping hours to repair damage, rebalance hormone levels and engage in physical healing and maintenance. Sleep deprivation has been implicated in heart disease, increased stress levels, diabetes, increased accidents, depression, lowered sex drive and diabetes. A good 8-10 hours of sleep is important for vital health.
External Steps to Improve Sleep:
- Make sure your room is dark. Invest in blackout shades or an eye mask to increase the darkness in your sleeping space. Move cell phones and other light emitting items out of the bedroom.
- Stick to a schedule. Try to go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time every day. Our bodies respond best to a regular routine. Following a similar routine every day signals to our bodies that bed time is approaching.
- Use the bed for sleep and/or intimacy only. Don’t bring computers or work into the bedroom. Maintain the sanctity of the bedroom as a place of rest.
- Invest in ear plugs if noise is a problem. White noise machines can also be helpful to block out unwanted sound.
- Engage in relaxation, meditation or breathing exercises: The Legs up the Wall yoga pose done for 5 minutes right before bed can improve sleep. To calm a racing mind, engage in 4:6:8 breathing. Breath in for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 6 seconds and then exhale for 8 seconds. This breathing engages the para sympathic (rest and digest) part of the nervous system. An Epson salt bath taken before bed can also be helpful.
- Eat and drink regularly throughout the day. Maintain a balanced blood sugar level by eating roughly every 3-4 hours during the day. Try to include a mix of protein, carbs and fats with each meal. Keep your body well hydrated by sipping water or tea throughout the day. To decrease the likelihood of having to go to the bathroom during the night, avoid drinking within 90 minutes of bedtime. If you do consume caffeinated beverages try not to do so within 6 hours of bedtime. Be sure to eat dinner 2-3 hours before bed so your body has time to digest your food.
- Avoid alcohol within 2-3 hours of sleep. Alcohol may help people fall asleep faster but seems to reduce REM, the restorative phase of sleep and can impact breathing while sleeping.
- Avoid vigorous exercise within 3 hours of bedtime.
- Try to get outside in natural light every day. Exposure to natural light helps regulate your sleep/wake cycle by regulating melatonin production.
- A tincture of Valerian Root can be used as an herbal sleep aid. Talk to your health care professional about an optimal dose. (Do not take if on other muscle relaxants or if have heart issues.)
Food to Help with Sleep:
- Tart cherry juice contains melatonin, the hormone that helps regulate the sleep wake cycle. Drink eight ounces of Montmorency tart cherry juice twice a day to improve sleep.
- Grass fed beef, lamb, chicken and wild game: All are natural sources of tryptophan, a pre-curser to melatonin. Oats and white beans are good vegetarian sources of tryptophan.
- Other plant sources of melatonin: Corn, rice, barley, ginger and bananas all offer some melatonin to aid in sleep.
- Eggs: Eggs are a rich source of tryptophan and their protein helps stabilize blood sugar to prevent night time waking.
- Nuts and seeds: Squash and pumpkin seeds are rich sources of the melatonin producing tryptophan. Eating them with a carbohydrate helps your body to absorb the tryptophan.
- Magnesium rich foods: Think of magnesium as the relaxation mineral. This critical mineral is necessary for over 300 enzyme reactions and is found in all of your tissues. You must have it for your cells to make energy, to stabilize membranes, and to help muscles relax. Pumpkin seeds, walnuts, oatmeal, potatoes, spinach and almonds are great vegetarian sources of magnesium. Salmon, halibut, yogurt and shrimp are other non-vegan sources of magnesium.