Eventually, we all come to realize what are elders have been communicating to us for over generations…no beauty regimen can compensate for a healthy sleep routine. According to the National Sleep Foundation, it is vital for adults to receive between 7 and 9 hours of sleep every night. The scary fact is that chronic sleep deprivation takes a toll not only on the way we look but our overall wellbeing and function. Almost immediately, a week of sleep deprivation results in an impaired memory, decreased productivity, irrational thinking, mood swings and in general low energy levels. With time, lack of sleep translates to stress in the body, leading to weight gain, hair loss, bad skin and low immunity. Health issues linked with chronic sleep deprivation include depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attacks and stroke.
To make matters worse, once we realize the importance of sleep has on our livelihood and sanity we often let the pressure of sleeping cause us additional anxiety. This anxiety serves only to worsen our sleep impairment! There are ways we can take action and stop worrying about quality sleep. By implementing some rituals around bedtime, surrounding ourselves with soothing elements and avoiding what may contribute erroneous bodily signaling, we can encourage longer and more restful sleep.
Below I list the key players affecting sleep patterns. I also list some suggestions as to what we can do to cultivate the right sleep formula for ultimate health and beauty.
Your level of activity, especially around bed time can greatly affect your ability to fall asleep quickly and stay asleep throughout the night. We want to stay active throughout the day and start winding down as we approach bedtime. Here are some guidelines about which activities should be avoided and sought out as we approach nighttime.
- Avoid stimulating activities 3 hours prior to bed.
- High intensity exercise close to bedtime such as boxing and running may give you more energy just when you need less. Too close to bed time, these excersies may be translated by your body as strenuous and result in increase alertness and body temperature, making sleep induction more difficult.
- Stressful work can negatively affect sleep. Unless you job involves singing, painting or playing with children, try to refrain from it prior to bedtime.
- Difficult conversations with your friends, spouse, family or others late in the day can attribute to sleep difficulties. These are the type of issues that translate to stress and will keep you up thinking all night.
- Violent shows or news reports also have shown to agitate the mind and increase physiological stress making sleep more difficult.
- Seek out relaxing activities as your day is coming to an end.
- Reading a book and taking a bath do wonders for your mental state.
- Use a pre-bed beauty routine or self-massage signal to your body sleep time is near.
- Yoga has shown to induce on-command relaxation due to its ability to slow breath (slows neurological centers in brain) and reducing muscular tension. A few yoga poses with concentration on the breath prior to bedtime can be used to transition your hectic day to peaceful night. Click here for some yoga poses beneficial for insomnia.
- Go to bed at the same time every night.
- This will naturally set your circadian rhythm by offering environmental signals for pro-relaxation hormone release and temperature adjustment.
Foods can stimulate or calm depending on which metabolites provide to the body.
- Avoid stimulants after 3 pm.
- Stimulants include sources of caffeine (coffee, green tea), chocolate, high sugar foods, some types of pain relievers and diet pills.
- Heavy, fatty meals are also to be avoided as they require lots of energy to help appropriately digest them and may cause discomfort as your body is trying to unwind.
- Alcohol decreases the time you spend in deep restorative sleep phase called REM sleep. You will wake up more easily to any stimulus and will awaken feeling as if you are still in need of sleep.
- Seek out sources of the amino acid tryptophan combined with a carbohydrate rich snack prior to bed. Tryptophan is the precursor needed for serotonin production, the sleep and happy hormone and neurotransmitter. The carbohydrate assures insulin release which diverts other amino acids from brain so that tryptophan can have priorities over the receptors which are responsible for serotonin production and release. There are a number of foods which contain tryptophan.
- My favorite tryptophan sources for sleep time are chick peas, bananas, oatmeal, eggs, peanuts, low fat milk, cottage cheese or greek yogurt, unsweetened soy and miso soup.
- Healthy carbohydrate complements could include a slice of whole grain toast, a half a cup of rice, half of a baked potato, or half a cup of unsweetened whole grain cereal.
- Beans are both a great source of tryptophan and a great carbohydrate but can cause gas in sensitive stomachs. Meats also have tryptophan but create digestive challenges which could create discomfort.
- Seek other foods encourage sleep by offering a low but natural source of the hormone melatonin. Melatonin regulates our internal sleep wake cycle (synchronizes are circadian rhythm) and when high stimulates sleep.
- Cherries, tomatoes, olive oil and walnuts are ideal foods to incorporate in your late night snack.
- Seek out sources of magnesium which promote muscle relaxation and switch the body to rest and repair mode.
- Bananas and almonds are amazing sources of this and perfect to combine in a pre-bed snack.
Some examples of ideal dinner/late night snack for a good night sleep? Try slice toast with sliced hardboiled egg and tomato drizzled with olive oil. Other suggestions include hummus spread on whole grain pita with some cherries for dessert or small bowel or Irish oatmeal with bananas and unsweetened soy milk….. Get creative, think healthy, light and satisfying!
Although aromatherapy cannot cure the cause of your sleep problems it can help calm the mind so that you can fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Aroma therapies use essential scents from natural plant sources to alter ones mood, cognitive function or health.
- Seek out chamomile, sandelwood, valerian and lavender oil. These oils have been used for centuries as natural sleep remedies. Spray or dab on pillow prior to bed or put a few drops in your pre-bed bath! Some of my favorite products include Perfect Potions Pure Essential Oils, Valerian and Hops Sleep Well Herbal Bath and the Thymes Lavander Candle and Wash.
- Avoid cyprus, rosemary, peppermint, grapefruit and lemon oil scents prior to bed…these are great to get your mind sharp and concentrated but can be stimulating and make it difficult to sleep.
When it comes to treating sleep problems, lifestyle adjustments are always to be attempted prior to seeking out the help of supplements. Lifestyle adjustments aim at treating the cause of your sleep insufficiencies, are free of side effects and are much healthier for you in general. Supplementation however, may be the right choice for you if lifestyle adjustments have failed or you have specific work or traveling schedules which may require additional support. These are a few that I find the safest and most effective.
- Melatonin, as mentioned above, is a hormone the body produces naturally to induce sleep.
- Supplementation at .3-.5mm (low doses) may be a safe and effective way to induce sleep for those who suffer from short term insomnia. Melatonin is released from the pineal gland in the brain around 9 pm every night. As its concentration builds it causes one to feel sleepy and therefore induce restful activity and preparation for sleep.
- Those with hectic irregular schedules, who fly across time zones or have been watching too much late night TV may need to reboot their circadian rhythm with the help of melatonin. Light exposure disrupts the release of natural melatonin and therefore may be a source of sleeping issues.
- Since long-term supplementation or high dose melatonin in the blood can cause health problems it’s always best to consult your doctor and try and address lifestyle habits which could be affecting sleep first.
- L-theanine is an amino acid which is naturally found in low dosed in green tea. It promotes a calm, balanced mood.
- Suntheanine is a brand of a supplement which provides an effective dose of pure L-theanine for a deeper night sleep.
- Valerian is an herbal supplement which when taken in doses of 200-8-00 mg prior to sleep can help provide you with a deeper quality sleep.
- This is one of the oldest well studied sleep remedies with virtually no side effects when used correctly. The two downfalls are 1) it may take a week or two to gain the full benefits supplementation and 2) in 10% of patients valerian may cause alertness (not relaxation) and therefore make sleep induction even more difficult! ….I suggest trying this out on a weekend!
- Seek out an hour of morning sunlight to initiate onset of day time bodily functions. Healthy exposure to daylight is imperative to create a healthy wake sleep cycle. Those who go to work before the sun comes out and arrive as it is already setting may be missing out on the correct dosage needed to naturally cue the bodies’ circadian rhythm.
- For those who cannot change jobs or who work from home in a climate which offers little daylight…..full spectrum lights and sun alarms can be purchased to set healthy internal sleep clocks.
- Sun alarms can offer a natural easy way to set your internal wakeup and sleep rhythm and a gentle way to ease you out of bed in the morning.
Seek out and create sleep conductive environments. This translates to a dark, cool, quiet and comfortable room. Since we lose our ability to regulate extreme heat or cold during deep REM sleep we need to make sure the room is as close to ideal temperature for comfort and that we balance our clothes and bed dressing appropriately to balance temperature.
- Avoid any source of light close to or during bedtime. This can inhibit pineal gland activation and therefore melatonin production resulting in inability to enter sleep.
- Light exposure can include TV, computer or even bed clock exposure. Avoid these at all costs at least an hour prior to bedtime.
Racing thoughts and uncontrollable obsessive thinking can keep us from sleeping. Women, especially have a hard time shutting down the brain prior to sleeping. This can result in a chronic sleep disturbance resulting in a compromise of both health and psychological wellbeing.
It’s very difficult to help yourself or anyone else suffering from this sleep neurosis. Figuring out what to do to stop worrying can be overwhelming. Life never ceases to test us and to give us new problems for which we feel we must endlessly ponder. It’s up to us to learn to manage and calm our mind so it doesn’t negatively affect our health. Here are some tips for a calming the mind:
- Keep a notebook by your bedside. Write down your list of things to do prior to bed. Also use to jot down additional concerns or worries and even some thought to make lists of solutions. If something keeping you up write it down to contemplate at a time during the day.
- Make plans to talk to someone who can understand or at least sympathize. Again, if possible, best to make this a breakfast or lunch time appointment.
- Try Acupuncture …it worked for me! Prior to moving to Europe I felt overwhelmed with uncertainness, excitement and guilt for leaving people I loved behind. Acupuncture helped calm my nervous system so I could channel my concerns and deal with them in a more organized way.
- Meditate prior to bed. Mediation is the ideal way to calm the mind and stop unhealthy thought processes which may interfere with sleep induction.
- How to meditate? Sit cross legged and comfortably on the floor in a quiet room. Turn off the phone and other source of distraction. Sit up straight, relax and focus on breathing slowly and deeply. Focus on a specific point or close your eyes and attempt to visualize a place which calms you. Begin to count breaths 1-10 repeatedly until no thoughts intrude your mind. With time, the necessity to count will go away and you will be able to enjoy the benefits of giving your mind a break prior to bed time. Set a timer form 5-10 minutes to make sure you are not thinking about the time you have left.
- According to Harvard Medical School research, practices like mediation and yoga activated disease fighting genes decreasing incidence of sickness, cancer and inflammation related pain. Other, studies have shown mediation has a direct link to higher immunity, increase fertility, emotional balance, lower blood pressure and calmness.
Increasing age is NOT considered a reason to sleep poorly. It is most often associated with underlying health problem, less than ideal lifestyle habits or stress management. Below are a few of the reasons why aging adults tend to suffer from sleeping issues. If you have tried to modify your lifestyle and still find it difficult to sleep, see your medical doctor to rule out some of these factors.
- Hot flashes cause fluctuations in temperature and therefore can cause difficulty in both sleep induction and ability to stay asleep. Hot flashes are a symptom of irregular hormone surges and are many times suffered by peri-menopausal women and other disorders interrupting hormone regulation.
- Medications are the root cause of many types of sleep disorders. This should be one of the first things evaluated if a medicated person complaining of sleep disturbances.
- Snoring is, according to the national sleep foundation, a primary cause of sleep problems in a large percentage of ageing and overweight adults. This is an especially alarming if it is a symptom of a disorder associated with high blood pressure and other health concerns called Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
- Disorders such as Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS), OSA and Gasteroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also be major causes of sleep disruption.
- Psychiatric illnesses are almost always related to sleep disturbances. Depression is the most common psychiatric illness affecting both our energy levels and sleep patterns.
- Napping frequently during the day, may be a major cause in a person’s ability to get the restorative sleep they need at night. It can many times cause a vicious cycle where one who is not sleeping well during the night becomes exhausted during the day and, as a consequence, requires daytime naps, further attributing to their night time insomnia.
So….What to do for the occasional sleepless night??
- IF you CAN’T sleep and you find yourself lying awake at night. The worst thing you CAN do is to continue lying there….this will just further increase sleep anxiety!
- I suggest…. get up, jot down any annoying thoughts, warm up a glass of milk with honey, drink it and put on some light music till you get tired. Alternatively, you could read a relaxing book with a soft light, try a few stretches or yoga moves. Try and relax and not to stress about not sleeping…it will just make matters worse! Hopefully you will be falling into sleep mode shortly after a quick recharge!
When sleeping problems become frequent, it’s a sign that something in our life is unhealthy. Whether this may be a underlying disease process, poor diet, poor lifestyle (stress, smoking, alcohol abuse or other) or unhealthy relationship….we need to try and resolve it!
I hope that with this information I have inspired you to embark on a mission for better sleep! I know, I was inspired, at just the thought of writing this post! Born as an energetic type A personality, I have struggled with sleep issues for years. Regular exercise, yoga and attempting to be as organized as possible have helped me achieve healthier sleep patterns.
As many of you can relate…the symphony of lifes hecticness (in my case three kids, a demanding job, and active lifestyle), requires the guidance of a good conductor to set the pace and keep the rhythm. By implementing good sleep habits, we are allowed to be the best conductors we can be! These habits enable us to make beautiful music every day, despite the noisy realities of life! The better equipped we are to maneuver life in a balanced harmonious way, the better environment we create for everyone around us to do the same. Sleep is one of the most essential ingredients needed to create this environmental harmony. It can, therefore, be said that the more of us who sleep well, the closer we may be to a smarter, better organized, less violent, healthier and happier world!