Sleep is critical to health, both physical and mental. It is also critical for proper weight maintenance and to repair muscles after a workout.
Sleep problems can be triggered by adrenal fatigue, hot flashes, night sweats, neurotransmitter issues, snoring, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, stress, and external interruptions, to name a few.
Whether you have problems falling asleep or staying asleep, or simply waken in the morning feeling like you didn’t sleep, it doesn’t matter. The end result is the same. You will be less happy, less energetic, less resourceful, and less resilient.
Falling asleep too quickly may be an indication of sleep deprivation. Sources vary on how long it should take one to ‘nod off’; however, the consensus seems to be that falling asleep in less than 15 minutes may not be a good sign.
Sleep is regulated by neurotransmitters that are regulated by light. During bright light exposure the amino acid tryptophan converts to 5-hydroxytryptophan and then to serotonin. Serotonin helps us feel centered and calmly alert. When light fades, serotonin gets converted into the sleep neurotransmitter melatonin. Melatonin should be at its highest level in the middle of your usual sleep period – so if you usually sleep for 7 hours, it should be highest at the 3½ hour mark.
How to enhance sleep
We can do many things to enhance sleep naturally. Dr Adam Moscovitz, a former department head at the Foothills Hospital Sleep Disorder Centre, has coined the 10 commandments of sleep. I have modified them slightly based on Deepak Chopra’s book entitled Restful Sleep.
- Schedule a relaxing period before going to sleep to separate your body and mind from the hassles of the day. Some sources recommend this should be a period of 1 to 2 hours. This is a good time to dim the lights and turn off bright electronic screens to stimulate the production of melatonin.
- Use your bedroom primarily for sex and sleep and not as an all-purpose activity area.
- Your bed should be comfortable, large enough, in a quiet dark room, and the room should be at the right temperature. Again, sources seem to agree that for most people the best bedroom temperature is between 15 and 18 degrees C (60-65 degrees F).
- Keep a regular schedule, going to bed and getting up at the same time each day.
- Be consistent about taking naps. Take one regularly or not at all. If you do nap, limit yourself to 20 minutes.
- Exercise regularly in the morning or early afternoon, but do not engage in strenuous activity late in the evening. A relaxing, mild physical activity might be helpful close to bedtime.
- Avoid caffeine and nicotine in all forms, especially close to bedtime. Both are adrenal stimulants that can wreak havoc on sleep.
- Don’t use alcohol or street drugs as sedatives. While they might help you fall asleep initially, they lead to sleep disruption and deprive you of deep sleep, sometimes for years after stopping heavy use.
- If you feel hungry in the evening, have a light snack that includes a bit of protein to maintain blood sugar balance overnight and carbohydrate to support the serotonin-melatonin cycle. Avoid heavy meals close to bedtime. They can result in discomfort and bizarre dreams.
- Above all, don’t try too hard. If you can’t fall asleep, just stay in bed and relax. There is some rejuvenating benefit to resting even if you’re not sleeping. Practice counting your blessings, not the minutes ticking by.
Other sleep-promoting ideas
What can you do if you’ve followed the 10 commandments of sleep religiously and you still are not asleep? Here are a few ideas.
Get totally comfortable in bed, eyes closed, then focus on breathing at a relaxed pace. Breathe right down into your belly. Start counting your breathing, but start at a high number and count down by sevens. You see, we are all pretty smart. We can count up on autopilot. We can make a to-do list, fret about what we didn’t get done today, and review the argument we had with the clerk at the dollar store while we are counting up. Counting down by sevens, however, takes a little more focus, and that can keep us from mulling over the events of the day.
The second idea is a tiny bit more complex. It engages the brain in useless, mind-numbing repetition. Get comfy in bed and position yourself so you can see your clock. Yes, you are actually going to focus on your clock. Now before you start getting uptight, hear me out on this. Find your pulse. It seems to be easiest to take our own pulses in the wrist when lying down. Start counting your pulse, per minute, and when the clock starts a new minute start counting at one again. My clients have reported that within a week to ten days of counting their pulse by the minute they have trained themselves to fall asleep within 5 to 10 minutes of going to bed. (Note that falling asleep quickly when you have trained yourself to relax is an entirely different physiology than falling asleep quickly from being overtired.)
Aromatherapy and sleep
Aromatherapy has often been used as a sleep enhancer. Some of the best oils for relaxation and sleep are Roman chamomile, lavender, and sweet marjoram. Always buy the best quality oils you can, and be sure to choose the oil that you most like the smell of. Simply put one drop of your chosen oil onto a cotton ball and slide the cotton ball into the top edge of your pillowcase. Make sure it is not too close to your nose. The aroma will gentle waft over you and will help you to relax. Scented cotton balls usually last 3 or 4 days if you use high quality oils.
Some people find benefit in taking calcium and magnesium at bedtime. My favorite CalMag blend is Skeletal Strength. It has equal amounts of calcium and magnesium and uses amino acid chelates of both which makes them so much easier to assimilate.
STR-J is a favorite herbal nervine blend in helping to relax and sleep better.
When we sleep well we are usually happier, more energetic, more resourceful, and more resilient.
I’d love to hear what works for you to help you sleep soundly and well.
If you have concerns about your health, or just don’t know where to begin making improvements, please contact me, Judith Cobb, to book an appointment. Skype, phone, webinar, and face-to-face appointments are available.
|Nature’s Sunshine Products CANADA||Nature’s Sunshine Products USA|
|sleep-enhancing essential oils||Roman Chamomile, Lavender, |
and Sweet Marjoram Authentic Oils
are available through the Sunshine
Direct program (contact Nature’s
Sunshine Canada at 1-800-265-9163
for instructions) or by special order
from Cobblestone Health
|Roman Chamomile Authentic Oil|
|Lavender Organic Authentic Oil|
|Sweet Marjoram Authentic Oil|
|calcium-magnesium||Skeletal Strength||Skeletal Strength|
|herbal nervine blend||STR-J||Stress-J|
Copyright © 2015 by Judith Cobb, Cobblestone Health Ltd. All rights reserved. Please respect the time it takes to write and publish articles. If you will link to this article and give proper attribution, you are encouraged to quote sections (though not the entire article).