Whatever Gets You Through The Night
How To Naturally Sleep Better
Sleep deprivation has serious health consequences. Optimal sleep is the first thing we tackle when helping people maximize their health through coaching.
Of course, suboptimal sleep leads to feelings of fatigue, lethargy and reduced energy. More importantly, inadequate sleep raises the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, heart failure, obesity, mental impairment, depression, attention deficit disorder, accidental injury and overall poor quality of life. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5449130/
Many insomniacs use pharmaceuticals to facilitate sleep. However, many of these drugs have side effects that linger into the next day and can be addictive. Addiction to benzodiazepines adds another layer of poor health choices that may not be necessary. What follows is a list of evidence based natural ways of improving sleep quality, many of which improve your overall health as well.
It is important to create a habit for sleep by going to sleep and waking at the same time every day. Habits take six weeks to form so plan on six weeks for your body to adjust to consistency.
Circadian rhythms are tied to the daily rhythm of sunrise and sunset. It is important to maintain this consistency even on weekends since sleeping in on Saturday and Sunday lead to poorer sleep. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12941057
Avoid alcohol prior to sleeping
The benefits of good sleep include hormone balance. Your body’s hormone production is highest at night around 4:00 AM. Alcohol consumption just prior to sleeping can disrupt melatonin and growth hormone production. Melatonin is important in the initiation of sleep. Growth Hormone reduction leads to more rapid aging. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ pubmed/8370699, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ pubmed/8675588
Make your bedroom cozy
Bedroom temperature affects body temperature. Of course, this needs to be individualized. Studies indicate the ideal bedroom temperature for sleeping is 68-70 degrees. Shivering and profuse sweating lead to poorer sleep quality, something all of us have experienced. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/ PMC6180994/
Lighting, external noises and the feng shui of your bedroom have dramatic effects on sleep. Ideally, your bedroom should be in complete darkness so your furniture arrangement is important. Minimizing lights from clocks and other electronics improves sleep. For those who need background noise, there is an app called White Noise providing a variety of sounds that can be soothing to the ear. If you sleep better when it’s raining, the White Noise app has a variety of rain and thunderstorm sounds that may be relaxing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/ PMC5742584/
You may fall asleep faster if you develop a routine prior to sleeping. For many this includes reading, listening to relaxing music, meditation, taking a hot bath or deep breathing. Again, it takes six weeks to form a habit so the goal is for the routine to trigger your brain into knowing it is time to sleep. Find something that relaxes you and practice that every night. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/ NBK279320/
Of course, this is based on preference and, if you sleep with your partner, some negotiation may be involved. A comfortable mattress and pillows are important, especially if yours are 8 or more years old. New bedding can be expensive but well worth it. You spend one third of your life in bed so you need to be cozy. A poor quality mattress will increase low back pain, stiffness, shoulder pain and decrease sleep quality. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/ 11896375
This can be part of your bedtime ritual. Studies indicate a relaxing bath or shower ninety minutes prior to bedtime improves sleep quality and helps you fall asleep faster. When taking a bath, add some lavender oil to hot water and inhale the scent as you deep breathe or meditate. Try not to fall asleep in the bathtub! If your partner is willing, a relaxing massage has been shown to improve sleep. If you don’t like to bathe, try a water based foot massager before bed. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10408315
Avoid fluid intake
For most people, caffeine is a stimulant and a diuretic that can disrupt your ability to initiate and maintain sleep. Caffeine in all forms should be avoided for 6-8 hours prior to bedtime since it takes that amount of time to clear from your system. Remember that tea contains more caffeine per serving than coffee, as do energy drinks. Avoid drinking any fluids for 2 hours prior to bedtime and make sure to urinate just prior to sleep. The need to urinate during the night has been shown to significantly disrupt sleep patterns. Having to urinate more than once during sleep is called nocturia and may be related to medical conditions such as overactive bladder or prostate enlargement in men. Restricting fluid intake during the evening hours may help alleviate nocturia. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/ 15172208
Get a sleep study
Although this involves health care and insurance benefits, finding out if you have a sleep interrupting and treatable medical condition may save your life. Sleep apnea, in which people stop breathing for periods of time while sleeping, has been shown to raise the risk of heart attack, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and gastroesophageal reflux disease. A sleep study will reveal individuals with sleep apnea and sleep related movement disorders. In addition, people who work the night shift may have disturbances of circadian rhythm that are revealed during a sleep study. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ pubmed/8464434
This hormone is made in the pineal gland and is involved in the initiation of sleep. Its production increases in darkness and decreases with light. Like most hormones, the production of melatonin decreases as we age. Melatonin is available over the counter in a variety of doses and methods of delivery. How much melatonin should you take? Many people have tried melatonin and report that it doesn’t work for them. Most recommendations are to take 1-5 mg of melatonin 30 minutes prior to bedtime. However, more recent age management studies indicate that the sleep inducing dose for melatonin is 16-22 mg. When increasing to that dose, most people find falling and staying asleep much easier. In addition, for those attempting to wean off of benzodiazepines for insomnia, melatonin has been shown to improve success. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/ PMC1395802/
Avoid exercise at night
Of course exercise is good for you. The studies are definitive. Exercise is known to improve sleep as well as overall health. As usual, timing is everything. Exercise at night may stimulate adrenaline release and stimulate the nervous system, affecting the ability to fall asleep. Some studies show that night exercise does not affect sleep quality. Again, this is an individualized response.
This leads to the question of sexual activity before sleep. Here, the hormone system explains why sex helps you fall asleep. Oxytocin, a hormone produced in the pituitary gland, has a calming effect. It is known as the cuddle hormone and the love drug. It has a benzodiazepine effect, the pharmaceuticals most often prescribed for insomnia. Guess what? Orgasm triggers a surge in oxytocin release and helps you fall asleep. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3183515/#ref35
There are a number of supplements that have been studied related to sleep. Most of these studies may be anecdotal and may not pass intense scientific scrutiny. However, as with placebo effects, if it works for you, then it works. Try them and see if they help. You’ve got nothing to lose except sleep.
Lavender has a wonderful scent and seems to induce a calming and relaxing aura. Put some in an essential oil diffuser that works on you while you sleep. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ pubmed/16298774
Magnesium benefits include a calming effect which may help you fall asleep. There are calcium/magnesium combinations available for sleep enhancement. The one I’ve recommended the most is called Calm and is available on Amazon. Not only does it help with sleep, it also regulates bowel function and relieves constipation. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ pubmed/21199787
Valerian Root use may benefit you to help fall asleep at a dose of 500mg before bedtime. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ pubmed/20347389
Kava extract is native to the South Pacific Islands, kava has been used for hundreds of years to promote relaxation. It has been successfully used to decrease anxiety and has been found to promote sleep in those with generalized anxiety disorder. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ pubmed/14706720
According to the Cleveland Clinic, there are around eighty different types of sleep disturbances that affect 70 million Americans. It is beyond the scope of this article to list these, but the most common is insomnia. At least 10% of Americans suffer from chronic insomnia and the ill effects of inadequate sleep. It is estimated that 50% of Americans have occasional episodes of insomnia. Sleep patterns decline in middle age and many elderly people complain they are only able to sleep 5-6 hours nightly. The optimal amount of sleep is about 7.5 hours. Sleeping too long (more than 8 hours) is just as detrimental as sleeping too little (less than 7 hours).
Most people with insomnia are given pharmaceutical drugs like Ambien, Xanax, Klonopin or other benzodiazepines to help with their insomnia. These frequently come with deleterious side effects and are addictive. Weaning too rapidly from a benzodiazepine dependence can be rather difficult and lead to seizures.
Importantly, there are natural things you can try to help with insomnia before relying on habit forming medications to solve this problem. Find what works for you and make it a routine. If you are on benzodiazepines, some or all of these may help you to wean off these but please don’t try to stop them without your doctor’s help. That can be dangerous.