High-quality sleep is a crucial, non-negotiable part of health and healing. Although not many clients come to me specifically for sleep issues, it is one topic I always inquire about in our initial consultation. Regardless of what ailments you might be experiencing, you can take all of the supplements or Rx’s you want, but you will not completely heal if you are not getting proper sleep.
A 2017 study from the University of Groningen shows that sleep disruption can negatively impact our nervous system, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, metabolism, circadian rhythms, and causes a pro-inflammatory response. (1)
They noted short-term consequences of sleep disruption: “increased stress responsivity, somatic pain, reduced quality of life, emotional distress, mood disorders, and cognitive, memory, and performance deficits” in adults. It impacts “psychosocial health, school performance, and risk-taking behaviors when it comes to adolescents.” Children experiencing sleep disruption have more behavioral problems and issues with cognitive functioning. (1)
The long-term repercussions of sleep disturbance include hypertension, dyslipidemia, cardiovascular disease, weight-related issues, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes mellitus, colorectal cancer, and can worsen gastrointestinal disorders. (1)
A stage of our sleep cycle, known as the regenerative phase, is imperative for thriving health. The regenerative phase is necessary for motor skills, the ability to learn, restructuring new memories, solving complex problems, stress management, skin health, athletic performance and recovery, tissue repair, cleaning metabolic waste, and DNA repair. (2)
The following six strategies will get you the deep restorative sleep your body is craving. Remember everything we do is a practice; some of these suggestions will help right away; others will take some time to achieve and are worth the effort.
(1) Turn off your screens by 8:30 pm – for falling asleep and sleep quality.
You can take the number one action step to fall and stay asleep by turning off all your screens (and ideally your WIFI) by 8:30 pm. Artificial blue light emitted by electronic screens triggers your body to produce more daytime hormones, such as cortisol. It disorients your body’s natural preparation for sleep, which impacts our circadian rhythm and melatonin production. The Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute found that 2 hours of computer screen time before bed was enough to significantly suppress people’s nighttime release of melatonin. Suppressed melatonin impacts our sleep and robs us of important anti-cancer and anti-aging benefits that come with our natural melatonin production. (3, 4)
Even if you use a red screen app or blue blocker glasses, there are still harmful impacts of using the internet before bed. Dopamine is our “seeking” hormone that is also stimulating. Designed for the seeking brain and, therefore, dopamine production, the internet, and screens can cause significant damage to our natural rhythms. Each new like, photo you scroll past, or video watched gives you another dopamine hit and impairs your ability to sleep that much more.
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(2) Get more sunlight during the day – ideal for falling and staying asleep.
I’m sure you know how important the sun is for Vitamin D production, and it is just as important for balancing our hormones. Going outside for about 30 minutes between 6 am – 8:30 am (depending on the time of year) is when the body clock is the most responsive to the release of precisely timed hormones. Sunlight cues the hypothalamus to be alert and wake up; it triggers your body to produce optimal levels of hormones and neurotransmitters.
Serotonin helps encourage feelings of happiness and well-being and is majorly affected by light exposure. The eyes have light receptors that link to the center of the brain, provoking serotonin production. We even have serotonin transporters in human keratinocytes (our predominant type of skin cells), meaning that our skin can produce serotonin and transform it into melatonin, but only when we have exposure to sunlight at the right time.
76% of my clients test low in vitamin D. I recommend that most people take vitamin D during the fall and winter. My favorite is the D3K2 from Quicksilver Scientific. To learn more about the most common deficiencies I see in clinical practice, click here.
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3) Create ideal sleep conditions – best for staying asleep and waking up refreshed.
There are three main components to creating the best sleep climate: darkness, cold temperature, and plants.
Darkness: As we learned above, light impacts our bodies to be awake and alert, so at bedtime, we want a dark environment to avoid stimulation. Our skin has receptors similar to that of the photoreceptors found in the retina, so if natural or artificial light is hitting our skin, it can cause us to wake up entirely or pull us out of restful sleep. Exposure to light during the hours of sleep suppresses melatonin levels by more than 50%. Aim to make your room so dark that you can’t see your hand in front of your face. Blackout curtains or blinds are excellent for this. Sleep masks can be fantastic too, but remember about the photoreceptors in the skin; even with a blackout mask, light exposure to the epidermis will impair your sleep quality.
Keep it cool: Studies consistently agree that thermoregulation influences sleep. Researchers found that the optimal temperature for sleep is 60-68 degrees F. There are even two types of insomnia related to thermoregulation. (5)
Plants: Improving local air quality is a great way to improve sleep quality; you can also spruce up your decor with plants. NASA released a study on the best plants to improve the air; they tested plants against toxic exposure to trichloroethylene, formaldehyde, benzene, xylene, and ammonia. They found that Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum’ Mauna Loa’) and Florist’s chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum morifolium) were the best, as they helped with all five toxins tested; they both happen to have beautiful flowers as well. The runners-up were red-edged dracaena (Dracaena marginata), variegated snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Laurentii’), and English ivy (Hedera helix), which were beneficial for trichloroethylene, formaldehyde, benzene, xylene. (6)
>>Please use caution as some of these are toxic to animal companions. Check out the complete list to find options that are safe for cats or dogs.<<
(These are some of the plants in my bedroom)
(4) Caffeine curfew – best for falling and staying asleep.
The best way to understand why caffeine is an enemy of good sleep is to know how caffeine works in the body. There is a neurotransmitter byproduct called adenosine; when the levels rise to a specific point, your body starts to tell you it is time to slow down and even sleep. Caffeine binds to the adenosine receptor sites, so your body doesn’t realize it is tired. Caffeine tells your body to go into fight or flight mode and puts you into a state of panic. Our bodies are still very primal despite our modern lives, and it does not know the difference between going into fight or flight because of an attacker or entering this response because caffeine has triggered it. You become “alert” because you are in fight or flight mode; this is not energy; it is stimulation, which has a price to pay, usually via your adrenal glands. This alert state is also why caffeine can make you need the bathroom. When we go into fight or flight, the GI system takes a back seat and evacuates your bowels.
Experts tell us that having caffeine 6 hours before bedtime causes measurable loss of sleep. So be sure to have your last cup (if any at all) around noon.
(5) Meditation – best for falling asleep and waking refreshed.
If your issue is with falling asleep due to your mind racing, anxiety, looping thoughts, or anything in that arena, meditation is going to be your best friend. Meditate during the day (ideally first thing in the morning) and at night as you fall asleep. A busy mind was one of my biggest sleep quality roadblocks until I started practicing meditation.
The Department of Neurophysiology released a study showing that “meditation practices influence brain functions, induce various intrinsic neural plasticity events, modulate autonomic, metabolic, endocrine, and immune functions, and mediate global regulatory changes in various behavioral states including sleep.” (7)
Research from Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Bender Institute of Neuroimaging, and University of Massachusetts Medical School found that as little as 30 minutes a day of meditation for eight weeks has measurable alterations in gray matter. These modifications including parts of the brain linked with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress. (8)
When we practice having control of our mind and staying calm in the face of stress, we can use that skill when we need it to fall asleep. However, if we worry about tomorrow, think about something that happened five years ago, or experiencing looping thoughts when trying to get some shut-eye, we are set up for sleep hygiene failure.
In music, you practice scales; in athletics, you run drills, spar, or scrimmage; in art, we practice technique so that when we need those skills for performance, game, match, or to create an installation, we have the fine-tuned skills and tools we need at our disposal. Meditation requires the same practice. One of my favorites, Kundalini yoga teachers, said: “mental vitality is being able to choose your state regardless of your physical environment.”
Some of my favorite meditations are Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction body scan, Kundalini breathing patterns, or this crystal bowl meditation.
If you are using your phone for the meditation, put it on, let it buffer a bit, then put your phone on airplane mode so that EMFs do not impair you.
(6) Stop eating after the sun goes down – best for falling and staying asleep.
This practice will improve your digestion as well as your sleep. As the sun rises, our absorption also increases; as the sun starts to set, our ability to digest starts to lower. So if we are digesting food, we cannot fully rest and reach those deep restorative levels of sleep.
If you can begin your last meal around 6 pm and be in bed by around 9:30 (having turned your screens off by 8:30), you will set yourself up for incredible, restorative sleep.
Try out these methods and let us know in the comments about how it has impacted your sleep! If you have any additional tips on obtaining quality sleep, drop them in the comments below to support each other.
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