Many People are Having Trouble Falling Asleep
There are more and more studies coming out showing how important sleep is for us, yet at the same time more and more people are not getting enough sleep …. so what can we do about this?
It’s estimated that 30-50% of people either have trouble getting to sleep or have a restless sleep several times a week. For other people they are getting good quality sleep but just not getting enough of it, missing just one hour of sleep a night may not seem to be a problem, but over a week you are missing an entire night of sleep …. over a year you’re missing 52 nights of sleep and that is a big problem.
The Importance of Sleep
Without knowing the importance of sleep it’s not always easy to have the motivation to implement the “how to get good quality sleep tips” that are coming up. Good quality sleep and good digestion function are the key’s to good health so it is important to get them right.
How Lack of Sleep Affects the Body
Healthy brain function – Sleep is important for neurotransmitter function so poor quality sleep can affect mood leading to depression, anger, anxiety and brain fog. This can also lead to memory problems and a lack of mental clarity which can affect work, studies, and athletic performance. Even reaction time is impaired leading to increasing risk of car accidents, accidents at work or other injuries.
Immune System – Even having 3 or 4 sleepless nights can lead to a drop in immune function. At night when your cortisol levels drop different types of immune cells increase, this helps to fight off infections and reduce inflammation. People who lack sleep have higher amounts of C Reactive Protein which is an inflammatory marker, high levels of chronic inflammation is the driving force behind all chronic health problems.
Digestion Problems – There is a myth that your body does not digest food while you sleep which is not true, in fact, the body does need to rest to digest …. that does not mean that you should have a huge meal before bed. A lack of sleep also affects the digestion hormones called leptin which tells us that we have had enough to eat, and Grhelin which helps to stimulate our appetite. This is the reason why a lack of sleep leads to an increase in weight as it affects the hormones that control metabolism. Lack of sleep can also exacerbate inflammatory bowel disease and IBS, a healthy digestion relies on a good night’s sleep
Hormone Issues – A lack of sleep can cause adrenal function problems which can lead to fatigue, weight gain, reduced thyroid function, hair and skin problems. Other hormones that are affected are the sex hormones which includes progesterone, estrogen and testosterone. A lack of sleep can cause low testosterone in men, while a lack of sleep in women often leads to excess estrogen issues which affect PMS.
Hair Loss – Lack of sleep is known to cause hair loss. Visit Hair Loss Revolution for more information
A lack of sleep will affect nearly every health condition, so what can we do about it?
Healthy Sleep Habits
While a trip to the doctor will often lead to a pill to treat insomnia, this can cause a variety of negative side effects, and not lead to good quality sleep. There are a variety of natural options that can also help with sleep and while sometimes these can be great to help improve sleep, especially for people with chronic sleep problems the first thing you should do is to try and improve your sleep habits, and not reach for a pill.
Some people may have some resistance to these tips but they are very effective
- Turn off the wifi and mobile phones at night (or use flight mode so your alarm still works). This is probably the tip that will have the most resistance as many people are addicted to checking their devices, but many studies have shown that the signal from wifi and mobile phones affects sleep quality. Children are more affected so if your child is having sleep issues turning off the wifi signals in the house may improve their sleep quality, this will lead to improved moods and energy.
- The next tip may also be a challenge for many people and that is to not watch screens for a minimum of 30 minutes before bed and if you have a lot of trouble falling asleep you may want to avoid screens for 1 to 2 hours before going to bed. This includes TV, mobile phones and iPads as the blue light that the screen emits suppresses melatonin production which is your sleep hormone, leading to poor quality sleep.
- While the light from your devices can affect sleep so can fluorescent lights, try and have minimal lights in the house in the two hours before bed to help reduce cortisol levels and improve melatonin levels.
- Still, on the subject of light, try and keep your bedroom as dark as possible at night time.
- Go to bed early, aim to get to bed by 10 pm or earlier if you have a job that requires you to get up early. If you stay up late because you can’t get to sleep this is a sign of a disrupted circadian rhythm, doing an adrenal function test and sleep study to measure melatonin levels can help to identify hormonal problems. A good place to start is just by going to bed 30 minutes earlier each night.
- While going to bed at a good time is important, also waking up at a consistent time can help to regulate your circadian rhythm. Also getting some natural light exposure as soon as possible after waking up will help, this may mean sitting in the sun or going out for a walk.
- Exercise most days can help improve sleep quality, though if you’re struggling to sleep you do want to avoid intense exercise in the two hours before bed
- Meditation can also help relax the mind to improve sleep quality if your a beginner to meditation or think that you can’t meditate because you can’t quieten your mind I recommend the Headspace app.
- Breathing exercises, there are a number of breathing exercises to help with sleep and Andrew Weil’s 4-7-8 breathing exercise is one of the simplest. Here it is described below
1/Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
2/Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
3/Hold your breath for a count of seven.
4/Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths
Weil emphasizes the most important part of this process is holding your breath for eight seconds. This is because keeping the breath in will allow oxygen to fill your lungs and then circulate throughout the body. It is this that produces a relaxing effect in the body.
Testing For Sleep Problems
If you have tried “everything” and still have trouble sleeping then I recommend getting an adrenal function test to measure cortisol and Dhea plus a test for melatonin to identify a circadian rhythm problem, knowing what is happening with these hormones will help with supplementation.
The best test is the DUTCH hormone test which assesses the adrenal and sex hormones, plus melatonin and neurotransmitters, all of these can influence your sleep.
Supplements for Sleep
There are a number of different supplements that can help with sleep, but there is no “magic formula” for everybody, some supplements may work well for someone but not for everybody and this is due to the hormones cortisol and melatonin.
One nutrient that many people lack which can help with sleep is magnesium, there are many different forms of magnesium and I recommend the magnesium bisglycinate for optimal results.
Other herbs that can help with sleep include Passionflower, Zizyphus, Magnolia, and Valerian, a really good formula is Metagenics Neurocalm (in Australia) or iDoze sleep formula from Amazon
Other nutrients that can help include GABA and 5HTP, or if you wake in the middle of the night take 3 grams of glycine before you go to bed.
Sleep is vitally important for optimal function of every aspect of health and there are many lifestyle tips and strategies that can help improve the quality of the sleep that you are getting. Even implementing 1 or 2 tips at a time can help improve sleep, don’t get overwhelmed by trying to do everything.
If you’re still having trouble sleeping you can get a DUTCH hormone test or a Sleep study test that measures Melatonin through Planet Naturopath.
Along with the lifestyle tips supplements can also help, before self-prescribing with poor quality supplements I would recommend a consultation to help work out the best options for you.