Ah, precious sleep. It may be my favorite thing. Unfortunately, I’ve danced with a few rounds of terrible insomnia and know all too well what it’s like to have sleep elude you. After roughly 3 days of not sleeping well I start to lose my wits. Not only do I become crabby, but my reflexes are slowed, my brain halts to a crawl and a foreboding sense of doom overcomes my entire being.
One of the main question lines I ask during a New Patient Intake is all about sleep. Do you sleep well? How many hours a night? Do you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep? Do you feel rested upon waking in the morning? Do you feel you get enough sleep?
Most of my patients say “NO” to most of these questions. It’s a National Crisis, people are no longer sleeping well! I’m not exaggerating, the majority of my patients do not sleep well. There are many reasons for this, but regardless, it needs to be dealt with.
When a patient presents with very little in the way of overall health issues, but tells me that they are not sleeping well, I know it is going to be a difficult case. When patients have a laundry list of concerns but they are sleeping like a champ, it’s usually an easy fix with the rest.
How much sleep does an adult need? 8-10 hours a night. If you are not getting that much sleep a night, read on!
Lack of sleep has shown causation in obesity, diabetes, accidents, depression, heart disease, increased injuries and even cancer! I see a ton of chronic pain issues associated with sleep problems. There is science behind all of these issues, but that is for another post.
Beyond the diseases it can potentially lead to, if you are not sleeping deeply for a good period of the night, then you’re not releasing adequate Human Growth Hormone. If you don’t have adequate HGH you are in fast forward in the aging process.
I’d like to address what some common causes are and what you can do about it.
Cause #1: Computer and Phone Screens
Yes, we all do it. We watch movies on our computers in bed, we check our phones right up until bedtime, we might even read a book on our phones/kindle/ipad, etc. That light coming from all of these sources messes with the natural surge of melatonin that is supposed to occur in the evening and completely reeks havoc on your sleep patterns. Monitors off at 9pm, it’s a good rule.
Cause #2: Stress and Adrenal Issues
When people are stressed their cortisol and adrenalin surges that are normally supposed to occur in a circadian rhythm during the day get messed up and cortisol starts to randomly surge at night. Do you wake up consistently between 3-5AM, with a start, for no reason? Wide awake? That’s your cortisol barking. Not as easy a fix as turning off your computer, that’s sorting out adrenal function.
Cause #3: Blood Sugar Issues
Managing and controlling your blood sugar is a topic for another post, but an easy habit you can adapt for our purposes here is to eat a small bit of protein (animal protein is best) and a small amount of carbohydrate right before bed. This should help your blood sugar not drop so low and the subsequent surge of cortisone that follows (see above).
Cause #4: Bed is for Sleeping
And sex. But not fighting, movie watching, reading stressful news on your Ipad, etc. It’s a comfortable place for sleeping, and it should be reserved for just that.
Cause #5: Pets
I love my dogs as much as anyone, but they keep me up all night. Panting, licking themselves, moving around. Pets cause a LOT of sleep disruption for people. Consider kicking them out at night.
Cause #6: Lighting
This is a BIG one. For one, people leave the lights around the house cranked up until just before bed, which is not at all natural. Natural light wanes in the evening into darkness at bedtime. We too should follow this pattern. Turn the lights down, dim the bedroom lights, get your body and hormones ready for bedtime starting a few hours before bedtime by dimming the house down a bit.
Cause #7: LED Lights
Alarm clocks, smoke detectors, air purifiers, etc. All of these contraptions have LED lights that stare out at you like little beady evil eyes all night long. And as you toss and turn and wake all night your eyes are drawn right to that alarm clock to remind you how bad the situation really is. Cover the alarm clocks, put a small bit of duct tape over ALL the LED lights in the room. Dark curtains, blocking all outside light, are best. The room should be as dark as a tomb. You will sleep so much better.
Cause #8: Lack of Exercise
If you wear yourself out physically during the day, instead of just mentally, you will sleep better. I promise.
My prescription to all my patients:
1) Buy a soft, comfortable eye mask 2) Cover all windows with dark curtains 3) Buy some soft, squishy ear plugs 4) Kick the pets out 5) Warm Epsom salt bath and calming tea before bed
If precious sleep is eluding you, I can help. It’s often a simple fix and your body, mind and family will thank you for getting it sorted out!
In Good Health,
Dr Tyna Moore, ND, DC