It sounds so basic – night time comes, you get ready for bed, say good night and go to sleep until the morning. Unfortunately, it is not this simple for many people as many people suffer from sleep difficulties or insomnia. Some cannot fall asleep for a really long time and others wake up multiple times a night disrupting their sleep cycle.
How can something that seems so basic and was so simple when we were babies, be so hard to achieve for many people as they get older? Wouldn’t it be amazing to be able to say every morning “I slept like a baby last night” or “I slept through the night”?
Sleep is so vital for our bodies and all our physiological functions. We need those 8-10 hours every night for our bodies to relax, restore, and prepare themselves for the next day’s activity.
When we do not get enough sleep every night, the effects go far beyond just feeling sleepy and unrefreshed in the morning. A lack of sleep in children, teenagers, and adults can lead to weight gain, difficulty losing weight, lack of mental focus and attention, blood sugar imbalances (and you may notice you feeling hungry more often throughout the day), low libido, mood disorders such as anxiety and depression, moodiness, being cranky, low energy and a lack of productivity. Children may have decreased performance in school resulting in poor grades.
Some reasons that someone can suffer from insomnia include: doing shift work and/or working night shifts, frequent travel disrupting your circadian rhythms, high stress lifestyle disrupting your cortisol regulation, hormonal imbalances, certain medications, mental/emotional causes like worry, anxiety/depression, and, certain health conditions like menopause, thyroid disorders, diabetes, heart disorders, and respiratory disorders among others.
There are lots of supplements out there that can help you sleep better and have a good night’s sleep so you can function throughout the day in a productive manner. Supplements and herbs like L-theanine, melatonin, magnesium, passionflower, and valerian are just some that may work but it may be a trial and error process and may be just a band-aid approach to improving sleep until you fix the cause. Therefore, it is advisable to seek a healthcare practitioner for recommendations on which one(s) are best for you based on what else is going on. Licensed healthcare practitioners, like naturopathic doctors (NDs), will check interactions between any herbs/supplements and medications you are on prior to prescribing a supplement to help you improve your sleep. NDs are also trained to help you identify the root cause of your sleep problems because if you can treat the cause, then you can stop treating the symptoms.
Here are some general recommendations that everyone can make to help them get a better sleep while you are thinking about making an appointment with a naturopathic doctor:
- Decrease or minimize your screen time before bed. This means minimize the computer, cell phone, and TV use for both children and adults. The light radiated from the screens disrupts your melatonin production which is needed to help maintain sleep.
- Minimize caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants and can keep your body awake and alert longer. For some people, consuming caffeine later in the day has been shown to interfere with their ability to fall or stay asleep. Alcohol is a depressant and may make you feel tired but it makes you wake up earlier and have a disrupted sleep.
- Moderate exercise everyday is essential but don’t exercise 1-2 hours before bed as it can release endorphins and increase your energy making it hard to wind down for bed.
- Eat your last big meal at least 3 hours before bed time to allow for the food to digest prior to sleeping
- Minimize stress to lower cortisol levels through mindfulness, meditation, yoga, dance or anything else that helps you de-stress. High cortisol levels can keep you up longer and make it harder to fall asleep and/or sleep throughout the night
- After the kids are in bed, find some time to engage in a quiet, relaxing activity to wind up your day (a warm bath, reading a book, or a heartfelt talk with your significant other) – this will help lower your cortisol levels as you get ready for bed.
If you are interested in working with a naturopathic doctor to figure out the best solution for sleeping well or getting to the cause of your sleep problems, contact me to book an appointment or a quick consult to see how I can help you.