Did you know 43% of men and 55% of women in Canada have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep1? Did you also know that your body repairs itself during sleep and having poor sleep health can increase your risk of serious conditions such as cardiovascular disease or less serious problems such as increased wrinkles?
I see patients with insomnia ever day, and from experience I believe the ideal sleep pattern is falling asleep within 15 minutes of lying down, waking 0-1 times per night and falling back to sleep easily, getting 7-9 hours per night, and waking rested. If you sleep doesn’t look like this 5-6 times per week, continue reading for steps to a proper rest.
Why is it so important to get a good sleep? The two main reasons are growth hormone (referred by some as an anti-aging hormone2) and detoxification of your brain. Important, right? Growth hormone is primarily secreted at night and its most important functions are skin and muscle repair, liver regeneration, breaking down stored fat, and normalizing blood sugar2. This is also a recipe to maintain youthful looking skin and a healthy body weight. Sleep is also required for our ‘glymphatic’ system to function. Our glymphatic system is the antioxidant for the brain and protects us from neuronal damage, protecting us from disease such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
There are many things that interfere with sleep such as consuming caffeinated beverages or foods within 5 hours of sleep (this includes black tea, green tea, and chocolate), alcohol or marijuana before bed, and certain medications (thyroid medications, oral contraceptives, and beta blockers are known to affect sleep). For 50% of people with insomnia, psychological factors are the main cause2. In practice, I also find that HPA axis dysregulation (ie. adrenal fatigue) is one of the main causes. Our adrenal glands produce cortisol which typically spikes in the morning to wake you up and drops before bed. If your cortisol pattern is off you will feel like you have more energy right before bed and have a hard time getting up in the morning. You may also wake up in the middle of the night wide awake.
What can you do right now to improve your sleep?
1. Avoid stimulants (coffee, green and black tea, chocolate, pop), alcohol and drugs in the evening
2. Our bodies love routine—try to get up and go to bed around the same time and try to create a calming routine (some ideas are a hot bath before bed, a warm cup of no-caffeine tea with a book, calming yoga, or meditation)
3. Reserve your bed for sex and sleep only (no reading, TV, etc.).
a. If you wake up in the night and can’t get back to sleep, go out of your room and read until you feel sleepy again then go back to bed. This stops your mind from associating your bed with no sleep.
4. Stop napping! Napping throws your natural rhythm off which makes it harder to sleep in the evening.
5. Check your medications and ask your ND or MD if these might be interfering with your sleep
6. Avoid stressful activities and intensive exercise before bed.
7. Make sure your room is quiet and dark — black-out blinds are key for this. The darker the room, the more melatonin you produce which will give you a better sleep.
8. Do you feel constantly stressed out, exhausted, and overwhelmed? If this sounds like you, you probably have HPA axis dysfunction (Adrenal fatigue). Take time to do some relaxing activities throughout the day and reduce your work load. Please see our article on Adrenal Fatigue for more steps on addressing this.
1) Chaput, J-P., Wong, S., & Michaud, I. (2017). Duration and quality of sleep among Canadians aged 18 to 79. Statistics Canada. Retrieved Nov 29, 2018 from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-003-x/2017009/article/54857-eng.htm
2) Pizzorno, J & Murray M. The Textbook of Natural Medicine. Elsevier Canada, 2006.