As the long summer days come to an end, many of us find that our schedules are picking up and extra hours in the day seem to disappear. This is the time to pause and ask: Am I getting enough sleep?
Most adults should get 7-9 hours of sleep every night, according to The National Sleep Foundation. Sleep helps us improve memory, boost our immune system and prepare us for the day ahead. Often, busy schedules push sleep aside as a priority, and we rely on our morning coffee or other stimulants to combat the undesirable side effects of a lack of sleep.
So what can we do about this? What steps can we take to combat sleepless nights and improve our quality of sleep? How can this be done in a natural way—avoiding the side effects of big pharmaceutical drugs and correcting our bodies’ cycles for more sustainable fixes?
The Importance of Sleep
A lack quality sleep has been linked to an increased risk of depression, anxiety, diabetes, obesity and heart disease, as well as a decrease in general everyday functioning. During the night, our brains repeatedly go through a cycle alternating between REM (rapid eye movement—when our dreams occur), and Non-REM (see photo). It is important to go through each stage multiple times a day to ensure a well-rested morning—not enough time spent in deep sleep can feel similar to a night of little sleep.
Our circadian rhythm also plays a role in how much sleep we get each night and the quality of that sleep. This internal clock signals us to wake up and fall asleep every day, but it can be thrown off easily by disruptions such as jet lag and environmental light.
It isn’t simply enough to get more sleep—a well-rested and energized morning will depend on the quality of your sleep as well. If you find yourself struggling to fall asleep, or often wake up in the middle of the night, it might be time to evaluate how you sleep, and how to set yourself up to achieve deep sleep.
Supporting our Natural Systems
When the sun goes down, our bodies notice the decreased light and produce a hormone called melatonin, which helps to create the drowsy feeling we get each night before bed. However, light in our environment—ranging anywhere from outdoor light coming in through windows to the light produced by our phones—is seen as daylight to our bodies. As a result, we stop creating melatonin.
Other factors such as stress, exercise and sleep habits can create more obstacles between us and a good night’s rest. One of the best ways to adjust sleep habits is to understand the disruptions we unconsciously introduce to our natural cycles each night and learn how to work with, rather than against or bodies:
Develop a bedtime routine with a consistent sleep and wake time.
Consistency is key when it comes to sleep. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day will help realign your circadian rhythm and as a result, make falling asleep and waking up easier. Taking some time before bed to unwind from the day and lower your heart rate will also help to signal to your brain that you are ready for bed—try practicing meditation, a calm yoga session or reciting a personal mantra to relax the mind.
2. Reduce bright lights.
Before bed, put your phone down and away and limit the amount of light in your room. Our phones’ light has a higher concentration of blue light than any natural light, which affects melatonin production more than any other light wavelength. If living in a big city, consider getting curtains or using an eye mask to help support your body’s natural sleep signals.
3. Consider natural aids.
Sometimes, just changing your habits before bed is not enough to boost your sleep. Talk therapy, homeopathy and additional nutrients may be necessary to help decrease the stress from your day and set yourself up for quality sleep. While there are a seemingly-endless number of pharmaceutical drugs designed to address sleep challenges and disorders, the list of side effects are just as endless.
Consider talking to a naturopathic doctor about the ways that natural sleep aids such as melatonin, magnesium, chamomile and lavender can provide similar benefits for those struggling to fall asleep and stay asleep. Naturopathic doctors can provide the guidance on how to best uncover the root causes of any disruptions and aid in the body’s natural healing capacity in the least invasive way. In addition to homeopathy and pharmacology knowledge, naturopathic doctors are able to provide counseling, minor surgeries and a broad extent of other medical knowledge to provide the best treatment with a holistic approach.
When it comes to sleep, everyone has a different approach. What links us all however, is how much we need sleep to function efficiently and enjoy our day. So the next time you pour yourself that third…or fourth cup of coffee, think about the small changes you can make in your life to make sleep a priority.
If you would like to learn more send me an email or give me a call.