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  • Dr Thor Conner

10 Easy Changes to Help get Restful Sleep

We spend one third of our lives asleep, give or take. It does seem like "take" seems to be winning, with the demands of our busy lives, changes in our chemistry and metabolism, physical discomfort and circadian disruption, good sleep can be elusive. There are options to help ease disrupted sleep. Drugs and supplements have their place, but the goal is to create a lifestyle scenario where we don't need to use a drug, or even an herb, for normal sleep.

Here are ten easy lifestyle adjustments to aid in getting better sleep:

  1. Moderate use of stimulants, especially caffeine (but also nicotine). The average person consumes about 150-225 mg of caffeine per day (about equivalent to 1-2 cups of coffee or strong tea). For people with the ability to process the caffeine this is no problem, but some of us detoxify caffeine more slowly (TH1 vs TH2), sometimes up to 12 hours for a single cup o’ coffee. If a patient has trouble sleeping and uses caffeine, I usually recommend completely avoidance of all forms of caffeine (e.g. coffee, tea, chocolate, drugs with caffeine, energy drinks) for 7 to 10 days.

  2. Get a proper mattress and pillow. If you are physically uncomfortable in your bed, because it’s too hard, soft, lumpy, smelly or just old, it will be hard to get a sound sleep. High quality mattresses can be pricy, but more expensive doesn’t mean better. You need to try different types of mattresses and find what works best for you and your bodies’ needs, then find the same or similar mattress at a good price (like from Costco).

  3. Maintain a slightly cool bedroom temperature. Both too hot or too cold can impair sleep quality. The ideal temperature for your bedroom is around a cool 65`F. A drop in skin temperature of just a few degrees will aid in falling asleep and a cool room will help you stay asleep. Temperatures that are too high can disrupt dreams and can induce nightmares in some people.

  4. Establish a consistent bedtime. A sleep and wake routine is the natural way the body works, the circadian rhythm of cortisol and melatonin release is consistent. Keeping a consistent schedule will keep your habits in sync with your chemistry. Try to ensure that you are going to bed and waking up at the same time throughout the week, even on weekends.

  5. Exercise. Studies show that people who exercise throughout the day get better sleep at night. Try for at least 20 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise in the morning or early evening. Exercise too late in the day won’t provide the same sleep-promoting benefits.

  6. Start dimming the lights in your house as bedtime approaches. Your pineal gland (in the brain) secretes the sleep hormone melatonin in response to light cues, as it gets darker, levels rise and we get sleepy. This process can be interrupted by bright light. You can dim many lights, or just switch off some lights or use a dimmer light source. Do so about an hour before bed.

  7. Avoid napping during the day, as this can make falling asleep at night more difficult. That sleep disruption can, in turn, cause you to want/need to nap the following day. This cycle can be broken by refraining from napping and caffeine until you get tired enough to break the insomnia cycle. If you must take a nap, try to keep it short (<1 hour)). Never take a nap after 3 p.m.

  8. Limit screen time before bed. Although it was thought that blue wavelengths interfere with circadian rhythms more than other wavelengths, recent studies have not supported this. There is conflicting evidence on how blue light effects melatonin release. Either way the mental stimulation available through devices is not conducive to achieving a restful mind state

  9. Don’t eat or drink too much especially two hours before bed. Give the body time to finish the gastric phase of digestion before laying down. Drinking a lot of water before bed will have you up more in the night to void your bladder. Hydrate earlier in the day if possible. Try not to drink any alcohol two hours before bed as that can disrupt sleep rhythms and brain activity (theta and delta waves and REM sleep). At the same time, try not to be hungry going to bed.

  10. Don’t keep your phone next to your bed. Phones (and tablets) can be disruptive, notifications can come at any time, and frequent pinging and buzzing will disturb sleep. The electromagnetic frequencies emitted by phones have been shown to interfere with brainwave activity and sleep. If you need to use your phone as an alarm, setting it to airplane mode will shut off both things.

These are all great suggestions and may be all the intervention needed to get better sleep, but there may be an underlying problems like sleep apnea or a neurotransmitter deficiency. Your Naturopathic Doctors here at World Tree are a good resource for looking into a sleep disturbance (or almost any other ailment) and finding solutions that work for you.

Historical bonus! The founding father of naturopathic medicine, Dr Lust (LOO-st) did a similar post a century ago.

Here is Dr. Benedict Lust’s Slumber Dozen from the early 20th century.

  1. Make up your mind when you go to bed that you mean to go to sleep.

  2. Remove every garment worn during the day and after the exercise and warm sponging or warm bath put on a loose, soft, warm nightshirt for winter or a cool garment for warmer night.

  3. Have your pillow only just high enough to raise the head slightly from the level of the body.

  4. Place the pillow under the head and not the shoulders.

  5. Sleep between sheets that are clean and well aired, lavender scented if you like. Have over the top as a covering, a warm, though not heavy coverlet.

  6. Have the window open, bed out of the draft.

  7. Sleep alone. Do not have a light burning, nor obstruct the windows with heavy curtains.

  8. Do not cover up your head or press your nose against the pillow. Your nose must be left free, so that you can breathe and if you are in the habit of breathing through your mouth and snoring away – get out of this habit by taking lessons in nasal breathing as soon as you can.

  9. Avoid late hours and late suppers.

  10. If you are a brain worker, you will need more sleep than the man whose work is manual. The brain worker must have uninterrupted slumber.

  11. Wash your mouth and teeth before retiring, and sip a tumbleful of water (hot water being preferable) before getting into bed.

  12. Never go to bed with cold hands or cold feet