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How can I improve my sleep? 4 Steps to Better Sleep Hygiene

Written by Doctor Sunshine

Article at a glance:

  • Adequate sleep for humans on a “normal” schedule is between 7-8 hours a night.
  • Without enough sleep, we develop pain syndromes, brain dysfunction, hormonal dysregulation (including diabetes and obesity) and gut disturbance. 
  • Being asleep by 10PM allows your brain to take advantage of optimal circadian rhythms.
  • Blue light from screens: lengthens the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, depresses our melatonin, and causes us to have less REM sleep.

If you’re walking around with a foggy head or scoping out a spot for a cat nap, it’s time to address your sleep hygiene. As we come upon stressful times, sleep loss can cause us to lose our footing. It’s a bummer to be stressed out or checked out. Nothing leads us there faster than sleep deprivation.

How much sleep should I be getting?

Adequate sleep for humans on a “normal” schedule is between 7-8 hours a night. Less than this increases aging (Spiegel, 1999). There’s nothing worse than feeling worn out and being told you’re aging faster because of it. Luckily, we naturopathic doctors enjoy working with the complexity of supporting sleep.

What happens during sleep?

Sleep is the time when our body goes into paralysis so healthy recovery can happen. During sleep, body tissues repair so we can awaken without pain. Learning and healthy memory-making is enhanced during REM sleep. It is also during sleep that children grow and develop and grownups have healthy hormone production.

What can happen if I don’t get enough sleep?

The brain needs to turn off the body at night so that the body and brain can recover. Sleeping less than 7-8 hours a night is associated with cardiovascular disease and unhealthy microbiome (which leads to disease). Without enough sleep, we develop pain syndromes, brain dysfunction, hormonal dysregulation (including diabetes and obesity) and gut disturbance. 

Sleep deprivation is also associated with anger. If you’re feeling irritable or short tempered, sleep may be the answer (Saghir, 2018).

4 Steps to Better Sleep Hygiene

Start with these sleep hygiene steps, then we will touch on medical causes for sleep concerns.  

Step 1: Make time for sleep. 

If you’ve been going for years with less than 7 hours of nightly sleep, this change can feel impossible. It will take time. 

  • Add 10 minutes to your nightly sleep time every week or two. In 6-12 weeks, you’ll be getting an extra hour of sleep every night!
  • Start imaging a life where you are asleep by 10PM. Being asleep by 10PM allows your brain to take advantage of optimal circadian rhythms. Tradition tells us that most people get their most restorative sleep between 10PM and 2AM. (See advanced concepts below if you are a night owl.) 
  • For six weeks, write out your daily schedule for the next day and include your bedtime. 
  • Schedule with your counselor or naturopathic doctor to explore ways to reorder your life and schedule. 

So many of us put achievements over our biological needs, because it can be disappointing to leave projects undone at the end of the day. I used to be quick to pull a late nighter to play music or study. I had to retrain my intuition on this one! Much of the research on the dangers of sleep deprivation have been done with physicians in training!  When it comes to sleep, science teaches us that our intellectual desires for achievement are not in line with the needs of our body. We may just need to do less. We must sleep. Yes, 7-8 hours of sleep.

Step 2: Make time to wind down.

  • Plan to stop all chores, doing, learning, catching-up, projecting 1 hour before sleep. 
  • Turn off all devices ideally 2 hours before sleep. Blue light from screens- lengthens the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, depresses our melatonin, and causes us to have less REM sleep, resulting in less-restorative sleep. 
  • Darker and cooler bedrooms are best for sleep. 
  • Keep the air fresh- open a window, keep a door open, or use a fan. 

Step 3: Engage in restful activities.

  • Cuddle your pet, children, or partner. 
  • Listen to calming music. 
  • Take a bath, enveloping your body in warm water. Skin is your largest organ and has intimate contact with your nervous system. The pressure and temperature of the water gives a calming message to the nervous system. 
  • Add 1-2 cups of epsom salts to your bath water. The magnesium in the salts is absorbed through the skin and promotes relaxation in the brain. 
  • Skip the alcohol- alcohol presents a significant challenge for good sleep.
  • Replace the nightcap with herbal tea or Kalmerite. (see Step 4)

This will help release the restful chemicals in your body.

Step 4: Take Supplements to help sleep

  • Magnesium before bed helps decrease anxiety and relax the brain and muscles. 
  • Take your vitamin D before bed to increase REM sleep
  • Kalmerite is an herbal formula our clinic loves. Kalmerite includes herbals that are well-studied for sleep promotion: passionflower, chamomile, lemon balm, catnip, california poppy and lavender. Add a few droppers full into a nighttime beverage. 
  • Cortisol manager- one tab before bed. If you’re falling asleep ok, but waking during the night, you might need some help calming the stress hormone. 

You can order your supplements from the NCNM Dispensary! Call the office at: (360)734-9500 or head over to our website for more details. 

Advanced concepts of sleep hygiene: Why am I not sleeping?

Are you a “night owl”?  We live in an “early bird gets the worm” society. I often hear people say they’re “so bad” if they are night owls. You’re not bad. Science shows you’re normal.  The trick is to honor your difference and still get enough sleep. Avoid sleep debt. 

There is such a thing as chronotype. Chronotype is a way of categorizing our natural circadian rhythms.  Especially before age 55, folks may need to work with alternative sleep timing rather than standard sleep support. Your circadian rhythm is embedded deep into your organ processing. If you have the luxury of setting your own schedule and sleeping when it’s best for you, I recommend you find out your chrono-type.  This TED talk by Dr. Michael Breus offers an enthusiastic assessment of the research on chronotype. 

Still not sleeping?

You have mastered sleep hygiene. You are honoring your circadian rhythm. And still watching the time tick away? 

Hormonal balance might be the problem if: 

  • You have had sleep issues ever since a stressful life event. 
  • You have worked shift work.
  • You are a woman with menstrual or menopausal concerns.

Microbiome balance might be the problem if: 

  • You have constipation. 
  • You have irritable bowel syndrome or leaky gut symptoms. 
  • You have a history of asthma, allergies, or antibiotic use. 
  • You are suffering from a neurologic condition.
  • You are dealing with sleep apnea.

Stay tuned for Dr. Sunshine’s microbiome recovery articles!

You might require support in reordering priorities and addressing your health concerns that could be resulting in sleep deprivation. Schedule with me today, if you need help creating optimal sleep patterns. Most of us need accountability to create real change! 

 


Cited and Consulted: 

Covassin N, Singh P. Sleep Duration and Cardiovascular Disease Risk: Epidemiologic and Experimental Evidence. Sleep Med Clin. 2016;11(1):81-89. doi:10.1016/j.jsmc.2015.10.007

Fischer D, Lombardi DA, Marucci-Wellman H, Roenneberg T. Chronotypes in the US - Influence of age and sex. PLoS One. 2017;12(6):e0178782. Published 2017 Jun 21. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0178782

Saghir Z, Syeda JN, Muhammad AS, Balla Abdalla TH. The Amygdala, Sleep Debt, Sleep Deprivation, and the Emotion of Anger: A Possible Connection?. Cureus. 2018;10(7):e2912. Published 2018 Jul 2. doi:10.7759/cureus.2912

Spiegel K, Leproult R, Van Cauter E. Impact of sleep debt on metabolic and endocrine function. Lancet. 1999;354(9188):1435-1439. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(99)01376-8

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