A few years ago, I started waking up feeling like I had not slept. Even with improved diet and exercise, the problem continued to escalate. Eventually, I was referred to a sleep clinic in Atherton. My 3-night sleep study revealed moderate sleep apnea. I tried taking the easy way out and picked up a prescription for ambien, but that wreaked havoc on my brain and memory. Eventually, I dumped the sleeping aids and started experimenting with natural methods to improve sleep.
Good sleep is a critical foundation of health. Poor sleep can make your life miserable, as most of you probably know.
Several large studies over the past 40 years show that the average healthy adult sleeps for seven to seven-and-a-half hours a night. Most people know how much sleep they need every night to feel refreshed and productive the next day. Personally, I need more sleep; a minimum of 8 hours per night. Six to eight hours per night seems to be the optimal amount of sleep for most adults.
Research has shown that in developed countries, the average night's sleep has grown shorter since the beginning of the century, from 9 hours to 7.5 hours. An adequate amount of sleep is as important as an adequate amount of exercise. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10543671
Sleep debts are sort of like stress. Science has now established that a sleep deficit can have serious, far reaching effects on your health.
For example, interrupted or impaired sleep can:
- Weaken your immune system
- Make you feel hungry even if you've already eaten, which can lead to weight gain
- Seriously impair your memory and impact your ability to think clearly the next day
- Impair your performance on physical or mental tasks, and decrease your problem solving ability
Impaired sleep can also increase stress-related disorders, including:
- Heart disease
- Stomach ulcers
- Mood disorders like depression
Sleep deprivation prematurely ages you by interfering with your growth hormone production, normally released by your pituitary gland during deep sleep (and during certain types of exercise, such as HIIT). Growth hormone helps you look and feel younger.
It was out of complete desperation that I learned how to get a decent night’s sleep without a prescription. These tips have helped me restore my sleep health far more than anything in a pill bottle.
1. Sleep in complete darkness.
Even the tiniest bit of light in the room can disrupt your internal clock and your pineal gland's production of melatonin and serotonin. Close your bedroom door. Cover up your alarm clock or any technology that beams any light at all. Cover your windows. Use blackout shades or drapes. Refrain from turning on any light at all during the night, even when getting up to go to the bathroom.
2. Keep the temperature in your bedroom no higher than 70 degrees.
Studies show that the optimal room temperature for sleep is between 60 to 68 degrees. Keeping your room cooler or hotter can lead to restless sleep.
3. Avoid Using Loud Alarm Clocks
My massage therapist once told me that my iPhone alarm sound was stressful. She suggested that I use a very calming and peaceful alarm sound instead. I still do. It is very stressful on your body to be suddenly jolted awake. Find something calming and soothing to wake you up.
4. Reserve Your Bed For Sleeping
If you are used to watching TV or doing work in bed, you may find it harder to relax and drift off to sleep, so avoid doing these activities in bed.
5. Consider separate bedrooms.
Recent studies suggest, for many people, sharing a bed with a partner (or child or pet), can significantly impair sleep, especially if the other person is a restless sleeper or snores. If it interferes with your sleep, you may want to consider a separate bedroom.
6. Get to bed as early as possible.
Your body (particularly your adrenal system) does a majority of its recharging between the hours of 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. In addition, your gallbladder dumps toxins during this same period. If you are awake, the toxins back up into your liver, which can further disrupt your health.
7. Don't change your bedtime.
You should go to bed and wake up at the same times each day, even on the weekends. This will help your body to get into a sleep rhythm and make it easier to fall asleep and get up in the morning.
8. Establish a bedtime routine.
This could include meditation, deep breathing, or using essential oils. The key is to find something that makes you feel calm, then repeat it each night to help you relax.
9. Don't drink any fluids within 2 hours of going to bed.
This will reduce the likelihood of needing to get up and go to the bathroom, or at least minimize the frequency.
10. Go to the bathroom right before bed.
This will reduce the chances that you'll wake up to go in the middle of the night.
11. Avoid before-bed snacks, particularly grains and sugars.
These will raise your blood sugar and delay sleep. Later, when blood sugar drops too low (hypoglycemia), you may wake up and be unable to fall back asleep.
12. Take a hot bath, shower or sauna before bed.
When your body temperature is raised in the late evening, it will fall at bedtime, facilitating sleep. The temperature drop from getting out of the bath signals your body it's time for bed.
13. Put your work away at least one hour before bed (preferably two hours or more).
This will give your mind a chance to unwind so you can go to sleep feeling calm, not hyped up or anxious about tomorrow's deadlines.
14. No TV right before bed.
Even better, get the TV out of the bedroom or even completely out of the house. It's too stimulating to the brain, preventing you from falling asleep quickly. TV disrupts your pineal gland function.
15. Read something spiritual or uplifting.
This may help you relax. Don't read anything stimulating, which has the opposite effect. If you are really enjoying a book, you might be tempted to go on reading for hours, instead of going to sleep!
16. Reduce or avoid as many drugs as possible.
Many drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter, may adversely affect sleep. Plus, the side effects generally out-weigh the benefits.
17. Avoid caffeine late in the day.
At least one study has shown that, in some people, caffeine is not metabolized efficiently, leaving you feeling its effects long after consumption. So, an afternoon cup of coffee or tea will keep some people from falling asleep at night. Be aware that some medications contain caffeine.
18. Avoid alcohol.
Although alcohol can make you drowsy, the effect is short lived. Alcohol will also keep you from entering the deeper stages of sleep, where your body does most of its healing.
19. Make certain you are exercising regularly.
Exercising daily can improve your sleep. However, don't exercise too close to bedtime or it may keep you awake.
20. Lose excess weight.
Being overweight can increase your risk of sleep apnea, which can seriously impair your sleep.
21. Avoid foods you may be sensitive to.
This is particularly true for sugar, grains, and pasteurized dairy. Sensitivity reactions can cause excess congestion, gastrointestinal upset, bloating and gas, and other problems.
22. Have your adrenals checked by a good natural medicine clinician.
Scientists have found that insomnia may be caused by adrenal stress. If you need a referral, please ask me.
23. If you are menopausal or perimenopausal, get checked out by a good natural medicine physician.
The hormonal changes at this time may cause sleep problems if not properly addressed.
24. Increase your melatonin.
Ideally it is best to increase levels naturally with exposure to bright sunlight in the daytime (along with full spectrum fluorescent bulbs in the winter) and absolute complete darkness at night. If that isn't possible, you may want to consider a melatonin supplement. In scientific studies, melatonin has been shown to increase sleepiness, help you fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep, decrease restlessness, and reverse daytime fatigue. Melatonin is a completely natural substance, made by your body, and has many health benefits in addition to sleep.
References and Related Articles:
Mastering the Mystery of Sleep: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-mercola/mastering-the-mystery-of_b_446483.html
Overactive Adrenals Leads to Insomnia: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2001/08/29/insomnia-part-one.aspx
8 Natural Remedies that May Help You Sleep: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2009/01/06/8-natural-remedies-that-may-help-you-sleep.aspx
Is Insomnia Wreaking Havoc on Your Health: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2004/02/07/insomnia-health.aspx
Want a Good Night’s Sleep? Then Never Do These Things Before Going to Bed: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/10/02/secrets-to-a-good-night-sleep.aspx