Written by: Dr. Christine Davis, Naturopathic Doctor
Establishing a great sleep routine:
• Develop a calming bedtime routine– try reading or meditation. Don’t read stressful or emotionally charged material as this can be more stimulating. Try a hot bath, shower or sauna about 2 hours before bedtime, keeping the water hot for at least 25 minutes to stimulate the drop in body temperature before bed. Keep household lighting dim from dinnertime until you go to sleep to prepare your body and hormones for sleep.
• Establish regular sleeping hours– keeping a routine will help you maintain a regular circadian rhythm. Try to get in bed before 11 pm. The adrenals (your stress glands) renew themselves from 11pm-1am. Try slowly moving back your bedtime by 15-30 minutes until you reach this goal.
• Sleep 7-9 hours a night– if you still feel tired after 9 hours, it’s time to visit your doctor to look into other sources of your fatigue.
• If you can’t sleep, get up and do something else. Sometimes making a “to do list” or writing in a journal can be helpful to get things off your mind.
• Create bedroom “Zen”- remove clutter, homework, calendars and anything else that could cause you stress. Use calming essential oils like lavender. Choose comfortable bedding that isn’t too warm or itchy. Remember, the bed should be used for sleeping and sex only.
• Sleep nude– wearing tight clothing will increase your body temperature and interfere with melatonin release while you sleep.
• See the light first thing in the morning– daylight and morning sounds are key signals that help waken your brain. Turning on lights or opening the blinds will reset your body clock and ensure that your melatonin levels drop back down, ensuring better energy throughout the day.
Things to Watch/Avoid:
• Alcohol– Alcohol can impact brain chemicals as you sleep. An ounce or more two hours before bedtime can be disruptive as your body will metabolize the alcohol while you sleep. It shortens total sleep time and prevents you from falling into the deeper stages of sleep (where most healing and renewal takes place).
• Fluid intake– Try to avoid fluid intake 2 hours prior to sleep to decrease those mid-sleep washroom visits.
• Caffeine– Caffeine is metabolized at different rates in different people. Most people will metabolize caffeine in 4-5 hours, however some people will take much longer. If necessary try to only have caffeine in the morning. Caffeine impacts cortisol which can result in mid-sleep waking around 2-4 am.
• Bedtime snacks– Try to avoid snacking 2 hours before bed. Watch out for bedtime snacks that are high in sugar or simple carbohydrates. (for example breads, cereals, muffins, cookies, or other baked goods) These foods will create a quick spike in your blood sugar levels, and a resultant drop in blood sugar. This drop in blood sugar stimulates adrenalin, glucagons, cortisol and growth hormone, all of which will stimulate the brain and keep you more awake. If you do need to eat, go for protein-rich, high-fiber snacks like a few almonds and half an apple. The protein will contain tryptophan which will be converted to serotonin and melatonin and the sugar from the apple may help the tryptophan reach your brain.
• Napping- If you’re getting a good sleep at night you shouldn’t need to sleep during the day. If you must, limit nap time to 30 min.
• Exercise timing– exercising fewer than 3 hours before bedtime may be too stimulating and can impede your ability to fall asleep. Yoga and strength training may not be as stimulating, but pay attention to your body on this one. Exercising 3-6 hours before sleep may actually enhance your deep sleep as your body will attempt to repair itself after the physical stress. Exercise will increase your body temperature (not good for sleep) and then slowly decrease it (good for sleep).
• Alarm Clocks- waking up suddenly to the blaring wail of an alarm clock can shock your body and interrupt you in the middle of a sleep cycle. Look for a sunrise alarm clock with natural light built in that simulates a sunrise, OR an alarm that gradually gets louder, or plays soothing classical music.
• Light at Night– Make your room as dark as possible. Light disrupts the circadian rhythm of the pineal gland and as a result, hinders the production of melatonin. If you go to the bathroom at night, try to keep the lights off.
• Electromagnetic fields– also disrupt the pineal gland and production of melatonin and serotonin. EMFs are emitted through digital alarm clocks and other electrical devices, if you use them, leave them three feet away. Turn off the TV.
• Activities– avoid stimulating activities such as watching TV, using the computer and doing work-related activities. Computers raise dopamine and noradrenalin keeping you more awake.