If you’re reading this, then it’s likely you are interested in improving your sleep. You are not alone, clinically I would say only 1 in 10 people are happy with their sleep. Sleep is often the missing link to a lot of health conditions. Lack of sleep causes a flow on effect; contributing to issues such as weight gain, inflammation, low immunity, problems with blood sugar regulation, mood and hormone imbalances.
Let’s map out how to establish and maintain healthy sleeping habits.
First of all what stops sleep….?
Insomnia as a condition comes in two forms: onset and maintenance. Some people report just one, others report both.
Routine is SUPER important when it comes to sleep. Think of the term body clock; a clock runs the same always. It is a consistent pattern. Your circadian rhythm is in charge of your body clock. This consists of a sequence of two hormones which work to wake you and settle you at opposite ends of the day. These are cortisol (wake hormone) and melatonin (sleep hormone).
Try to repeat the same pattern of habits to wind down your day into sleep. This will allow your circadian rhythm to learn a pattern, and will begin to encourage a healthy sleep hormone pattern.
There is an example of a sleep routine further along in the blog.
The Science of Sleep
Sleep involves 3 basic states:
- Non rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep
- Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep
NREM sleep consists of 3 phases in itself
N1 – when you feel drowsy and are transitioning from being awake to falling asleep
N2 – a period of light sleep where eye movements stop and brain waves become slow with occasional faster spurts.
N3 – the slowest brain wave stage, this slow wave sleep phase consists of brain waves called delta waves. This is the most healing phase of sleep, and is when your brain fluid is drained and replaced through a system called the GLYMPHATIC system. Essentially this is a daily detox for your brain! VIP!
REM sleep is when our brain activity is intense, with the brain waves being most similar to those when we are awake. In this phase dreaming occurs, the eyes are moving randomly and rapidly, and the limbic system of the brain turns off the ability for your body to physically move, otherwise you could be thrashing about and acting out your dreams in bed! Interestingly, we need this phase of sleep to learn, process and clear out memories that we have experienced in the day.
It is important we get hours both before and after midnight to allow all of these sleep phases to occur.
Common barriers to good sleep:
- Anxiety / worrying thoughts / monkey mind
- Having to pee
- Circadian hormone issues
- Blue light exposure
- Meal times
Some of these barriers are self-explanatory. If you have issues with your sleep, don’t have caffeine after midday. Just don’t do it, or cut it out completely. If you must have some, limit yourself to one “serve” eg. one single shot coffee. Remember many soft drinks and energy drinks and teas also contain caffeine.
Temperature can affect your sleep because being too hot while you’re asleep will lead you to waking up sweating and irritated. Try to have your bedroom cool and don’t over load yourself with thick pyjamas and lots of layers of bedding.
TIP: taking a hot shower before bed can be helpful if you do wake up in flushes at night to help remove some of the heat from your body.
Waking up to pee can be irritating as well. Be conscious of your fluid intake in the hours leading up to bed so you don’t have to wake up unnecessarily because you forgot to drink water all day and tried to get your 2L in right before dinner. If you have been conscious of your intake in the evening and you’re still waking a lot to go to the bathroom, speak to a doctor so you can rule out any medical issues that can cause frequent waking to pee at night.
A busy or active mind is something that so many people report before sleep. Maybe you have been so distracted all day, it’s your brain finally breaking through and saying “HEY NOW THAT YOU’VE STOPPED I HAVE ALL THESE IDEAS”, and you’re all “to be honest Brain, it’s not the time!!”. Having a notepad and pen by your bed to write down anything that comes to mind can be really helpful if this is your type of brain.
Other people experience worry and stress when they lie down to bed. Sometimes its relative to your current life, but sometimes its random af. Like “why the heck did I go to the disco last October when I should have been at home studying and ended up with an F in my herb exam?!?!?!?” (JOKES!). However, those pointless yet tireless thoughts and situations that erupt when you hop into bed for a nice sleep are inappropriate, and contribute to a huge amount of insomnia that I see clinically. If this kind of picture is you, and the things you are worrying about are NOT realistic but ARE causing you anguish, then it is definitely a good idea to reach out to a professional to help you with some tools to address anxiety.
A cool trick to stop these kind of thoughts starting is to purchase an ebook of something you know to death, or a story you know really well so that you can put ot on to distract your thoughts as you are going to sleep. For example Harry Potter. Relatively mild storyline (not super scary or dramatic) but it’s enough to distract you so you can listen and drift off to sleep. Things that have super exciting/intense story lines are going to hook you in and you won’t want to sleep, and so will new things you haven’t heard before. A good app for ebooks is Audible.
Guided sleep meditations can also be helpful, as well as calming sounds like Tibetan bowls and chanting. There are hundreds, possibly thousands available on a FREE app called Insight Timer.
Blue Light Exposure
Blue LED light omitted from smart phones and devices is known to inhibit the release of melatonin in the brain. This is scientifically proven. The night mode setting on these devices (AKA your phone) is your best friend. Schedule it for 6pm if you have sleep issues. Even if you don’t have sleep issues, schedule it for 8.30pm at the latest. You need to be scheduling it so your exposure is automatically reduced. You should also get blue light blocking glasses if you work on computers all day. Most optometrists offer it as an option with prescriptions these days, but companies like Oscar Wylee and Baxter Blue do stylish lenses which you don’t need to NEED glasses for, you can simply wear them for the blue light filter.
Extend this concept to your indoor lighting as well. Think of warmer dimmer lights similar to candle light instead of clean bright football stadium lights.
This is also why I mentioned to have a pen and note pad by your bed in case you have the busy idea filled type of brain at night. Try to avoid using your phone for this tool.
Eating too close to bed time can make it harder to have good sleep as your body is trying to focus on digestion vs. quality sleep. Allow 2-3 hours between meal time and bed.
More complex conditions
These can include thyroid conditions, and issues with your hormone regulation. Your body could be inappropriately producing cortisol in the evening vs. the morning. This is relatively common, especially in people that report high stress in their life. You might say you’re feeling “wired and tired” or something along those lines. If you are concerned about this, send me an email.
If you are having serious issues with your sleep, then reach out to me via email. We can work on a specialised plan to getting you into a healthy sleep routine and back on track. There are very effective herbs and nutrients that can assist with calming the nervous system and inducing / maintaining sleep. Believe me, I’ve personally tried a lot!
SLEEP ROUTINE EXAMPLE
6pm – Night mode on all devices
7pm – Dinner
8pm – Relaxing activities in lower light: such as non stimulating tv (no crazy exciting or suspenseful shows), meditation, journaling/offloading your day, bath or shower
9pm – Herbs and/or nutrients to support a calm nervous system and sleep processes
9.30pm – Into bed – make sure its a cool environment. Do some reading/ put an ebook on (low volume) and then drift off to sleep