Make Sleep a Priority
Sleep deprivation can lead to many health problems such as diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer, anxiety, and more. To feel your best, it’s vital to get proper sleep.
You have to allow yourself enough time to get an adequate amount of sleep. Recognize that it is essential to your physical, mental, and emotional health. Most people feel best getting around 8 hours a night, and while that varies from person to person, it is best to allow yourself that time every night.
Whether you are early to bed and early to rise or a night owl, give yourself 8 hours to sleep every night. Some people are more creative and productive in the morning, while others are at night. The key is not to fight your natural tendencies, but to try to structure your work accordingly. If you are a night owl, and you have the work flexibility, start your day later! Give yourself a bedtime and stick to it!
Control Your Exposure to Light
Light is the primary determinant of our circadian rhythm and sleep/wake cycle, and thus controlling our exposure to light is a powerful way to regulate sleep. The first step is to reduce your exposure to light at night by:
- Avoiding or minimizing the use of computers, TVs, tablets, and phones three hours before bedtime.
- Use programs like F.lux to reduce the blue light emitted from these devices.
- Dimming, covering, or removing anything that emits light in your bedroom like alarm clocks
- Using blackout shades and/or an eye mask to make your bedroom as dark as possible
- Wearing orange glasses to reduce exposure to blue light (try these if you need to fit them over eyeglasses)
Investigate the Underlying Dysfunction
Sleep problems can occur for so many reasons. Stress, caffeine use, alcohol, blood sugar dysregulation, and digestive problems can all contribute to poor sleep.
The rise in cortisol at night, as a result of stress, can make it difficult to quiet and calm the body down enough to sleep. Light exposure can greatly affect the output of cortisol and melatonin at night, but you can also actively work to calm yourself down before bed. To signal the body that it is time for bed, engage in relaxing and sedentary activities for about an hour prior to your bedtime. Under dim lights, read a book, journal, meditate, and/or practice deep breathing.
Stimulants Can Be Too Stimulating
Caffeine and alcohol can both have a profound effect on sleep quality. If you are having issues sleeping, avoid alcohol, which can stimulate the nervous system. Even one glass of wine can keep you from reaching REM sleep. While coffee does have some health benefits, caffeine can affect you for much longer than you think. One cup of coffee in the morning can cause sleep problems for some people. Try switching to decaf or going without for several weeks. And don’t forget that chocolate has caffeine in it as well. Try eating your coveted chocolate treat earlier in the day to avoid the caffeine spike later in the evening.
Finding the Root Cause of Insomnia
We can guess what is going on in the body and try some of the above techniques, or we can test and have a more focused approach. Because a healthy circadian rhythm is so essential to quality sleep, I like to see what is going on in the body to determine the best course of treatment. Testing HPA (Hypothalamus- Pituitary- Adrenal) Axis function, sex hormone levels, blood sugar, and gastrointestinal function can all help to uncover the real reason behind poor sleep.
If you feel like you have tried everything and still can’t get a good night’s sleep, get the help of a functional medicine doctor, like myself, who can help you get tested. Finding the underlying cause, and not just covering up the symptom, is always the goal in good healthcare.