Insomnia is defined by the CDC as “an inability to initiate or maintain sleep” while the DSM-V estimates that 1/3rd of the population reports symptoms of insomnia!
Addressing insomnia - no matter what part of the night or early morning it happens - is very important. This is because different phases of sleep restore our body in different ways. Non-REM and REM sleep are the two significant portions of our sleep. Non-REM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep is most prevalent in the beginning of our sleep cycle and is more physically restful, whereas REM (rapid eye movement) sleep lengthens as the night goes on and is considered more mentally restful.
Being that restful sleep is so important for our health, creating a bedtime routine can be very helpful in creating quality sleep. This is often referred to as ‘sleep hygiene.’ Below are some simple steps to ready our bodies for sleep.
- Turn off technology 1 hour before bedtime. This means no TV, computer, or phone use before bed. The blue light on these devices keeps our melatonin low. We want the hormone melatonin to be high at night to promote sleep.
- Use blue-light blockers. If you have to or enjoy using technology before bed blue blockers are a great option. They block blue light, and therefore allow our melatonin to naturally increase, promoting sleep. There are some fashionable ones available now as well!
- Limit alcohol. This may seem counterintuitive, because alcohol is a depressant and culturally encouraged to promote sleep. However, alcohol can actually cause you to feel awake a few hours after drinking.
- Get your ideas out of your head. A running mind can be hard to quiet before bed. Keeping a journal to write down your thoughts, worries, or concerns can be helpful before bed. You can do this in a creative fashion as well, such as writing some poetry or a letter to yourself. Also, writing tomorrow’s to-do list near the end of your work day can help you keep those tasks off your mind for the rest of the night.
- Use the bed for sleep (and sex) only. Our brains are very good at association. We want our bodies to associate the bedroom with sleep. This means no TV, phones, eating, or doing work in bed. We want our bodies to be prepared for sleep when we lay down in the bedroom.
- Limit large amounts of liquid 1 hour before bed. Hydrating is a very important part of health, but to minimize waking in the night to urinate try to limit large quantities of liquid right before bed.
- Drink tea. Ritual medicine is a beautiful way to tune into your body and prepare yourself for relaxation. Drinking tea before bed is a sweet way to create ritual and also incorporate herbs into your day allowing you to connect more with nature. You can explore herbal tea that is helpful for sleep. Some of my personal favorites are chamomile and lemon balm. Just make sure to drink a smaller amount or drink the tea 1 hour before bed.
- Take a bath. Taking a bath with Epsom salts is even better. Epsom salts naturally contain magnesium and is absorbed through the skin in a bath. Magnesium is known to be helpful for relaxation of the mind and muscles, amongst many other health benefits. Magnesium is needed for the production of melatonin in the body as well, so it helps with sleep on multiple levels.
- Eat protein throughout the day. Fluctuations in our blood sugar can keep us awake at night, especially low blood sugar, as it can cause the release of adrenaline. Making sure to eat protein throughout the day can keep blood sugar steady and can minimize highs and lows in the night, possibly improving sleep.
- Keep the bedroom cold. Sleeping in a comfortably chill room can optimize sleep. Our bodies naturally cool down before sleeping and often prefer a cooler room to sleep in. I often set my thermostat to 67-70 degrees.
- Keep your bedroom dark. Just as we don’t want blue light from our screens affecting our melatonin, we don’t want other ambient light affecting it either. If possible, eliminate night lights, alarm clock glow, and lights outside of your bedroom.
- Allow for 8 hours of sleep. Allow for this amount of time every day of the week as this number of hours is optimal for overall health.
- Avoid caffeine after 2-3PM. Caffeine increases cortisol which is commonly known as our “stress hormone”. It can make us feel more awake or in a fight, flight, or freeze state of mind. Caffeine also can inhibit melatonin, our sleep hormone. Morning coffee or other types of caffeine, such as green or black tea, is usually fine, but stopping consumption before the afternoon hours can help with keeping us relaxed before bed. It is good to be aware that even chocolate has a small amount of caffeine and can affect sensitive individual’s sleep!
These are some simple ideas to help improve the quality of your sleep. If these don’t improve the quality of your sleep, there may be a deeper pathology occurring that a health practitioner should help you evaluate and treat.
Now, go and enjoy some beauty rest!
- Sleep And Sleep Disorders. CDC. December 10, 2014.
- Melatonin. Textbook of Natural Medicine.
- Insomnia Disorder. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – 5.