Simple steps to better sleep
by Abrar Negahban, ND
Sleeping disorders are quite common among the population. The term insomnia has been used as a general term in literature and society in a variety of ways to describe sleeping disorders. Insomnia is defined as an individual’s difficulty with sleep (1) or an individual’s dissatisfaction with quality of sleep. This difficulty may include difficulty falling asleep, maintaining sleep, having non-restorative sleep or early morning awakening. (1) Approximately 10 to 20 percent of the population struggle with insomnia where approximately 50 percent have a chronic course. (2) The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7 to 9 hours of sleep per 24 hours for adults, however this may vary individually. (3)
Insomnia, or difficulty sleeping may be a health condition on its own, which is referred to as ‘primary insomnia’, or may be presenting as a symptom or sign related to another health condition, ‘secondary insomnia’. Secondary insomnia can be overlooked a lot of times. Most chronic health conditions do present with insomnia, which include and are not limited to anxiety, depression, diabetes, heartburn, asthma, sleep apnea, etc. Managing the underlying health condition usually helps resolve the sleeping problems. However there are times where trouble sleeping persists. It is significant to identify the root cause in order to be able to treat it successfully. Some medications may also cause insomnia as a side effect. Insomnia can also act as a risk factor for other health conditions. If remained untreated it may lead to impaired function, development of mental disorders, cardiovascular disorders, digestive disorders and may also increase the risk of stroke.
Whether your sleep issues is related to a health condition or not there are simple steps that you could take to promote better sleep.
The comfort you feel in your bedroom environment can determine a great night’s sleep. You should feel comfortable with the temperature, the bed surface and your choice of clothes for sleep. The design of the room itself can also affect your sleep. De-cluttering and creating a clean and organized space has been showed to effect sleep in positive ways. (3)
Your bedrooms lighting is also important. Research has shown that light detected by cells in the retina of the eyes sends messages to the brain to reduce melatonin production which is needed for restful sleep and increase in cortisol levels which makes us alert. The same occurs when using electronics before bed. The light emitted by electronics has been shown to lower release of melatonin. (5) If you’re having trouble sleeping try making your room dark and avoid using cellphones or computers an hour before bed.
We are all aware that having a lighter dinner helps with better sleep. A good choice would be to have larger protein rich meals for breakfast and lunch and have lighter meals and avoid stimulants such as caffeine before bed.
On the other hand, an interesting study found a connection between sleep deprivation and food intake. In this study people who were sleep deprived were consuming more simple carbohydrates and fatty foods and less vegetables. The researchers found that sleep loss alters chemical signals linked to metabolism and hunger, resulting in overeating, leading to obesity. (6)
Stress can do wonders. All individuals experience stress in various ways, as it is inevitable. But what matters is how we manage stress in our lives and its impact on our health. Stress management is one of the most challenging tasks not because it is difficult to perform, but because it needs compliance and consistency.
We’ve all had sleepless nights when our minds are occupied. Its no surprise that we’ll have better sleep when our mind is relaxed. Different techniques work for different people. You need to find what techniques work for you and do it on a regular basis. Whether it’s exercising on a regular basis or writing down your mental chatter before bed.
Various kinds of mindfulness exercises have been shown to help with many aspects of our health and sleep quality is no exception. There are many ways to achieve mindfulness. One study showed mindfulness meditation to improve sleep parameters in individuals suffering from insomnia. Other mindfulness activities such as journaling before bed have also been found to be helpful. (7) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a very beneficial tool for stress management and many mental health conditions. It is a tool usually taught with the help of a trained health care practitioner. A study found CBT improving insomnia showing long-term results. (8)
Another tool that you can use to help with your sleeping troubles is acupuncture treatments. These treatments can take anywhere between 15 to 30 minutes. The number and frequency of treatment sessions depends on your individual case. The treatment plans are tailored to your individual needs.
Many studies have shown acupuncture treatments to be beneficial for both primary insomnia (9) and insomnia caused by other health conditions such as menopause (10).
Another way to improve your sleep is incorporating herbal teas in your daily routine a few hours before bed. Medicinal herbs such as passionflower, chamomile and valerian, found in many over the counter products, have been well known to help with insomnia and there have been many studies supporting them.
Passionflower, scientifically known as Passiflora incarnata, has been used for its sedative effects for years to help with insomnia and anxiety. It positively impacts GABA receptors in our bodies, which are responsible for relaxation of our brain and muscles, resulting in less anxiety, depression and better quality sleep. (11) It is also known for other properties such as analgesia, antispasmotic and antiasthmatic properties. (12)
Chamomile, also known as Matricaria chamomilla has very similar properties to passionflower, known for its analgesic and spasmolytic properties. Having sedative properties it has been shown to be an effective and safe option to improve sleep in the elderly (13) as well as postnatal women. (14)
Valeriana officinalis, or valerian root, also works on the GABA receptors causing relaxation. (15) The herbs mentioned can be found in bulk or as teabags. Steep a teaspoon or a teabag of the desired herb for 10 minutes and drink 1 to 2 hours before bed. If you’re using an over the counter product containing these herbs make sure you discuss using it with your health care practitioner to make sure it is suitable for you. Herbs and natural products can have undesirable effects if taken without consultation especially if taken with medications.
As mentioned earlier melatonin is required for restful sleep. Melatonin is a hormone naturally made in your body but can also be found in foods such as fruits, vegetables, and grains. You can also find it in supplement form. Generally speaking, it works by regulating the sleep/wake rhythm and promoting sleep. Its been shown to reduce sleep onset time and increase sleep duration. (16)
Magnesium is another relatively safe supplement used to help with sleep disturbances. It’s been shown to improve sleep efficiency, sleep time and sleep onset and early morning awakening by its positive impact on GABA receptors. (17)
In conclusion, the information mentioned in this article includes relatively safe ways to improve your sleep. However if sleep disturbances persist or if you notice other new symptoms it is important to discuss things with your health care practitioner.