Improve Your Sleep Quality…even if you aren’t getting enough of it
When I ask patients about their health goals, many of them tell me that they’d like to improve their sleep. Whether they are getting 10 hours or 3 hours, they aren’t waking up feeling refreshed. We all know that setting aside the appropriate amount of time for sleep (7-9 hours) is critical, but what if you’re already doing that? Or what if you simply do not have that time available to you? In this article I’m going to focus on increasing quality of sleep, using the time you’ve got to really make it count.
Fall Asleep Faster
If you tend to struggle with transitioning to sleep, listen up! The body loves routine, so, commit to going to bed at a consistent bedtime most days each week. Ideally this is between 10pm-11pm. But if you work late, that’s fine, consistency is key here. This routine helps regulate the hormones that determine our sleep/wake cycle. Next, it has to be dark. If it’s not nice and dark in your room, invest in a sleep mask. The body simply has no idea that it’s bedtime in a bright room. This also means you have to stop playing on your smart phone, tablet, computer or any bright electronic in bed. Those blue lights are telling the body it’s morning –this is not what you want. Finally, if your mind tends to race, try L-theanine. Taking about 100mg of l-theanine at bedtime can increase the amount of a neurotransmitter called GABA, which helps us feel relaxed.
If you’re sleeping through the night, but aren’t waking feeling well rested, it may because you’re not sinking into that deep delta sleep. To improve this, try decreasing the temperature in your bedroom a bit. Sleeping with a slight chill can help deepen sleep. Another possibility is that you’re not making enough melatonin. Try supplementing with 1-2mg of melatonin before bed. Finally, there is some really neat research about manipulating brain waves by using various sound frequencies. These are called binaural beats, and they can help lure your brainwaves into frequencies associated with deep sleep (delta state). This sounds a little hokey, but it really works! I like using the Brainwave App (with ear buds) to help retrain light sleep into deep sleep.
Sleep Through the Night
When I hear that someone is waking up in the middle of the night and not getting back to sleep, it’s usually a cortisol issue. Cortisol is this neat hormone that our body uses to wake us up. It’s supposed to peak in the morning (7-8am), but if there’s some adrenal dysfunction, it’ll wake us at 3am and not let go. To retrain this cortisol spike, it can be very helpful to have a high protein snack right before bed. A hardboiled egg, nut butter, a piece or turkey, or a bite of a protein bar can help stabilize blood sugar, which in turn stabilizes adrenal response. Another adrenal ally is Ashwaganda. About 100-200mg of this herbal extract can help soothe the adrenal response. I like Cortisol Manager by Integrative Therapeutics as it combines ashwaganda with l-theanine for super sleep quality. Finally, the best thing you can do if you find yourself wide awake in the middle of the night is breathe. Deep belly breaths that move your belly out with each inhale and back in toward the spine with each exhale (you can practice with a book on your belly) help reset that cortisol spike.
These are all really helpful sleep basics. However, even doing every single thing in this article may not be enough to get your sleep cycle on track. If that’s the case, please schedule a naturopathic medicine appointment with me, and let’s get to the bottom of your sleep concerns.
Dr. Grace Charles
Naturopathic Doctor, Licensed Acupuncturist