Natural Ways to support healthy sleep
Author: Dr. Olivia Rose | Naturopathic Doctor
Sleep truly is at the base of the health pyramid. It is such a vital pillar of health that so often gets neglected. Based on a recent survey that was conducted on behalf of the Sleep Health Foundation in Australia, approximately 60% of adults (aged 18 and older) suffer from some sort of sleep disturbance, 3 times per week or more(Reynolds, Appleton, Gill, & Adams, 2019).Now as the world is facing this current global pandemic, it is likely that sleep disturbances have only increased as a result of upsets in people’s daily routines and normal sleep patterns.
Support Your Biological Clock
You must learn to work with and adjust your own biologic clock, or in other words, your circadian rhythm. Melatonin, your sleep hormone, works inversely to cortisol, your stress hormone. When it starts to get dark outside, it signals your brain to start producing melatonin, which makes you sleepy. Your cortisol levels should simultaneously be lowering and your melatonin levels should be peaking in the middle of the night. As night turns into day and dusk sets in, the opposite should occur; your cortisol should start to rise to make you alert and your melatonin should be tapering off. These two hormones work in a fine-tuned balance and both need to be addressed to help regulate your sleep.
Maintain a Consistent Sleep-Wake Cycle
It is vital to maintain a consistent sleep-wake schedule. This means going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning…even on weekends! You may want to adjust your sleep-wake schedule with the seasons if you live further from the equator. However, your body is its own system and loves routine and habit and your sleep will definitely be optimized if you are keeping it consistent.
Be Consistent with Your Bedtime Routine
Establish a bedtime routine that works for you.Your bedtime routine should start 1 to 2 hours before you go to bed and should include any activity that you enjoy as long as itfalls in the realm of the soothing, relaxing, restorative and sleep-promoting. Sipping a cup of tea, reading, journaling, and taking a warm bath, are all great sleep inducing activities you can incorporate. Whichever activity you choose, just remember to do it often as consistency is the key to settling into any new, long lasting routine.
Take Caution with Blue Emissions
Blue light that is emitted from our many devices such as our phones, computers, tablets and television, interrupt the brain’s production of melatonin. Ideally you would avoid using these electronics 1 to 2 hours before bed and avoid keeping them in your bedroom at night. If you must use your devices during this critical window of time, use the built-in nighttime settings on your devices or wear blue light blocking glasses, if possible. Dim the lights and darken your environment around bedtime as well to promote melatonin production.
Adjust Your Sleep Environment
Your sleep environment should be dark, cool, cozy, and quiet. Melatonin helps to cool your body internally, but make sure your thermostat is cooling your external environment as well. According to Matthew Walker, a professor of psychology and sleep expert, you should be aiming for a bedroom temperature of about 65°F for optimal sleep(Walker, 2017). Feel free to crack a window to let in some cool air as long as the external environment is not too noisy.The quieter the better when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep. You may even opt to play some white noise to block out any disruptingsounds and soothe you to sleep. Lastly, make sure that your bedding is comfortable and that you opt for pajamas that aresoft and loose fitting.
Try Sleep Inducing Foods
A general rule of thumb is to avoid eating within a couple hours of bedtime. However, if you are feeling hungry and feel the need to reach for that bedtime snack, try choose sleep-promoting foods.
Some tropical fruits such as bananas, pineapples and oranges have been shown to naturally raise melatonin levels. In particular, drinking one serving (30mL) of tart cherry juice concentrate, which naturally contains melatonin, has been shown to increase total sleep time and efficiency (Howatson, Bell, & Talent, 2011). You can also promote melatonin production by consuming foods high in tryptophan such as turkey.
If the cause of your insomnia is rooted in your mental health, you may want to reach for fermented foods. Fermented foods help to maintain a healthy gut microbiome, and your gut is like your second brain. When your gut is healthy and happy, stress may have less of a disrupting effect on your sleep.
Work on Managing Your Stress
Mental health afflictions such as anxiety, depression and stress are one of the most common causes of disordered sleep. There are a multitude of stress management strategies you can implement to help shift your nervous system to a more parasympathetic (relaxed) state such as meditation or journaling. The goal is to commit to a practice of your choice and perform it consistently every night before bed.
I particularly like the idea of using the breath as an anchor. It can be as simple as taking 3 to 5 big deep belly breaths. Try a technique called “box breathing”. In this type of breathwork, you inhale through your nose, then hold the breath at the top, followed by an exhale through your mouth and finally, holding the breath at the bottom. Each step should be held for a count of 4. As you inhale, focus on expansion and light, and as you exhale focus on letting go and releasing stress. You can repeat this a few times over until you feel your nervous system relax and your mind achieve a state of calm.
My favourite way to use herbs to support sleep is in the form of a sleepy time tea blend. This is a perfect addition to your bedtime routine. Look for a tea that contains one or more of the following herbs that are calming for the nervous system:
- Lemon Balm
It is incredibly difficult to achieve optimal health if lack of sleep continues to be an obstacle to cure. I cannot overstate the importance of sleep, because after all it is during this time that you can truly healyour body, mind, and spirit.
Howatson, G., Bell, P., & Talent, J. e. (2011). Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality. European Journal of Nutrition, 909-916.
Reynolds, A. C., Appleton, S. L., Gill, T. K., & Adams, R. J. (2019). Chronic Insomnia Disorder in Australia – A Report to the Sleep Health Foundation. Australia: Flux Visual Communication.
Walker, M. (2017). Why We Sleep – Unlocking The Power of Sleep and Dreams. Penguin Random House.