Lost sleep is lost forever, and a persistent lack of sleep has a cumulative effect when it comes to disrupting your health. Poor sleep can make your life miserable, as many of you probably know. The good news is, there are many natural techniques you can learn to restore your “sleep health.”
Whether you have difficulty falling asleep, waking up too often, or feeling inadequately rested when you wake up in the morning or maybe you simply want to improve the quality of your sleep then read on…
(Check out our Sheena Hendon Health Power Sleep Programme at the bottom of this blog x)
What are the effects of poor sleep?
Many of us have experienced a sleepless night spent tossing and turning, begging sleep to come. A night or two of lost sleep, though not ideal, shouldn’t have any major effect on your health. When one sleepless night turns into several in a row, you may be facing a sleep problem. Several nights of missed sleep can affect your emotional and physical well-being. Insomnia can affect everything from your productivity to your relationships. If you have difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep, without a medical condition to blame, there are many natural ways to begin alleviating this problem without prescription medication.
Science has now established that a sleep deficit can have serious, far-reaching effects on your health. For example, interrupted or impaired sleep can:
- Dramatically weaken your immune system
- Cause a pre-diabetic state, making you feel hungry even if you’ve already eaten, which can wreak havoc on your weight
- Seriously impair your memory
- Impair your performance on physical or mental tasks, and decrease your problem solving ability
- Prematurely age you by interfering with your growth hormone production, Growth hormone is normally released by your pituitary gland during deep sleep and during certain types of exercise and helps you look and feel younger.
- Accelerate tumour growth; When your circadian rhythms are disrupted, your body produces less melatonin (a hormone and an antioxidant) and has less ability to fight cancer since melatonin helps suppress free radicals that can lead to cancer. This is why tumours grow faster when you sleep poorly.
- Impaired sleep can also increase stress-related disorders, including heart disease,
stomach ulcers, constipation and mood disorders like depression.
The Definition of Insomnia
Delayed sleep onset (difficulty getting to sleep) – possibly associated with serotonin deficiency. Insomnia is defined as the persistent difficulty or the inability to fall and/or stay asleep. This condition may have no apparent aetiology, but is often a symptom of an underlying medical or psychological condition. Insomnia is generally not considered a disease, but rather a symptom of other health problems such as anxiety, depression or pain. Ongoing sleep impairment interferes with normal daytime function. Insomnia is classified as chronic if it persists for 4 weeks or longer. There are two common types of insomnia:
- Frequent awakenings and/or early morning arousal (difficulty staying asleep) – possibly associated with dopamine imbalances.
Stages of Sleep
The brain enters different sleep stages while you sleep:
· Light Sleep – Also known as stage 1 and 2
· Deep Sleep – Also known as stage 3 and 4
· REM Sleep – the “special” stage of sleep where dreaming occurs.
All too often people struggle with tiredness and lack of motivation because of too much light sleep and too little deep sleep and REM. Often almost no deep sleep is obtained. Since light sleep is nowhere near as powerful as deep sleep, the brain tries to compensate by sleeping for 9 hours or more. Paradoxically, this is also the case of insomnia – the brain isn’t properly “trained” to enter the deep stages of sleep, so it tends to hover in wakefulness and the lighter stages of sleep without getting any real rest. It all comes down to Deep Sleep and REM.
To boost energy levels and get by on less sleep we need to train our brain to include more deep sleep and REM in less amount of time – to get the need stages more efficiently and waste less time in light sleep. To do that we need to optimise serotonin, melatonin, cortisol, and dopamine cycles.
So how much sleep do we actually need?
Six to eight hours per night seems to be the optimal amount of sleep for adults. However, as I explained it is the quality of sleep that is important.
Sleep Risk Factors
Major causative factors and risk factors that can contribute to the incidence of insomnia in adults include the following:
- Substance abuse: caffeine, alcohol, recreational drugs, long-term sedative use, stimulants; nicotine can cause restlessness while quitting smoking can cause transient insomnia.
- Disruption of circadian rhythms: shift work; travel across time zones; visual loss; circadian rhythms—regulated, in part, by the release of endogenous melatonin.
- Menopause: insomnia is present in 30% to 40% of menopausal women. It may be due to hot flashes and night sweats, anxiety, and/or change in progesterone levels.
- Hormonal fluctuations: Such as hypercortisolemia; hyperthyroidism; hypoprogesteronaemia (progesterone promotes sleep).
- Advanced age: normal decrease in depth, length, and continuity of sleep. Many factors are responsible for age-related insomnia, including the biological changes of ageing, the existence of underlying medical conditions, increased sensitivity to environmental factors, more medications leading to greater potential for side effects, neurologic disorders that may cause confusion and disorientation, increased likelihood of depression, anxiety, and grief.
- Medical conditions: gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, fibromyalgia and other chronic pain syndromes, hyperthyroidism, arthritis, heart disease, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obstructive sleep apnoea.
- Psychiatric and neurologic disorders: stress, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, restless leg syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Certain medications: decongestants and bronchodilators, and beta-blockers may lead to a variety of sleep disorders including mild, transient insomnia.
- Other: high-fat diet, lack of exercise, food sensitivities and blood sugar disorders have all been linked to insomnia.
It is important to address these separately with your health professional
Tips for healthy sleeping
Sleep hygiene can be defined as controlling ―behavioural and environmental factors that precede sleep and may interfere with sleep. Cultivating the following habits are essential to sleep hygiene:
Food and drink
Have your last meal 2-3 hours before bedtime. If your body has to work hard to digest your food when it should be sleeping, you may have a difficult time staying asleep.
Eat foods that help you sleep. Tryptophan is an amino acid that is a precursor to serotonin, which is then converted to melatonin. Carbohydrate snacks such whole grain crackers before bedtime may help to promote sleep. Just be sure to stay away from sweets.
Eat a high-protein snack several hours before bed. This can provide the L-tryptophan needed for your melatonin and serotonin production. Also, eat a small piece of fruit. This can help the tryptophan cross your blood-brain barrier. Example of what to eat: bananas, dates, figs, milk, nut butter or yogurt. These are foods high in tryptophan, which can promote sleep.
Eat magnesium-rich foods. Magnesium is a natural sedative. Deficiency of magnesium can result in difficulty sleeping, constipation, muscle tremors or cramps, anxiety, irritability, and pain. It has also been used for people with restless leg syndrome. Foods rich in magnesium are legumes and seeds, dark leafy green vegetables, wheat bran, almonds, cashews, blackstrap molasses, brewer’s yeast, and whole grains.
Cut out caffeine. Caffeine can have a pronounced effect on sleep, causing insomnia and restlessness. In addition to coffee, tea, and soft drinks, look for hidden sources of caffeine such as chocolate, cough and cold medicine, and other over-the-counter medicine.
Avoid sweets. Although sugar can give a burst of energy, it’s short-lived and can cause uneven blood sugar levels. This can disrupt sleep in the middle of the night as blood sugar levels fall.
Avoid heavy, spicy foods 4-6 hours before bed
Avoid alcohol. Although alcohol will make you drowsy, the effect is short lived and you will often wake up several hours later, unable to fall back asleep. Alcohol will also keep you from entering the deeper stages of sleep, where your body does most of its healing.
Reduce or avoid as many drugs as possible. Many drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter, may adversely affect sleep.
Exercise regularly. Exercising for at least 30 minutes per day can improve your sleep. However, don’t exercise too close to bedtime or it may keep you awake.
Lose excess weight. Being overweight can increase your risk of sleep apnea, which can seriously impair your sleep.
Avoid foods you may be sensitive to. This is particularly true for sugar, grains, and pasteurized dairy. Sensitivity reactions can cause excess congestion, gastrointestinal upset, bloating and gas, and other problems.
Have your adrenals health checked by a health practitioner. Scientists have found that insomnia may be caused by adrenal stress.
If you are menopausal or perimenopausal, get checked out by a health practitioner. The hormonal changes at this time may cause sleep problems if not properly addressed.
Get to bed as early as possible. Your body (particularly your adrenal system) does a majority of its recharging between the hours of 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. In addition, your gallbladder dumps toxins during this same period. If you are awake, the toxins back up into your liver, which can further disrupt your health.
Don’t change your bedtime. You should go to bed and wake up at the same times each day, even on the weekends. This will help your body to get into a sleep rhythm and make it easier to fall asleep and get up in the morning.
Establish a bedtime routine. This could include meditation, deep breathing, using essential oils or indulging in a massage from your partner. The key is to find something that makes you feel relaxed, then repeat it each night to help you release the tensions of the day.
Don’t drink any fluids within 2 hours of going to bed. This will reduce the likelihood of needing to get up and go to the bathroom or at least minimise the frequency.
Go to the bathroom right before bed. This will reduce the chances that you’ll wake up to go in the middle of the night.
Take a hot bath, shower or sauna before bed. When your body temperature is raised in the late evening, it will fall at bedtime, facilitating slumber. The temperature drop from getting out of the bath signals your body it’s time for bed.
Wear socks to bed. Feet often feel cold before the rest of the body because they have the poorest circulation. A study has shown that wearing socks to bed reduces night waking. As an alternative, you could place a hot water bottle near your feet at night.
Wear an eye mask to block out light. As discussed later, it is very important to sleep in as close to complete darkness as possible. An eye mask can be helpful.
Put your work away at least one hour before bed (preferably two hours or more). This will give your mind a chance to unwind so you can go to sleep feeling calm, not hyped up or anxious about tomorrow’s deadlines.
No TV right before bed. Even better, get the TV out of the bedroom or even completely out of the house. It’s too stimulating to the brain, preventing you from falling asleep quickly. TV disrupts your pineal gland function.
Listen to relaxation CDs. Some people find the sound of white noise or nature sounds, such as the ocean or forest, to be soothing for sleep.
Read something spiritual or uplifting. This may help you relax. Don’t read anything stimulating, such as a mystery or suspense novel, which has the opposite effect. In addition, if you are really enjoying a suspenseful book, you might be tempted to go on reading for hours, instead of going to sleep!
Journaling. If you often lay in bed with your mind racing, it might be helpful to keep a journal and write down your thoughts before bed.
Make sure your bed and bedding is comfortable
Sleep in complete darkness or as close to it as possible. Even the tiniest bit of light in the room can disrupt your internal clock and your pineal gland’s production of melatonin and serotonin. Even the tiniest glow from your clock radio could be interfering with your sleep. . Close your bedroom door, and get rid of night-lights. Refrain from turning on any light at all during the night, even when getting up to go to the bathroom. Cover up your clock radio. Cover your windows—I recommend using blackout shades or drapes.
All life evolved in response to predictable patterns of light and darkness, called circadian rhythms. Modern day electrical lighting has significantly betrayed your inner clock by disrupting your natural rhythms. Little bits of light pass directly through your optic nerve to your hypothalamus, which controls your biological clock. Light signals your brain that it’s time to wake up and starts preparing your body for action.
Keep the temperature in your bedroom no higher than 70 degrees F. Many people keep their homes and particularly their upstairs bedrooms too warm. Studies show that the optimal room temperature is quite cool, between 60 to 68 degrees. Keeping your room cooler or hotter can lead to restless sleep. When you sleep, your body’s internal temperature drops to its lowest level, generally about four hours after you fall asleep. Scientists believe a cooler bedroom may, therefore, be most conducive to sleep, since it mimics your body’s natural temperature drop.
Check your bedroom for electromagnetic fields. These can disrupt the pineal gland and the production of melatonin and serotonin and may have other negative effects as well.
Move alarm clocks and other electrical devices away from your bed. If these devices must be used, keep them as far away from your bed as possible, preferably at least 3 feet. Remove the clock from view. It will only add to your worry when you stare at it all night… 2 a.m. …3 a.m. … 4:30 a.m.
Avoid using loud alarm clocks. It is very stressful on your body to be suddenly jolted awake.
Reserve your bed for sleeping (and sex). If you are used to watching TV or doing work in bed, you may find it harder to relax and drift off to sleep, so avoid doing these activities in bed.
Consider separate bedrooms. Recent studies suggest, for many people, sharing a bed with a partner (or pets) can significantly impair sleep, especially if the partner is a restless sleeper or snores. If bedfellows are consistently interfering with your sleep, you may want to consider a separate bedroom or bed.
What if I do wake up in the night?
After waking through the night, if sleep is not resumed within 15-20 minutes, it is futile to remain in bed “trying hard” to sleep. I recommend you get up and leave the bedroom, read, have a light snack, do a quiet activity or taking a bath. Generally, sleep will resume 20 minutes or so later.
Do not perform a challenging or engaging activity such as office work, housework or watch television. Radio is less engaging, and can for some people be a comfort to help sleep.
Natural Remedies for Insomnia
Neuro-Linguistic Programming and or Emotional Freedom Technique can be used to help balance your body’s bioenergy system and resolve some of the emotional stresses that are contributing to your insomnia at a very deep level. The results are typically long lasting and improvement is remarkably rapid.
Relaxation techniques are one of the most effective ways to increase sleep time, fall asleep faster, and feel more rested in the morning. They require a minimum of 20 minutes before going to bed. There are many different techniques:
- Visualisation – involves imagining a relaxing scene. You can try it in bed before falling asleep. Involve all your senses. If you’re imagining yourself on a tropical island, think of the way the warm breeze feels against your skin. Imagine the sweet scent of the flowers, look at the water and listen the waves–you get the picture. The more vivid the visualisation and the more senses you involve, the more effective it will be.
- Relaxation Response – A mind/body technique based on the principles of Transcendental Meditation.
- Mindfulness – A type of meditation that essentially involves focusing on your mind on the present.
- Yoga – combines deep breathing, meditation, and stretching. A Harvard study found that daily yoga for eight weeks improved total sleep time, the time to fall asleep.
Acupuncture and acupressure have been shown to help resolve insomnia.
Timed exposures to bright light (at least 2000 lux) can change the sleep-wake cycle and may be beneficial for treating circadian rhythm sleep disorders such as delayed sleep phase syndrome, jet lag, and sleeplessness caused by night shift work. Exposure to late afternoon sun, which stimulates release of endogenous melatonin: melatonin does not induce sleep but it does help regulate the circadian rhythm.
Increase your melatonin. Ideally it is best to increase levels naturally with exposure to bright sunlight in the daytime (along with full spectrum fluorescent bulbs in the winter) and absolute complete darkness at night. If that isn’t possible, you may want to consider a melatonin supplement. In scientific studies, melatonin has been shown to increase sleepiness, help you fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep, decrease restlessness, and reverse daytime fatigue. Melatonin is a completely natural substance, made by your body, and has many health benefits in addition to sleep.
Melatonin tablets or tonic are a popular remedy to help people fall asleep when the sleep/wake cycle has been disturbed, such as in shift workers or people who with jet lag. Melatonin is a hormone found naturally in the body. The pineal gland in the brain makes serotonin which is then converted into melatonin at night when exposure to light decreases. Melatonin is typically taken about 30 minutes before the desired bedtime. Some experts caution that melatonin should not be used by people with depression, schizophrenia, autoimmune diseases, and other serious illness. Pregnant and nursing women should not use melatonin.
Herbal remedies.Chamomile, valerian, kava, passionflower, lemon balm, and ashwagandha are herbs that are often used for insomnia. Some people may find benefit from simply having a cup of chamomile tea one to two hours before going to bed. Chamomile can reduce anxiety, calm the digestive system, and relieve muscle tension.
Essential Oils. Lavender has long been used to help people fall asleep. It has been found to lengthen total sleep time, increase deep sleep, and make people feel refreshed. Ensure you use pure therapeutic oils such as Doterra oils and add several drops of lavender oil to a bath once it has run — the drop in body temperature after a warm bath also helps with sleep. Also, place a couple of drops on each foot once you are in bed. Other pure essential oils that can help with sleep are chamomile and ylang-ylang.
Traditional Chinese Medicine. In traditional Chinese medicine, insomnia often stems from kidney energy weakness. This syndrome is not necessarily related to kidney disease in Western medicine. A few signs of kidney energy weakness are a low backache, tiredness and fatigue, and a burst of energy at about 11 pm in the evening. Women in menopause often experience this type of insomnia. People who are taking anti-estrogenic drugs such as tamoxifen also experience this type of insomnia, however, they should not take herbal combinations such as the herbal formula liu wei di huang that may increase oestrogen levels.
Ayurvedic Medicine. In Ayurvedic medicine, insomnia is often associated with a Vata imbalance. Vata regulates breathing and circulation. People with a Vata imbalance often notice irritability, anxiety, and fear with insomnia. One Ayurvedic treatment is the application of oil on the head and feet. For the pitta type, room temperature coconut oil is used, for the Vata type, warm sesame oil is applied, and for the Kapha type, warm mustard oil is often applied.
Feng Shui, which originates in the Chinese philosophy of Taoism, instructs how to arrange rooms, furniture, offices, houses, and other arrangements to maximize favourable energy flow throughout living spaces. Here are some recommendations that may help promote relaxing sleep:
- Try not to have the bed in a corner of the room. The corners are where energy tends to be stagnant.
- Avoid putting your bed next to a window. Energy can be drained this way.
- The bed shouldn’t be positioned so that the soles of the feet, when lying face-up in bed, directly face the doorway.
- When lying in bed, you should have full view of anyone coming in the door. If you can’t do this directly, hang a mirror to reflect the entranceway.
Try to avoid facing sharp corners from desks, bookcases/other pieces of furniture
Our Power Sleep Programme
will assist you in getting the quality sleep that you need to for optimum physical and mental function. We aim to address the underlying causes and risk factors of poor sleep and train your brain to include more deep sleep and REM in less amount of time by optimising serotonin, melatonin, cortisol, and dopamine cycles.
The first appointment is 45 minutes to 1 hour in duration and is for Fact Finding – finding out the underlying physical, environmental and mental causes of poor sleep. This includes you completing a generic health questionnaire before you come in. Once we have discussed your individual requirements we will do relevant tests in the practice such as zinc tally test, PH test, ABO blood type testing, blood sugar levels and blood pressure, weight and body composition. We may also arrange external tests such as blood tests, cortisol and melatonin tests, allergy and intolerance tests.
Note: depending on the severity of your sleep issue and the tests we need to do, we may need to arrange a separate half-hour testing consultation.
The second appointment typically 30 minutes long is for your Report of Findings where I will explain in detail what is going on for you and outline the Power Sleep treatment plan and protocol.
This includes consultations, internal tests, research, and treatment plan and protocol development. Any supplement/herbal medicines prescribed and external tests are extra.
Contact Sheena Hendon to book in for your Power Sleep Programme today or information about other sessions or consultations which may suit your health needs x