Most sleep difficulties are related to the one or more of the following: Onset, Maintenance or Quality. Onset is when sleep begins, Maintenance is the ability to stay asleep and Quality is the overall affect sleep has on our vitality.
Achieving non-REM sleep, the deepest type of sleep means that waking up refreshed is more likely. Any factor including onset or maintenance difficulties that throws the sleep cycle off, will disturb non-REM sleep and result in a depleted quality of rest.
If you are experiencing sleep troubles, the following tips are designed to get you back on track:
- Why Can’t I Sleep? Find the cause to develop a solution.
Whether it is onset, maintenance or both, finding out why this is happening is important. More obvious reasons may be acute/chronic pain, needing to urinate or temperature extremes. These must always be considered.
Bedding – a good quality mattress, supportive pillows and comfortable sheets are worth investing in if it means your sleep will improve.
Noise – this is one of the hardest ones to control but it might involve a house move if noise can’t be mitigated. Earplugs can be a saviour if you are a light sleeper but also if you have a snoring partner (getting health professionals to address their snoring is ideal).
Core temperature – Freezing winter and boiling summer can be modulated externally, but getting your body to optimal temperature can be achieved through a warm shower before bed. It also works well at any time of night when sleep is difficult – even at 2am if necessary.
Stress – This is one of the most common reasons for staying awake when we should be asleep and the reason is biochemical. Always consider this as an underlying cause whether you feel stressed or not – a “busy brain” also equates to stress.
- Support Melatonin Production
Adenosine is a hormone that makes us sleepy, while Melatonin is a hormone that helps you to stay asleep. They are both important in the sleep process but Melatonin disturbance equals sleep disturbance.
How do we support the “normal” production of sleep hormone?
Limit use of Devices – Blue light from phones and other devices can impair melatonin production and therefore upset sleep quality and/or cause sleep latency. Avoid using these after 9pm. Consider also turning on blue light filters where available and invest in blue light blocking glasses.
Light – ensure you spend some time each day in bright light for around 30 minutes. Then in contrast, keep away from all sources of light when you want to sleep.
Stress Management – Stress will factor into most sleep difficulties because the stress hormone Cortisol is a Melatonin antagonist. This means, if you are stressed (emotionally, physically, mentally) the likelihood of producing appropriate levels of Melatonin for a restful sleep is unlikely. Cortisol is an “awake” hormone, while Melatonin is an “asleep” hormone. Adopt stress management techniques daily to reduce the control of Cortisol has over your sleep cycle.
- Respect your Circadian Rhythms
Circadian rhythms are the human wake/sleep cycle indicating typical hormonal secretion. Respecting this cycle can help to prevent sleep disruption. The circadian cycle indicates that sleep is best achieved around 9pm. If this isn’t possible, creating a positive sleep pattern can mean going to bed at the same time each night.
Caffeine – this will always affect our wake/sleep cycle whether you think it does or not. It might one day and not the next. Ditch caffeine after 12pm to limit sleep disturbance. Be mindful of any foods that might contain caffeine such as ice cream, dark chocolate or energy bars.
Alcohol – similar to caffeine, alcohol will cause a decline in sleep quality by limiting restorative sleep. After drinking we usually need more sleep than usual and this is why.
Regular consumption of caffeine and alcohol where no sleep disturbances occur, does not exclude issues from developing in the future.
- Get some extra assistance
If you cannot identify why your sleep is impaired, a Naturopath can help you find the cause. Supplementation of nutrients and / or herbal medicine is one of the most effective ways to resolve these issues while addressing concomitant factors.