I don’t know about you, but I don’t meet many people who actually sleep anymore. Maybe you can’t fall asleep because your mind is racing, or you’re in bed for 8 hours, but you still wake up tired. The kids wake you up or you really only have 3 hours, so you make the best of it. Sleep has become a luxury, when it used to be just a part of life.
There is a whole chapter on sleep in the forthcoming second edition of my book DIY Health: For Women, but here’s an excerpt to get your started. Next week I’ll talk a little about restless leg syndrome, because there are natural treatments that are super effective.
Simple Steps to a more normal sleep cycle
- Make sure the sleep environment is totally dark – this means no nightlight, no TV, no light coming in the window, no bright alarm clocks.
- Caffeine only before noon – even sodas and iced tea.
- Exercise – this helps everything. Really everything. For most people it is best to exercise in the morning, but some people respond best to evening exercise. As with everything else, try it at home and see what your body likes best. Remember 10 minutes is more than none, so don’t feel bad about just doing 10 minutes if that’s all the time you have.
- Cut down on the sugars and starches in your diet – they stimulate cortisol production, especially when they are eaten right before bed. Blood sugar instability can wake you up at night and prevent you from getting into deeper sleep stages. Make sure the last meal of your day is mostly proteins and not so many starches and sugars.
- Melatonin before you go to bed – between 1 and 10 mg depending on your body’s response. When you get the right amount of melatonin you will fall asleep easily and generally stay asleep well. Too much produces extremely vivid dreams or nightmares as well as a groggy feeling in the morning like you’re not ready to get out of bed. If you notice those symptoms just decrease your dose. In general, the amount of melatonin that you need decreases over time and typically you will be able to sleep well without it within a few months. The typical starting dose is 3mg and you can use more or less depending on your needs.
- Eliminate food sensitivities – these are one of the biggest hidden causes of insomnia. Eating a food to which your body is sensitive increases inflammation and your internal stress levels, which raises cortisol and prevents restful sleep. It also makes your pain levels higher, if you have pain that prevents you from sleeping, simply because of the inflammation. If you don’t know how to do this, read the full article here.
- Warm milk before bed – unless, of course, you have a milk or dairy sensitivity. Warm milk before bed (or hot chocolate with real cocoa) is wonderful. Milk contains a protein called casein that acts as an opioid and sedative, which helps you to sink into sleep more easily.
- Protein rich foods for the evening meal – these digest slowly, unlike starches and sugars, so your body isn’t stimulated to wake up because of hunger or fluctuations in blood sugar.
- Numb out as you fall asleep – This is one of my favorite things. I had insomnia as a child and my father was able to help me overcome it using this technique. As you lay down for sleep find a comfortable position and then focus on a heavy feeling in your body. It is almost the feeling you get when you go to the dentist and have your mouth numbed – that heavy, numb, overly-large feeling. Start feeling that feeling in your toes and feel it gradually creep up your feet to your ankles to your calves and up your body slowly all the way to your head. At first you may have to go through the cycle from toes to head a few times, but this is an effective way of shutting down your brain and blocking out the thoughts that can sometimes keep you awake. The more you use the numb out, the easier it will become. Now if I have a hard time sleeping, I numb-out and I can barely make it past my knees before I’m asleep.
- Eliminate noise or get some white noise – If your sleep environment is noisy then do everything you can to make it quiet. There are lots of noises you can’t do anything about and if you have a lot of that type of noise then get a noisy fan or a white noise machine to help neutralize background noise. This helps especially if you wake up with every little thing.
There are so many sleep strategies out there, and this is by no means a complete list, but it’s a baby step towards good sleep hygiene. If you are still having a lot of trouble, or this just isn’t enough then set up an appointment. I see lots of people with long-standing insomnia and usually there is something we can do about it.
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