All of us will have an occasional sleepless night on occasion. This is perfectly normal. However, when stress, hormones or changing time zones often begin to effect our sleep on a regular basis, lack of sleep can take a real toll on our heath.
Unfortunately, the easy answer for most people is to ask their doctor for a sleeping pill. What most people do not realize is that most sleeping pills do not allow your body to get into the deep layers of sleep that are truly restorative to the body.
The best way to restore sleep is to work at creating an environment conducive to sleep. The following is a list of steps you can take to return restorative sleep to your health.
- Make sure to "wind down" before trying to sleep. In general, you need about an hour of not doing anything stimulating before bed, especially avoid any use of a computer or handheld device.
- Avoid watching TV in your bedroom.
- Avoid high glycemic and harder to digest foods as bedtime snacks. A whole grain snack is better as it helps to support tryptophan, a precursor to melatonin.
- Discontinue caffeine 4-6 hours before bedtime.
- Minimize noise as much as possible or consider a "white noise" machine or MP3. Our brains are relaxed by certain beats and vibrations.
- Minimize light in the room as much as possible. Even with your eyes closed you are sensitive to light.
- Find your perfect temperature. Most people fall asleep well at a cooler temperature that they find their in their house all day. 69 F is a good temperature for most
- Avoid vigorous exercise within 3 hours of bedtime
- Avoid alcohol to fall asleep. It is true alcohol will often make you tired and fall asleep however it has a dark side it often causes early morning awakening (2am) and difficulty sleeping through the whole night. You also get a poorer quality of sleep that is less restorative.
- Melatonin is released by the brain in the evening to help maintain a normal sleep cycle. This can be helpful, but many people don't take the correct dose. Make sure to talk with your physician about how to find the right amount of melatonin for you.
- There are also several botanicals that help to calm the mind before bed without disrupting your sleep cycle.
- Consider trying a gentle Yoga routine before bed. You can often find DVDs that provide a nice before bed routine.
- Also try a regular breathing exercise or meditation before bed. Breath can often focus the mind. Many people find a regular breathing exercise can provide a stage to let go of bothersome thoughts before bed. Remember, to be patient with it, it may take a few weeks to master
Keep in mind that "letting go" or surrender is key in sleep onset. Efforts to force ourselves to sleep usually fail. So rather than "try" to fall asleep, set the stage to fall asleep and open yourself to be receptive to it and let go.
Sleep is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle, and can not only make you look and feel better, it can help your body fight off or better deal with a range of chronic and acute illnesses.
Dr Sharyl Truty is a board certified Family Practice & Sports Medicine Physician located in the Ponte Vedra, FL area. Her innovative approach puts you in charge of your health, free from onerous insurance and health systems’ mandates and protocols
Sources: American Academy of Family Practice Journal, Primary Care Rap, and University of Arizona Integrative Medicine Alumni Fellowship