Originally published in our Summer 2012 newsletter and on Kate’s blog
I’ve done several presentations that include information about the importance of sleep (for more about booking me for speaking engagements, including several example topics, check out my Speaking page). The first step for better sleep is to follow some simple tips:
1. Darkness (and light)
Sleeping in TOTAL darkness maximizes melatonin (the hormone your brain makes to put you to sleep) production which helps you get to sleep easier, sleep more deeply, and wake at the appropriate time in the morning. It is equally important to get some light exposure in the morning to send your body the right signals of light and dark. This daily rhythm is associated with proper hormone balance, energy during the day, blood sugar balance, and many other aspects of health.
Dim the lights in the evening and then remove or cover all sources of light in your bedroom (window, clock, electronics, night lights) and then get outside for 15-20 minutes each morning.
2. Timing is everything
Try to maintain consistent sleep and wake times within 1-2 hours of variation. The most important time to be sleeping according to Traditional Chinese Medicine and for optimal restoration is between 11pm and 1am. Sleeping late and waking late just does not give you the same rest and messes up those night/day signals to your body.
Also, avoid exercising 3 hours before bed – exercising later than this can interfere with normal sleep cycles.
3. Eat (and drink) for better sleep
Avoid eating within 3 hours before sleep and avoid drinking liquids within 2 hours before sleep. Sleep time is so important for blood sugar control and can be a major help for weight loss, so you don’t want to interfere with this by being overfull or waking to urinate.
Alcohol may make you feel sleepy but it actually shortens sleep time and inhibits deep sleep. Stimulants (like caffeine, chocolate, nicotine, and sugar) also interfere with sleep. If you have chronic sleep issues (troubling getting to sleep, staying asleep, or waking too early in the morning), it can be very helpful to eliminate alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, sugar, and nicotine completely for 4-6 weeks. Many people are completely unaware of how sensitive they are to these substances and how much they can affect sleep so experiment with yourself to find out!
4. Healthy sleep habits
Avoid electronics (phone, computer, TV, etc) before bed (they are too stimulating and the light they emit interferes with melatonin production) and instead do a relaxing activity before bed, such as reading, a warm bath, or meditation/breathing techniques. Check out my blog on Breathing for a simple technique to try.
Avoid napping during the day – if you need a nap because you are tired, that is a sign your nighttime sleep is not optimal and you should do something about it! If you must nap, keep it short (20-40 minutes).
Finally, choose an alarm you like. Waking up every morning to an annoying sound is not a great way to ensure a stress-free day! There are many wonderful alarms that play music or wake you up using progressive lighting. There’s also a great app for iPhone (and maybe other phones) called Sleep Cycle Alarm which measures your movement at night to determine where you are at in your sleep cycles and then wakes you at a time when it is best within a window you set.
5. What if I still can’t sleep?
If you can’t fall asleep or wake in the night, keep the lights low, avoid electronics, and do something relaxing, such as breathing or meditation. If you have trouble falling asleep due to thoughts or worries, keep a pen and paper by your bed and write down all the things you are thinking about so you can deal with them the next day. Sometimes just getting things down on paper can make a huge difference.
If you have chronic sleep issues or want to improve your sleep, there are many naturopathic treatment options available to treat your individual situation.