Health is not just about eating right and exercising. Sleep is vital for good health.
Sleep deprivation can lead to a laundry list of health problems such as migraines, heart disease, chronic pain, depression, obesity, and fibromyalgia, just to name a few. For this reason, I wanted to pass along some tips and tricks to help you fall asleep naturally and get better sleep. These tips have worked tremendously well for many of my migraine patients.
Firstly, sleep apnea is a major cause of sleep problems. It’s a condition characterized by starts and stops in breathing due to obstructed airways. The brain startles itself awake to avoid suffocation. The condition is extremely common in America, affecting more than 18 million people, and sadly, most go untreated.
More than 70% of Americans are sleep deprived, much of which is caused by sleep apnea. Signs of sleep apnea include loud snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness, insomnia, morning headaches, difficulty with concentration, and irritability. If you think this may be the cause of your sleep deprivation, talk to your doc about getting a sleep study completed.
Unfortunately, there is an increasing number of my patients who come in with a list of medications including stimulant drugs and sedatives. These drugs can be extremely damaging to both mind and body, and both interrupt sleep. Your body is naturally able to repair and heal itself with biological rhythms and the cyclical production of various hormones, including the most important for sleep: Melatonin. Drugs are not necessary!
The natural rhythms and cycles of the body can be interrupted by sleep disorders, which can cause the body to “shut down.” Our bodies are products of evolution, and we evolve with day and night rhythms, which signals the body’s production of hormones and chemicals that keep us healthy.
Sleep deprivation causes a rise in cortisol levels. Cortisol is the stress coping hormone that can lead to many health problems if released at high levels on a constant basis, including dementia, weight gain, migraines, etc. For the most part, our bodies need 7-8 hours of solid, quality sleep each night; however, meeting this goal in today’s chaotic and stressed out culture has become more and more difficult, leading to a mass of unhealthy people who are irritably tired all the time.
Sleep doesn’t “just happen”, especially if you have gone long periods of less than adequate amounts of sleep. You will need some tips to help you get back into the groove of good sleeping habits. Let’s review my top 19 sleep tips and tricks.
Make sleep a priority. Don’t ignore the demands of rest that your body and mind give you. I used to think, as a doctor, that I could somehow overcome the obstacle of sleeping. I could not, and I paid a heavy price with migraines. Now, though, I have learned the importance and need for good, quality sleep every night. I made it a priority to sleep at least seven hours each night.
Unfortunately, we are saturated in stimuli like television, phones, iPads, etc. Our brains remain active all the way up to the moment we turn out the lights for sleep. This is a bad idea. Technology should be turned off at least 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime, to help the brain shut down and unwind from the influx of information it received throughout the day.
Create a bedtime ritual!
Meditation, light reading in dim light, and taking a warm bath can all be part of a ritual to help you mentally prepare for sleep. This will reduce the amount of stress that is a likely culprit for sleep deprivation. A ton of research has shown us that stress is a major killer of health, and sleep is one of the first things to suffer.
Here are some other ways you can restore your sleep rhythm. Remember, that it can take a few months to really get into a comfortable sleep groove, but using any of the below tips can go a long way to helping you reset your circadian rhythms.
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
- Keep the television and reading out of the bedroom.
- Create a cool and dark environment in your bedroom, while also using soft restful colors and scents.
- Consider using eye shades and ear plugs.
- Avoid caffeine at least eight hours before bedtime.
- Limit alcohol intake. You may think it helps you fall asleep, but really it interrupts your quality sleep significantly.
- Spend at least 15-20 minutes in the sun every day.
- Don’t eat later than three hours before bedtime. Your body will energize with food and prevent quality sleep.
- Don’t do vigorous exercise after dinner. Instead, do it in the morning or after lunch.
- Keep a journal to help you manage and release stress before bed, especially if you have worries and anxiety. Half an hour before bed, just start writing. Think about everything you must do for the next day and don’t stop writing until your brain is empty.
- Take a hot bath with Epsom salt, which is magnesium and can help you relax. It will raise your body temperature as well, which induces sleep.
- Talk your partner into giving you a nice massage before sleep.
- Take a hot water bottle or a heating pad to bed and place on your abdomen. This triggers chemical reactions that help induce sleep.
- Do everything you can to avoid medications that affect sleep. Talk to your doctor about ways to stop these medications. This includes sedatives as well, which can lead to disruption of normal sleep patterns.
- Try passionflower herbal therapy or tea. Melatonin and Valerian root are good options as well.
- Take other supplements such as magnesium, calcium, GABA, or 5-HTP before bed
- Use a relaxation or guided meditation CD.
If you are still struggling with sleep after trying these, it is time to talk to your doctor about other conditions that could be causing the sleep deprivation. Oftentimes, sleep deprivation is secondary to underlying conditions.
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