You’ve been tossing and turning. Your body heat is rising and falling. Your anxiety is building. You are staring at the clock. It either reads 1 AM and you haven’t slept or 4 AM and your body has woken up in a panic, drawing list upon list for tomorrow. You only have a few more hours left before your alarm goes off and your heart’s pounding gets deeper into your chest. We’ve all been there.
I hear about anxiety ridden sleep, intermittent hot flashes, and erratic sleep patterns so often in my practice.
And we all know how critically important good quality sleep is to the body’s own healing process, as it facilitates our detoxification, has an enormous effect on our cardiovascular, physiological, and emotional health, and impacts our overall mental state, mood, and wellbeing… (which often times heightens the pressure of falling and staying asleep even more!)
From hormonal changes to the anxiety of working long and stressful hours, sleep disorders can be easily addressed, managed, and remedied with a variety of naturopathic options.
Here is what to do to maximize your sleep quality and change your health and well-being.
Ditch the digital. One hour before sleep, put ALL electronic devices down and to charge in another room. Pick up a book/magazine/paper. Studies show that our digital devices emit sleep disturbing blue light and high wave frequencies that disrupt our eye health and sleep habits. Studies have also proven that reading a non-digital book or print magazine before falling asleep simulates REM movement and leads to calm, centered, state of mind, which is critical for falling asleep and staying asleep at a high quality REM.
Make the room dark and cold. The room needs to be dark (if you can see your hand, it’s NOT dark), cold (ideally in the 60’s), and quiet. If you are on a noisy street or sleep next to someone who snores, white noise machines help. Get one and use it. Sleep in cozy cotton on a good mattress with a comfy pillow. Splurge on these – you spend a lot of time in bed.
Get to sleep and wake up about the same time each day. Keeping a consistent sleep schedule makes a BIG difference to quality of sleep, and actually lessens the quantity you really need.
Get a pre-bedtime routine in place. Two hours before sleep, avoid exercise, heavy meals, alcohol, or anything mentally stimulating like trying to work on important things, or playing games on your phone.
Myth Buster: ‘“Alcohol helps with sleep.” FALSE. You may fall asleep quickly, but the quality is poor, as the alcohol in your system prevents successful deep sleep processes.
When it comes to supplements, we have lots of choices, and the options all depend on what your body is telling you that it needs, when it needs it. Rotation, mixing, and experimenting with timing and dose is key – for example, taking a dose before bed, in middle of the night, and/or anytime before 4AM can change the game in getting you back to good, high quality sleep fast. When it comes to sleep, it is critical to listen to you body and be flexible with it as it’s needs change, weekly, situationally, seasonally, etc. As for supplements, nothing works well forever and exploring all options – slowly over time – works best.
Melatonin. The go-to sleep remedy. A must have to manage jet lag, difficulty falling asleep, and getting back to sleep in the night. Melatonin is the number one choice for many of patients.
- Start with a low dose under the tongue (sublingual) to start. There are receptors in your mouth that activate when they sense melatonin, so a spray or lozenge is the best form.
- 3 mg or 0.5 mg are a great starting dose, that you can work up from if you need. Too often folks go too high and end up getting over stimulated, which defeats the purpose.
- Take 20 minutes before sleep. Redose if you wake in the night before 4 am. After seeing how you respond to the low dose under the tongue, you can work up to timed release tablets.
GABA and L-Theanine. This lovely combo works to relax, soothe, chill, and calm.
- One hour before bed, take one tablet of each, and again at bedtime.
- Favorite brands: Integrative Therapeutics 750mg GABA and Vital Nutrients 200mg L-Theanine
- You can combine with Melatonin. You can also redose once in the night, though I recommend taking the powder out of the capsule in the night, putting it under your tongue, and chasing with water, as it will work faster.
Magnesium Powder. Calming for muscles and mind.
- Mix one scoop in water before bed. Some love this on it’s own, others like to build it in with melatonin and/or GABA and L-theanine.
- I like Natural Calm Magnesium Powder
Klova Patch. This patch contains hops, valerian and passion flower, all wonderful herbs to soothe and calm, along with Gaba, 5HTP, L-theanine and melatonin. A one hit wonder.
- Stick to your upper back (my favorite spot – near your brain). It absorbs through the skin, so no messing around with your gut. Use this on its own or with Calm Powder.
- Klova Patch
Kavinace. Many of my patients love this combo as well. It has a touch of taurine in it and a bit of B6 vitamin.
- Take it at bed time, and/or when you wake wired and tired before 4 AM. When taking mid-night, I recommend taking the powder out of the capsule in the night, putting it under your tongue, and chasing with water, as it will work faster.
- Use on it’s own or with CALM powder.
- I love Kavinace PM by Neuroscience.
Cortisol. For those who awake in the early hours of the morning wired and tired, for those who feel they are tired during most of the day but get really AWAKE around 9 PM, and for those who feel their sleep is not very deep, this is for you. Very restorative.
- You can combine with Calm Powder and Melatonin – or not – and just take on its own. Great for three months at a time.
- My favorite: Cortisol Manager by Integrative Therapeutics
CBD Oil. Lots and lots of my patients are coming in singing CBD praises, and that taking it before bed has changed their lives. They feel less anxiety and they are miraculously sleeping through the night. This is incredible, and not surprising, based on the calming and pacifying nature of the cannabinoids (active ingredient) in the product.
BUT, we need to be wary. CBD supplements are still very new to the market, which means that they are unregulated and the long term effects are still unstudied and unproven. Where and how the herb is grown impacts how concentrated the active ingredients are in each batch. Many producers and distributers do not practice thorough batch testing, and the quality can range drastically from bottle to bottle. Due to the un-regulation and lack of testing, there is no way to know the level of toxic pesticides or synthetic additives being used and how much are concentrated in the final product.
- The key here – and with anything new – is to do your research, use with caution, and not all the time.
- If it works for you, great! But find the cleanest, purest product, with the highest level of safety and efficacy standards. I recommend NuLeaf Naturals, out of Colorado.
- The brain gets used to herbs, so practicing the ‘stopping and starting’ method every few weeks prevents that.
What if you feel that you need more than a supplement, or just don’t want to pop a pill? Lifestyle edits and changes can make a huge difference, in conjunction with herbs and supplements, or just on their own.
Meditation. Meditation before bed helps improve quality of sleep, and help you awake refreshed and energized. Clinical studies have proven this.
- Before bed, or while you are lying there about to fall asleep, try the Headspace app or my favorite, MUSE Brain sensing device.
Yoga breathing. This technique has also been clinically proven to reduce night time jaw clenching and TMJ symptoms, nice head, neck and shoulder pain.
- Breathe in for a count of 4, hold for a count of 7, out of a count of 8.
- Do this before bed for two full minutes. Use a timer.
- Also great to do in the middle of the night, if you wake.
Podcasts. Podcasts can be tremendously helpful. Studies have shown that cycling thoughts is a proven scientific phenomenon and brain imaging shows they tend to run along the same rutted emotional tracks, over and over.
- Listening to podcasts can stop those cycles – but choose carefully – find a documentary or an interview in a field of study that interests you.
- Multiple voices seem to have better effect, as comedy or fictional stories can be too simulating. Granted, having an electronic device connected to you as you fall asleep is not the best recipe for sustained, high quality sleep, but the benefits appear to out weigh the negatives.
The key to sleep is to try new things, or rotate through some older, tried and true options. Your body may be struggling to calm down and sleep for varying reasons that need varying solutions.
Getting the highest, best quality sleep can change the actual biochemistry in your brain, it can result in better moods, quicker emotional bounceback, let alone kickstart and amplify all of the physical benefits related to cardiovascular health, gut health, adrenal health, endocrine health… the list goes on.
For the most thorough assessment for your own sleep struggles and wellness needs, come in for an appointment and we will create a personalized wellness plan to get you sleeping soundly and restoratively.