Bed time is one of my favorite times of day. Knowing that in the morning I will wake refreshed and full of energy is a comforting thought. But my life hasn’t always been this way for me. I used to have trouble going to sleep, then is was staying asleep, then I transitioned to not being able to wake with adequate energy for my day ahead. Does any of this sound like you? Maybe it does, as many people I encounter as a naturopathic doctor and consultant express some level of fatigue in their daily life. The good thing about fatigue is there are various techniques that can be utilized to support a good nights rest. These tips and techniques compose what is called “sleep hygiene”. Sleep hygiene, just like general hygiene, is a series of steps taken to ensure health and wellness to aid in good sleep and rest.
Sleep hygiene begins at the beginning of your day. I know that sounds odd as you just woke up, but getting started early will set you up for good sleep later. Upon waking do your best to get some sunlight. Whether that be opening your blinds or taking a morning walk, that morning sun will stimulate our daytime hormone cortisol. This will wake up your senses and get you started for your day. If falling asleep is your Achilles heel to a good nights rest, avoid naps. Napping can be great for a energy boost but long naps can be detrimental to your nighttime rest. If you must take a nap limit it to 20 minutes.
Two hours before bed will start off you sleep hygiene routine. To start off your routine dim the lights. As the nighttime approaches and darkness settles in this is the trigger for our sleepy time hormone melatonin to be released. So turn down the lights, turn off the tv, put down your phone, and shut your laptop. Now, if you are anything like me you probably spend a good amount of time on you technologic devices after dark. This can be detrimental to your melatonin release by our pineal gland. As the blue light from our devices hits our eyes, it is stimulating basically telling our brain that its still daylight and we need to stay awake, so there will be less of a release of melatonin. Its typically release times are around 9 p.m. and then again between 1 and 3 a.m. If we are overstimulated or ignore these releases we can end up having difficulties falling asleep and/or staying asleep. Now, I know stopping all use of technology is almost impossible for anyone living in modern times so there are other ways to reduce over stimulation. My favorite new accessory are my blue light glasses. I put these on at least 2 hours before I intend to go to sleep to block out the blue light. This allows me to get work done on my computer or watch a little TV before bed without disrupting my sleep. Also you can turn on the blue light filter on your electronic devices.
Your diet should included avoiding high carbohydrate or high sugar foods 2 hours before bed. If you must eat before bed aim for a high protein snack. The protein will raise you blood sugar enough to allow for sustained sleep. I can remember having cake before bed and waking at 2 a.m. starving. I tried everything to get back to sleep. I counted sheep, I meditated, I pray to God to bring sleep to my eyes. It wasn’t until I got the thought to feed the beast of my hunger pangs. After a small snacking on a bit of leftover turkey I fell easily asleep without waking. The protein raised my blood sugar enough to allow my body to continue functioning while I slept and the tryptophan in the meat allowed for production of serotonin and subsequent increase melatonin release to help me fall back asleep.
Other tips you can consider adding to you nighttime routine to aid in restful sleep include:
- a warm bath with lavender essential oils or oats added for their calming effects
- a warm cup of tea with honey
- read a book before bed instead of watching TV
- exercise at night about 2-4 hours before bed for a good nights rest
- adding lavender essential oil to a pillow mist or diffuser at bedtime can be relaxing
- herbs to consider: passionflower, lemon balm, chamomile, Valerian-> try these on a day where you dont have work the next morning to see if you wake drowsy
Bottom line create a personalized routine that you follow in order to prepare you body and mind for sleep. Consistency is key and give it at least a month of consistency to see the full benefits. If you follow these suggestion and you still have trouble falling asleep or wake fatigued or get tired during the day it may be time to speak with your doctor about other causes of your low energy levels. There are many conditions that can be ruled in or out in your individual case. So give these options a try and happy sleeping!