Sleep, A Foundation of Health
Naturopathic Medicine: Sleep, A Foundation of Health
By Jennifer Krieger, ND
Perhaps you are one of the lucky ones that easily fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow, but difficulty sleeping is an extremely common symptom that patients report on a daily basis. When we sleep, our bodies are literally regenerating – our cells repair themselves, our livers detox, our muscles rebuild, fat stores break down, blood sugar stabilizes, and our brain cells are restored. With the start of the new school year, I would like to stress the importance of proper sleep hygiene, not just for children getting back into a routine but for everyone. The following are some easy and helpful tips to help clean up your sleep schedule and catch some restful shut-eye.
First things first, make sure you give yourself a schedule that allows you to clock enough hours of sleep. It is recommended that adults sleep seven to eight hours per night, children and teens nine to eleven hours, toddlers nine to ten hours per night plus two to three hours of naps during the day, and infants nine to ten hours plus a minimum of three hours of naps during the day.
Along with scheduling the time for sleep, create a routine. Maintain a schedule that allows you regular sleep and wake times, as this is consistent with your circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm follows your own biological, internal clock and is geared toward a natural pattern of sleep and awake. Circadian rhythm often follows the daylight, and we are innately designed to retire to bed at 10 pm and rise and 6 am. Avoid napping in the afternoon if it disrupts your circadian rhythm. On the weekends, it is best to rise at the same time as you would during the week, so no sleeping in (except for teens)! Stop consuming products that contain caffeine at least six hours before your bedtime. Do not eat large meals, consume alcohol, or exercise two to three hours before your bedtime. One hour before bedtime create quiet time and start winding down – no worrying, stressing, studying, working, bright lights, or electronics. During this quiet time, try a relaxing bath infused with a few drops of lavender, vanilla, or sandalwood essential oils and a couple of cups of Epsom salt. Maybe you want to enjoy reading a relaxing book, spend time journaling about the events of your day, or quietly chatting with a loved one.
Bedroom Functionality Matters
A healthy bedroom should be designed for its purpose, a sleep sanctuary! Ask yourself, what do I hope to accomplish in the bedroom? It is recommended that the bedroom be reserved for sleeping and intimacy only. Do worrying, planning, studying and other mentally draining tasks outside of the bedroom. A comfortable bedroom supports good sleep, and a nice place to start is to learn how to feng shui your bedroom. Feng shui is the ancient Chinese practice of functional design to help balance the energy of the room and harmonize one with their environment. One feng shui tip for example, is that the headboard of the bed should be placed against a sturdy wall and not under a window. Maintain a clean room, clean the linens on the bed weekly and find a new home for any unnecessary clutter. Electronics have electromagnetic fields that can disrupt our own electromagnetic energy. Alarm clocks, cell phones, computers, and televisions can have this effect on you and are best kept out of the bedroom. In the winter, use your electric blanket to warm up your bed before sleep and then click it off during the night. The removal of electronics can be extremely difficult to accomplish, so if you must have electronics in the bedroom, they should remain at a distance of at least three feet from the bed.
In nature, deer, sheep, and cattle tend to sleep north-south, directly in alignment with the Earth’s electromagnetic field. Research studies have also demonstrated that when we are sleeping east-west we have far shorter cycles of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep in comparison to the longer cycles of REM when faced north-south. REM sleep is the final deep phase cycle of sleep and is correlated with memory consolidation as well as with overall health and wellness. Position your bed so that you are sleeping north-south, ideally with your head facing north to optimize REM sleep.
Other Tips & Tricks
Here are some other helpful hints to help you nod off at night. Get at least thirty minutes of exercise daily for deeper quality sleep. Sleep with dark curtains over windows or with ear plugs or an eye mask, if needed. Wearing socks to bed helps promote circulation to your feet, and keeping your feet cozy helps keep you from waking due to being chilled. Applying a warm water bottle to your belly helps you to relax, calm nerves, and release anxiety. Reciting a mantra, prayer, meditation, or simply counting sheep helps you to calmly drift off at night. If you are lying in bed for more than 30 minutes awake, get out of bed and move to a mundane activity until you are feeling drowsy. Repeat this as often as necessary. Lying in bed worrying about the fact that you can’t sleep and why you are still awake only perpetuates difficulties with sleeping. If you do happen to rouse from sleeping in the middle of the night, DO NOT turn on any lights at all as this completely disrupts your circadian rhythm cycle. In addition to these suggestions, there are numerous natural remedies; including acupuncture, homeopathy, and botanical blends (to name a few) that can help you get your sleep back on track.
All in all, I hope I was able to shine some light on a few helpful hints and tricks to help you catch some ZZZs. Sweet dreams, Billings!
References are available upon request.