Sleep is a big topic. For those who do it poorly, there is a critical awareness of the frustration and stress that can be caused by a bought of insomnia. In stark contrast, there are those who achieve a weird sense of accomplishment for surviving on as little sleep as possible. Regardless of the cause, as North Americans, we are sleeping 20% less than we were 40 years ago. At either end of the spectrum, you need to fix your problem and you need to fix it fast.
Lack of healthy sleep (by choice, insomnia or a new baby) will wreak havoc on your system. It is a source of stress in an of itself and will directly contribute towards weight gain, inadequate focus, low-grade chronic inflammation and poor insulin sensitivity (pre-diabetes), among other things.
Sleep itself is complex. In fact, we are not yet certain of all of the functionality that sleep facilitates for the body. We do know, that more important than the total hours you sleep, is the depth and quality of your sleep’s cyclicity. For those who “need” 8-10 hours of sleep, or who sleep for that long and never feel refreshed, it is less likely that you need more sleep and more likely that you are someone who poorly cycles within they sleep you do get.
These 10 sleep hacks address both sleep depth and cycles:
- Lock out light. All light – real or artificial will interfere with your ability to produce Melatonin. Melatonin production shuts down when light hits the back of the retina. Use blackout curtains or a facemask and avoid, if possible, turning on the light when you get up to pee.
- Lose the phone. Increasing research suggests that Wi-Fi can impact brainwaves and most definitely, the associated light will disrupt your sleep. Err on the side of caution and move your cell phone away from your head at night. Before cell phones there were these amazing little devices called alarm clocks, get one (without a bright interface).
- Clenching? My holistic dentist, Dana Coulson, is obsessed with jaw clenchers. She is convinced that half of the insomnia we see in practice is due to consummate teeth clenchers. Stress and anxiety will only worsen this problem. Check in with your dentist or ask your partner if you are grinding your teeth at night.
- Lose technology before bed. Stop watching TV, checking Instagram or responding to email right before bed. All of these activities excite your sympathetic (fight or flight) component of your nervous system. This part of your nervous system was meant to keep you alive in face of roaming sabre tooth tigers. No one sleeps well with roaming tigers. Turn off technology.
- 1 tbsp of flax oil – One of the reasons people often wake up or are roused at night is due to dropping blood sugar. Try taking 1 tbsp of flax seed oil before you head to bed. It will help to stabilize blood sugar levels throughout the night (and hopefully prevent some night grazing).
- Create Routine – the opposite of your sympathetic nervous system is your parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for rest and repair. Creating a consistent bedtime routine will start to trigger parasympathetic dominance before your head hits the pillow. Tea, candles and a great novel (not self-help) are an excellent way to start.
- Supplementation – some, but not all people benefit from some gentle supplementation to help with sleep. Melatonin is a favourite of travellers or occasional insomniacs. It is important that your supplement of choice be treating the cause of the problem. If this is something you want to look at, we should sit down to discuss. As a word of caution, if you have a history of night terrors, melatonin has been known to make them worse.
- Exercise – no one goes to bed at night saying ‘I wish I hadn’t exercised today,’ and for good reason. Exercise has been shown to increase the depth and quality of sleep cyclicity. If you are a poor sleeper and not exercising, you are in for a real treat when you start moving your body.
- Magnesium – this incredible little mineral is masterful at helping the body to relax. Safe for everyone, taking some non-addictive magnesium before bed is an extremely helpful addition to your evening routine. Start with 250mg.
- Meditation – No, I am not talking about an hour each day in a silent lotus position. Research has shown that as little as 3 minutes of guided meditation daily can assist with the quality and depth of your sleep. Think you may need a little extra help. Check out the cool new meditation device, The Muse. It provides biofeedback to help you maintain your focus. Headspace is another great meditation training App that I frequently use with my patients.