Sleepless nights are far too common for many of us. Busy, stressful lives lead to difficulty falling and/or staying asleep; we awake in the morning feeling tired and unrefreshed.
From a clinical perspective, a diagnosis of insomnia involves difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep despite adequate circumstances and opportunity. Deficits in your daytime function are also a part of a formal diagnosis.
Regardless of whether your sleep problems fit a clinical definition, here are some simple, cost-effective ways to increase your chances of having a restful night’s sleep:
- When and Where to Sleep
“Sleep hygiene” refers to a set of practices that help promote a healthy relationship with your bedroom and with sleep itself. Your bedroom should only be used for sleeping (and for sex). Refrain from watching TV, working or even reading in your bedroom. Choose a consistent time to go to sleep each night and stick to it. Consistency will help to train your mind and body and help to balance your circadian rhythms.
- Quiet the Body, Quiet the Mind
We have all heard how exercise can lower our risk for disease and improve our quality of life. It’s no different with regard to sleep. Exercise allows us to discharge stress and anxiety and rebalance our nervous systems. Exercising during the day or early evening decreases the time it takes to get to sleep and increases the amount of deep sleep obtained.
- Try a Protein Snack Before Bed
Some people wake in the middle of the night and have difficulty returning to sleep. Low blood sugar could be the culprit. Hypoglycemia can lead to the production of stress hormones that can wake us up. Try eating a small, protein-containing snack an hour before sleep. A small handful of almonds is a good example. Herbal teas containing chamomile, lavender, passion flower or kava are all good options for calming the nervous system.
- How to Relax the Nervous System
Abdominal breathing helps to balance our nervous system and quiet the “fight or flight response.” Lie flat on your back and direct your attention to you belly button. Feel it rise with each inhale. Feel if fall with each exhale. Repeat with great awareness for 10 minutes before trying to fall sleep.
These are only a few of the ideas that may help your sleep difficulties. To learn more about healthy ways to promote better sleep and greater quality of life, make an appointment at Bastyr Center for Natural Health by calling (206) 834-4100.
— Jamie Corroon, ND, naturopathic physician and resident at Bastyr Center for Natural Health, the teaching clinic of Bastyr University.