Sleep. Does that word fill you with anxiety? A sense of calm? Or maybe even desire?
You probably fall into one of four categories when it comes to sleep:
The Good Sleeper,
The Bad Sleeper,
The Unrefreshed Sleeper,
No Time To Sleep Sleeper.
The Good Sleeper is probably the least common, but the most desirable. You fall into this category if you fall asleep easily, stay asleep through the night, and wake up easily feeling pretty good about 7-9 hours later.
The Bad Sleeper is so common, that 1 in 5 Americans fits into this category. This is your category if you can’t fall asleep, you can’t stay asleep for the whole night, or you wake up really early and can’t get back to sleep.
The Unrefreshed Sleeper is able to fall asleep and seems to stay asleep for the most part (aside from a few minutes awake here and there), but never feels good when waking up, even if it is 9 or 10 hours later.
And finally, the No Time to Sleep Sleeper is someone who falls asleep when they finally let themselves, and stays asleep until the alarm goes off 4-6 hours later. This is usually a busy student, a night-life enthusiast, someone with a demanding job, or a parent who just needs some time to him/herself after taking care of the kids all day.
Unfortunately very few people are good sleepers
Unless you are one of the lucky few that falls into the Good Sleeper category, you are missing out on one of the most vital aspects of a resilient mind and body.
Sleep is necessary for resilience.
Sleep isn’t just allowing your body and brain to rest, it also allows the body and brain to repair. During sleep, special cells help to clean up the toxins and inflammation in your brain. Hormones are reset. And your immune system attacks anything that is trying to take you down.
There are many things that can cause insomnia, most of which need to be tested by a doctor to determine for certain. Talk to your naturopathic doctor about hormonal, nutritional, or neurotransmitter imbalances that might be contributing to your sleep issues.
The good news – there are ways to improve sleep aside from taking Ambien, which can be addictive and doesn’t actually treat the underlying reason you can’t sleep. The specific treatments you need will depend on the underlying causes you identify with your doctor, but there are some basic sleep hygiene strategies everyone can follow to help their targeted treatment work more effectively.
Sleep Hygiene – Beyond the Basics
If you have problems with sleep you probably already know the basics for sleep hygiene – keep your room dark, quiet and cool, only use your bed for sleep and sex, eat a small snack of carbs and protein before bed, don’t nap, etc. Let’s go beyond that with these top 3 pro-tips.
Tip 1 – Wear blue light blocking glasses
You may feel silly at first, but wearing glasses designed to block blue light is potentially the best, easiest, and least invasive way you can help your body get more sleep.
Blue light is in all of the lights surrounding you, from your lamps to your smartphone to your TV. It is also part of natural daylight.
Our body is so attuned to our environment that it actually changes production of hormones as a result of changes in the environment. Blue light tells the body that it is daytime, and that it isn’t the right time to sleep. As a result, it doesn’t produce melatonin, the hormone that helps us feel sleepy.
Blue light blocking glasses have a yellow tint to them, making it so they block the blue light and promote melatonin production. While it would be most ideal to not have any exposure to artificial lights late into the night, this is unrealistic in our modern world. Blue light blocking glasses are an easy work around.
Tip 2 – Use only organic, unscented detergent to wash your bedding, and skip the dryer sheets
You crawl into bed and take a deep breath, and smile at the comforting scent of your favorite detergent. It smells so clean and fresh.
Would you still enjoy that scent if you knew it was toxic and disruptive to your hormones?
Well, it is. In order to produce that lovely scent, chemicals are added. Those chemicals cause your hormones to get out of balance. And like I said above, melatonin is a hormone.
The endocrine system (the system that produces and regulates all of your hormones) is like a complex network of highways. There are multiple entry points to get you to one destination which is great, especially when one road is backed up. But just like the highways, if you have too many backups for too long, all of the roads get jammed. And one really major accident can disrupt the whole system.
Chemicals that give your laundry those lovely scents are causing backups on your highways. When you use scented detergents for your bedding, you are putting your skin (which absolutely absorbs these chemicals) and your nose right next to the chemicals for 7-9 hours every single day.
Dryer sheets are loaded with the same chemicals and more. To avoid static and all the chemicals, try using dryer balls instead. They are reusable and don’t coat your bedding with toxins!
So get rid of the blockages by switching to organic unscented detergents. Your hormones will thank you.
Tip 3 – Go camping for a long weekend
Finally, for those who are really struggling, a long weekend of camping in the woods can make a dramatic difference in sleep. And I mean real camping – in a tent. No RVs allowed.
Tent camping not only helps you connect with nature, which has been shown to reduce stress, depression, and anxiety, all of which can worsen insomnia, it also forces you to sleep and wake with the sun. It works best if you leave your smartphones and tablets at home while you are camping.
Following the pattern of the sun for 4-5 days can “reset” your circadian rhythm and help facilitate sleeping when you return home, especially if you follow the standard sleep hygiene advice and wear blue light blocking glasses.
Not an avid camper or outdoors person? Your local sporting goods co-op likely offers classes and group trips to help you get the hang of it before you head out on your own.
When to seek professional help
If you try these pro-tips and still struggle to sleep, talk to your naturopathic doctor to investigate any underlying causes that may need more aggressive treatment. If you snore, or wake up feeling like you are choking or gasping for air you should be evaluated for sleep apnea, a serious condition that can lead to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and mood disorders if left untreated. And finally, there are natural “band-aid” treatments that are less addictive than prescription medications that can be used while you are working on restoring your natural ability to sleep on your own.
Whatever you do – get some rest! Your resilience depends on it.
Ready to get your life back?
Dr. Jennifer Bahr
Founder of Resilience Naturopathic