Counting Sheep, Waiting for Sleep?

Insomnia is a common concern among patients, and there’s no one solution that works for everyone. There are, however, lots of therapeutic options to choose from – it can be helpful to try different options to find the one best-suited for you.

While we can often push past lack of sleep with extra coffee or a grin-and-bear-it attitude, sleep itself is super important. During sleep, your body restores itself; it cleans up damage and stress by-products, such as inflammation and free radicals. Not only that, your brain needs sleep to protect and clean up its neuronal pathways and get rid of the “junk” – it’s like your body and brain both get a trip to a super-amazing car wash (only it’s your body’s innate wisdom doing all this!).

Here are some options that may help you get a better night’s sleep:

  • Melatonin. Start with 1mg at bedtime. If your body isn’t producing sufficient amounts of melatonin or if there is an impairment in its pathway, supplementation may help. In general, keep it under 3mg melatonin for sleep; higher doses can be useful for other goals, but not so much for sleep and may have other effects.

  • Raw honey. Take a teaspoonful just before bedtime. Honey contains compounds that can help your body ease into sleep-land. Avoid use with children under 2 years old, and always try a little bit first to make sure you’re not sensitive or allergic to it.

  • Passionflower or chamomile tea, an hour before bed. These are both examples of teas that can help your body relax into parasympathetic mod for sleep. Having a cup of tea before bedtime also creates a warming routine that can help your body know sleepytime is coming (and yes, if you like the popular Sleepytime tea, that’s great too). Have your tea an hour before bed so it doesn’t have you up needing to use the bathroom at night.

  • Avoid food and drinks for 2 hours prior to bedtime, notwithstanding the above. This gets your body ready for sleep. If you’re feeling parched, take small sips of water.

  • Skip the TV, phone, ipad, etc. for at least 60 minutes before bedtime. Yep, you’ve heard it before and you’re hearing it again. Why? Because research continues to show the detrimental effects of the light emitted by electronics, the electromagnetic fields (EMFs) produced by electronics and the stimulation of your sympathetic nervous system at a time when it should be winding down. Choose reading a book, listening to relaxing music, preparing for the next day, cleaning, a board game, writing, crafting, drawing, etc.

  • A darkened bedroom. If light comes through your window coverings, get room-darkening curtains/shades. If you have a digital clock, cover it or turn it off so no light is emitted. If you have a TV or other electronic device in your room with a little light on it (like the little red and green light “dots” on TV screens and cable boxes), cover the light “dot” with a bit of electrical tape. A dark bedroom helps signal your body that it is sleep time, and sleep time only.

  • Count your breaths. If you’re lying in bed waiting for sleep to happen, a simple breathing technique can help shift your body into a more relaxed or parasympathetic state, which is necessary for sleep.

    Try this:

  1. Pay attention to your breath as you inhale and exhale.

  2. With each inhale, count from 1 to 4.

  3. Then hold your breath for 3-4 seconds.

  4. With each exhale count to 4 again.

  5. Then hold your breath for 3-4 seconds again.

  6. Continue doing this until you drift off to sleep.

  7. Count up to 4 each time – the repetitive counting will tire your brain out and the breathing awareness will help relax your body.

  • If you wake up during the night, stay in bed. Unless you have to use the bathroom, then use the bathroom and then go back to bed. Don’t turn on any lights, don’t look at your phone – the light can upset your body’s natural sleep rhythm.

  • If you need a nightlight, choose dim and warm nightlights or soft red nightlights – this type of light is least disruptive.

As always, check with your doctor prior to starting any new health treatments, especially if you have any pre-existing medical conditions and/or are using medication. Sleep is an essential part of staying healthy, so take the steps now to make sure you get a quality rest each night.

If you’ve tried all of these and more, talk with your doctor about other options and to rule out any other conditions that could be contributing to your lack of shut eye. Your naturopathic doctor is a wonderful resource and can help you look at your whole picture of health to determine how to best address sleep.

The information provided here is not intended to replace medical advice or to treat or diagnose any medical condition. Please consult your doctor with specific questions and prior to beginning any significant diet or lifestyle changes.