We spend on average 1/3 of our lives asleep. To busy people this may seem like a waste of precious time; and often when we are running on a tight schedule, sleep is the first thing to be sacrificed. Sleep is vital for all aspects of our health and wellbeing however telling someone to ‘get more sleep’ is easier said than done. Finding it difficult to fall asleep, waking during the night, or waking up feeling tired is common, however it is not normal. A good night’s sleep can do a world of good, and it should be attainable for everyone. Here are our Naturopathic secrets to a good night’s sleep.
While checking your emails, browsing social media or watching TV may feel relaxing, the light omitted from electrical devices may be disrupting your sleep. Exposing your eyes to artificial light disrupts the production of melatonin – our sleep hormone, interrupting our natural sleep-wake cycle. If you find it hard to fall asleep a night, you may want to consider reducing your exposure to light. Make the bedroom a device-free zone, so you are not tempted to look at your phone, and invest in an alarm clock for the morning.
Magnesium is well known for its role in providing strength to bones, teeth and promoting healthy muscles, however it also regulates our nervous system. When we are stressed, our bodies need more magnesium, which may explain why when many people are stressed they suffer from insomnia, a common symptom of magnesium deficiency. Caffeine, drugs and nutrient-deficient soil means many New Zealander’s are suffering from low levels of magnesium, and this could be contributing to a poor night’s sleep. If you are looking to boost your magnesium intake, the best food sources of include seaweed, almonds, cashews and green vegetables however you can also supplement magnesium, or rub it directly onto your skin.
Lavender calms and soothes the nervous system, helping to ease anxiety and induce sleep. If you are feeling stressed, taking a lavender bath or placing the essential oil on your wrists before a shower can be extremely relaxing. To help with insomnia, place a few drops of lavender essential oil on a tissue under your pillow, or drink a lavender (or chamomile) tea in the evening, this will help you to unwind and help to induce sleep.
When you are tired, exercise may be the last thing you feel like doing, however often it is the things we don’t want to do, that are the best for you! Exercise releases endorphins, which triggers feelings of positivity, reduce anxieties and can help to promote sleep. Although high-intensity exercise is a great way to tire the body and encourage sleep, it is important to reflect on your energy levels and do the right exercise for you. If you are suffering from adrenal fatigue, adding another stressor to your nervous system may do more harm than good. Opting for low intensity exercise such as restorative yoga, tai-chi, or taking a walk with friends is a great way to promote movement, without harming your nervous system. Some people find exercising later in the day will induce sleep, and others find that this overstimulates the nervous system – it is important to find what works for you.
How we breathe has the potential to influence our nervous system in a positive, or a negative way. Taking short, shallow breaths is extremely common however it communicates to our nervous system that something is wrong, escalating feelings of stress and anxiety. Long, slow breaths on the other hand communicates that you are in control of the situation. Not only is it important to take long, slow breaths throughout the day; focussing on your breath before bed can help you to relax and induce sleep. Begin each breath by allowing your stomach to rise, and oxygen to flow up into the ribcage. Pause at the top of the breath and slowly exhale. Take 20 long, slow breaths as you get into bed and see if you can make it to the last one before falling asleep.
Have you ever found yourself falling asleep on the couch, only to take yourself to bed where you lie wide awake? This is a common occurrence for many who do not go to bed at the appropriate time. If you are feeling tired, make sure you go straight to bed instead of staying up to watch your favourite show. The more you fall asleep out of bed, the more you may struggle to fall asleep in bed, and this can be extremely disruptive to your sleep-wake cycle.
Sleep is as crucial to good health as the food that we eat, and the food that we eat can influence how well we sleep during the night. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is found in high levels in eggs, cheese, chicken, almonds and green leafy vegetables. It has a crucial role in the production of melatonin and serotonin. As our sleep hormone, melatonin influences your sleep-wake cycles, helping you to fall asleep, and prompting wakefulness in the morning. Compared to other amino acids, tryptophan is found only in small amounts in food, therefore it is very important you consume enough tryptophan containing foods each day. Carbohydrate rich foods help to make tryptophan more available to the brain, and a combination of the two at dinner time may be exactly what you need for a good night’s sleep.
Drinking alcohol may make you drowsy and help you to fall asleep however it can be detrimental to the rest of your night’s sleep. Alcohol disrupts REM sleep, the part of our sleep cycles where the body repairs itself. Alcohol is also high in sugar and works as a diuretic, waking you up during the night and leaving you feeling dehydrated in the morning.
The stimulating effects of caffeine are long lasting, and if you find caffeine is the first thing you reach for in the morning, you may want to take a larger look at your sleeping habits. Make sure you drink plenty of water in the morning before you have caffeine and try to reduce your intake if you are finding you are becoming reliant. Some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others; while one person may be able to drink caffeine right before bed, others may be kept awake if they have it after lunch. If the later sounds like you, try swapping your afternoon coffee for a caffeine-free herbal tea.
If you find yourself tossing and turning because something is on your mind – do something about it! Keep a notebook next to your bed for any thoughts, feelings or to-do’s that you may think of during the night, or better yet, write a list before you go to bed. Putting your thoughts on paper is a great way to clear your mind and stop the same thing replaying throughout the night. If you are worried that your sleep is going to be disrupted, or that you may have yet another poor night’s sleep, don’t let it affect you before it has happened. Somethings are out of our control, and worrying about them will only disrupt your sleep further.
Introducing a regular sleep routine, will adjust your body clock to promote sleepiness and encourage waking at a regular time. As your body gets used to this cycle, it is common that you will sleep better throughout the night and have more energy the following day. In the morning, expose yourself to natural light to communicate to your body that it is time to begin the day, this will help to promote a natural rise and fall in melatonin throughout the day.
When we suffer from a lack of sleep, everything seems difficult. For good psychical and emotional health, we must ensure we have enough sleep so that our entire body can recover from the damage we face each day. Sleep is often the first thing to be sacrificed when we are busy, however it is the most important thing to ensure you we are functioning optimally. Make sure you prioritise sleep today, so that you have the energy, and good health you need, to take on tomorrow.
Good Health is a proudly New Zealand operated business, started over a quarter of a century ago by John Blanchard. At Good Health, we understand how the power of nature can boost your body’s natural immunity and support systems, enhancing your health and vitality.