When it comes to maintaining your health, the habits you form around sleep can be just as important as your diet or exercise.
Nonetheless, it’s often the most overlooked of the three.
How much sleep do we need each night?
Is pulling an all nighter to finish an important work or school assignment really that bad?
And perhaps most importantly, why do we even need sleep, anyway?
More and more of my clients consult with me about major sleep issues, such as insomnia.
And this trend seems to be on the rise.
According to research from the Canadian Sleep Society, about 20% of patients seeing primary care professionals complain about significant sleep issues.
But while some sleep issues are associated with deeper problems, such as a hormonal imbalance or depression, the truth is that with a small change in our habits, many of us can enjoy a more restful sleep.
Here are some simple changes you can make in your life to combat insomnia naturally.
1. Sleep In Complete Darkness
A little night light in the corner may be comforting, but it’s preventing you from getting a good night’s sleep.
The constant presence of light, however dim, while you sleep interrupts your body’s production of a hormone known as melatonin.
It’s often referred to as “the sleep hormone”.
That’s because one of main the functions of melatonin in your body is to regulate your circadian rhythms, otherwise known as your body’s natural sleep/wake cycle.
You can think of it as your body’s very own internal clock, telling you when to sleep and when to wake.
Research has shown that exposure to light suppresses your body’s production of melatonin, which can interrupt this natural clock and thus cause a range of sleeping problems.
2016 research by Sun et al. even suggests melatonin supplements as an affordable therapeutic option for cardiovascular disease.
So, you can see just how important melatonin is for your health.
The best method of making sure your body is producing enough melatonin is investing in a set of black out blinds for your windows and eliminating all sources of light.
With these, you can improve your sleep and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and the other health consequences of low melatonin.
2. Keep A Consistent Sleep Schedule
Here at The Mindful Clinic, we know how busy your life can be.
Between work and home responsibilities, who even has time to get a full night’s sleep?
Sometimes we think we can make up for lack of sleep by going to bed early the next night, but it’s not that simple.
Your body’s internal clock relies heavily on consistency to properly heal itself, so when you stay up late, you’re disrupting that consistency, which can cause insomnia.
It can also cause your body to heal after an injury, such as a broken bone, that much slower.
But as hard as it may be to train yourself into a consistent sleep schedule, going to bed and getting up around the same time can make a big difference in your quality of sleep.
Keeping a consistent sleep schedule allows your brain to more easily regulate when to release the hormones needed for sleep, and when not to.
3. Prepare For Sleep
Do you lie in bed browsing Facebook on your phone just before bed?
If so, you’re doing your sleep a massive disservice.
Your brain needs to ease into things, and sleep is no exception.
Expecting it to go from active to sleep instantly is unreasonable.
Your body needs time to produce the hormones needed to send signals to the part of your brain in charge of regulating sleep, and it can’t do that when your brain is active.
If you find yourself lying in bed for what feels like hours before you can fall asleep, here’s a simple solution.
Turn off all your electronic devices about an hour before bed and do something restful during that time instead.
Dim the lights, take a bath, read a book, do some yoga or meditation, or whatever else you like to do that’s relaxing.
Get rid of any distractions, both mental and physical, and you’ll have a much better sleep.
4. Avoid Bedtime Snacks
A bedtime snack is nice sometimes, but believe it or not, it can hinder the success of your sleep.
Eating a snack before bed can wreak havoc on your blood sugar levels, sending your hormone producing organs into overdrive.
This is especially true if you’re eating grains or refined sugars before bed.
Ideally, avoid eating before bed altogether.
If you do need to, though, make it a snack high in protein.
This won’t increase your blood sugar, and the amino acid tryptophan in some proteins may help your body produce melatonin.
5. Check Your Vitamin Levels
Vitamin B12 also plays an important role in your sleep quality.
In fact, vitamin B12 deficiency has been linked with insomnia.
It’s connected with your body’s production of melatonin, which we’ve already mentioned is an important hormone to help you sleep.
Higher levels of vitamin B12 in your system have been associated with increased production of melatonin.
According to a 2008 study in the journal Sleep Med, research is still being done on the link between vitamin deficiencies and insomnia.
However, we know that vitamin B12 is linked to several factors involved in insomnia, including the regulation of your circadian rhythm.
Calcium levels are heightened during the REM phase of sleep, and an inability to achieve REM sleep has been associated with a deficiency in calcium.
Since REM is the deepest phase of sleep, you can see why this is a problem.
And as for magnesium, deficiency is associated with frequent interruptions in sleep, while a diet high in magnesium has been shown to eliminate these.
Therefore, treatment of insomnia often looks at comprehensive approach to vitamin supplementation.
For instance, 2019 research by Djokic et al. found that supplements containing magnesium, melatonin, and vitamin B12 is helpful of the treatment of various types of insomnia.
More research needs to be done, but the results certainly seem promising.
Book Your Appointment With The Mindful Healing Clinic Today
If you’re having difficulty sleeping, there are a large number of possible causes.
Contact the Mindful Healing Clinic to book your FREE health and wellness session.
During that session, you’ll get a chance to ask any questions you may have about naturopathic medicine, and Dr. Maria will help you understand your treatment options.
Book your appointment with The Mindful Healing Clinic today to get started on a more restful sleep.
Until next time,
Dr. Maria Cavallazzi is a medical doctor from Colombia where she practiced as a family physician for 8 years until she moved to Canada 16 years ago and became a naturopathic doctor in Mississauga.