Sleep can sometimes be elusive. We yearn for it, but it often cannot be found. But sleep is critical for a healthy brain. We need sleep. Humans are circadian beings and evolved to require a certain rhythm, which includes healthy sleep patterns. Without sleep, we cannot learn, remember, feel, or function. It must be important because when we sleep we lose the ability to defend or feed ourselves.
What is sleep? Sleep involves the cycling of REM and NREM stages. A full cycle is about 90 minutes. This cycle is then repeated three to six times in a night. Anatomically, sleep is complicated and is really about lack of wakefulness. Wakefulness mechanisms, in a simplistic description, require the coordinated activity of connections of the thalamus, the hypothalamus, the cortex, and the brainstem—all different parts of the brain.
We can be our own worst enemies when it comes to sleep.
Many of us have experienced this: We become anxious about sleep and that disrupts the critical transmission of neurotransmitters that help us fall asleep. We have to learn to trust our bodies and our brains to do what they are naturally programmed to do.
1. Keep a regular sleep schedule.
Go to sleep the same time each night and wake the same time each morning. Again, we humans thrive on rhythm and circadian rhythms are crucial for healthy brains. When that rhythm is disrupted, poor functioning and degeneration can more easily occur. Even if you are getting the approximate same number of hours of sleep a night, if it is not between the same hours, that can be a disruption to our rhythm.
Meditation not only supports the natural physiology of sleep but it also helps us to bring our bodies to a relaxed, calm, and contemplative state, thus reducing anxiety and panic.
3. Eat an early dinner.
Have dinner three hours before bedtime and try to eat meals that are easily digestible and do not cause large spikes in physiological hormones. That means avoiding animal products, dairy, fried foods, sugary foods, and processed foods.
4. Get outside in the morning.
Spend 20 minutes outside in the morning between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., depending upon when it is light in your region. The angle of the sun at that time of day sends a message to your brain that it is morning and a brand-new day—the start of the cycle.
5. Exercise on a regular basis.
You don't have to become a triathlete. Walk, do yoga, run, hike, cycle. Get your blood moving and tire your muscles and pump your heart and lungs.
6. See nature, touch nature.
Studies have shown that regular exposure to nature calms our mind, lowers our blood pressure, and touches our soul.
7. Use nerve tonics.
My favorites for calming and rejuvenating sleep include passionflower, lemon balm, and lavender. These plants are calming, and not sedating, and can help ease the fear we have of not being able to fall asleep when night falls.
8. Try a natural sleep aid.
Natural sleep aids can be useful when first trying to establish your rhythm. These included melatonin, valerian, 5-HTP, L-theanine, and kava. Please speak to your provider about appropriate dosage and use.
I love to help my patients find a more natural solution to correcting their rhythms, getting good sleep, and boosting their brain and ultimate health and well-being. Sweet dreams!