Sleep is so critical to good health and wellbeing; just ask someone who isn't getting any! Poor sleep affects every area of your life. You feel foggy, irritable, unable to concentrate, and you may experience cravings or increased hunger due to unbalanced blood sugar and cortisol levels.
Our immune systems are most active at night during sleep, scavenging the body for abnormal cells; it's like your body's own night cleaning crew. Repair and regeneration occur, and your liver works to detoxify your system. Lack of sleep means you’re robbing your body of these crucial processes, and you may notice accelerated aging and higher susceptibility to illness.
Poor sleep can be caused by a number of factors. A very common culprit is high cortisol. Cortisol is your main stress hormone, and it rises during times of stress to sharpen senses and increase chances of survival (if you were, say, outrunning a tiger or slamming on your brakes to avoid hitting a car in traffic). Under chronic stress, cortisol levels stay elevated, affecting your overall hormone balance and energy levels. High cortisol may cause insomnia, anxiety, blood sugar fluctuations and weight gain.
How much sleep you need depends on your physiology. Some of us need more than others, and some of us don't need a full eight interrupted hours. But if you feel tired in the morning or throughout the day, or you're tossing fitfully at night, practicing good sleep hygiene habits can make all the difference.
Here are some tips:
1. Make your bedroom comfortable and inviting.
Make it as dark as possible (think cavelike). A dark room fosters good melatonin production, which encourages restful sleep. Remove electric appliances. A small alarm clock that is not directly next to your head is OK if necessary. No TV, no stereo, and absolutely NO computers or cell phones. Remove clutter. Consider a white noise machine to drown out street noise, and get blackout curtains.
2. Get your body on a schedule.
Here is an example of a sleep ritual: Plan to be in bed at 10 to 10:30pm every night, then read something soothing for about 30 minutes until you fall asleep. Start prepping for sleep an hour before you hit the sack by unplugging from stimuli: stop watching TV, stop texting, put down the computer, and start winding down with a cup of herbal tea (chamomile, skullcap, valerian, passion flower, lemon balm blends are great). Take an epsom salt bath; the magnesium will help you relax. Do this every night.
3. Taking the minerals magnesium and calcium in the evening
This relaxes your nervous system.
4. In the evenings, 5HTP can also help.
5HTP is the precursor to serotonin, which regulates sleep, mood, and appetite. Start with 50mg and move up from there until you notice a positive effect.
5. Stop drinking so much coffee!
Even if you drink it in the mornings, caffeine can affect your sleep at night. Stop drinking all caffeinated beverages after 12pm (including green or black teas).
6. Keep a book handy.
If you toss and turn and can’t fall asleep after 30 minutes, pick up a book and read, or do another relaxing activity, then try again.
7. Are your adrenals fatigued?
If you wake up around 3 or 4am and can’t get back to sleep, the culprit might be tired adrenal glands, which are unable to keep blood sugar regulated at night. Nocturnal hypoglycemia means your blood sugar drops too low at night, signaling to your brain that you need food, so your brain signals your body to wake you. Eat a small snack about 30 minutes before bed if you’re prone to nocturnal hypoglycemia. Try 1/2 a sweet potato with coconut butter. NO sugar or refined carbs, which will exacerbate the problem.
8. Avoid alcohol.
Alcohol affects blood sugar and interferes with nighttime liver detox.
9. Stop eating three hours before bed.
Digesting a meal can interfere with sleep. Eat your lightest meal at night and larger meals during the day when you're expending the most energy.
10. Consider saliva testing to measure cortisol levels.
Cortisol that is too high or low can cause sleep disturbances.