Sleep is our body’s repair time, so compromised sleep is a significant health risk. If you are having trouble sleeping, identifying the cause is the very first step. The mechanical factors are easier to deal with, so let’s start there.
- If it’s more than 10 years old, you are overdue for a replacement. Firm is best.
- A mattress is a big investment! Take your pillow, take a good book, take your sleeping partner, and spend at least an hour on the possible candidates.
- Ideally, you want a mattress that won’t force you to sleep in an ever-deepening rut. I like a traditional mattress that can be both flipped over and rotated.
How old is your pillow?
- Regardless of type, a pillow that you sleep on nightly has a life of about 12 – 18 months. Not more. Donate it to the local pet shelter and get a new pillow.
- Have your sleeping partner or your friendly local chiropractor assess your pillow. The centerline of your head should stay in line with your spine. If it’s a) pushed up too high or b) not supported (so that it is too low), you’re trying to sleep on the wrong pillow.
Is it dark?
Your primal brain needs the dark to sleep deeply. Shut down computers, phones and the TV an hour before your bedtime; the blue light they emit is highly stimulating and will keep you in an adrenaline-charged state.
How’s the temperature?
“Just right” for most people is about 65 degrees. A light blanket is helpful.
Are you hungry, thirsty, or over-stimulated?
Here are some dietary guidelines for optimal sleep:
- Avoid caffeine after 4 pm.
- Avoid alcohol in the evening; it will help you get to sleep, but can disrupt your non-REM sleep.
- Avoid sugary snacks in the evening. You need stable blood sugar during your sleep time. A small amount of protein, fat and carbohydrate (vegetable or fruit) just before bedtime can help.
- Get the bulk of your hydration done by 6 to 8 pm. Then have a cup of herbal tea 60 – 30 minutes before bedtime to help you relax.
Are you getting enough exercise?
It helps relieve stress and gives you the “good tired” feeling that promotes restorative sleep.
Speaking of stress… stress, loss of sleep, poor nutrition and inactivity all promote chronic inflammation. Inflammation disrupts sleep, and slowly depresses our ability to make pro-active lifestyle choices. So you can see how this can become a vicious cycle, especially if we are time-pressured and over-stretched in our waking hours.
Your body’s adaptive mechanisms get de-regulated, and may need support. There are a lot of herbal remedies that can be helpful here, but my first questions are:
“Are you having trouble going to sleep?”
This often points to a surge of cortisol at an inappropriate time of day. This is usually linked to a “slow-to-start” pattern in the morning, and a dysregulated appetite. This is fundamentally a stress-driven problem with the hormonal or endocrine system, and has serious long-term consequences.
“Are you having trouble staying asleep?”
Our sleep cycles between REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and non-REM phases. Our deepest, most restful sleep happens in the non-REM cycle, and that’s exactly when the body is able to do its repair work. Long term disruption here degrades and distorts genetic expression, leading ultimately to health breakdown.
“What time of the night do you tend to wake up?”
These can give us some clues as to what system (liver, gall bladder, lungs, etc.) may be most affected.
Of course, it’s not uncommon for these problems to exist at the same time! The body doesn’t isolate this kind of systemic problem particularly well, so a multi-dimensional approach is usually the most effective. But work on the easy, mechanical aspects of sleep first!
Here are some guidelines for the optimal amount of sleep to get:
7 – 8 hours is enough for most adults, but it can be anywhere from 6 – 10
12 – 18 years
8 – 9.5 hours*
*Some experts believe more sleep is needed during hormonally active growth spurts in adolescence
8 – 12 years
1 – 5 years
13 – 14 hours, tapering to 10 – 12 hours
Infants < 1 year
16 hours (total day & night)