Secrets to a better night’s sleep – the natural way

This article was featured in The Times Herald Record.

Can you pass this test? Do you…

  • fall asleep easily, within 15 minutes of putting your head on the pillow?
  • sleep soundly, through the night, for 8 hours without waking?
  • awaken feeling rested, refreshed and ready to start your day?

That’s a sound night’s sleep, and very few of us get it.

If I had to pick one thing to improve most people’s health, it would be to increase the quality and quantity of their sleep.   We don’t live healthy, happy lives when we are sleep-deprived.  Plus it just feels awful to be tired all the time.  After a while, you start thinking it’s normal to feel lousy, but if you get more and better quality sleep, you will feel the difference.

Here are some tips:

Create an optimal sleep environment.

Turn off. Try switching off wifi at night. This is usually simple:  just pull the plug or push a switch, then turn it back on in the morning. We are bombarded with electromagnetic fields 24/7 and you may not know how sensitive you are until you reduce your exposure.   Some clinicians even recommend switching off fuses to the bedroom at night.

Black Out. How many light sources are in your bedroom?  TV?  Alarm clock?  Phones? Computer?  Night light?  Lights from other rooms, or outside?  Light exposure switches off melatonin production, and melatonin is the hormone that creates deep sleep.  We naturally produce less as we age, but we need the cue of darkness to produce it at all.  Use lined curtains to block ambient light, and remove electronics with LEDs.  A piece of electrical tape can cover light on anything remaining, like smoke detectors.

Cover up. If you can’t make your bedroom completely dark, use a sleep mask. It may take a few tries to find one that’s comfortable and effective, but they’re generally inexpensive. Keep a spare in your suitcase for travel. However, while some people find these helpful, research shows that the body is aware of light, even when it is not received by the eyes, so you are still better off with a black-out dark room.

Cool it. Optimal sleep temperature is 60-68 degrees.  Sound sleepers naturally have a lower core temperature at bedtime, while insomniacs have a higher one, which increases restlessness.  Drop the thermostat (you’ll sleep better knowing you’re saving money, too) and try a hot water bottle to warm your feet.

Natural Sleep Aids

  • Melatonin is a hormone, and if you are not deficient, supplementing may not help.  Studies show small time-released doses to be most effective. But for most people, the issue is not melatonin supplementation, but melatonin production, which needs to be adjusted in other ways.
  • Tryptophan is my first go-to sleep supplement in my practice.  It is safe and usually quite effective.  I generally have clients start with 1000mg and increase by 500mg a night, up to 6000mg, until they are sleeping soundly through the night. Tryptophan also helps with mood during the day, as it is a precursor to serotonin.
  • PharmaGABA quiets the “monkey mind” that keeps many of us from a sound night’s sleep.

Of course, it is wise to check with a qualified health professional before trying supplements.

  • Caffeine If you are one of those people who boast that they can drink coffee at 11PM with no problem, you have adrenal exhaustion.  That’s not good.  Limit coffee to one reasonably sized cup to accompany or follow breakfast, not replace it or precede it.  Tea in the afternoon is fine if you are sleeping well; if you are not, try to eliminate caffeine altogether for a while.  Yes, you will feel more tired short term: that is the truth that caffeine masks.

If you consistently get good quality and adequate quantity sleep, your energy will soon soar, and every organ and system in your body will function better.

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