How To Get A Great Night's Sleep (2019 Edition)

How To Get A Great Night's Sleep (2019 Edition)

If you are not sleeping well, you are most certainly not alone! About ⅓ of the population today suffers from insomnia. We live in a society where constant fatigue, waking unrefreshed and excess caffeine consumption have become the norm. Sleep affects almost every system in the body from the brain, heart, lungs to immune function and mood. Research shows that chronic lack of sleep increases the risk of disorders like, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression and obesity. 
Sleep is the time your body is able to rest and restore itself, tissues are able to rebuild and toxins are eliminated from the body. Optimal sleep is important for hormone balance, cognitive function, immune function and healthy growth. 
Factors that can affect your sleep include high stress (unable to wind down before bed); excessive caffeine intake (increased stimulation that can delay your biological clock); hormone imbalances (low progesterone, high thyroid hormones, high cortisol, low melatonin); potential side effects of certain medications like SSRIs which are used to treat depression and anxiety; and medical conditions like lung and heart disorders that make it uncomfortable to get a good night’s sleep. 

How Much Sleep Is Necessary?

The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following sleep times depending on the age group:
Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours
Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours
Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours
Preschoolers (3-5 years): 10-13 hours
Children (6-13 years): 9-11 hours
Teens (14-17 years): 8-10 hours
Adults (18-64 years): 7-9 hours
Seniors (>65 years): 7-8 hours


What Does It Mean To Have A Great Sleep?

Falling asleep in <30 minutes
Waking up <1 time a night
Taking <20 minutes to fall back asleep if waking up at night
Waking up feeling refreshed 

What Are The Stages Of Sleep?

There are two basic types of sleep: Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep. You cycle through stages of non-REM and REM sleep throughout the night. 
Non-REM Sleep: Body heals & Mind rests
Stage 1: This is the stage of light sleep and can last several minutes. It is a light sleep in which your heartbeat, breathing, eye movements and muscles start to relax. You may find yourself floating in and out of consciousness. 
Stage 2: Almost 50% of the time spent sleeping is in stage 2. This is the period of light sleep before you enter deep sleep. Heartbeat and muscles relax even further. You may even see images of things that happened during the day. 
Stage 3: Deep Sleep. These are the stages that include, night terrors, sleep walking, release of growth hormone and tissue repair. The appetite controlling hormones are released here and will help to limit feelings of ravenous hunger the next day (So if you are having constant feelings of excessive hunger, you may want to take a look at your sleep quality!).  This is the stage that will make you feel refreshed in the morning. Alcohol can induce stage 1 and 2 of sleep but deplete you from stage 3. 
REM Sleep: Body rests & Mind is active
REM sleep occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep. This is where your eyes move rapidly from side to side and muscles become temporarily inactive. Most of your dreaming will occur in REM sleep. If you are deprived of REM sleep, you may have difficulty remembering information the next day. As you age, REM sleep tends to decrease.

10 Tips To Optimize Your Sleep 

  1. Establish a regular sleeping pattern
    • As much as possible, getting up at the same time each morning and sleeping at the same time every night is super important to establish routines for both the body and mind. The body thrives off routine patterns from regular eating times, to regular exercise times to sleep and wake times. 
  2. Use the bed for sleeping and intimacy only
    • Avoid watching TV, doing work, eating and playing video games in bed. This can make it harder to get a good night’s rest. The total time you spend in bed should closely match the number of hours you are actually sleeping.
  3. Dim the lights in your home
    • To allow for proper melatonin release dim all the lights around your home and use candles 1-2 hours before bed. The sleep hormone, melatonin is released in response to darkness and inhibited in response to light. As it gets darker, melatonin rises and this is what makes us sleepy. Melatonin release can be affected by bright light in our homes. 
  4. Limit blue-light exposure
    • Attempt to be screen-free 1 hour before bed. This includes not looking at your TV, smart phones, ipads and laptops during the hour before bed. These devices emit blue-light that can impair the natural release of melatonin and prevent you from attaining stage 3 deep sleep. If this is not an option for you, try the blue light blocking goggles, which can help to block the blue light from electronics. 
  5. Open the blinds as soon as you wake up
    • Aim to get sunlight within 1-2 hours of waking up in the morning. This signals the brain to stop producing melatonin and instead start producing cortisol to regulate your circadian rhythm so you feel energized in the morning and tired at night. If getting sunlight first thing in the morning is not an option for you, consider a daylight simulation alarm clock which start to wake you up 30 mins before your alarm time with a glow and slowly increase the brightness for when the alarm goes off.  
  6. Avoid heavy snacks before bed
    • Keep snacking to at least 1-2 hours before bed. This one always gets people! It’s so easy to want to snack before bed, but it only results in suboptimal sleep! A snack that is high in protein and low in sugar is best closer to bedtime. This can stabilize blood sugar levels and prevent you from waking up throughout the night. Eating before bed can prevent proper digestion and can affect blood sugar levels which may lengthen the time it takes to fall asleep. 
  7. Avoid caffeine after lunch
    • Keep caffeine intake to morning hours. Everyone metabolizes caffeine differently. Some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others. Keep in mind that caffeine is not just found in coffee, but also tea, some soft drinks and chocolate. 
  8. Establish a relaxation routine before bed
    • This one is the absolute best! Spend the last hour before bed winding down and gathering your thoughts. This could include, a guided meditation, journaling, reading a book, breathing exercises, drinking herbal tea (Chamomile or Lavender), stretching or a warm bath. These custom rituals before bed can help get you excited to sleep. High cortisol levels (‘stress hormone’) before bed can block the release of melatonin.  
  9. Breathing technique 4-7-8
    • Breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds; hold your breath for 7 seconds and exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds. Do this 3x before bed. This breathing method helps slow your heart rate and activates a sense of calming internally
  10. Nutritional Supplementation
    • Melatonin: Can improve sleep quality and REM sleep. It is mostly used for individuals who have trouble falling asleep. Most importantly, melatonin is used to work on circadian rhythm. Therefore, it is important to take melatonin when your body normally secretes melatonin. Take it 30 minutes before bed and make sure to take it at the same time every night. Melatonin decreases as we age, which explains the increased frequency of insomnia in the elderly. If you notice sleep is getting worse as you age, melatonin may be the right option for you! Dose: 1-5 mg
    • Magnesium: Helps to regulate melatonin release. Low levels of magnesium are linked to low levels of melatonin. Magnesium supplementation can help to improve sleep quality. Dose: 200-400 mg
    • L-Theanine: Is an amino acid that helps to enhance relaxation and lower stress. Dose: 200-400 mg 
Treatment of insomnia is not a one size fits all approach. There are many different factors that can affect the quality of sleep ranging from environmental factors, lifestyle choices, underlying medical conditions to hormone imbalances. The best sleep comes when all of these factors are balanced. Sleep disturbances that are mainly linked to environmental or behavioral causes can be addressed with the sleep hygiene tips outlined in this article. 
If you find that making the changes to your sleep hygiene does not improve your sleep quality, see your family doctor or naturopathic doctor to address a possible hormone imbalance that could be contributing to your sleepless nights by getting some blood work looking at your progesterone, thyroid hormones and cortisol.  Happy Sleeping :) 
** Disclaimer: The advice is in this article is for informational purposes only. It does not replace the care of a Naturopathic physician.