We all seem to be in an energy crisis these days. Everyone is exhausted and reaching for whatever can give us an energy boost...sugar, coffee, etc. and then at night many of us push through our needs to sleep.
I'm not immune to this, and sometimes I struggle to wind down at night, particularly on the nights I work late (I usually end up leaving the clinic around 8 pm or so three nights a week). I get home at 8:30 and I'm a little amped up and I end up wanting to watch TV or get on Facebook to wind down. It makes sense, these are mindless activities. They are also the WORST activities you can do to help you go to sleep. The blue light that is emitted from these devices stunts the production of melatonin and generally just wakes up your brain.
So, starting last week I made some changes in my nighttime routine, and it is going well so far. I thought I'd share the changes I'm implementing, along with some general tips to help you sleep like a baby!
General Sleep Tips:
- Acupuncture treatments for insomnia generally work best later in the afternoon or at night. If you are seeking acupuncture care for better sleep, make your appointments in the evening.
- Ask to have your cortisol levels checked. Cortisol has a normal daily rhythm (it is supposed to be high in the morning and low at night), and if your cortisol is too high or too low, it can cause sleep problems. I routinely check this for my patients. If yours is out of whack, we can use herbal medicine, acupuncture, lifestyle changes and specific nutrients to correct it.
- Analyze what is waking you up (or keeping you from falling asleep). How can you remedy the situation? Is it a snoring partner? Animals that snore or hog the bed? Uncomfortable pillow or bed? You have control over these situations! Your sleep is so important that you may need to kick the cat (or even your spouse, temporarily) out of the room. I know this sounds harsh, but your sleep is THAT important. Encourage your partner to seek treatment for snoring, as it can have a negative impact on their health. Invest in a better mattress and pillow. Make a comfy bed for fido somewhere else, if he is keeping you up.
- Make your room as dark as possible. Get blackout curtains. Remove all sources of electric light from your room.
- Make your room as cool as possible. This helps promote melatonin production. Shoot for 72 degrees or cooler (a lot of sleep experts recommend even colder, but I know a lot of people don't want their AC bill to be too high! You can also get a fan in your room if that helps.). Find the temperature that works for you to induce sleep.
- A bath or warm shower can help to drop your body temperature (the heat warms you up, and your internal thermostat helps to cool you down). Once the cooling starts, melatonin production increases! You can also soak away muscle tension from the day in a bath -- another bonus! Add epsom salts if you desire, for a great source of magnesium.
- Magnesium and B6 are nutrients that help to promote serotonin production, which is a brain neurotransmitter that helps you calm down and feel at peace. I recommend a broad spectrum B Complex, with some added B6. Magnesium helps to promote muscle relaxation as well as nervous system relaxation.
- Make sure to eat a balanced dinner with adequate protein, complex carbohydrates (about 1/2 cup...not much more) and healthy fats. This will help ensure your blood sugar stays stable throughout the night. If your blood sugar drops, it can trigger a stress response (which will wake you up). You can also experiment with eating a small protein snack before bed if you find that helps you sleep. Cherries and walnuts are a good combo that contain natural melatonin.
- Drink a relaxing tea at night, like chamomile. However, if you have issues with urination at night, you may want to have this early in the evening.
- Want more self-care tips? Here is an article (I was quoted in it!) on How to Get Rid of Insomnia.
The Lifestyle Tips I'm Implementing:
On nights that I work late, here is my plan to make sure I sufficiently wind down and go to sleep at a good time (10:30 or earlier!). A lot of my changes start before I even get home.
- I'm taking my magnesium supplement before I leave work, so that I will be nice and calm on my 20 minute drive home, and it will be in my system by the time I get home.
- I now have a stash of CDs to play in my car that are enjoyable and calming. Having CDs (instead of plugging my phone into my car stereo) give me easy access play this music. All week I've been listening to piano music on the way home from work, and it has been very nice.
- I'm keeping some essential oils in my car to apply on my ride home. Some of the best oils for promoting relaxation, stress relief and sleep are lavender, ylang ylang, vetiver, chamomile and valerian oil.
- I always make my bed in the morning, which is a new habit I've gotten into over the last few months. This helps make my bed inviting. I'm also working on keeping my bedside table tidy (which gets cluttered with nutrition books!). Having things neat and tidy helps me to calm down and feel like the day is complete.
- I've been putting my phone and computer away right as I get home. One short TV show with my partner is allowed, but NO computer time!
- I'm keeping a "to do tomorrow" notebook by my bed. Often I get online in the evening to answer patient emails, place a nutritional supplement order or do other things on my "to do" list. Keeping this little notebook will help to reduce mental activity about what I need to do in the morning, and will keep me from working late at night.
- I'm doing some gentle stretching before bed. My favorite yoga poses tend to be spinal twists, and I find them very relaxing. I'm going to end my day with a few of my favorite poses. Check out the 10 minute routine below for calming down before bed.
- I like to do yoga nidra meditation (guided meditation) on some evenings. Some of my favorites are from Marie Bailey and Kamini Desai. I haven't listened to any yet this week, but I plan to load them onto my little iPod Nano.