A Naturopathic Perspective on Sleep

Whenever I see a patient for the first time, one of the biggest questions I have for them is “How’s your sleep?”  – the answer to this question can tell me so much about what is going on with them and where we need to direct our treatment.  Often times patients ask me why sleep is so vital for maintaining overall health.  Although entire books have been written and dedicated to the topic of sleep, this is just a brief overview on the subject with a few of my favorite clinical pearls. I hope these few thoughts might help you begin to get the most out of your sleep, and I’d love to hear your questions on the topic so we can chat about more specific in this HUGE subject!

One of the major reasons we know sleep is vital to our health is because much of the cellular repair and growth that occurs in your body happens while you sleep. Between 10pm and 12am your body is at its peak production for growth hormone and white blood cells — these are the building blocks for your ability to grow, heal and maintain vibrance and vitality! In addition, achieving deep sleep sufficiently helps to decreases mental and emotional stress by allowing the mind to utilize dreaming to process emotions felt during the day. Before the 1950’s American’s got an average of 11 hours of sleep per night — now that number is down to 6 or 7 hours a night! One of the biggest factors in this significant reduction in average sleep time is our access to television and internet 24 hours a day. Not only does this create an easy distraction keeping us awake far longer than our bodies prefer, but the blue light emitted from these devices interferes with the body’s secretion of sleep-inducing hormones (such as melatonin). Therefore, the number one thing you can do to improve your sleep is turn off all electronic devices – computers, smart phones, televisions… etc. at least 30 minutes before heading to bed so your body can begin preparing for sleep.

Other tips for getting great sleep:

– Plan your bed-time and wake -time in order to get 8-9 hours of sleep per night – for most individuals this will allow three REM cycles to take place.

– Stick to the same bed-time and wake-time every day.

– Avoid using the bedroom for work, TV…etc. this is your sleep sanctuary!

– Engage in a consistent “going to bed” routine (e.g. face wash, meditate, read…)

– Exercise at least 3-5 times per week.

– Avoid consuming caffeine after noon.

– Avoid naps during the day.

– Don’t use alcohol as a sleep aid.

– Take time to create a comfortable and soothing sleep environment for yourself.

– Address sources of mental and emotional stress during the day through journaling, counseling or talking with a trusted friend.

– Breathe – deep breathing in bed and throughout the day helps induce a state of relaxation throughout your entire body.

– Can’t stay asleep or fall asleep?  Try taking your focus to a new place – I like to tell patients to “put their brain in their lats” – I know it sounds odd, but next time you sense the clock ticking and can’t get to sleep, why not give it a try? (Your lats are the large muscles extending along the lateral mid to lower aspect of your back.)

I hope these tips help you find deeper, more rejuvenating sleep so you have all the energy and stamina during the day to do the things you love!

Sweet dreams,

Dr. R

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