When it comes to maintaining your health, the habits you form around sleep can be just as important as your diet or your exercise, but it's often the most overlooked of these three.
As a Streetsville naturopathic doctor, I face questions about this in my practice often.
It's also a big problem.
According to research from the Canadian Sleep Society, about 20% of patients seeing primary care professionals complain about significant sleep issues.
But while some sleep issues are associated with deeper problems, the truth is that with a small change in our habits, many of us can enjoy a more restful sleep.
Here are some simple changes you can make in your life.
1. Sleep In Complete Darkness
A little night light in the corner may be comforting, but it's preventing you from getting a good night's sleep.
One of the functions of melatonin in your body is to regulate your circadian rhythms, and research has shown that exposure to light suppresses your body's production of melatonin, which can interrupt your sleeping patterns.
Preliminary research from Harvard is exploring the link between low melatonin and cancer, and there is also experimental evidence linking it with obesity, diabetes, depression, and cardiovascular problems.
By investing in a set of black-out blinds for your windows and eliminating all sources of light, you may improve your sleep and reduce your risk of these disorders.
2. Keep A Consistent Sleep Schedule
Sometimes we think we can make up for a wild night by going to bed early the next night, but it's not that simple.
Your body's internal clock relies heavily on consistency to properly heal itself, so when you stay up late you're disrupting that consistency, which can cause insomnia.
I know it's hard sometimes if you have an event to go to, but going to bed and getting up around the same time can make a big difference in your quality of sleep.
Keeping a consistent sleep schedule allows your brain to more easily regulate when to release the hormones needed for sleep, and when not to.
3. Prepare For Sleep
Do you lie in bed browsing Facebook on your iPad or smart phone just before bed? If so, you're doing your sleep a massive disservice.
Your brain needs to ease into things. Expecting it to go from active to sleep instantly is unreasonable.
Your body needs time to produce the hormones needed to send signals to the part of your brain in charge of regulating sleep, and it can't do that when your brain is active.
If you find yourself lying in bed for what feels like hours before you can fall asleep, here's a simple solution: turn off all your electronic devices about an hour before bed, and do something restful during that time.
Dim the lights, take a bath, read a book, do some yoga or meditation, or whatever else you like to do that's relaxing.
Get rid of any distractions – both mental and physical – and you'll have a much better sleep.
4. Avoid Bedtime Snacks
A bedtime snack is nice sometimes, but believe it or not, it can hinder the success of your sleep.
Eating a snack before bed, especially grains or refined sugars, will raise your blood sugar and send your hormone-producing organs into overdrive, which can not only make it more difficult to fall asleep, it will cause you to wake up at odd times.
Ideally, avoid eating before bed altogether. If you do need to, though, make it a snack high in protein.
This won't increase your blood sugar, and the L-tryptophan in some proteins may help your body produce melatonin.
5. Check Your Vitamin Levels
Vitamin B12 deficiency has been linked with insomnia. It's connected with your body's production of melatonin, which we've already mentioned is an important hormone to help you sleep.
Higher levels of vitamin B12 in your system have been associated with increased production of melatonin.
According to a 2008 study in the journal Sleep Med, research is still being done on the link between vitamin deficiencies and insomnia, but they have found B12 linked to several factors involved in insomnia, including regulation of your circadian rhythm.
Calcium and magnesium deficiencies have also been linked with insomnia. Calcium levels are heightened during the REM phase of sleep, and an inability to achieve REM sleep has been associated with a deficiency in calcium.
Since REM is the deepest phase of sleep, you can see why this is a problem.
And as for magnesium, deficiency is associated with frequent interruptions in sleep, while a diet high in magnesium has been shown to eliminate these.
Contact The Mindful Healing Clinic
If you're having difficulty sleeping, there are a large number of possible causes.
Contact the Mindful Healing Clinic to book your FREE health and wellness session.
During that session, you'll get a chance to ask any questions you may have about naturopathic medicine, and Dr. Maria will help you understand your treatment options.
Contact the Mindful Healing Clinic to book your FREE health and wellness session today.
Until next time,
Dr. Maria Cavallazzi, N.D
Dr. Maria Cavallazzi is a medical doctor from Colombia where she practiced as a family physician for 8 years until she moved to Canada 16 years ago.
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