We all need it.
When we’re young we seem to think we don’t, and as we get older it can get harder to get a full night’s rest.
If you’re struggling with sleep, a Toronto naturopathic doctor from Annex Naturopathic can help you figure out what the issue is. From there, we’ll offer sleep solutions to help you get a good night’s rest.
Keep reading to learn more about why sleep is important, and why you might not be getting enough. In our next article, we’ll look at what you can do about it.
What Happens When You Sleep?
There’s no question that when we’re tired and sleep-deprived it’s hard to feel our best. And waking up from a restful night’s sleep? This leaves us feeling refreshed and ready to face the day ahead.
But why? What exactly is it doing for our bodies?
Oddly, though we spend a third of our life sleeping, we don’t fully know why. Scientists don’t have a clear-cut answer to this question, but they have some theories.
Keep reading to learn more.
Energy Conservation Theory
According to this theory, the reason we sleep is to conserve energy. Metabolism slows down by as much as ten percent when we sleep. As your body conserves energy, you don’t have to consume calories during this time to keep going.
Of course, this isn’t as important in today’s world, where food is abundant. However, this would have been great for our hunter-and-gatherer ancestors.
Another theory of why we sleep is it restores and rejuvenates us.
This is backed up by studies which have shown animals who are sleep-deprived lose immune function.
Additionally, some processes, such as muscle growth and repair occur primarily during sleep.
Sleeping can also restore cognitive function. During sleep, adenosine, which builds up in our brain during wakefulness has a chance to clear out.
Adenosine build-up can lead to a perception of tiredness. Flushing it out helps us feel more alert after having slept.
The Inactivity theory goes back to the days when we lived in caves and had to steer clear of larger predators. It states inactivity during nighttime keeps us out of harm’s way when we’re most vulnerable.
But if the goal is to remain safe, it seems like a better strategy would be to remain awake and alert, not asleep.
Brain Plasticity Theory
The Brain Plasticity theory says sleep correlates to changes in the structure of the brain. Sleep has been shown to play an important role in brain development in infants.
In adults, sleep deprivation has been shown to impact the ability to learn and perform various tasks.
What’s Causing Your Insomnia?
Now that we’ve looked at the reasons why sleep is important, let’s investigate why you might not be sleeping as well as you’d like to.
Hyperthyroidism is a condition in which your thyroid is overactive and produces too many hormones.
This can lead to the nervous system being overstimulated, making it difficult to sleep. Additionally, hyperthyroidism can cause night sweats, which can make it harder to stay asleep.
2. Anxiety & Depression
Sometimes, you can’t sleep because you’re nervous about an important job interview, or feeling depressed after the loss of a loved one.
But these feelings generally pass.
However, if you have chronic anxiety or depression, these can affect the length and quality of your sleep. Anxiety symptoms which can affect sleep include:
● Mulling over past events
● Worry about the future
● Feelings of being overwhelmed
● Being overstimulated
Sleep issues can also show up as a symptom of depression, and insomnia can make changes in mood during depression more severe.
3. Poor Lifestyle Habits
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that consuming too much caffeine can affect your ability to sleep. It’s a stimulant which many people rely on to help them get through the day.
You don’t have to give up your morning cup of coffee or tea, but try to limit your intake, and not drink it within eight hours of bedtime.
As well, alcohol as a sleep disruptor may come as a surprise to some people.
It’s a depressant and can make you feel sleepy. But although it might help you to fall asleep, drinking close to bedtime can disrupt your sleep later in the night.
Sometimes, we forget we haven’t drank water in a while because we’ve drank some coffee, tea, or alcohol. But while they are “wet”, they also contribute to dehydrating you. So make sure you’re drinking a lot of water.
Other lifestyle factors which can impede sleep include nicotine, which is a stimulant, and eating too much, too close to bedtime. Heavy meals can cause discomfort and make relaxing difficult.
4. Certain Prescription Drugs
Some prescription drugs can interfere with sleep.
These include antidepressants and medications for asthma and blood pressure.
Certain medications may also include stimulants. These include some allergy medications, as well as weight-loss products. Always read the labels, and when in doubt, discuss with your doctor or pharmacist the best time to take medications.
5. Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is a disorder in which the airway becomes blocked during sleep.
This will result in a person waking up repeatedly through the night for brief periods of time.
6. Heart Disease
The medication used for heart disease can lead to loss of sleep and insomnia.
However, it’s a two-way street, as insomnia is also linked to a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.
7. Digestive Disorders
Gastrointestinal issues such as irritable bowel syndrome and GERD can cause discomfort. This often makes falling asleep and staying asleep more difficult.
People who experience insomnia are more likely to report GI issues than those who do not.
8. Menstrual Irregularities
Shifts in hormones during menstruation can play a role in how much sleep you get.
As well, night sweats and hot flashes during menopause can be disruptive to sleep, and insomnia is common during pregnancy.
Fibromyalgia can cause pain and muscle stiffness throughout the joints and muscles. For people with fibromyalgia, the pain can make sleep more difficult to come by, but the lack of sleep then makes the pain worse.
People with fibromyalgia may use sleep aids, however, their effectiveness over the long term has yet to be looked at.
10. Other Causes
Other factors which can affect sleep include:
• Your work schedule (for instance, shift work)
• Changes in sleep patterns as you age
• Neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease
10 Tips for Better Sleep Hygiene
There are several things you can do to improve the quality and length of your sleep. Some have to do with the environment you sleep in, others are related to your habits.
Keep reading for our top tips for a good night’s sleep.
1. Avoid Blue-Tinged Light
A 2013 study in the journal Applied Ergonomics showed exposure to blue light suppressed the levels of melatonin significantly.
Melatonin is a hormone which signals to the body that it is time to sleep, so reduced levels can be problematic when trying to fall asleep.
This is the reason some people take melatonin supplements before bed. More on that later in this article.
Anyway, to avoid this effect, switch off your phones, tablets, and television close to bedtime.
If you must use these devices, consider a blue light filter. There are several programs available that can help depending on what device you’re using. One of the more popular ones is f.lux, which automatically decreases the blue light from your screens depending on the time of day.
2. Keep Your Bedroom Cool
Have you ever tried to get to sleep in the middle of the summer, in an un-air-conditioned room?
It’s not so easy, is it?
Studies have shown the ideal temperature for falling asleep is between 15 and 20 degrees Celsius (60 to 68 Fahrenheit).
It is thought that a cooler sleep environment mimics your body’s natural drop in temperature at night.
3. Sleep In Complete Darkness
Light can be a cue to your body that it’s time to wake up.
Think about how hard it is to get out of bed in the winter when it’s still dark when your alarm goes off, versus in the summer when you can get out of bed as the sun is coming up.
Even a bit of light glowing from your phone or a digital alarm clock can disrupt your sleep.
If you have a lot of light pollution coming in through the window, consider investing in blackout curtains, or a sleep mask.
4. Avoid Caffeine Before Bed
This tip should not come as a surprise to anyone who needs coffee to help get them through their mornings.
But it’s not just coffee which is the culprit when it comes to caffeine – tea, chocolate, pop, and some medications can contain this ingredient which will keep you awake.
Avoid consuming these things six hours before bedtime, to be safe.
5. Maintain A Healthy Weight
Being overweight can affect sleep quality, as it increases the risk of sleep apnea.
Additionally, a 2010 study from the University of Chicago Medical Centre showed not getting enough sleep can reduce the benefits of dieting.
This can turn into a cycle – being overweight can affect sleep quality, and not getting enough sleep hinders the ability to lose weight.
6. Go To Sleep When You’re Tired
Have you ever gone to bed at a specific time, because you thought you should?
Perhaps you’ve bought into the idea of “early to bed, early to rise, makes one healthy, wealthy, and wise”
And then laid there unable to actually fall asleep?
Staying in bed when you’re not ready to sleep can just lead to frustration – take some time to read, or listen to some music to help yourself fully relax and go back to bed when you’re ready.
7. Avoid Fluids For 2 Hours Before Bed
There’s nothing worse than finally falling asleep, only to wake up needing to use the bathroom (okay, there are worse things, but this is pretty annoying).
Avoid fluid intake too close to bedtime, in order to avoid those late-night bathroom trips.
Most experts say it’s best to avoid food or drink two or three hours before it’s time to crawl under the covers.
8. Establish A Bedtime Routine
You probably had a bedtime routine as a kid.
Perhaps a light snack, followed by a bath, and then a story, or reading time.
Maintaining a bedtime routine as an adult can help signal to your body it’s time to get ready for sleep.
Taking a bath or shower, reading a book, or doing relaxation exercises each night before bedtime can help you get in the right mindset for sleep.
9. Avoid Evening Meals
Eating in the evening can hinder your ability to fall asleep, and heavy meals which cause indigestion are even worse.
Keeping this in mind, eating certain carbohydrates can help boost the levels of tryptophan and serotonin, both of which are chemicals which can help promote sleep.
Tubers, wild rice, and fruit may help increase these chemicals and promote sleep.
10. Consider Herbal Sleep Aids
There are a number of supplements and sleep aids which can help promote relaxation which makes falling asleep easier.
Let’s look at some of these.
Valerian root is often used as a treatment for anxiety and depression.
Taking valerian root before bed has resulted in reported improvements in sleep quality.
A meta-analysis by Bent Et Al found that while studies were lacking in quality, valerian root shows strong promise for aiding in sleep issues.
It can come with side effects though, so it’s a good idea to consult with a naturopathic doctor before beginning supplementation.
Melatonin is a hormone which is produced naturally by the body in the evening – it sends the signal to your body it’s time to sleep.
Because it’s tied to the time of day, melatonin supplements are often used in cases where the sleep cycle has been disrupted, for instance, to combat jet lag.
The lavender plant produces purple flowers with a very soothing scent, which many people believe can help to enhance sleep.
Some studies have shown smelling lavender oil for 30 minutes prior to bedtime can help to improve sleep quality.
The mineral magnesium is used in many processes which occur in the body and is important for brain function and heart health.
It is also shown to have relaxing effects, aids in regulating the production of melatonin and also increases levels of GABA which is a neurotransmitter with calming effects.
Other herbal remedies which can help with sleep include:
● Ginkgo biloba
Book an Appointment with Annex Naturopathic
Are you having trouble getting enough sleep? Have you tried changing lifestyle factors, like no caffeine in the afternoon or not drinking alcohol close to bedtime, but you’re still having trouble falling or staying asleep? Annex Naturopathic can help.
Contact us for a consultation today – we can help you determine the reasons for your inability to get enough sleep and work with you to find natural ways to help you get your Zzz.