How to get a restorative night’s sleep, naturally
Are you finding yourself lately with less energy to meet the daily demands of life and relationships? Are you overwhelmed by simple tasks? Craving a midday nap? Have you dozed off at your desk or even at a stoplight? Do you wake up tired in the morning, counting the hours until you can go to bed again? Is your sleep restless and disturbed? Do you just wish you weren’t so darn tired?
You’re not alone. According to the National Sleep Foundation’s (NSF) inaugural Sleep Health Index, 45 percent of Americans say that poor or insufficient sleep affects their daily activities. Additionally, the NSF estimates that over 40 million Americans suffer from over 70 different sleep disorders and that 60 percent of adults and 69 percent of children experience sleep problems more than a few times a week. Even though the NSF states that sleep is essential for a person’s health and wellbeing, it’s clear that most Americans are just not sleeping as well as they should.
How well and how much you sleep is paramount to how your immune system adapts to illness and to environmental, emotional, and physical stressors. Sleep allows your body to heal and your brain to recharge. Some scientists believe that the brain actually sorts through and stores information, replaces chemicals, and solves problems while you sleep.
Establishing a predictable sleep pattern is essential to overall health and well-being. A person who gets up and goes to bed at the same time every day is far less likely to get sick when everyone around them is sneezing and wheezing, coughing and sniffling. Developing this habit will help to normalize your delicate circadian rhythms—your biological sleep-wake cycle. In the days before electricity, our bodies were in sync with the rising and setting of the sun. With computers, television, handheld devices, shift work, and burning the midnight oil a constant in our lives, we have effectively disrupted these natural rhythms, leading to insomnia and a host of other health issues.
Sleep needs vary from person to person, but in general children from five to eleven years old need ten or eleven hours each night and adults should aim for seven to nine. Further, the positive effects of quality sleep are cumulative, as are the ill effects of insufficient and inadequate sleep. Translation? Burning the candle at both ends all week and attempting to catch up on the weekend may work in the short term, but your body won’t tolerate it for long.
The lack of sleep doesn’t just make us tired. It also affects other aspects of our physical and mental wellbeing. Some of the following are just a few of the symptoms that can accompany sleep deprivation:
- Brain fog
- Increased hunger and food cravings
- Weight gain
- Over-reaction to emotional stimuli (moody, overwhelmed, short-tempered, weepy)
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Catching cold easily
- Declining vision
- Skin issues (rashes, eczema, sensitivity)
- Falling asleep at inopportune times
- Feeling scattered and ungrounded
So why aren’t we sleeping? Some reasons are obvious: we have young children or babies at home, we do shift work, we live in a noisy neighborhood, our partner snores, or we go to bed too late and wake up too early. Other reasons are less obvious but just as impactful:
- Adrenal fatigue
- Sleep apnea
- Disrupted circadian rhythms
- Processed foods/poor diet
- Too much sugar, alcohol, or caffeine
- Stimulating blue lights
- Sensory overload or over-stimulation
- Excessive exercise
- Inactivity or sedentary lifestyle
- Stress, anxiety, grief, or depression
- Undiagnosed health conditions
Thankfully, many of these are easy to treat. If you think adrenal fatigue, sleep apnea, or any other medical issues are causing your insomnia, see your doctor.
Other things you can do to enhance your sleep before your head ever hits the pillow include eliminating caffeine, staying hydrated, eating a healthy diet rich in whole foods, and managing your stress with meditation and/or exercise.
Then, one to two hours before bedtime, do any number of the following:
- Avoid large meals
- Dim the lights or use amber bulbs
- Wear amber glasses to block out stimulating blue light
- Turn off any electronic devices, if possible
- Take an aromatherapy bath
- Drink a glass of herbal tea
- Do some gentle, wind-down yoga poses
- Practice deep breathing or meditation
In addition, keep your bedroom cool, free of clutter, and use blackout curtains. Don’t watch television or use iPads, handhelds, or computers while in bed. You can also ensure a restful, distraction-free environment by covering any light-emitting devices, like alarm clocks; using earplugs or eye masks; diffusing lavender oil or spraying it on your linens; and using an amber nightlight in the bathroom to avoid turning on the light for nighttime trips.
Making your sleep a priority will upgrade your health on many levels. It may take a few weeks to establish a healthy routine, but it’s worth it. Before you know it, you’ll enjoy greater mental focus, a higher tolerance for stress, and increased emotional and physical energy.
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