Good quality sleep means that we can build up enough pressure to induce sleep. It is part of the equation with your circadian rhythm. If you are finding it difficult to get to sleep and stay asleep it may be that you haven’t build up enough sleep pressure.
What stops you building pressure to sleep? The major areas that you can influence are chronic pain, blue light, and stress. Age and genetics also play a part but these factors are less influenceable.
Chronic Pain affects your ability to get to sleep and stay asleep. Lack of sleep can also increase the risk that you develop a chronic pain condition. There are a number of natural medicine options in pain management however it will depend on what medications you are taking. Generally these conditions will be helped by regular gentle movement. Supplements which can be helpful include high strength fish oils, curcumin and PEA.
It can also be helpful to manage chronic pain with regular bodywork such as osteopathy or massage. If you are very sensitive it can be worthwhile to look at gentle treatments such as craniosacral therapy or lymphatic massage.
Most people seem to know that they shouldn’t use devices in bed but don’t necessarily realise that using the devices for up to 3 hours before bed may affect their sleep. How does it do that? At night the body increases its production of melatonin, this helps activate and maintain sleep. The blue light emitted by your device signals the brain that it is still daytime and can delay production of melatonin for 1-3 hours. Ideally stop using your phone or other device at least 1-2 hours before bed. Watching TV from a distance of up to 2 metres and looking away every 20 minutes can be a good way to reduce the impact.
Some non- pharmaceutical options for blue light exposure include wearing anber reading lenses two hours before bed which improved sleep quality after just a week. Getting morning sunlight has also been shown to be helpful in resetting the circadian rhythm. the nutrient lutein and Zeaxanthin assist in filtering blue light. These nutrients are found in green leafy vegetables and egg yolks.
Stress is of course another big area for interrupting sleep. Chronic long term stress elevates cortisol and can result in the pattern of early morning waking (4-5) and difficulty getting back to sleep. Stressors are different for different people but two of the most common concerns at the moment are unrewarding jobs and anxiety about health. Generally being in a job where your efforts are not rewarded can be a source of ongoing stress.
There are a number of stressors which result in a job being perceived as unrewarding and surprisingly its not about dollars for many people. A British study by Micheal Marmot found that cardiovascular risk as a marker for stress was not highest amongst those at the top but actually lower. It actually correlated with the amount of control that people had over their work and working environment. It is essential to build in processes that allow people flexibility in their work and increase their control as well as avoiding micro management. If you are in an environment where your work is subject to rigid control and micro management it can be worthwhile looking at whether changes can be made.
The second area of anxiety for many people is anxiety about health and this can be particularly acute when a “pandemic” is declared. Worse still with the media constantly triggering you with daily corona counting it can be difficult to stay calm. If this is affecting you generally staying off social media and looking at some routines to calm your brain such as meditation can be helpful. There are a couple of useful apps in this regards including Calm and my current favourite Gaia, which has a range of meditations as well as yoga classes. Still its ideal to do this a couple of hours before bed and avoid screen time before bed as recommended.
The other way to reduce your anxiety about health is to ensure all your regular health checks are up to date and there is no physical reason for the anxiety. For some people who may be prediabetic or insulin resistant difficulties with blood sugar can result in problems with sleep. It can be a good idea to not only get a fasting blood glucose test done annually but also consider whether a more comprehensive test like a 2 hour glucose tolerance test may provide more insight. Frequently in clinic the problems are early stage and occurring at the one to two hour mark.
Reducing caffeine intake and incorporating some carminative herbs can also be useful and you could substitute some calming chamomile tea or peppermint tea as an alternative. These teas before bed could assist in improving sleep pressure.
For more information about sleep have a look at 6 Sleep Myths Debunked .
Christine Pope is a naturopath and nutritionist based at Elemental Health St Ives. If you would like more help with identifying the causes of your poor quality sleep and modifying them you can book in for appointments on 02 8084 0081.