Naturopathic Sleep Hygiene: Top Ten Tips
Remember those hand-washing stickers in school bathrooms that featured cartoon hands and smiling soap bubbles? That’s what I think of when I hear the word ‘hygiene’. Hygiene basically means good habits. Just as the stickers were a way of reinforcing good bathroom habits in our early years, sometimes we need reminders to reinforce other good habits in our later years. This is especially so when it comes to sleep.
There is plenty of research to suggest that practising good habits around sleep and bedtime promotes more restful nights. The rhythmic nature of sleep is what we want to encourage, so practising regular daily rhythmic sleep routines can in itself help to coax our bodies towards slumber, as can each of these points independently. So here are some basic foundations for supporting good sleeps:
1. Daylight, Twilight, Dark:
Daylight: Research has consistently shown that exposing ourselves to natural daylight is beneficial for supporting good sleeps, so get out for a walk in the fresh air, even for half an hour.
Twilight: For those who have trouble sleeping, turning off our own ‘power’ switch at night is not a simple thing. Our bodies are not computers, however much we might expect them to be, and respecting the fact that there needs to be a space between ‘on’ and ‘off’ is the first step towards good sleeps. Observing a twilight period means quietening the mind before bed, but also literally means turning the lights down, avoiding screens (phones, tablets, any devices, and tv) and generally letting the brain and body wind down.
Dark: Ask any Baby Sleep Consultant and they will tell you that having a really properly dark room is one of the essential keys for helping a baby to sleep well. Adults are no different! Black-out curtains can make a huge difference if you are a light sleeper. Remember as humans we have spent most of our evolution in a world without electric lights!
2. Exercise: Exercise is great for sleeps, providing it isn’t done too late in the day when it may increase the production of the stress hormone cortisol. Ideally exercise in the morning
3. No Naps: Avoid napping if possible, especially late in the day. Go to bed when you’re tired.
4. Regular rhythms: Try to go to bed at the same time each night, and wake at a similar time each morning, encouraging regular rhythms in our bodies . Often getting to bed before the ‘second wind’ of late night-owl activity gets hold can make a huge difference to how refreshed we feel in the morning.
5. Limit stimulants: If you are one of those people who boasts about being able to drink a coffee before bed and have no problems sleeping, you probably won’t be reading this! For most of us, coffee is a stimulant, as are other caffeine drinks such as tea and cola. In fact, this is kind of why we like them. Finding your caffeine tolerance level is an art in itself, for some people completely avoiding caffeine is the only way to sleep well, while for many people one coffee before 12 in the afternoon is just right. Caffeine, tobacco and alcohol are all stimulants, and should be avoided in the evening if you are having difficulties sleeping. While you might believe that another glass of red wine will lull you into a delicious slumber, in actual fact you may just wake up at 2am all hot and dehydrated. Long term also, alcohol depletes essential nutrients needed to relax the nervous system and support good sleeps.
6. The right food at the right times: Eat light at night, and not too late. Avoid heavy meals before bed. Be sure to have enough protein for dinner, or you may want a little protein snack such as cottage cheese on a cracker. This ensures you are not waking in the night hungry.
7. Beautiful beds: Make your bed a beautiful sanctuary. Make your bed, full-stop! We sleep better when bed is an inviting and snuggly place to be.
8. Hot baths, warm beds: Warmth and heat helps to encourage melatonin production. Melatonin is our sleep hormone. A warm bath helps to relax the body and encourage sleep. Have a hot water bottle, an electric blanket, fluffy pyjamas, whatever you need to be cosy.
9. Peace and joy: We all know that the more harmonious we are feeling, the better we can sleep. Emotional disturbance makes it especially difficult to get to sleep, but can also play on our minds in the dark hours of the night if we awaken. The cultivation of peace and nurturing the spark of joy in ourselves is a highly individual journey, but one of the biggest keys for good sleeps.
10. Herbal Support*: The botanical world has so many beautiful allies on offer to help us in our quest for good sleeps. Whether you take a medicinal herbal tea before bed or are prescribed a herbal tonic by your practitioner, there are many ways to take herbal medicines to promote relaxation and sleep. Some of our very best herbs for all ages are Valerian and Chamomile; Passionflower, Skullcap and Hops are also used. For some people, calming the stress response during the day is the key to relaxing fully at night, and herbs such as Withania and Lemon Balm, coupled with extra B vitamins, are of great use for this and can be found in Kiwiherb StressCare. Also check with your practitioner that you aren’t in need of any extra magnesium or calcium, which are both important nutrients for nerve and muscle relaxation, and for good sleeps.
*watch out for Part Two due out in the Spring, where we focus on which herbal medicines are the most beneficial for sleep support.