6 Suggestions to Get Your Sleep Back on Track

Dear Dr.Kim

I have been having trouble with sleep since last fall. Do you have any recommendations to help me get back my sleep quality?

N.S. Victoria

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Dear N.S.

Wow. Great question. The topic of sleep quality is near and dear to me –who doesn’t want to have awesome sleep? It seems to me that the general understanding of what underlies good sleep can be lacking and restoring sleep can be elusive. I think on the later, it is because it is individual; what works for one person is not necessarily what will bring success to the next -most things are probably like that.

There are some fundamentals that I lean on to help solve sleep troubles. One of the main frameworks is to know that when the system is drained then sleep becomes more superficial and the mind more active. People can have trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep and some experience night sweats (this symptom is not only a signal of menopause!). In this situation, which is all too common, sleep begets sleep. The poorer the sleep quality then the more drained the system becomes, and a vicious cycle ensues. Some external stressors that drain the tanks are becoming a parent, work stress, staying up too late, shift work, poor quality nutrition, and overworking. Some of these are modifiable while others are part of living a full life. Doing what you can to limit burdens and support yourself through stressors can help you tackle sleep troubles by working at the root of the problem.

Another fundamental is that the autonomic nervous system has two arms –the parasympathetic and the sympathetic. Sleep happens in the parasympathetic and life often runs in the sympathetic lane. Being able to switch off the sympathetic drive and cultivate parasympathetic harmony is what sleep hygiene habits focus on. Some strategies include reading before bed, dimming the lights a couple of hours before intended sleep (to support healthy melatonin release from the pineal gland), listening to relaxing music in the hours before bed, practicing meditation and/or deep breathing exercises and journaling to name a few.

Restoring sleep quality takes time and consistency in approach. It can take several months or longer to pivot health and have sleep deepen. It often is not like a light switch moment –– more often it evolves towards improvement over time. Typically, a multi-factorial approach is most successful. If you have leaned on sleep prescriptions for a period of time then it can be trickier to get to where you want to go, as the body adjusts and becomes dependent on this intervention. Be patient and evolve your plan, if necessary.

Here are 6 suggestions to help you get on track:

  1. Avoid stimulants – including caffeine in the form of coffee, tea, and chocolate after lunchtime. Typically it takes 4 hours to clear caffeine from the system but if you are a slower metabolizers, it can take 8 hours.
  2. Consider adding magnesium, a mineral relaxant, to your daily routine.
  3. Consider taking herbs that support the liver (milk thistle, dandelion, burdock, artichoke and turmeric are a few). In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the liver is restored at 1am to 3am. If you are a frequent 3am waker, then this could be for you.
  4. Consider stress support by way of a B-complex and/or herbs that support the adrenal glands. With these you are helping to support the body against stressors so that you narrow the gap between burdens and your ability to cope.
  5. Consider testing iron and B12 status. Low normal in these can lead to and be a sign of a more depleted state.
  6. Consider the state of your sex hormones: estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. Low normal or relative imbalances can lead to disharmony

I describe health as a balance between your burdens and your ability to cope. If there is an imbalance then signs and symptoms come up. Troubles with sleep are a sign of unrest.

I hope these suggestions help you slip back to a deep slumber.

“Health from the inside out.”

Dr. Kimberly McQueen BSc, ND is a Naturopathic Physician in Victoria, BC. In addition to her clinic work she has been a consultant to the Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence, Camosun College, and Rugby Canada. Kim currently works with Rowing Canada, providing Sport Performance Nutrition support. P:778.433.4935 and www.kimmcqueen.com. Kim McQueen is one of the Co-founders of the nourishing Supershake, Rumble. See www.drinkrumble.com

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