We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep. – Shakespeare
Sleep is not just some passive time out from living. A lot happens while you sleep. Sleep plays a critical role in your health – in memory, brain repair, hormonal balance and metabolism. While you sleep hormones wash the brain and repair damage that has occurred during the day, ridding it of toxins, reducing inflammation and helping to process your daily stressors. If you don’t sleep, you are at a higher risk for heart disease, mood disorders, over-eating and traffic accidents.
Many chronic health conditions contribute to sleep disruption and sleep deprivation contributes to declining health.
Sleep hygiene can make a big difference in a person’s health. Get distractions like electronics and cell phones and TVs out of the bedroom. If you have a Wi Fi router near your bedroom – move it, or turn it off during the night. The blue light on your I-phone or computer screen affects your melatonin, a hormone that is critical to deep relaxation and sleep. It can also suppress your REM stage sleep, which is the deepest level of sleep where a lot of the beneficial effects of sleep are thought to occur.
If you have noisy neighborhood dogs – a sound machine with ocean waves or crickets can help. Make sure that your room is dark – use black out curtains or a nice face mask to reduce the light in your room.
For some, melatonin, as a supplement is helpful. 1-3 mg is usually enough for most people, although some people get weird dreams from melatonin. Because it is a hormone, it is best not to use regularly.
Herbal teas are a wonderful way to induce relaxation – there are a number of sleepy time blends on the market. But if you want something stronger – try Lemon balm, Passionflower, Skullcap or Valerian root as teas or tinctures, alone or in combination.
A pillow of lavender to near your nose in the night is delightful and can induce relaxation.
If all else fails, take an Epsom salt bath, listen to calming music or try some progressive relaxation and just try and give your body some rest time. Sometimes it takes a while to retrain your body to sleep, especially if you have experienced a lot of stress in your life, or your hormones are out of whack. And have a sleep study – apnea and restless legs are treatable conditions that can make a big difference in how well you sleep.
By Jennifer Means, ND, LAc