Why You Really Can't Sleep*

Published on February 01, 2016

Can't sleep? We've been there. When you spend the night tossing and turning, it's rarely just about the hours you spend in bed resting. Find out more about lifestyle affects sleep-and which habits will have you sawing logs in no time.

In my naturopathic practice, when people came to me to talk about sleep, I would take a step back and ask them about their lifestyle and habits. Sleep is rarely just about the hours we spend in bed resting.

I would ask about their evening habits-are they winding down or getting worked up just before bed? Are they eating a big meal late at night or burning the midnight oil? Are they exercising during the day-or perhaps too close to bedtime? Are they using alcohol, caffeine or nicotine?

From there, we would start to look at making small, sustainable lifestyle changes to help support restful, healthy sleep, which is connected to overall health and vitality.

Considering that the average person spends approximately 26 years of life sleeping, it should come as no surprise that rest is an integral part of a person's well-being. However, many of us skimp on sleep at least some of the time, which can affect everything from our waistline to our cognition.

The Circadian rhythm, which is our natural 24-hour sleep-wake cycle, is a strong immune system regulator. Sleep is the time when our body replenishes its energy reserves and does the bulk of its growth and regeneration.

Sleep is also intricately connected to cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands that is released in response to stress and low blood glucose. A 1997 study found that even one night with inadequate sleep can affect the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which can affect the body's ability to respond to normal stress.1 In addition, losing sleep for just one night can interfere with the body's health balance of glucocortisoids, which affect metabolism and cognition.

For those reasons and more, sleep is referred to as a cycle, one that can move smoothly or not. These tips can help you make rest a priority, by creating healthier sleep habits.

Having a bedtime routine is important. If you want a restful night's sleep, you need to slow down in the evening. That starts with making sure there isn't a lot of excessive light, digital screens in the bedroom, etc. (The pineal gland, a pea-size organ deep within the brain, is responsible for the secretion of melatonin, which reduces alertness and invites sleep. When the brain is exposed to light, especially close to bedtime, it interrupts the conversion of serotonin into melatonin.2)

Don't eat too late-try to have your last meal at least four hours before bed. (A light snack 30 minutes before bed is fine for those whose blood sugar tends to be low.)

Diet and fitness impact sleep, too. Get some exercise during the day to help get you good and tired, and eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. Those will contribute to sleep hygiene.

Put yourself to bed. Though as adults we scoff at the idea, a regular bedtime is important. Our bodies naturally like to go to sleep and wake up at the same time. Count back from your wake-up call and determine when you need to go to sleep in order to get enough rest each night. If you are seriously skimping on sleep, start small to make the transition easier. Go to bed 15 minutes earlier every week until you are sleeping enough.

Unwind before bed. Some easy, enjoyable ways to unwind are to take a bath, preferably with herbs and Epsom salts, drink a cup of herbal tea or spend time with your pets.

After dinner is not the time to stimulate or invigorate the mind and body. I often tell people who want to sleep better to avoid stimulating or agitating conversations at night. That includes rehashing work stress to your partner. (Let it go as part of building resilience.) I also say no 11 p.m. news and no suspenseful 10 p.m. TV shows-use our round-the-clock access to technology to your advantage and catch up on headlines or your favorite program tomorrow morning or afternoon. Instead, do some light yoga and read something entertaining but not stimulating. (Save Sudoku and crosswords for morning, too.)

In addition to those lifestyle changes, herbs can provide support. If the adrenals need help responding to stress in a healthy way, we can use adaptogens, which can help maintain normal cortisol levels.* When occasional pain or discomfort is present, there are herbs that support those concerns as well as relax the body. Herbs can also help to quiet an active mind.

Gaia has three formulations to support specific sleep needs: Sound Sleep®, to support a quick transition to sleep; SleepThru, to support sleeping through the night; and Sleep & Relax, to ready the body for sleep.* And one of our newest formulations — Turmeric Supreme Pain P.M. — supports restful sleep and a healthy response to occasional pain.*

What is your best tip for ensuring a good night's sleep? Share it with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram!

Selected Sources:
1997 Oct;20(10):865-70.