- wise words from Dr. Leesa Payne
It’s common knowledge that a lot of us struggle with sleep. But the scary fact is that around 10% of the Aussie population are taking sleeping tablets to get their nightly quota, with around 1/3 of those taking them every single night. Not ideal. When it comes to getting the quality sleep you need for your health, your job, your relationships and particularly if you’re trying to get your health back on track, it’s about treating the cause, not the symptom.
The tricky thing is that sleeping problems can be caused by a number of issues. The good news is there are a few simple things you can do to increase your chances of getting a good night’s sleep – it just takes some know-how and self-discipline.
Sure, some of them you might’ve heard before but bear with us - there’s so much more to the reasons behind them besides simply being able to doze off. And it’s some very important stuff.
Our body can be very clever at releasing cortisol (the hormone that helps wake you up) and melatonin (the hormone that helps you sleep) in the right levels at the right times of the day to regulate our natural sleep/wake cycle. During the morning and early afternoon, cortisol is released to prepare us for daily activities. These levels reduce later in the day to allow us to sleep at night. Ideally speaking. However, anything that ‘tricks’ these hormones into being released at the wrong time will inadvertently affect our ability to sleep. Plus, when cortisol levels are raised it suppresses the release of melatonin.
These are some things which can disturb this hormone balance include bright lights, stimulants such as caffeine, sugar and tobacco and being dehydrated.
GET MORE SLEEP
Avoid regularly staying up late
This teaches your body to continue releasing cortisol later in the day to help you stay awake, leading to problems sleeping when you try to go back to an earlier bed time. If you’ve fallen into a late bedtime habit, you will need to slowly retrain your body to go to sleep earlier. Start by moving your bedtime forward by 30 minutes each week until you get back to your ideal bedtime - which, physiologically, should be around 10.30pm. Why? Because most physical repair is done in the first half of the night (between 11pm and 2am) and psychological repair and memory formation in the second half (between 2am and 6am). If you need to get up at 7am like most of us you need to get to sleep by around 10:30pm in order to ‘fit in’ these repair cycles.
Sleep in a dark room, avoid blue light before bed and turn off (or remove) electrical devices in your bedroom
Light exposure to the eyes and the skin makes your brain think it’s day time and increases cortisol and suppresses melatonin, this includes lights from computer screens, TVs and phones (which omit blue light). Dimming your lights and avoiding screen time 1-2 hours before bed can help counteract this problem.
Avoid stimulants in the afternoon after 3pm
Yup, you’ve heard it before – but it’s not just about nodding off. Having caffeine or tobacco after 3pm will suppress your repair hormones well into the night.
Avoid sugar just before bed
Another piece of advice you may have heard, but here’s why: sugar spikes your blood sugar and the crash a few hours later will wake you up (that might explain the dreaded 2am wake up). Eat something higher in good fats and protein if you find yourself reaching for a pre-bed snack.
Stretch daily…. and time your workouts
10 minutes of gentle stretching before bed releases tension, lowers cortisol and improves sleep. Exercise increases serotonin production and lowers cortisol levels when done in the right way. Avoid long cardio sessions over 50 minutes and training too late in the evening.
Take a hot bath
The Japanese have used hot baths for thousands of years to improve sleep. It’s believed to increase melatonin production. The change in body temperature from a warm bath to a cooler bedroom also signals to your body that it’s time to rest and slowing down your heart rate and breathing – making it easier for you to fall asleep.
Keep as regular a sleep schedule as possible
Changes in sleep rhythms are also a stress on the body. Train your body to produce the correct hormones at the correct times by keeping a regular sleep schedule.
Sleep in the right position
Sleep in a position that prevents movement and supports your body. Sleeping on your back is best. It supports a neutral spine with the least stress on the joints and ligaments. Side is second best. Tummy sleeping tends to put strain on the neck and ligaments.
Meditate: Focus on your breath for 5-10 minutes
Practicing regular mindfulness and body awareness can significantly reduce cortisol levels.
Get a good dose of sunlight during the day
This can also train your body to produce the correct hormones at the correct times!
BOTTOM LINE. If you’re struggling with getting good sleep, these tips may help get your body back into good habits rather than regularly reaching for the sleeping pills. It takes an investment of time and effort but is a longer term solution and much better for your health and wellbeing (and those around you!).
Dr Leesa Payne is a Chiropractor and Applied Kinesiologist who focuses on healthy movement, good nutrition and minimising stress to help you make your body an amazing place to live.
She loves working with patients who are motivated to make positive changes to their health and life and sharing this journey with them.
Leesa works at clinics in North Melbourne and Knoxfield, and you can find out more information or contact her at www.drleesapayne.com.au
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