The Spring

Strategies for a better night’s sleep

How to improve your sleep hygiene and create a repeatable routine to ensure you get plenty of rest
By By Emily Pittman

By By Emily Pittman

Practitioner, The Spring

Struggling to get enough sleep each night? Feeling exhausted throughout the day but the minute your head hits the pillow you’re wide awake? You’re not alone. One of the most common health concerns we see at The Spring is sleep deficiency.

Here we’ll share our top tips for a better night’s rest, but first let’s answer a few common questions about sleep.

How much sleep do I need?

The Sleep Foundation says most healthy adults need at least seven hours of sleep each night to give the brain ample time to perform vital recovery functions. Infants, young children, and teenagers should get more to support growth and development because sleep is when growth hormones are released.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “for kids, getting the recommended amount of sleep on a regular basis is linked with better health, including improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, the ability to control emotions, quality of life, and mental and physical health.” We’ll focus on adults from here on out, but a reminder for parents on the importance of sleep routines for kids.

What happens if I don’t get enough sleep?

According to the American Heart Association, a lack of quality sleep can be detrimental to our health, mentally, physically and emotionally, putting us at higher risk for heart attacks, cognitive decline, dementia, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, depression and other chronic health conditions. In addition to long term negative health outcomes, a lack of quality sleep can cause serious short term problems as well: excessive daytime sleepiness, lack of alertness, lowered immunity and higher risk of getting sick, impaired memory, relationship stress, and overall lower quality of life.

What’s happening when we sleep?

“When you sleep, your body undergoes a series of changes that enable the rest that is vital to your overall health. Sleep allows the brain and body to slow down and engage in processes of recovery, promoting better physical and mental performance the next day and over the long-term,” according to the Sleep Foundation.

According to Dr. Michael Grandner, director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson, “the first few hours of sleep are the deepest. It’s during this time that the body performs tissue growth and repair, allowing healing and restoration to occur. It’s also the time when the brain clears away stuff it doesn’t need, making room for the stuff it does need..” According to the Cleveland Clinic, “your body takes advantage of this very deep sleep stage to repair injuries and reinforce your immune system” as well.

The traditional Chinese Medicine Body Clock

When we’re in a state of deep sleep, our bodies and brain are able to detox and flush toxins that have built up during the day to help us heal. It’s not all happening at once though. To help better understand which areas of the body might be working overtime to facilitate a detox while you sleep, we utilize the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Body Clock. The TCM Body Clock represents a 24-hour period when energy moves through the organ systems in 2 hour intervals to self-regulate and heal. During sleep, the body’s energy draws inward to restore the body.

By embracing the concept of the Body Clock, you can better understand what specific organs are thriving or which are needing support. For example, according to the TCM Body Clock, 1:00-3:00 AM is when the liver is healing and cleansing the blood. If you find yourself waking up between these hours, it may be that your liver is overstressed. We work with clients to help determine where your body needs extra support based on your sleep experience, implementing diet, lifestyle or supplements to better support you at night.

sleep-experience

A good night’s sleep is essential for overall health and healing. If you find yourself tossing and turning at night, struggling to get the rest you need, it’s time to make some positive changes to your sleep routine. In addition to consulting your practitioner about your symptoms and sleep quality (or lack thereof), here are 10 more general tips to improve your sleep, support your health journey, and hopefully wake up feeling refreshed each morning.

1. Stick to a Sleep Schedule

Set a regular bedtime and wake-up time, even on weekends. The human body operates on a circadian rhythm, a natural internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. “Humans really love to have a routine. Having your circadian rhythm all over the place forces you to go into sleep deprivation mode, and it also really confuses our brains,” says Christine Stevens, a sleep consultant.

A consistent bedtime and wake-up time will synchronize your sleep-wake cycle and help regulate your body’s internal clock, making it easier to fall asleep and wake up naturally and improve overall sleep quality. If you have trouble remembering when to go to bed, or get distracted with TV or chores at night, set a bedtime alarm or reminders to help you stay on track. Some experts also recommend sticking with your normal wakeup time even if you get to bed later than normal so you’re not messing with both ends of your schedule.

Bedtime Routine

2. Create a Cozy Bedtime Routine

Think of your bedtime routine as your personal wind-down ritual. It’s not just about brushing your teeth; it’s a chance to signal to your body that it’s time to unwind and embrace calm before sleep. Whether it’s reading a book, practicing gentle stretches, or indulging in a calming cup of herbal tea, these rituals can create a smooth transition to sleep time and reduce sleep onset latency—the time between turning off the light and falling asleep—and improve overall sleep quality.

Make sure they’re simple and repeatable, so you can be consistent and not overwhelm yourself, even as you’re trying to be mindful of your sleep. “Your body and brain then understand what comes after those activities is sleep,” says Rebecca Robbins, an instructor at Harvard Medical School and a sleep scientist at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital “So, we can kind of classically condition ourselves to understand that the end of our bedtime routine is the time for sleep.”

3. Optimize Your Sleep Environment

Make your bedroom a comfortable and serene space. Invest in the right mattress and pillows, use blackout curtains or an eye mask to eliminate light, try a weighted blanket, and explore relaxing scents, like a few drops of lavender oil on your pillow or in a diffuser or a chamomile-scented candle to create a cozy and calming atmosphere.

Keep the room quiet and cool for an optimal sleep environment. According to the Sleep Foundation, the ideal room temperature for better sleep is around 65 degrees Fahrenheit. If it’s hard to shut off your brain in a quiet room, or you live on a noisy street, try white (or brown or pink) noise or other soothing sounds.

4. Say Goodnight to Screens

Your bedroom should be a sleep sanctuary, not a tech hub. Devices like computers, phones and TVs produce a type of light called blue light. While blue light exposure is less impactful during the day, and inescapable in most corporate life, at night it’s shown to be disruptive because it throws our body’s circadian rhythm out of whack and confuses our brain’s natural production of melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone. At minimum it’s recommended to turn off screens thirty minutes to an hour before bedtime, and try to keep devices out of the bedroom altogether to limit light and distractions.

For more, read our blog on reducing your blue light exposure throughout the day.

5. Watch What You Eat and Drink

Large meals, caffeine, and alcohol close to bedtime can disrupt your sleep patterns and make it harder to achieve a deep, restful sleep. According to the Sleep Foundation, most experts recommend eating a meal two to four hours before bedtime to give yourself enough time to digest. Consider a light protein-rich snack if you’re feeling peckish or struggling with dysglycemia, or opt for sleep-friendly options like a full-fat yogurt or a handful of nuts.

It’s not just what we eat right before bed that matters though. Food can have an impact on your sleep quality all day. We encourage you to stick to a whole foods, diet if you’re struggling with sleep (read more here for tips on health grocery shopping), and there are certain foods you can also add that have calming properties:

  • Spinach
  • Ginger
  • Almonds
  • Kiwis
  • Avocado
  • Dark chocolate (75% or higher)
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Turkey
  • Eggs

6. Stay Active During the Day

The benefits of regular physical activity extend beyond physical health to include improved sleep. Studies show that regular physical activity promotes better sleep by reducing stress and anxiety while increasing the overall quality and quantity of your sleep. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days, but even just a short walk at lunch or in the evening will go a long way. Just be mindful of when you finish your workout. Workouts release endorphins and increase body temperature, so for some people working out too close to bedtime can actually hinder your ability to fall asleep.

7. Manage Stress and Anxiety

Do you have trouble falling asleep or end up wide awake in the middle of the night with racing thoughts? A common complaint from patients is figuring out how to “turn their brain off” when it comes time to sleep.

Stress and sleep don’t play well together. Research suggests that relaxation techniques can reduce stress and anxiety, promoting better sleep. Try incorporating relaxation techniques into your bedtime routine, like deep breathing, a short yoga flow, or a quick mindfulness moment, to help your brain shift gears, ease into sleep mode and say goodbye to the day’s stressors.

For those persistent middle of the night thoughts, keep a notebook or journal by your bed. Write down the to-do or thought that keeps popping up instead of ruminating over it for hours. This “braindump” is a way to clear the clutter that may be distracting you from sleep.

8. Check Your Breathing

Do you snore, or wake up with a dry mouth or bad breath, or have lingering tiredness? These are a few signs that you may be breathing through your mouth when you sleep. Mouth breathing at night can increase the risk of sleep disorders like snoring and daytime fatigue, and according to the Cleveland Clinic, people who breathe through their mouth and not their nose are more likely to develop conditions like sleep apnea.Mouth breathing is typically a habit people develop when they can’t breathe through their nose, and can start from allergies, colds or chronic sinusitis.

9. Be Mindful of Your Sleep Position

If you find yourself tossing and turning, or waking up with your neck, back or shoulders out of whack, it might be time to change your sleep position. Find a comfortable sleep position that supports the natural curve of your spine. Experiment with different pillow and mattress combinations to discover what works best for you for a more restful night.

A new sleep position can help if you snore, help alleviate acid reflux or heartburn, and lower blood pressure, among other benefits. Here’s another helpful guide for which sleep position might be best for you, and how to make the switch.

10. Supplements and Natural Sleep Aids

In addition to all of the tips and tricks above, if you need a little extra help you can explore natural aids and remedies we carry at The Spring: melatonin, valerian root or magnesium to name a few. If these don’t help, you may be having difficulty sleeping because of certain stressors. If trouble sleeping persists, be sure to mention it to your practitioner at The Spring during your next appointment and discuss possible supplements to help correct any imbalances you’re experiencing.

 


 

Take a moment to reflect on the daily habits that may be contributing to your stress and interfering with your sleep. Are you drinking too many cups of coffee? Are you on a medication that’s impacting your sleep? How’s your alcohol intake? Diet? Are you watching TV too close to bedtime? By taking a closer look at our daily habits, we are one step closer to identifying problematic lifestyle habits and can make appropriate changes to support our goals, like better sleep.

If you can implement some or all of these tips into your daily routine, you can create a healthier sleep pattern and enjoy the benefits of improved overall well-being. Remember, quality sleep is a vital component of a happy and healthy life.

Sweet dreams!

The Spring is a holistic wellness clinic in Austin, TX, offering personalized, integrative care. We consider all aspects of you, your symptoms, and your health history, and offer personalized programs focused on lifestyle, nutrition, and education, incorporating a variety of assessments and therapies: muscle testing, functional lab testing, health coaching, and dietary and supplement recommendations. Make an appointment with us today to visit our wellness center and discuss how we can help you feel your best.

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