The importance of sleep and how to improve it

Michelle Velan, Wondersource Founder

If you’ve struggled with sleep, you have probably experienced first hand an increase in stress and negative talk the next day. Events that are normally business as usual, feel overwhelming and stressful and we often interpret situations in unhelpful ways. Personal experiences aside, studies show that sleep is critical to physical health and a key promoter of emotional wellness and mental health. ⁠In fact, sleep deprivation is a proven risk factor for Alzheimer’s, cancer, heart disease, heart attack/ failure, stroke, diabetes, depression, anxiety, and obesity.

According to Allison Harvey, Professor of Clinical Psychology, UC Berkeley, sleep also has a critical role in a wide range of cognitive functions including problem solving, attention, memory and creativity. ⁠Sleep is also important for muscle formation and repair, motivation and mood as well as appetite and body weight regulation. Also, sleep is essential for preventing and recovering from health problems. ⁠

In simplest terms, sleep is a key to health and well-being. The good news is that if you do struggle to sleep, there are steps you can take to improve things.⁠⁠

Common causes of insomnia include:

  • Significant life stress or emotional upset
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Illness e.g. arthritis, heartburn etc
  • Physical discomfort or pain
  • Environmental factors like noise, light, or the room being too hot or cold
  • Medications e.g. those used to treat colds, allergies, depression, high blood pressure, and asthma
  • Disordered sleep schedule e.g. shift work or jet lag.⁠⁠

Here are some guidelines derived from basic science, to enable and encourage you to optimise your sleep:⁠

– Increase natural light exposure during the day, ideally before noon⁠⁠
– Start a meditation or mindfulness ⁠practice
– Try to be consistent with the time you wake up and go to bed⁠
⁠- Manage your day-to-day stress levels through walks in nature, journaling, breathwork and exericse
– Reduce blue light exposure at night (get off all devices two hours before bed or wear glasses that block the light)⁠
– Cut out alcohol and eliminate caffeine consumption after 2pm⁠ (cut it out altogether if you’re really struggling)
– Optimise your bedroom environment by cutting out light and external noises⁠ and leaving your phone in another room
– Don’t eat late in the evening⁠
– Use visualization and positive self talk: “I relax and sleep easily”
– Wind down: relax and clear your mind before bed (meditation, a bath or reading a book can help here)⁠
– Journal and write down things you’re grateful for
– Exercise regularly, but not close to bedtime (exercise is one of the best science-backed ways to improve your sleep and health)⁠
– Avoid sugar, particularly at night⁠
– Don’t go to sleep angry (anger turns on the stress response and triggers cortisol release), try writing several things you’re grateful for if you’re feeling angry⁠ before bed
– Try nutritional, mineral or herbal supplements with calming, and sleep-enhancing effects, and without the downsides of pharmaceuticals. According to Dr. Frank Lipman, sleepy supplements include: magnesium (300-600 mg.); the amino acids L theanine (100-500 mg), taurine, GABA and 5 HTP (50-100 mg.); and herbals like lemon balm, chamomile, passionflower, magnolia and valerian root. Try one at a time, a half-hour or hour before bedtime and see which one works best for you.
– Talk to a trained therapist, coach or counselor about what’s on your mind
– Work with a trained expert like a reiki practitioner, energy healer or emotional freedom technique practitioner to help you manage stress and heal trauma

If you continue to struggle on an on-going basis, fortunately functional medicine can help you get to the root cause and avoid medicating! This was my experience and one of the drivers for having set up Wondersource.

As I learned first hand, there are a variety of areas a functional medicine practitioner can help you with to improve your sleep. Here are a few:

Nutrient intake – They can take an assessment of your nutrient intake because deficiencies in certain nutrients (for example calcium or magnesium) can make it more difficult to get to sleep or stay asleep.

Stress levels and hormone imbalances – Stress levels, hormone imbalances and imbalances in neurotransmitters (brain messages) can also contribute to poor sleep. Functional testing can be used to look at the levels of key hormones and neurotransmitters to identify imbalances that might be interfering with your sleep. Your functional medicine practitioner can then put together a tailored protocol or suggest diet changes, lifestyle adjustments and supplements to restore biochemical balance and good sleep.

In my case, a few years back when I couldn’t sleep for a few months in a row, I was exhausted at night but unable to fall asleep. I went to my doctor to get to the bottom of it and I was recommended more meditation. It didn’t make a difference and I knew there was something more going on in my system. After some research, I came across functional medicine and eventually one practitioner who recommended tests so that we could uncover what was going on. Through the process of testing, we determined that I had a cortisol imbalance. I was given a protocol, which included a holistic approach of reducing stress levels, taking particular supplements (in the right quantities at the right times of day), improving my diet, removing lifestyle behaviors that were exacerbating the cortisol imbalance like too many HIIT classes, intermittent fasting and coffee on an empty stomach. I was quickly able to have deep sleeps at night. To this day, I follow the main learnings from the protocol I was given to ensure I get enough sleep.

As I learned, stress management is also important. Most of us know by now that stress management is fundamental to health and wellbeing, but too many of us find it difficult to make the time. However, it’s so important to make sure your body is supported and able to relax and recover. A functional medicine practitioner can advise you on herbs and supplements to support you through a stressful period. They can then help you put in place a structure to better manage stress in the future.

Weight – If obesity is contributing to your sleep issues, bodyweight management can also be addressed as part of your functional medicine protocol.

Other health issues – The same applies to other health issues that might be disrupting sleep. The purpose of functional medicine is to treat the whole person, not just their symptoms. This means providing support for underlying health conditions as well as working directly on improving sleep.

In a nutshell, functional medicine focuses on the underlying causes of health conditions. It aims to optimise one’s health and prevent future diseases by considering each patient’s unique background (including genetics, lifestyle, and diet choices) and identifying the root issues. A range of treatments and personalised programmes are then administered with a focus on natural solutions and therapies that have fewer side effects for patients.

Your health is unique to you and we believe how you take care of yourself should be, too.

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Rosie Letts and Mirthe Eckl are our certified functional medicine practitioners at Wondersource. Book our experts today and feel the change through living well and generating happiness like never before. Email us to learn more or with any questions at amin@wondersource.co

 

 

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