Having trouble sleeping? You’re not alone. A Canadian Community Health Survey revealed that 21% of the population has trouble sleeping some of the time. 9% said they have trouble most of the time. And 5% said all of the time. That’s more than a third of our nation having some form of sleeping issue. That’s huge. Let’s talk about common causes of sleeplessness as well as some natural insomnia treatments so we can get you sleeping like a boss!
Causes of insomnia
There are many different factors that contribute to a good night’s rest. The first thing you’ll want to do is have a look through your medicine cabinet. Are you taking anything that could be affecting your sleep? Some drugs that can lead to insomnia include:
- Beta-blockers (used for high blood pressure)
If you think your insomnia is a result of a prescription medication, make sure to let your doctor know about this side effect. If you are consuming nicotine, caffeine, or alcohol, try to either cut back or cut them out completely. I know, I know, cutting out any three of these addictive substances is not an easy task. An alternative option would be to avoid consuming them close to bedtime (for example, only have coffee in the morning).
Another major contributor to insomnia is mental health. Depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia can all keep you awake at night. If you think you may have any of these disorders, let your naturopathic doctor know and they can work on the root cause. You can also see a psychologist, either in-person or online. This, in turn, will lead to the disappearance of symptoms such as insomnia.
Also, there are several physical medical disorders that can lead to insomnia:
- Acid reflux
- Congestive heart failure
- Restless leg syndrome
- Sleep apnea
- Hormonal issues (menopause, PMS, adrenal dysfunction)
If your insomnia is a result of another medical disorder, then the best route is to get treatment for that disorder. Most of all, treating the root cause is key in naturopathic medicine! If your sleep issues are not a result of any medication or condition listed above, then you may want to try some of the natural insomnia treatments below.
Natural insomnia treatments
1. Make sure your bedroom is dark
Melatonin is known as the sleep hormone. In order for our bodies to properly use melatonin, we must be in darkness. This was a lot easier for people to do back in the day before Benjamin Franklin and the discovery of electricity. Now, there seem to be lights on everywhere. Whether they are coming from a streetlamp, an alarm clock, or a phone, they can all affect our sleep. Try getting blackout curtains or using a sleep mask.
2. Avoid looking at screens 2 hours before bed
While we’re on the subject of light, let’s talk about screens. TVs, computers, tablets, and phones all emit a blue light that suppresses our secretion of melatonin. Harvard Medical School recommends avoiding digital screens 2-3 hours before bed. If you’re completely attached to your smart phone or tablet and think this is impossible, there are a few other things you can try. There are several screen protectors available on the market that filter out blue light. But some phones and tablets allow you to do this by changing settings on the device itself. Go into your “Display & Brightness” settings and select “Night Shift”. This allows you to change the colouring of your screen. You can even schedule it so that your device automatically filters out blue light 2-3 hours before bed each night! I guess they call them smartphones for a reason.
3. De-clutter your bedroom
If you walk into your bedroom each night and think to yourself how messy it is, this can start a whole train of thoughts. You start to think about how you should have tidied up today. Then you start to think about how you should really get on that tomorrow. Then you start to think about all the things you have to do tomorrow. Do you see how this might interfere with your sleep? If you ever needed a great excuse to de-clutter, let this be it: it could actually help you to get better sleep! After all, “a clean room is a clear mind”.
4. Only do these two things in bed
Sleep and sex. That’s it. Don’t watch TV, don’t do work, don’t even read in bed. We want to train the mind that when we hit that pillow, it’s time to sleep. Try to make your bed your own little sleep oasis. When you enter it, leave all your stresses and the day’s problems at the door.
5. Stay cool
In order to achieve sleep, our body needs to lower its temperature. That’s why it’s important to keep your bedroom nice and cool. If you have an automated thermostat, set it so that the temperature drops just before your bedtime. A warm shower before bed can actually be helpful, but timing is key. If you have a warm shower 2 hours before bed, this gives your body a good amount of time to cool down after the shower. This drop in temperature can help to induce sleep. If you have your warm shower too close to your bedtime, however, your body could be too warm to go into sleep mode.
6. Block out noise
This one is a bit tougher to do, because noise isn’t always in our realm of control. Whether it’s street traffic or a snoring partner, noise can interfere with both the quantity and quality of sleep. Ear plugs or a white noise machine can usually do the trick. Just be aware that if you sleep with a white noise machine or a fan every night, your body can become accustomed to this. That means if you ever have to sleep without the noise that you’re used to (at say a hotel or a relative’s house), you might have a harder time falling asleep. Therefore, foam ear plugs are probably your best bet!
Research shows that people who exercise during the day tend to sleep better at night. However, this is another one of those natural insomnia treatments where timing comes into play. Cortisol is a hormone that our body secretes in order to stay awake and alert. Natural spikes in our cortisol level happen upon waking in the morning as well as in the mid-afternoon. Guess what else causes a spike in cortisol? That’s right, exercise. This is why it’s best to exercise first thing upon waking in the morning. If that’s not conducive to your schedule, try to exercise in the mid-afternoon at the latest. Hitting the gym any later than this will cause your cortisol levels to increase, resulting in being awake and alert when you want to be calm and relaxed.
8. Make sure you’re getting enough magnesium
When I think of nutrition and sleep, magnesium is one of the first natural insomnia treatments that comes to mind. Magnesium is a calming mineral – to muscles as well as to the brain. Make sure you’re getting enough magnesium in your diet by incorporating the following foods:
- Pumpkin seeds
- Black beans
- Dark chocolate
9. Have some chamomile tea
Take a look at that Sleepytime tea in your cupboard. Chamomile is bound to be one of the first ingredients, and for good reason. Chamomile is soothing and relaxing to the gut as well as to the mind. Try having a mug of chamomile tea before bed – but not too soon before your bedtime. We don’t want to create a midnight pee break!
10. Establish a bedtime routine
Finally, having a predictable way of preparing for bed is a great way to help prevent insomnia. Winding down tells your body and mind that it’s time to relax and go to sleep. This could be things as simple as brushing your teeth or doing a little bit of meditation. This could also be a great time to have that warm shower or some of the chamomile tea we just talked about! Try incorporating some of the natural insomnia treatments we discussed above into your nighttime routine and you’ll be sleeping like a boss in no time.
These are general tips that should help get you on the way to sleeping like a boss. If you would like one-on-one natural insomnia treatments, book your appointment with Dr. Corina Kibsey ND today.
Photo courtesy of: nomao saeki