A Nourishing Life with Dr. Melissa Blake
HL: Making sleep a priority
As a working mother, the last few years have brought many new lessons, including a renewed appreciation for sleep. The first time baby slept thru the night was one of the happiest days of my life. Never again will I underestimate the benefits of a good night's sleep (or a good nap).
Sleep, or lack of it, impacts every aspect of daily life. It is essential for maintaining health and influences mood, energy, judgement, life span, and immune function. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to serious health concerns such as obesity, depression, and heart disease.
Both the quantity and quality of sleep are important. If you spend 9 hours in bed at night but toss and turn or wake frequently, it is unlikely you will get out of bed feeling rested and although some people need more sleep than others, the average adult requires 8 hours of sleep every night for optimal health.
Although we are not consciously aware of the work being done, it is amazing what the body does while our eyes our closed. While we sleep, our bodies produce proteins that help repair damage and strengthen the immune system. Sleep also gives time for the cardiovascular system to rest. Good quality sleep has been shown to reduce both cholesterol and blood pressure levels. Sleep is also a major contributor to maintaining healthy weight. Due to the impact on hormones, lack of sleep can trigger cravings for foods high in fats and carbohydrates. A well-rounded weight loss plan should always include a healthy sleep routine.
The first place to start when deciding to make sleep a priority is in the bedroom. The ideal environment for healthy sleep is one with very few distractions. Ensure your sleeping quarters are as dark as possible - this includes blocking out natural light from windows as well as removing electronics such as a television or clock radio. Even small amounts of light can influence levels of the sleep hormone, melatonin.
Sound is also a distraction for sleep. Falling asleep in front of a TV has a negative impact on sleep for this reason as well. Phones should be turned off. If you live on a busy street and traffic noise is an issue, consider investing in white noise. This can be something as simple as a fan or fish tank - anything that produces a consistent, low sound that will cover up less predictable noises.
To get good quality sleep, it is important to start thinking about sleep before actually going to bed. Our bodies and brains need time to wind down. Avoid stimulating activities such as strenuous exercise at least 1 hour before bed. Watching television or reading, especially about intense or emotional topics, are also good to avoid. Use the hour before bed to prepare for a restful sleep. Establishing a routine will help. This may include a warm cup of herbal tea (chamomile or peppermint can be good choices), a warm bath, gentle stretching, yoga, or breathing exercises.
There are a variety of natural sleep products on the market, including magnesium, melatonin, valerian, and theanine. It is important to choose a product for your individual needs, as not all of these supplements are appropriate for everyone. A natural sleep aid can often times make things worse if the right reasons are not addressed. Discuss your options with your naturopathic doctor.
Sometimes there are reasons why a person cannot sleep long periods of time uninterrupted - certain medical conditions or a hungry baby are examples. If this is the case, don't forget that napping is an option! Naps, when used appropriately, can help fill in the gaps. Be conscious of napping in a way that doesn't interfere with your nighttime sleep - choose short naps (45 minutes or less) and try not to nap too late in the day.
Making Sleep a Priority:
Ensuring your bedroom is a sleep worthy environment and implementing a sleep routine are ways you can start to make sleep a priority. However, efforts to improve the quality of your sleep can begin the moment you open your eyes.
Exercise improves every aspect wellness and by encouraging energy expenditure, a regular exercise regime can go a long way to help improve sleep. Find a schedule that works for you – before bed may be too stimulating for some.
Diet is also an important factor in sleep patterns. Avoid foods known to interfere with sleep, especially late in the day. These include caffeine, alcohol, and sugar but may also include spicy foods, high fat foods, and those with additives such as MSG. Some people also have food sensitivities that will interfere with sleep. These can be identified by testing and/or elimination diets, available thru your naturopathic doctor.
Foods high in the amino acid tryptophan (a building block for melatonin) are better supper and evening snack choices. Some evening snack ideas that will help promote sleep include: a banana and almonds, yogurt and granola, or hummus and veggie sticks.
Healthy stress management will have a positive influence on your overall health, including sleep. There are various strategies that help reduce the negative impact of stress on the body, including meditation, exercise, and diet. Speak with your naturopathic doctor if you are concerned about your ability to manage your stress.
With so many distractions and items on to-do lists, at the end of the day it may be difficult to walk away from the computer, leave the dishes in the sink, or put down that book to go to bed. However, studies show that the people who do are more likely to live longer, healthier lives - a reason to put sleep at the top of your priority list.
On that note - I think it's time for a nap.
Melissa Blake is an Amherst native and a licensed naturopathic doctor. She practises at The Pear Tree Naturopathic Clinic in Dieppe, N.B. and is accepting patients at the Hata Yoga Room, and can be reached at 1-506-857-1300 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.