According to the CDC, insufficient sleep is a growing public health epidemic. Fatigue due to lack of restful sleep can be the cause of an array of health problems from memory lapses, sleep apnea, hypertension, depression, or hormonal issues. Not only are we sleeping less than we should, but we are sleeping less efficiently. Many people find themselves having difficulties falling asleep, waking throughout the night, tossing and turning, needing to use the restroom, or waking unrested. This does not have to be the norm, and it really shouldn’t be accepted for optimal wellness.
The pineal gland is a major player in the sleep-wake cycle. Found in the middle of the brain, it secretes melatonin, a hormone that encourages fatigue and sleep. As we age, this gland tends to calcify and become less functional. The pineal gland is highly affected by rhythms and light, and it modulates all other endocrine systems of the body including the adrenals, thyroid, and reproductive organs. This in turn affects mental-emotional stability as well as energy, focus, libido, fertility, immunity, metabolism and cardiovascular health.
So how do we support the pineal gland for healthy sleep?
1. Sleep in TOTAL DARKNESS. Total darkness means no street lights, no night lights, and no alarm clock lights. The only time of the month that a small light is encouraged is during the full moon. The moon cycles just as we do; hormones and rhythms are deeply regulated by these patterns.
2. Expose yourself to sunshine (light) immediately upon waking. “Awake lights” or “Dawn Stimulators” are helpful for those of us in the Pacific Northwest, or for those who must wake before the sun rises. Ideally, this light would gradually brighten over 30 minutes just as the sun does. Light shuts down the production of melatonin. If the body continues to produce melatonin during the day, fatigue will linger as well.
3. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every night and morning, weekends included. Those two days can
throw off your entire rhythm, even if you feel you need to catch up on sleep. Routine is the most important treatment for nearly every ailment of the body. Aim for 8-10 hours of sleep every night.
4. Your bedroom should be for one (or two) things only. Sleep (and intimacy). No reading, no television, and absolutely no work. If your office desk is in your room, rearrange the house. If reading helps you unwind, do it on the couch.
5. Avoid eating within 3 hours of going to bed. If you must eat, have a small protein snack like almonds or popcorn. Sugar and carbohydrates interfere with insulin, a hormone you don’t want creeping up when you are sleeping.
6. Avoid alcohol for your body must detoxify it as you sleep. Wonder why you’re waking at 2-3am every night? That is “liver” time, a sign you may need some naturopathic liver support.
7. Avoid nicotine and caffeine in the evening for they stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, or “fight or flight” response. It is difficult for the body to rest in parasympathetic state when it innately thinks it needs to be prepared for survival.
8. Get outside and move your body every day for a minimum of 30 minutes!
9. Manage your stress: talk it out, work it out, process it effectively. Talk to Dr. Birr about how to support your moods and nervous system. Stress is a big word for so many of us to fall back on. Do not let it be the cause of restless sleep and chronic disease!
10. Call your naturopathic doctor for a more individualized approach to restful sleep and a better tomorrow.
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Dr. Alicia McCubbins is a naturopathic physician who strives to educate, motivate and inspire. Please feel free to share your thoughts or questions so that we may collectively grow through knowledge.