How to Put Insomnia to Bed: A Tale of Balanced Hormones and Better Sleep Habits
Quality, restful sleep is perhaps the most important pillar of a healthy lifestyle. It’s a crucial time for our bodies unwind and focus on the 3 R’s: repair, regeneration, and rejuvenation. However, for many people, good sleep can be elusive, causing a fatigue fog to settle in. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Sleep hygiene 101
If you tend to find yourself tossing and turning when your head hits the pillow, follow these tips to set the stage for a restful night’s sleep:
- Create relaxing rituals for easing into sleep
A warm bath, a protein and fiber-rich snack, chamomile tea, or a few minutes of light reading before bed can drastically improve your sleep quality. Adding calming and relaxing essential oils to a bath or applying them directly to your skin helps with relaxation, too. Lavender and vetiver produce aromas designed to help soothe your body. In addition, incorporating Epsom salts adds another layer of physical relaxation to your routine, helping your muscles rest and recover.
- Limit screen time before bed
To give yourself the best chance of getting a good night’s rest, make sure your television is anywhere but the bedroom. The light from the screen is far too stimulating, and it’s too easy to become engrossed in a show. This same rule also applies to watching shows on a laptop or tablet. If you’re unable to sleep without any background noise, try using a white noise machine, sound app, or radio instead.
- Keep your phone out of the bedroom
Just as watching TV before bed can negatively affect your nighttime ritual, so can keeping your phone on your nightstand. So much so, that research shows using your phone or tablet within 2 hours of bedtime can decrease melatonin production by up to 55%! To avoid the temptation to check email, read the news, or mindlessly scroll through social media at the end of the day, commit to charging your phone in another room while you sleep, and limit screen time before bed. Setting downtime hours in your phone’s settings is a great way to start becoming more aware of your habits and begin working toward improving sleep duration and quality.
- Don’t go to bed unless you are sleepy
Find something relaxing, but not stimulating, to get you in the mood to hit the hay. Reading a book, listening to some soft music, or flipping a magazine might just do the trick.
- Find a sleep schedule that works for you and stick to it
Consistency is the key to putting insomnia to rest for good. Make a habit out of waking up at the same time every morning and going to bed at the same time every night—even on weekends and vacations. This is an essential strategy for building and maintaining good sleeping habits and contributes to normal circadian rhythm regulation.
- Avoid taking naps
Naps are a great way to recharge, but only if you keep track of the time you spend sleeping. If you must take a nap, try napping before 3 p.m. for less than one hour, to decrease the chances of grogginess.
- Watch what you eat before bed
What you consume before you go to sleep matters. It’s important to make sure that you do not go to bed hungry and make sure you don’t eat a big meal before bedtime, either. Aim to snack on some high protein foods, like nuts or nut butter, Greek yogurt, and whole grain crackers with cheese to stabilize your blood sugar before you doze off.
- Use sleeping pills sparingly and cautiously
Like any prescription medication, sleep aids should only be used when necessary. Most doctors do not prescribe sleeping pills for periods of more than three weeks at a time, and you should not drink alcohol while taking these pills.
- Make your bedroom a place where shut-eye is welcome
In other words, re-create a cave setting in your home. The temperature in your bedroom should be comfortable enough for sleeping and the room should be well ventilated. A cool (not cold) bedroom, free of external noise and harsh lighting is often the most conducive to sleep.
How progesterone, thyroid & cortisol levels affect sleep patterns
As hormones change during menstrual cycles and with menopause, so can sleep patterns. Progesterone is one of the hormones with a calming, relaxing effect, so when levels dip it can cause sleeplessness and restlessness. Progesterone levels fluctuate during menstrual cycles and perimenopause and decline during menopause. When progesterone dips and decreases, many women have difficulty falling and staying asleep. Bioidentical progesterone supplementation can be extremely helpful as a tool to improve sleep quality in women of all ages.
High thyroid levels, or hyperthyroidism, can be another culprit of poor sleep. The thyroid gland makes thyroid hormone T4, which is converted to thyroid hormone T3. T4 and T3 are responsible for maintaining energy balance and a healthy metabolism, and high levels can cause anxiety, insomnia, agitation, and irritability. Performing thyroid tests can help us determine if an overly functioning thyroid gland is the cause of sleep issues and what can be done to balance these levels using natural supplements and prescription medications.
Cortisol is another hormone that maintains energy balance and regulates the sleep-wake cycle and levels of cortisol can fluctuate throughout the day. Cortisol should not be high upon waking but should increase to its highest point approximately 2 hours later. This is referred to as the “Cortisol Awakening Response” and is boosted by natural light and fresh air. Following this peak, cortisol levels should steadily decline and hit the lowest point before bedtime. However, when these patterns do not occur, this is when problems begin. When you experience low levels of cortisol during the day, you can begin to feel fatigued and sluggish. Then, when high cortisol levels increase at night, it can cause you to lie awake, impacting your sleep. Fortunately, both low and high cortisol levels can be balanced with natural supplements like rhodiola, ginseng, licorice, magnolia bark, and phosphatidyl serine.
Increase GABA and serotonin to count sheep and get to sleep
Brain chemistry also plays an important role in sleep since the mind must be cleared of worries and stressors in order to drift off to dreamland. Two key neurotransmitters that greatly influence sleep are GABA and serotonin. GABA reduces anxiety to quiet a racing mind for mental calmness. Serotonin, on the other hand, supports a positive mood. Both GABA and serotonin levels can be boosted using natural amino acid supplements that provide the precursor nutrients to increase neurotransmitter levels.
Treat insomnia by discovering the root cause
With so many variables that can impact sleep, it’s important to work with a provider that can investigate all aspects of sleep dysregulation, understand the contributing factors, and formulate an effective treatment plan.
If you can’t seem to get to the bottom of your poor sleep patterns, schedule an appointment with one of our naturopathic doctors. Located in Solana Beach in San Diego County, CA, Spark Health Integrative Medicine takes a whole-body approach to your healthcare, so you can rest assured we will leave no rock unturned when it comes to finding a solution for your sleepless nights. Give us a call or send us an email to book your consultation!
Article written by Dr. Aliza Cicerone, ND, FABNO