ULTIMATE GUIDE TO FIXING YOUR SLEEP
In Chinese Medicine, they say disease ('dis-ease') occurs when we live out-of-harmony with our environment. In 21st century America, I'd take a gander that nearly all of us are living out-of-harmony with our environment in varying degrees.
Most of us:
-don't eat with the seasons or choose locally grown foods
(peep the labels in the grocery store next time to see how far your produce comes from)
-frequently eat processed foods and non-homemade meals
-don't spend much time in nature with our bare feet on the earth
-spend lots of time sedentary instead of moving our bodies like they were made to
-work insane hours without spending much time to relax, recover or leisure
-"sleep when we're dead" aka burn the wick at both ends
-use artificial lighting and stay up (much) later than the sun
-are glued to our phones, computers, watches, gadgets, and screens
When we live out of alignment with our environment, it causes a struggle or 'friction' within the body. This friction can cause inflammation which, in acute or short-term situations, is a part of the body's natural healing response to foreign invaders or irritants.
Chronic inflammation however is at the root of many diseases, from autoimmune and allergies to pain and migraines. Yes, it's part of the body's natural healing process but when you are chronically inflamed, you experience chronic symptoms. The more we reduce this inflammation from wherever it's coming from (often multiple sources), the better we will feel over all.
What does this have to do with sleep?
During sleep, our bodies focus on and are most efficient at: detoxing, reducing inflammation, and repairing damaged cells or tissues. If you aren't sleeping, you are not detoxing, repairing, or recovering. This is why it's extra important to reduce the amount of inflammation you are occurring via external sources such as diet, chemicals, stress, movement patterns, etc so when you DO sleep, you can make a dent in how much you have to repair.
In addition to that, having high levels of inflammation can affect the quality of your sleep. If you have pain (inflammation) that keeps you up or wakes you up, it becomes a vicious cycle that needs to be addressed from all angles (see below) so you can recover and reduce the inflammation.
Nature is all about cycles (seasons, day/night, moon phases, high tide/low tide, etc). Humans (and all animals really) are meant to live in harmony and rhythm with the sun and the moon.
<nerd alert: humans are diurnal or active during the day while certain animals like owls, moths, and bats are nocturnal and active at night>
Have you ever heard of the circadian rhythm?
It's the day/night cycle where our bodies react to the presence of light, which causes our internal clock to send signals for us to be alert and awake. As night falls and light (hypothetically) decreases, our internal clocks signal the body to produce melatonin, a sleep promoting hormone, in addition to other chemical processes that help us stay asleep through the night.
Now, imagine life as a caveman or... a more relatable comparison... when you go camping for a few days or more, you naturally start going to bed at dusk and waking at dawn. Why is that? When you're out in the forest, mountains, or desert, there's a lot less light pollution or stimulating activities unless you're at Burning Man or are getting chased by a bear.
In our day-to-day, we are overstimulated (screens, multi-tasking, non-stop busy- ness, massive to-do lists, commercials, billboards, social media, caffeine, etc) and even into the night via artificial lights, it makes it REAL hard to shut down at night.
Now here's the thing about fixing your sleep...
You need to address the source and often times, it's not just ONE THING that's affecting your sleep.
We often assume or hope that there is going to be ONE answer that solves all our health problems (one medication, supplement, pillow, diet, gadget, therapist, healer, doctor, etc) and on rare occasions there may be one thing that does make a big difference.
More often than not though, our issues are due to an accumulation of habits that are out-of-sync with our environment (internally or externally) and the key is to make a few lifestyle changes to get yourself dialed back in.
So this is the point where you need to assess why your sleep is sucking and what may be a contributing factor (often it's a combination):
-XS daily screen time
-scary or stressful TV/movies/books at night
-disruptions or distractions in the bedroom (light, noise, snoring partner)
-not exercising or moving your body enough during the day
-not getting enough sunlight during the day/morning
-poor quality diet (xs sugar, processed foods with artificial flavors/colors/msg)
-not enough good quality protein/fat
-eating too late or close to bedtime
If you are able to identify what your main issues are, obviously you need to address those first.
If you don't know where to start or all of the above apply, I encourage you to start incorporating as many of these tips as possible into your lifestyle instead of being on the everlasting search for the Magic Bullet.
The more you improve your sleep hygiene by following the tips below, the better you will feel overall. This includes less pain, more energy, better digestion, better response to stressful situations, and improved mood in general.
Sleep is literally designed to be the time for our bodies recover and repair and if you're not sleeping, then the rest of you is going to feel like it's falling apart too.
HOW I SUGGEST TO APPROACH THIS LIST TO AVOID OVERWHELMING YOURSELF
1. Do the easiest fixes immediately (airplane mode, socks, dim lights, etc)
2. Focus on your root cause and incorporate tips specific to that
-stress/anxiety? mediate, journal, exercise
-too much screen time? blue blockers, limit screens, dim lights, etc
-light sleeper? ear plugs, eye mask, white noise machine
3. Don't stop there, try to really hone in the other areas of your lifestyle too in order to feel the full benefits!
So without further ado, let's fix your friggen sleep!
Click here to get a printable checklist to help keep you on track!
BLOCK THE BLUE: Our screens emit blue light which is similar to sunlight. It is very stimulating and with many of us spending 6 + hours staring at some form of a screen, you can imagine that the effects add up. Anyone get that "wired but tired" feeling? This is 100% a sign for you to minimize and circumvent your screen time. If you wear glasses, get the blue blocking tint added to it. If you don't wear glasses but accumulate lots of screen time, get Blue Blockers to wear while working on your screen.
CEASE THE SCREEN: Shut off your screens 2 hours before you go to bed. Turn off the TV, phone, computer, iWatch, etc and choose to read a book, journal or meditate instead. Break the compulsive habit of scrolling and allow your mind and body to wind down naturally. If you MUST be on your phone/tv, use blue-blocking glasses or at the very least turn down the brightness to the lowest level.
AIRPLANE: Put your phone into airplane mode at night. This helps as a reminder to stay away from the scroll hole and also minimizes the amount of EMF's/bluetooth that is emitting from your phone. This is especially important for those who sleep with their phone next to their beds or EVEN UNDER THEIR PILLOWS (highly recommend against this). It will also prevent anyone from interrupting your slumber with that late night text or drunk dial.
DIM THE LIGHTS: As soon as the sun goes down, don't be like a Trace Adkins country song where 'every light in the house is on'. Minimize your light exposure as best you can. If you have dimmers, dim it down, set the mood. If you don't have dimmers, use non-toxic candles or battery operated candles.
SOCK IT TO YA: Wear socks to bed. You may think, "no way jose, I'm a hot sleeper, I'll overheat." Au contraire mon frère, warming up the feet and hands makes the blood vessels dilate and increase circulation. This releases heat through the skin and helps to lower our core body temperature. When our core temp is lowered, this makes us sleepy. Our body temps naturally drop during the night, reaching the lowest temperature around 4 a.m. when we are usually (or supposed to be) in deep slumber. Wearing socks to bed is especially important for those with poor circulation, trying to get pregnant, during menses and for those with digestive disorders.
LIGHTS OUT: Make sure your bedroom is completely dark. That means even covering up any glowing lights from your TV, gameboy, fire alarm, etc, getting blackout curtains, or even wearing an eye mask to bed. As we discussed above, light suppresses aka lowers melatonin production and duration which affects our quality of sleep and brain function so even seemingly minute sources of light can deter your sleep sesh.
COOL DOWN: Keep your room slightly cooler at night (I personally like 68 but be sure not to have a fan or breeze blowing directly on you. In Chinese Medicine, this "wind" can enter your body and stir up things like the common cold, Bell's Palsy, restless leg, sore neck, sinus issues and more.
EARLY BIRD: Be in bed between 9-10 to aim to be asleep by 11. In Chinese Medicine we follow the meridian clock in which an organ's energy peaks during a 2 hour window during the 24 hour cycle. The Liver and Gallbladder in Chi Med are in charge of making sure your energy and Qi runs through the body smoothly, managing your stress response, making and filtering your blood AND detoxing the entire body. Their prime-time is between 11-1am (GB) and 1-3am (Liver) so we want our bodies to be in full rest mode to allow them to do their thing. When we are awake and focusing on other things or when we eat too late, this takes away the energy and focus from the GB/LV and they aren't able to repair and recover as efficiently as our bodies need them to. Energy and detox capabilities will be diminished and toxic cellular debris will not be cleared from the body. Read more about the Meridian Clock here.
BLOOD SUGAR + DIET: This is a rich and deep subject that could be it's own blog/book so I'm gonna gloss over it but it's incredibly important to be taking steps to nourish your body and keep your blood sugar stable. If you often have hanger, feel shaky or weak without eating for a few hours, pr have a mid-day energy crash, you may have a blood sugar stabilizing issue. I recommend following a Paleo style diet or Whole30 like diet as much as you possibly can. This means: 1) Minimizing sugar and processed foods 2) Consuming more warm, cooked organic vegetables and high-quality proteins (grassfed, pasture raised, non-GMO, etc) 3) Consuming less smoothies, salads, fruit and cold, raw foods. 4) Minimizing alcohol consumption 5) Eating good quality fats (EV olive oil, coconut, avocado, eggs) 6) Eating before 7pm and 7) Eat breakfast! (green veg + fats + healthy carb (sweet potatoe, quinoa, organic soaked rice)
MOVE YOUR BODY: The human body is meant to move and groove. So many people work desk jobs where they are stationary and sedentary for most of the day. In addition, after work they are mentally burnt out and just want to veg which often includes more sedentation (aka sitting, slouching and slumping watching the tube or phone). Exercise is an INCREDIBLY important component to improve your sleep. Exercise helps to regulate your circadian rhythm by increasing your internal temp during the day thus increasing alertness (mega bonus points for outdoor workouts). If you struggle with obstructive sleep apnea (this is another whole 'nother blog worth of info), exercise helps reduce weight gain, improve the cardiovascular system, process phlegm and regulate digestion. For those with manual labor jobs -- this is not the same as exercise <even if it is physically demanding> and will not provide the same relief for sleep issues. One reason is that many physical labor jobs often lead to muscle aches, pains or injuries that can negatively impact sleep. Manual labor also generally involves long hours that can increase an employee’s risk for stress and fatigue. Exercise is still very important even with a manual labor job to make sure you are adequately strengthening your whole body to allow you to perform your job without injury.
RISE EARLY AND CHILL WITH NATTY LIGHT: I'm not suggesting you start your day off with a beer (heh) but if possible, open your blinds and get that natural, eye-opening light in as soon as you wake up! Our brain reacts to sunlight in a way that basically screams at us to get out of bed.
MEDITATE: I can't stress enough how daily meditation has changed my life and allowed me to get more done, be more creative, and be more present. Many people claim that "they just can't sit for that long" which is a sign that you are a PRIME candidate of who needs to meditate the most. For those of you who are new to meditation, feel like you don't know what you're doing, or just need a structured program to help you create it into a habit, download Headspace. I suggest you do the 365 Challenge and start doing it every morning. They literally walk you through everything you need to do, know exactly what you're thinking and doubts you may be having, and help you cultivate a better and calmer internal environment.
CAFFEINATION STATION: Limit your caffeine consumption to one coffee/matcha/tea per day and no caffeine after 2pm! If you are an energy drink consumer, I highly encourage you to switch over to a more natural source. These are notoriously filled with artificial flavors, colors, and other stuff that is making your insides rot (okay, maybe not rot but massive inflammation in your gut and your brain). Same goes for all sodas! It's time to kick that habit to the curb.
EASY DOES IT: Choose an alarm that slowly increases in volume and uses soft tones to gently wake you vs jarring you into your day
SUPP IT UP: I'm breaking this off into it's own section cuz it's a biggen.
Here's the thing about supplements. There is not really a one-size-fits all. It's best you work with your health practitioner for your specific concerns. This is not to be used as medical advice, talk to your doc to see if they approve of you taking supplements and proceed at your own risk.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to buy HIGH-QUALITY supplements. This means buying from trusted sources and not from places like Walmart, Walgreen's, Amazon, GNC or even just trusting the bottom-tier cheapies from your health food stores (TJ's, even Whole Foods). <read more on What's REALLY In Your Supplement's Here>
The following will be a general list of supplements that can support sleep. If you want to be sure you're getting top-notch quality, you can access my pharmacy by clicking HERE.
Send us an email or message in the chat box with the supps that you'd like to order and we will send you a link to purchase via Wholescripts (Xymogen products) or Fullscripts (a variety of brands).
MELATONIN: best for falling asleep
Melatonin helps to regulate your circadian rhythm. It's great for jetlag, nightworkers, those who can't fall asleep, not as great for trouble staying asleep. Melatonin has also been shown to help lower blood pressure and body temperature which is important for deep, restful sleep.
REC: Xymogen's Melatonin CR
ADAPTOGENS: best for worker bee's, multi-taskers, and stressed sleepers
Adaptogens have been getting a lot of attention over the past few years. Ashwaganda, Reishi, Cordyceps, Rhodiola, Ginseng are some of the names you may have heard of. They're called adaptogens because instead of being overly stimulating or sedating, they balance the nervous system and adapt to whether your body is in overdrive and needs to chill or if it needs a little pick me up. Although I said none are specifically stimulating or sedating, they do have differentiating characteristics to keep in mind. I personally like Rhodiola and Ginseng during the day to help with memory, motivation and creativity, Cordyceps to improve workout capabilities, and Reishi at night time. Managing your nervous system and stress during the day will help you fall asleep and stay asleep at night. It's an important and often overlooked component of sleep hygiene because you'll often take them during the day (not just before bed).
MAGNESIUM GLYCINATE or THREONATE: best for anxious or physically restless sleepers (also helps with constipation)
There are MANY types of magnesium and they all differ by what molecule they are bound to. You may know Magnesium Citrate (famous but not recommended example: Natural Calm - which contains non-ideal fillers) which tends to be better for gut related issues. For anxiety, sleep, and restless body related issues, I like to use Magnesium Glycinate or Magnesium Threonate to help calm both the body and mind.
VALERIAN ROOT: best for calming and general sleep issues
Valerenic acid, a compound in Valerian, has been found to inhibit the breakdown of GABA in the brain, resulting in feelings of calmness and tranquility. This is the same way anti-anxiety medications like Valium and Xanax work.
GLYCINE: best for general sleep issues
Glycine is considered one of the most important amino acids for the body because of it's widespread influence over our cardiovascular, cognitive, and metabolic health. It helps regulate blood sugar, lower core body temp (like we discussed above - muy importante for snoozing), and it also helps the body make serotonin, which has significant effects on sleep and mood. It also influences key receptors in the brain that affect learning and memory. Studies have shown that taking 3-5g before bed will help you fall asleep faster, sleep deeper, and get more efficient sleep.
OTHER SUPPS I LIKE FOR MY SLEEP PEEPS:
Xymogen’s Mood Food ES: great for calming anxiety and managing stress
L-Theanine: The calming and focus inducing component found in green tea, L-theanine is great at calming the mind and help you find your Zen. Can take day or night. If you're a coffee drinker I recommend taking this with your caffeine.
Trace Minerals: If you're drinking tap, filtered fridge water or even Reverse Osmosis I highly recommend adding these to each glass you drink. Most water available to us (other than natural spring water) is stripped of the minerals we need through the filtering process. Minerals help our nervous system function as well as to help build tissues.
Falling into a state of dis-ease can be easy but often times we have to push ourselves out of the comfort zone we created in order to feel our best again <and let's be real, a lot of times our comfort zone is NOT THAT COMFORTABLE>. These things may seem inconvenient or challenging at first but will become easier over time as you create new habits and see just how good your body and mind can feel.
There is really nothing to lose, only life and longevity to gain.
I hope you found this information helpful and insightful! I wish you many deep ZZZZ'S ahead.