Sleep is critical to our mental health, physical health, weight management, disease prevention and our longevity. It is a cornerstone to overall health in addition to proper nutrition and adequate exercise. Many of us struggle to stay asleep or have restless, unrestorative sleep.
Consequences of Poor Sleep
1. Decreased ability to concentrate/focus
2. Decreased physical performance
3. Decreased productivity
4. Increased cortisol which can contribute to weight gain
6. Increased risk for chronic health problems such as dementia, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and diabetes
7. Slowed reaction times
We all produce the stress hormone called cortisol . Cortisol is released from our adrenal glands which can play a large role in our sleep /wake cycles. In the morning, our cortisol naturally rises and as the day progresses should naturally fall to prepare for bedtime. Some individuals have the reverse pattern and can't fall asleep at night and are exhausted in the morning.
When our adrenal glands are not balanced it can affect our stress response, blood sugar levels, body weight and sleep/wake cycles. If our body is in constant psychological /physical stress and cortisol is running high it can affect sleep and blood sugar levels.
How does stress affect our sleep? We may have psychological stress with family, money or work. We may have physical stress either due to lack of exercise or excessive exercise. Physical stress is also caused from poor diet (processed food/sugars), excessive screen time, environmental toxins and hormonal imbalances. These stressors on the body are all factors that contribute to increased inflammation and cortisol.
Therefore- it seems that two common factors that could be affecting sleep are cortisol and chronic stress. If you are waking up at 3am we must look at stress and diet (specifically sugar) as contributing factors due to increased cortisol release!
Pearls to Optimize Sleep
1. Maintain consistent sleep schedule
2. Try not to eat 3 hours before bed
3. Maintain regular eating schedule
4. Keep a journal and write down your thoughts or worries before bed
5. Magnesium is a relaxation mineral and 200-400mg of the right form of magnesium before bed can be helpful
6. Low dose melatonin can help reset your circadium rhythm
7. Ashwagandha supplement can help regulate cortisol
8. Keep sleep environment comfortable - dark, cool and quiet
9. Eliminate caffeine in the afternoon especially if you are a slow metabolizer
10. Avoid alcohol as this affects sleep quality and interrupts sleep
11. Avoid decongestants at night
12. Expose your eyes to 10-20 minutes of natural sunlight in the morning can help set your circadian rhythm and timing of melatonin release 12-14 hours later
13. Soak in a warm bath using lavendar oil, epson salts and baking soda
14. Avoid exposure to bright light/electronics before bed - can place on night mode to help
15. Dim artificial lights in the evening and consider wearing blue blocker glasses to block the blue light that can affect sleep/wake cycle
16. Allow on average 7-9 hours in bed and try to avoid bedtimes after 11pm
17. Avoid late afternoon naps longer than 45 minutes
18. Try to complete aerobic exercise before 6pm or at least 3 hours before bedtime
19. Don't stay in bed more than 30 minutes after trying to fall asleep and insead go to relaxing area other than the bedroom to meditate or read with low light
20. Learn to meditate to calm the mind
21. Consider investing in a sleep tracking device
We hope these pearls will guide you on getting a more restful sleep. At Signature Internal Medicine we have specialized functional medicine testing to evaluate your cortisol patterns and can recommend supplements that work with you on achieving better sleep!
Dr. Dina Diehl