6 Steps to a Dreamy Night’s Sleep
In my clinic, we help people sleep better even when sleep isn’t their primary complaint. By optimizing their nutrition and eliminating foods that cause trouble, and adding exercise to their daily routine, people get the wonderful side effect of improved sleep.
From my clinical experience as well as from studying medicine to the tune of four board certifications and dual master’s degrees, here are the biggest culprits I’ve seen in troubled sleep, as well as the solutions for getting a great night of shuteye.
1. Consider Dairy Sensitivities
Some moms give their kids a warm cup of milk before bed to help them sleep better, but it might just be the worst thing to do for a good night’s sleep. After infancy, approximately 65% of us have a reduced ability to digest lactose. This causes abdominal pain, flatulence, bloating, nausea, and diarrhea that begins 30 minutes to two hours later – not a good recipe for sweet dreams. Even if you have only slightly reduced lactose digestion that does not result in full-blown symptoms, these effects will influence your sleep.
Instead, avoid dairy before bedtime, and consider eliminating dairy entirely if you suspect you may be sensitive to whey or dairy.
2. Don’t Assume Antacids will Prevent Heartburn
This may work for some people, but for many others heartburn is a result of too little acid in their stomach juices. For these people, taking an antacid will just make things worse!
Heartburn it does not exist in our clinic. If heartburn is a major problem for you, consider finding a functional medicine practitioner to help you balance your stomach enzymes and acidity. If it is a minor annoyance, consider avoiding the following right before bedtime:
- Mint and Peppermint
Here’s why: All of these consumables cause the sphincter muscles of the stomach, the ones that should hold stomach acids in the stomach, to relax, allowing stomach acid to creep into your throat causing the feeling of heartburn. It may not be that you have too much acid, it’s just that it’s sneaking into places it shouldn’t be.
3. Avoid Sugary Beverages Before Bed
Some people avoid drinking any liquid before bedtime in order to avoid nighttime bathroom trips. This may reduce trips down the hall, but it may also cause dehydration, a condition that has both long and short-term negative consequences for health. The reason many people adopt the strategy of nocturnal dehydration is probably not due to the liquid, but due to the simple carbohydrates and sugars in many beverages, including fruit juice.
So rather than avoiding all drinks near bedtime, drink water, but avoid juice along with sugary drinks. Before bed, also avoid foods containing simple carbohydrates such as processed snacks, chips, and anything with white flour. These will rev up your metabolism for a short time, then cause a blood sugar crash which releases adrenaline to supply the brain with needed energy – not the kind of metabolic cycle that is conducive to a good night’s sleep.
4. Practice Low-Stress Evenings
We call the restless time in the middle of the night the Chinese Adrenal Hour due to the theory of Chinese medicine that our adrenal system is restored at this time. Everyone has this to some degree, caused by a biochemical cycle of cortisol when the day’s stress causes a slump in cortisol levels which often interrupts sleep.
To minimize this interruption, take care of your adrenal system by exercising adequately, but not excessively, every day and eating a diet rich in foods that support adrenal health. These include:
Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, etc.)
Foul (Chicken and Turkey)
Avoid or minimize foods that wreck havoc on your metabolism, including simple carbohydrates, sugar, and processed foods.
Practice leaving your work at work and taking time with your family and friends during evening hours. There’s nothing like playing with your kids or a chat with a good friend to help you let go of the worries of the day. Spend that last hour or two of the day on the things that make you happy and relaxed.
5. Do not use Computers or Screens Immediately Before Sleep or in the Middle of the Night.
It’s been shown that two hours of iPad use before bed is enough to suppress people’s normal nighttime release of melatonin, a hormone critical for regulating sleep patterns and creating that feeling of sleepiness. Save the screen time for the morning wake up, where the light from the screen will help get you going for the day.
Aside from the light, a dose of email, Google or Fox News causes low (or maybe not so low) levels of stress and is probably the worst thing you could do for your cortisol levels and is precisely the wrong kind of influence you want for a good night’s sleep. Some people try to use a computer to pass time if they wake up and cannot fall back asleep. This is about as effective as trying to put out a fire with gasoline. Instead, if you find yourself awake and unable to fall back to sleep, get up, drink a small glass of water, take a few minutes standing up by a window to look out at the nightscape where you live, and then get back in bed. Whatever you do, do not fire up your smartphone, flip open your laptop or turn on the TV.
6. Develop an Optimal Bedtime Sequence
We are all simply Pavlovian dogs and psycho-susceptible, so one trick is to condition the body and mind to only sleep in bed. To do this, develop a 20-minute decompression routine prior to bedtime to let go of the day’s stress and prepare for a good night’s sleep.
- Brush your teeth before you begin your bedtime cycle so you can get sleepy without interruption.
- Take a warm bath – or if you’re pressed for time simply place a cloth soaked in essential Lavender oil over your face for a few minutes.
- Drink a small cup of chamomile tea or similar sleep-inducing tea.
- Belly breaths: 4 seconds in and out.
- Relax in a comfortable chair and read a book.
- Then, and only then, when you can hardly stay awake another minute, should you collapse into bed.
We are creatures of habit, and this is no more glaringly obvious than in our sleep patterns. Becoming aware of the culprits that prevent a good night’s sleep, and developing ways to neutralize the culprits, will build new habits that support sleep. With a night of refreshing sleep behind you, the troubles in life are easier to handle and the great parts of life are even better.