It’s 3:17 a.m. and I’m wide awake. I wish I could say this was unusual, but for the last several years, I’ve had the worst trouble sleeping. Not going to sleep … I have no trouble falling asleep. But staying asleep is another matter. For some reason I’ve been waking up between 3 and 4 a.m., like clockwork, and I just can’t go back to sleep. It’s so frustrating and nothing seems to help.
I know I can’t be alone in this, and when I mentioned it to Mandy, she pointed me to her friend, Amber Landsman — a holistic lifestyle coach, wellness consultant and “body hacker” who has done a lot of work in the area of sleep. Amber shared with me some great tips … and as I usually do, I thought of PLANK. I figured if her suggestions were of interest to me, they’d probably be helpful to some of you too.
Good Sleep … A Step Closer Towards Health and Hormone Harmony
By Amber Landsman, MSc, NSCA-CPT, CHECK Holistic Lifestyle Coach
Insomnia has reached epidemic proportions. It’s estimated to be the #1 health-related problem in the United States. More than 1/3 of us have trouble sleeping every night, and 51% say we have problems sleeping at least a few nights each week. Further, and not surprisingly, 43% report that daytime sleepiness interferes with daily activities.
Unfortunately, snoozing problems are getting worse, not better. The number of adults over age 20 using sleeping pill rose from 47 million to 60 million between 2006 to 2011, and the number of kids ages 1-19 who take prescription sleep remedies jumped 85% during this same period.
Obviously we all know we need quality and a quantity of sleep to feel energized, look youthful, think clearly and eat well (Yes, our sleep habits influence whether you’ll eat this and not that, which ultimately impacts our waistline). So why don’t we do it? Or better yet, why doesn’t our body let us rest deeply? Let’s look deeper into this sleep subject.
Why getting your ZZZs is so important?
Our long-term health depends on the regeneration that occurs during deep sleep. Human Growth hormone, which is a powerful anti-aging and fat burning hormone, is released during sleep, which stimulates tissue regeneration, liver cleansing, muscle building, fat burning and blood sugar stability. A mouthful, but true! During sleep free radicals are scavenged in the brain, minimizing its aging too. This is why you feel so mentally refreshed after a great night’s sleep. Do you know that many (if not most) health problems are aggravated by poor sleep? Or that your hormones that regulate hunger, energy, cravings, and your metabolic rate are affected by inadequate sleep. Finally, sleep also gives us renewed vitality, a more positive outlook on life with which we can become our full potential.
Here are a few additional (if the one’s above are not convincing enough) negative side affects of poor quality and quantity of sleep.
These may occur after just one bad night of ZZZs:
Drowsiness, fatigue, decreased concentration, and impaired memory. These performance impairments may sound similar to what you’d experience while being drunk. Sleep researchers suggests that just five nights of sleep deprivation (≤5 hours) is equivalent to having a blood alcohol level of .10%. Having a sleep debt also reduces stress tolerance, causes mood changes, irritability, muscle tension, and speeds the aging process. Finally, there are changes in your body’s PH balance to more acidic. This may increase your risk for health problems such as infections, diabetes and some cancers.
Don’t despair, and PLEASE do not lose sleep worrying about the side affects above.
Here I’ll share my Top Sleep Secrets and Solutions:
- Maintain consistent sleep and wake times. Do not push yourself to stay up past the initial signs of sleepiness. This can create epinephrine production and melatonin suppression, causing more difficulty getting to sleep later. It is good to have a “getting ready for bed” regimen to relax and prepare your body for sleep. Also, avoid midday naps if you have trouble falling asleep at night.
- Reserve the bed for sleep and sex only! Do not read, watch TV, eat, or try to solve daily dilemmas in the bedroom. If you find that you’ve been lying awake in bed for 15-20 minutes, get out of bed. Do something mundane until you feel sleepy, and then go back to bed. Repeat this as often as needed.
- Your sleep environment should be quiet, cool, dark and comfortable. Reduce the amount of ambient light in the room. Electronic devices such as clocks, stereos, TVs and computers generate electromagnetic fields that can disturb sleep for some people. Experiment with moving these into another room or using EMF shields. Feng Shui, the Chinese art of placement, can be valuable in creating an optimal sleeping environment.
- Exercise regularly. Exercising during the day or early evening decreases the time it takes to get to sleep and increases the amount of deep sleep obtained. Most people do better avoiding exercise late in the evening.
- Exposure to sunlight early in the morning and late in the afternoon or evening encourages a strong circadian rhythm. The hormone melatonin, which helps create a sleep state in the body, is suppressed in light and secreted in darkness.
- If you have problems with waking during the early hours of the morning, have a small protein snack just before bed to ensure consistent blood sugar levels throughout the night.
- Improving overall health will improve the quality of your sleep. Work towards improving or eliminating health problems. Treatment modalities such as massage, guided meditation, reiki and acupuncture will help to relax the body. Effective stress management is essential.
Things to relax the body to prepare for bed:
- Hot bath, adding 4 cups Epsom salts, 2 cups baking soda and 5-7 drops of lavender oil.
- Meditating for 5-20 minutes.
- Progressive muscle relaxation (the process of contracting and then relaxing each area of the body in succession) is extremely helpful.
- Any other means of inducing the “relaxation response”. Including
breathing practices (Try 4-Part/Square Breathing Technique: breath in 4 sec, hold 4 secs, out 4 secs, hold 4 secs, repeat), raise your legs above your heart, and orgasm can be a wonderful part of a nightly ritual to enhance sleep given their ability to increase the relaxation response.
- Special acoustic recordings that increase specific brain wave patterns for relaxation and sleep are available and helpful.
- Botanicals treatments and aromatherapy using herbs and their essential oils (examples include chamomile, valerian, lavender, passionflower, lemon balm and scutellaria (skull cap). Consult a professional for dosages and recommendations. Two of my favorite over the counter teas are Bedtime Tea by Yogi brands and Honey Chamomile by Tulsi brands.
- Magnesium glycinate at 400mg 1 hour before bed, can be very relaxing to your nervous system.
Sleep Interference. What to avoid:
- Although alcohol may make you fall asleep, the sleep obtained after drinking is fragmented and light. Avoid alcohol in the evenings to enhance the quality of your sleep.
- The stimulating effects of caffeine may last up to 10 or more hours in some people. Avoid it after 2-3pm if getting to sleep is a problem. Caffeine is present in coffee, green tea, black tea, chocolate and some medications (pain relievers, decongestants, thermogenic weight loss products, energy supplements, etc.)
- The stimulating effects of nicotine (including second-hand smoke) can linger for hours.
- Sleeping pills, aside from being highly addictive and full of side effects, decrease the amount of time spent in REM (deep sleep) and only increase light sleep.
- B-vitamin supplements can increase energy that keeps some people awake, if taken before bed. Take B-vitamins early in the day.
- Low blood sugar at night can increase the likelihood of stress hormone, cortisol secretion. Experiment with including a small amount of starchy carbohydrates at the last meal or just before bed.
- To aid falling asleep a good rule of thumb is to eat closer to bed and eat more slowly digesting carbohydrates at night (e.g. high fiber veggies/fruit) and add fat to these meals (e.g. grass fed butter/olive oil/ghee/avocado)
- To aid staying asleep, again eat closer to bed, and make sure you eat more protein at your last meal.
- If you wake in the middle of the night, a small snack or carbohydrate and fat can aid returning to sleep (i.e. spoonful of nut butter and bite of apple).
What I recommend to all of my clients with sleep issues – and what I use myself – are breathing techniques and gentle movement exercises during the day which promote relaxation and a good night’s sleep. The premise behind this, is that the most important factor in getting a good night’s sleep is managing stress during the day.
Most of us run around like chickens with their heads cut off, and then wonder why we can’t fall right asleep as soon as our head hits the pillow. If our nervous system has been in overdrive for 14 hours, it’s unrealistic to assume that it can switch into low gear in a matter of minutes simply because we want it to. Of course this is why sleeping pills are growing in popularity.
This technique and the tips above have helped me and my clients find ways to get the most of our time in bed. Stay smart, strong, spirited, and sleep well my friends!
XOXO – Amber
Amber Landsman is the owner of Natural Body Restoration, LLC, and Fit-To-Protect, LLC. She holds a B.A. in Experimental Psychology, an MSc in Physiology and Wellness, and is an NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer and Yoga Fit-Certified Yoga Instructor. Amber is also a Holistic Lifestyle Coach, specializing in whole food nutrition and habit change. Amber works primarily as a Corporate Wellness Consultant, and part-time Health Science writer for online resources and a popular women’s health magazine. She is also a blog author at TrainingQuestion.com. Where she has helped hundreds of women, men and young adults get healthy, strong (mentally and physically) and free from the Standard American Diet which is the major contributor to our diseased state. She strives to merge the drive for body change with the concept of self-acceptance and introspection, especially for women, many of whom struggle with emotional eating and body-esteem issues. Amber believes the outside changes begin on changing the inside first (emotionally, chemically by balancing our hormones, spiritually and physically), and without the behavioral coaching element, any physical change is temporary.