Sleep. It’s the one thing everyone wishes they had more of. According to a 2013 Gallup poll, more than 40 percent of Americans get less than seven hours of sleep a night. In fact, Americans only get an average of 6.8 hours a night, a full hour less than they got in 1942.
Lack of sleep has been shown to contribute to many chronic health conditions, including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and a weakened immune system.
If you’re someone who struggles with falling asleep, or with waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to go back to bed, it can be tempting to turn to sleep medications for help. But not only are they expensive, these drugs can also often become dangerously habit forming.
Luckily, Katie Bogaard, a naturopathic practitioner at the Center for Holistic Medicine, says there are several healthy things you can do to get better sleep without medication. Here are a few of her favorite non-medical things you can do to have a more restful night’s sleep.
- Turn Off Your Screens
Do you watch TV or check your email right before bed? If so, the blue light from your screen could be keeping you awake. Bogaard says the blue light emitted by screens on cell phones, TVs and computers decrease our body’s production of melatonin, which controls our circadian rhythm.Bogaard recommends turning off all electronics (including the TV) at least an hour before bedtime. However, if you must use your devices at night, Bogaard suggests installing a blue light filter app such as Night Shift onto your phone or tablet, which automatically adjusts the intensity of the light for the day or night. You can even purchase special orange goggles that will help filter out the blue light and help you sleep better.
- Reduce Your Anxiety
If you have trouble falling asleep, or you spend a lot of the night tossing and turning, because you have thoughts racing through your mind, anxiety and depression could be to blame. One of the best ways to treat this is through one-on-one counseling. Other things that can help are journaling before you go to bed to get the thoughts out of your head, as well as meditation.
- Check Your Cortisol Levels
One of the first things Bogaard does when patients complain of sleep issues is suggest they have their cortisol levels tested. Cortisol plays a major role in regulating your body’s sleep and wake cycles, and high levels of cortisol – usually caused by stress, anxiety, or adrenal fatigue – can lead to waking in the middle of the night or waking up not feeling rested.“If you’re stressing your body in some way, it affects your adrenals,” Bogaard explains. For people whose cortisol levels are too high, she often recommends taking magnesium and vitamin C, both of which can strengthen your adrenal system, as well as a cortisol manager supplement.
- Take Nervine Herbs
Nervines are a special category of herbs that support the nervous system and help reduce muscle tension, relieve obsessive thoughts and make you feel calm and relaxed. Some of the herbs that fall in this category include chamomile, lavender, lemon balm, hops, passionflower, California poppy, valerian and more. You can take these in either an herbal supplement form, such as Myocalm PM, or drink a cup of hot tea made with these herbs to put you in the mood for a calm, restful night. Celestial Seasoning’s Sleepytime Tea has a great combination of many of these nervine herbs that will often do the trick.
- Cut Down on Caffeine
You probably know that having a cup of regular coffee right before bed isn’t a good idea, but did you know that your overall caffeine intake can affect your sleep, no matter what time of day you drink it? While one or two cups a day are fine, more than that may be problematic.“Too much caffeine is really draining on the adrenals, which just causes your sleep to be worse and worse over time,” she says. And, Bogaard warns, don’t forget that even decaffeinated coffee or tea does have a small amount of caffeine in it.
Want to learn about other ways to support healthy sleep habits? Don’t miss Katie Bogaard’s upcoming workshop, “Make America Sleep Again” on April 20 at 6:30 p.m. at the Center for Holistic Medicine. Register today!