How many of us really wake up feeling rested? Life has so many demands that getting to bed on time is a second thought and the act of falling
asleep is a battle. Get the kids up, get everyone breakfast, send everyone to work, go to work, work out, get dinner ready, clean the house, help the kids with the homework, get quality time with the significant other, answer the rest of those pesky emails, pay the water bill, oh my gosh and now I have to sleep?! And then, of course, repeat this all the next day, with some of the things you didn’t finish today added to the list. Oh, and now you’re tired because you didn’t sleep well, and thus the cycle repeats itself. It is no wonder that under eye creams and sleep medications are advertised on the television so often!
So what can be done about all this? How, in this crazy busy world of ours, are we supposed to get good restful sleep? The doctor says, “Get 8 hours of sleep every night,” but this can seem impossible. There are actually some very simple steps that you can do, no medications involved, that can help you get to sleep and sleep well!
Don’t look at me like I’m crazy folks, I’m serious. I have tried all these things myself and while not all of these things together have helped, but I was able to fit many of these lifestyle modifications into my busy schedule with significant impact.
What we are talking about is improving your “sleep hygiene” with “cognitive behavioral therapy.” Oh yes. We are getting fancy. Sleep hygiene is kind of how it sounds. It is a healthy maintenance of your sleep. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a very wide category where the patient consciously changes their behavior in order to help improve their health state. It sounds very complicated, but it’s actually very simple and CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) has been found to be at least as effective than medications, more sustainable, and can be much cheaper!
- Set a bedtime for yourself. Our parents did it when we were kids because someone told them that “kids crave structure.” Well so do adults. Make a schedule for yourself in the day, but be realistic, but make sure not to forget to schedule that bedtime! This will help you to get that much needed 8 hours you need a day. Sleep is just as important as your work out, your dinner, and that morning meeting.
- Do not take naps during the day. If you’ve got little ones or did not get enough sleep the night before it may be tempting to curl up and take a nap, but resist the urge! Your body and brain have their own natural rhythm and taking a nap throws that rhythm off. You will have a harder time getting to sleep that night and may not sleep well during the night.
- Watch the alcohol. We’ve all heard that a glass of red wine at night is good for your heart, but there are some things you should be aware of: 1 serving of wine is 5 fl. oz or 150 mL. Most people pour themselves two servings thinking that it is one serving so don’t be afraid to measure. The other thing to take into account is that that night cap may make you feel sleepy, but alcohol (whether it’s wine or beer or vodka) has a stimulating effect on the brain so you may be crashing in the beginning, but be prepared to bounce of the walls later!
- Midnight snack anyone? Resist the urge! Eating just before bed can stimulate your brain. You are just throwing off your poor brain’s groove. It’s also not very good for you if you are trying to lose weight.
- Exercising during the day can really help you with your sleep routine, but be careful about what sorts of exercise you do around bedtime. Exercise like jogging may energize you and not allow you to sleep, but exercises like yoga can help promote sleep because stretching can be very relaxing.
- Keep the bed for bed (and other “intimate” activities). If you are a person that get’s riled up fairly easy don’t watch TV in bed or read in bed. If you are a student don’t study in bed. The bed is a place to relax.
- Once you have set a bedtime for yourself set up an evening sleep prep routine. DO NOT watch the news before you go to bed. Don’t do it in your living room and for pete’s sake do NOT do it in your bed. It will wind you up, stress you out, and you will not be able to sleep. Do something relaxing. Take a hot bath, read a book in a chair (not in the bed), listen to music, and if you have kids, read THEM to sleep.
- Keep the bedroom relaxing. Too much noise, light, and bright colors could really disturb your sleep. Also, lower the blinds or draw the curtains before bed, that way if any light tries to peak in your window to throw you off, you’ve blocked it.
- Avoid caffeine and nicotine around bedtime. Both these things are energizers. If you are trying to quit smoking and you find the nicotine patch will not let you sleep, remove it before you go to bed. It may help you avoid those strange nicotine dreams as well.
- White noise can be helpful for some people so if you are one of those people that has issues with dead silence, put some white noise like water running, thunderstorms, or ocean waves.
If these things don’t work you should speak to your physician, but there are some herbal remedies that you can try, as long as your doctor is aware.
- Chamomile and/or Lavender tea: This is a very safe alternative that can work in both adults and children. Chamomile is a natural sedative and lavender is known for its calming effects. A warm cup of tea before bed is also a great way to wind down. The teas are available separately or in combination together. You can find chamomile at pretty much any grocery store, but I found the combination tea at a health food store like Whole Foods. Just remember, use common sense. If you are allergic to either of these flowers, don’t drink the tea. Also if you have hay fever, you and chamomile may want to stay away from each other, but give that lavender a try!
- Melatonin: This is a medication that can be very safe, especially in patients with insomnia from jet lag or if you are a night shift worker. If you want to use it in a child I would advise speaking to their doctor. You might feel a little drowsy or dizzy when you take this drug so just be aware. Also you may also have some really vivid dreams, so just be aware. Also be aware that melatonin can interact with anticoagulants like Plavix and Warfarin. It may increase insulin resistance in patients taking anti-diabetic medications. Melatonin can interfere with immunosuppressants like corticosteroids or injectables. Also understand that if a medication like birth control already makes you drowsy that the chances for dizziness and daytime drowsiness could be made much worse. 5-HTP: This is also not as 5-Hydroxytryptophan. This is the chemical that tryptophan turns into when you eat that turkey during Thanksgiving. It makes you sleepy. There are some controversies with this herb, but adverse effects are rare and the most common side effect may be some basic stomach upset. The biggest thing with this supplement is that you should NOT take it with antidepressants and tramadol. This supplement could cause a dangerous problem called serotonin syndrome .
- Magnesium: This is a common mineral that can help relax your muscles and, therefore, help you sleep. You can find magnesium in almost every multivitamin so before you start taking this it’s best to be aware if you are already taking a supplement with magnesium in it. Magnesium can also give you an upset stomach, especially if you are taking too much. Be aware that if you already take a muscle relaxant that magnesium and make your muscles even more relaxed. Also be careful if you are on certain diuretics you can end up with more magnesium than you want in your body. Be careful if you are on antibiotics as well because you won’t absorb enough of your antibiotics. If you are on a calcium channel blocker (a medicine for your heart and sometimes high blood pressure) do not take magnesium unless it is okayed by your cardiologist. If you are on vitamin D alone (without calcium) or boron, let your physician or pharmacist know and we willhelp you figure out if the combination is safe.
Just remember kids more is not always better. More can equal stumbling around into walls and falling. EVERYTHING in moderation. If you still can’t
sleep you really need to speak to your physician just in case something else is wrong. If you are pregnant or have a child who has trouble sleeping it is very important to speak to your physician before you try treating with any herbs or medications.
I know some of these things can be confusing and you wonder where you can get high quality herbs and supplements. The correct answer is call your pharmacy or you can always call us at Mixtures. We can search for drug interactions for you and your physician and counsel you on the best way to take these supplements and once we find the perfect one for you we can also ship something from our high quality stock of natural supplements that we sell over the counter in our pharmacy. The number one rule is to not be afraid to ask questions!
Also check out the National Sleep Foundation for both patients and Health Care Professionals!