woman sleeping
Elson Haas, MD
written by
Elson Haas, MD

Apr 02, 2017

Article Tags: 5 Keys | sleep

Quality Rest with Proper Rhythms

 Quality sleep is essential for a healthy life. Unfortunately, lack of refreshing sleep is a very common problem with some research reporting that more than 35% of American adults are sleep deprived. Poor sleep can lead to all kinds of health issues, including diminished cognitive skills, poor thinking, anxiety, and reduced work performance. Chronic sleep deprivation is even more serious with many health consequences including increased risk for infections, heart disease, depression, and a propensity for accidents. If you do experience chronic poor sleep, it’s wise to see a health professional or even a sleep specialist, to discover the root cause and find appropriate treatment.

Many lifestyle factors affect our sleep patterns. If we examine the other 4 Keys—Nutrition, Exercise, Stress and Attitude—we find that all of them play a role in this important part of Staying Healthy. Eating excessively, drinking caffeinated beverages, or alcohol before bed may make it hard to sleep. Not exercising enough during the day, or exercising too vigorously close to bedtime may also compromise your sleep. Worry and stress are probably the number one causes of disrupted sleep.

Sleep Questions to Ask

How often are you satisfied with your current sleep? Daily, weekly, never?

Do you know your natural sleep needs and sleep cycles?

How much sleep do you need before you feel rested?

Do you fall asleep easily and stay asleep through the night?

Do you wake up during the night? How often? Why? Is it to urinate? Is it anxiety?

Can you go back to sleep easily if you awaken during the night?

Do you have nightmares or anxiety-generating dreams? How often?

Is there a specific cause of poor sleep, like allergies, medications or anxiety?

Is a change in your sleep patterns life-cycle related, like menopause or aging?

What is your state of mind when you wake up?

Do you feel rested when you wake up?

Do you need an alarm clock and reset it two or three times before getting up?

Do you have energy throughout the day, or do you need many jolts of caffeine and sugar, and then alcohol later to relax?

If you have a sleep partner, how does he or she affect your sleep?


What Can You Do?

In the Bedroom

Make your bedroom a comforting environment that gives you a sense of peace and relaxation.

Keep your room dark and find the right temperature that helps you sleep – cooler is usually better.

Make sure your bed and bedroom are used primarily for sleep (or physical intimacy) and not for working on computers or watching television. In general, keep your electromagnetic exposure as low as possible in the bedroom

Before Bed—Sleep Prep

Be quiet about an hour before bedtime, dim the lights, and turn off computers and TV. Listen to calming music or meditate.

Avoid alcohol, coffee or chocolate, vigorous exercise, or eating too much in the hours before bed.

Get some fresh air and light exercise if you find that helps you relax. A walk outdoors to see some stars and experience the quiet of night can be helpful.

 If these suggestions don’t work, try natural remedies before going on to stronger pharmaceutical medicines:

  • Melatonin taken 30 minutes before sleep (helps align diurnal sleep rhythm but not for people with hyperactive immune states, like autoimmune conditions)
  • Serotonin supporters like L-tryptophan and 5-HTP help with deeper sleep, while GABA and L-theanine may support better relaxation of the mind and sleep;
  • Herbs like valerian, chamomile (caution for people with allergies to ragweed) and catnip, or formulas like Sleepytime or Nighty Night teas.

Your doctor may prescribe sleeping pills like Ambien or Sonata or more tranquilizer medicines like Ativan or Xanax. These can help break poor sleep cycles with a good sleep, yet all of these are addictive and some can contribute to amnesia. If you do use medications, do so only as a temporary measure. Overall, try to align with natural sleep as much as possible by lowering your stimulants, improving your exercise, eating well, and lowering electronic exposures later in the day.