How to get a better nights sleep

Aug 16, 2016

SLEEP SCHOOL #101
 
You cannot be truly healthy without getting adequate sleep.
 
Maybe you sleep soundly but wake up feeling unrested…
Maybe you rely on something like wine or medication to knock you out…
Maybe you wake up constantly throughout the night (to use the bathroom or because your mind is racing) and can’t get back to sleep…
Or maybe you’re just plain sleep deprived.
 
Whatever the reason that you aren’t getting enough sleep, you will be able to benefit from the strategies I’m going to outline below.
 
Because if you aren’t sleeping, no matter how often you exercise, how well you eat or if you are seeing a Chiropractor or other Health Care Professional you will be limited in how well you recover and how well your brain can function. 
 
Stress is one of the biggest culprits. Your stress, sleep, mental health and general health are very closely linked and when any one is effected the rest will suffer. When your nervous system (brain, spinal cord and nerves) is relaxed, calm and healthy your sleep patterns remain healthy too. 
 
Here are my top 7 strategies to help calm and unwind your nervous system, decrease your stress and help you get a deep, restful night sleep. 
 
 
1. Have a bedtime routine and stick to it.  
 
As kids we had a set routine every night which told our bodies it’s time to go to sleep. We had a bath, brushed our teeth, had a story in bed and a cuddle from Mum or Dad and we went to sleep. A bedtime routine is just as important now as it was then! My tips to calm and relax before bed are:
- A very hot bath or shower
- Foam rolling and gentle stretching
- Mediation or deep breathing practice
 
Aim to go to sleep and wake at the same times everyday and yes that means weekends too! Stay consistent and your body will quickly get use to your new routine.
 
2. Create a sleep haven.
 
Creating a quality sleep environment where there is minimal stimulus for your brain is crucial to getting a great night sleep. Black out blinds, sleep masks and ear plugs are all fantastic tools to help block out external stimulus. Take away the clock from your field of vision and leave the phone outside the bedroom to remove electronic stimulus and potential stressors e.g. “It’s 3am that means I only have three hours left before my alarm!” Forget about your phone and clock and let yourself relax. 
 
Ideally your room should be slightly cool to allow your body temperature to decrease for a deep sleep so try not to cook yourself under half a dozen layers. Sleep with a fan on or set your heater to about 17 degrees at night.  
 
 
3. Become best friends with the sun.
Light exposure drives your internal body clock maintaining a normal sleep-wake cycle. UV light exposure is also what allows us to create Vitamin D which is an essential part of good bone health, cardiovascular health, immune function, insulin control etc. etc. the list goes on. 
 
Get outside as much as possible in the day and if you wake in the dark put a bright light on to help kick start your body clock. As the sun goes down make sure to decrease your light stimulus with it so your body can start preparing to go to sleep. 
 
4. Minimize electronics and reduce your overall exposure to artificial light (especially after sunset). 
 
As a culture we use to think “death by smoking”, we know are starting to think “death by sitting” but in future I think a potential major problem will be “death by screens”. Artificial light and electronics increase your stress response. They increase cortisol production, wind up your nervous system and smash your sleep-wake cycle. Try to keep electronics and artificial light to a minimum and ideally nothing after sunset. 
 
If you absolutely have to use screens after sunset I recommend downloading the apps “FLUX” or “Brightness” onto your devices. They are programmed to remove the blue light from your screen (blue light is the most stimulating) and leaves your screen with an orange glow which is less stimulating for your nervous system. 
 
 
5. Check yourself before you wreck yourself. 
 
Check into your own energy levels throughout the day. Feeling like you’ve been run over by a truck first thing in the morning and like you’re ready to run a marathon at night is not normal! It is a sign that your sleep-wake cycle is out of balance and that you’re not getting deep, restful sleep. 
Try using the app “Sleep Cycle”. It monitors your sleep and over time can tell you what your sleep patterns are like and possibly what you need to work on to get better sleep.
 
Part of controlling your energy levels in the morning and at night is being aware of triggers and stimulants. Coffee, sugar and alcohol if abused can significantly effect stress levels and quality of sleep. My advice:
- No coffee after lunch and no more than 1-2 a day. Try and have a week off every 1-2 months to give your system a rest.
- Keep it to 1 glass of alcohol (or none at all) before bed. Alcohol can help you get to sleep (by sedating you!) but it actually ruins your quality of sleep.
- Same goes for processed sugar. It increases your stress levels so keep it out.  
 
6. MOVE
 
There are without a doubt an endless amount of benefits associated with regular exercise. An important effect is how exercise decreases your stress levels. Movement provides good sensory stimulation to your brain which helps it stay healthy. A healthy brain is a calm, stress free brain. As I mentioned before stress and sleep are firmly linked so improving in one area helps with the other. Get moving!
 
7. Make sure you’re meeting all of your life requirements.
 
- Fuel your body with nutrient dense foods and avoid processed rubbish. 
- Supplement such as vitamin D, fish oil and probiotics are wonderful for your general health. However, I recommend seeking the advice of a Naturopath or other Health Care Provider before dosing up. 
- Maintain a clear brain-body connection and healthy spine by having a check with your chiropractor. Nervous system and spinal health are closely related to general health. Chiropractic care is calming for your nervous system and decreases overall stress. Sorry to beat a dead horse but stress and sleep go hand in hand.
 
The Shortlist:
 
1. Have a bedtime routine.
2. Create a sleep haven.
3. Become best friends with the sun.
4. Decrease electronics and artificial light.
5. Check yourself before you wreck yourself.
6. Move.
7. Fill your other life requirements.
 
I hope you found these seven strategies helpful. If you do these things consistently over time you will change the way you sleep for the better. 
 
“Sleep is God. Go Worship.” – Jim Butcher.
 
Good luck and sleep well!
 
Written by Alister Harley
Doctor of Chiropractor 


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