Achieving Healthy Sleep
The first step to improving the quality of your sleep each night is to create a healthy sleep environment in your bedroom. This means cleaning your bedroom at least once a week and washing blankets, sheets, pillowcases, etc., frequently as well, in order to prevent dust buildup and prevent mites. To further prevent dust build-up consider using an air purifier in your home, and be sure that the filters on your heat ducts are professionally examined at least once a year and replaced as necessary.
Also, be sure to allow for a flow of fresh air throughout your bedroom as you sleep. You can do this easily by keeping at least one window of your bedroom slightly open.
Sleep on a comfortable mattress, and be aware that you might be sensitive to the materials in your pillow, blankets, and sheets. As a general rule, cotton or wool blankets and sheets and feather pillows are healthier choices than the same items made from synthetic materials.
Make sure that the temperature in your bedroom is kept at a comfortable level. Temperatures that are too hot or cold can significantly interfere with your ability to get a good night’s sleep.
Make your bedroom a place of sleep, not a place to watch television. Watching TV in bed keeps your brain in active mode, making falling asleep more difficult. In addition, keep your bedroom free of other electrical appliances, such as stereos, cell phones, computers, radios, etc.
Sleep in the dark. This means not only turning off your bedroom lights when you go to bed, but also making sure that curtains and shades are fully drawn as well to prevent outdoor light from entering your bedroom. Sleeping in complete darkness helps your body to produce the hormone melatonin, which is essential for healthy sleep, as well as many other functions in your body. The ideal position of your bed in the bedroom is so that you sleep with your head to the north.
In addition to creating a healthy sleep environment, other helpful steps you can take include not only going to bed earlier but going to bed each night at the same time. By doing so, you will program your body to recognize that it is time for it to prepare for and the restoration it provides.
Also, don’t drink any fluids within two hours of going to bed. This will reduce the likelihood of needing to get up and go to the bathroom during the night.
Various herbal teas are also well-known for their ability to promote restful sleep. They include chamomile, hops, lemon balm, passionflower, skullcap, and valerian root, all of which can be prepared as teas. These herbs can also be used in combination to further enhance restful sleep.
A variety of nutrients are known to improve and restore sleep. These include B vitamins, magnesium, and an amino acid known as GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). GABA acts as a neurotransmitter and is widely distributed throughout your body’s central nervous system. It is the most important and widespread inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain, helping to prevent over-firing of nerve cells and decreasing overall neuron activities in the CNS. Over-firing can cause restlessness, spasmodic movements, irritability, and anxiety.
GABA is also utilized by the brain to create tranquility and calmness through the brain’s metabolic processes, supporting a relaxed state of mind, and therefore promoting healthy sleep when taken before bedtime. You can find GABA at your local health food store. Typical dosage ranges from 125 to 500 mg. Start at the lower level and work up to the higher level if necessary.
Another effective way to improve the quality of your sleep is to expose yourself to more outdoor sunlight. Researchers have established a definite relationship between sunlight exposure during the day and restful sleep at night. This is due to the interaction of sunlight with the brain’s pineal gland, which is responsible for producing melatonin. Several studies have shown that melatonin production significantly drops, and in some cases can be completely inhibited, as a result of inadequate exposure to natural sunlight during the day.
Additional research has found that nighttime melatonin production is directly related to the amount of serotonin production produced during the day. Serotonin is sometimes referred to as the “feel-good” hormone because of the sense of calm it produces in the body. Multiple studies have shown that people who spend most of their time indoors have lower levels of serotonin compared to people who regularly spend a bit of time outdoors. Less serotonin production during the day means less melatonin production at night and therefore poorer quality sleep.
You can avoid this problem simply by making it a point to spend at least 30 minutes outdoors each day. Ideally, you should do so during the morning during the hours of 7 to 9 AM, as sunlight exposure during this time will trigger greater production of serotonin for the rest of the day, leading to greater nighttime melatonin production. Research has also shown that exposure to sunlight between 7 to 9 AM helps to maintain proper function of your body’s circadian rhythms and biological clock. Finally, sunlight exposure helps your body to produce and maintain adequate levels of vitamin D.
If the above guidelines do not work, you may need to consider improving your sleep by supplementing with melatonin. Melatonin is secreted by your brain’s pineal gland, with the highest levels of production occurring during sleep. Healthy sleepers produce adequate amounts of melatonin each night, while people who struggle to get a good night’s sleep typically do not. For this reason, a growing number of physicians recommend melatonin supplementation on a temporary basis when sleep proves difficult to come by.
First, however, I recommend trying one of melatonin’s precursors, L-tryptophan or 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP). Both supplements can be taken an hour before you retire each night. L-tryptophan and 5-HTP are available at most health food stores. Use both according to label directions. For best results, combine either L-tryptophan or 5-HTP with vitamin B6.
Melatonin supplements are also available at your local health food store. I recommend they only be used under your doctor’s supervision, Since it can promote sleep in as little as 30 minutes after it is consumed, you should only take melatonin at night, just before your bedtime. In addition, when you begin to use melatonin, your initial dose should be 1 MG. Most melatonin supplements come in a dose of between 1-3 mg per tablet. (Note: If you wake-up with a hangover after taking melatonin the night before, your liver needs further cleansing.)
Once you start to realize the benefits of melatonin, it is also advisable that you stop using it for at least two weeks, so that your body doesn’t stop producing its own melatonin. Then, if you still have trouble sleeping, you can start another cycle for another 2-4 weeks, still under your doctor’s supervision.