Know Your Normal: Regulating Sleep
Breaking out of the snooze cycle
We can all agree that sleep is important, but why is it so elusive these days? And the bigger question, why is lack of sleep so normal? You see the memes about how being an adult is just telling the other person that your tired all the time then they tell you how tired they are. The frustrating of cycle of not being able to fall asleep at night, overviewing every little detail of your day, or not being able to get out of bed in the morning without setting 30 alarms every 4-7 minutes and hitting snooze to every single one, then alas, you roll yourself out of bed with as little time as necessary to get ready, swearing that tomorrow you are finally going to start your “new” morning routine you have been meaning to get around too for a few months now. Getting enough sleep will help your body function optimally, leading to an overall better-quality life. I am all about the hustle and bustle, but the reality is getting enough sleep is one of the most important things we can all do for our health. Sleep is my favorite form of self-care. Have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up in the morning? This blog post is for you!
Sneaky things that are affecting your sleep and sleep quality
- CIRCADIAN RHYTHM
Sleep is our biological right….so why is it so difficult to achieve if it’s such a natural part of our biology? Your circadian rhythm is your body’s internal clock. It puts you to sleep at night by releasing a hormone called melatonin, keeps you asleep at night by suppressing cortisol and adrenaline, then wakes you up in the morning with cortisol. However, that’s not how it always works out if you don’t have good blood sugar regulation or do things that you don’t even realize mess with your circadian rhythm. The biggest factor in circadian rhythm is LIGHT. We live in a world where its normal to fall asleep watching Netflix, and have bright lights in all our rooms, and read books on tablets instead of on paper under a dim light. So what does this have to do with sleep? Well bright light, or blue light, stops your body’s production of melatonin, which you need to fall asleep. Not getting enough daylight in the morning can also impact your body’s circadian rhythm.
- Blood Sugar Dysregulation
One of the biggest factors you can’t fall asleep or wake up in the morning has to do with your blood sugar regulation, which regulates the stress hormone cortisol. Ideally you want your cortisol to work with your circadian rhythm by being higher in the morning, then slowly dipping down keeping your energy stable throughout the day, and helping you wake up in the morning. Some of you may fall into the hyper-cortisol state, which can read as anxiety issues, always feeling like you are in overdrive, tired and wired and night and your mind tends to race, you might even be waking up in the middle of the night due to a drop in blood sugar which causes your body to make its own by utilizing cortisol or even adrenaline to break down muscle tissues, which causes you to wake up in the middle of the night, you might even have a dash of road rage (or a lot of it). If you fall into the hypo-cortisol state, you probably have troubles getting out of bed, you are always tired, you generally feel run down and rely on coffee to power through your day all day, you might rely on an afternoon caffeine pick me up to get you through till the evening. Eating lots of processed sugars and carbs, or not adding in enough protein and healthy fats to every meal can cause blood sugar to sky rocket, then a crash that follows because your body hasn’t learned to keep your blood sugar stable between meals, causing you to feel hangry and shaky until you eat again. And lack of sleep impairs our body’s ability to metabolize glucose…. Ever notice how you crave all the carbs after a night of poor sleep? It can be a pretty viscous cycle… will talk about tips to fix that down below.
- Caffeine/ Alcohol
It might be obvious that things like caffeine and alcohol affect sleep, but how exactly does it work? Well caffeine stimulates our adrenals to produce cortisol, which can put a pretty big strain on your adrenals if you are already stressed out or drink more than one cup a day. Caffeine after 12 or 2 pm (depending on when you go to bed) can make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Alcohol has the opposite effect; it calms you down. People with a hyperactive nervous system tend to crave things like alcohol to help them wind down at night. However, alcohol tends to affect REM sleep, the sleep cycle where you dream and helps with memory restoration and emotional processing. Alcohol also impairs your body’s circadian rhythm by impairing your response to light cues, in addition to impairing your thermoregulation and suppressing melatonin production, the sleepy hormone.
How can we fix these issues?
- Circadian rhythm hacks
- Try to get outside in the morning and get some sunshine, this helps regulate your natural cortisol rhythms, since sunlight is blue light which stimulates cortisol. Vitamin D (which we get from the sun!) also plays a role helping your body regulate your circadian clock.
- At night, try switching out your light bulbs to amber ones, or even better, a red-light bulb which helps stimulate melatonin production. Salt lamps also make excellent bedside table lights with the added benefits of producing negative ions (like the ones found in nature) which help mitigate the effects of positive ions which are caused by electrical devices, air pollutants, and fluorescent lighting. Positive ions can impair brain function and suppress the immune system.
- Blue light blockers are AMAZING if you work with computers, especially in the evening, or want to watch some Netflix without having it mess with your melatonin production. Most phones and computers these days actually have built in nigh-time modes, like flux which gives off amber light and reduces the blue light these devices give off.
- Fixing our blood sugar regulation, helping your body’s cortisol cycle to be the highest in the morning, and the lowest at night.
- Sauna and red-light therapy are other amazing things that can help regulate your body’s sleep cycle. Sauna helps regulate your body’s thermoregulation, which is important because right before you sleep, your body drops in temperature, helping you fall asleep and stay asleep. The sauna is like a workout for your thermoregulation system. Red-light helps with melatonin production, helping you fall asleep.
- Blood sugar hacks
- Eating enough. I can’t stress this enough. I can tell when I haven’t eaten enough during the day because it really affects my ability to stay asleep. Make sure you get good balance of high-quality fats and protein (at least 25 grams per meal) and carbs at every meal will help keep your blood sugar stable, which will help with cravings, energy crashes, and will help keep you asleep at night.
- Skip the afternoon coffee, so you don’t cause further stress to your adrenals. If you feel like you always need an afternoon pick-me up, once you regulate your blood sugar by eating enough and nourishing your body you will find you no longer need that afternoon pick me up.
- My favorite hack is cycle syncing your workouts, which will really help not add any extra stress to your body. Right after your period, in your follicle stage this is the time you can add in cardio like cycling. Keep HIIT workouts to your ovulation phase when you have the most energy to burn and stick to lifting weights in the second part of your cycle before your period, and focus on yoga and resting during your period.
- Caffeine / Alcohol alternatives
- My favorite alternative to an afternoon coffee is to make an herbal tea cold brew, elements tea has an amazing coffee alternative I love. Brew for 5-10 minutes in hot water for a stronger concentration, then add ice and some cold water to top it off, or even your favorite creamer! If you can tolerate dairy, heavy cream is so good and the healthy fat will help stabilize your blood sugar!
- If you do have coffee in the morning, adding in fat and protein like collagen (which dissolves in coffee and doesn’t add any weird flavor) will help your body have less of a stress response to coffee. Even better, have your coffee with breakfast.
- Instead of alcohol to help calm you down at night, Kava is an incredible tea (tastes kind of intense so I usually find a blend with something like licorice root which gives it a natural sweetness) that helps calm the nervous system and can help you sleep at night too! Herbs like chamomile, lemon balm, passion-flower, valerian and tulsi can also help calm the nervous system.
- Develop good sleep hygiene
- Cut out bright lights at night – invest in some amber/red light bulbs or a salt lamp
- Try to black-out your bedroom as much as possible to help keep as much sleep-disturbing light out as possible.
- Make a wind down routine, try journaling and letting all your thoughts out from the day. Take a bath with some candles (this actually helps regulate your temperature too, even if you take a hot bath it can help drop your temperature when you get out, helping you fall asleep). Legs up the wall is also a really relaxing way to end the day especially if you have had a long day on your feet… plus it helps with lymphatic drainage as well
- Make your bedroom super cozy and clean, decluttering helps calm the mind and nervous system.
- If possible, sleeping in a cooler room can help regulate your body temperature during the night and can help keep you asleep.
- Try not to eat dinner too close to bedtime, which can inhibit your body’s ability to fall asleep because it’s trying to focus on digesting, taking away from other processes like detox that happen in the middle of the night. If you do struggle from low blood sugar issues, having a small snack before bed will help you stabilize your blood sugar in the middle of the night, and help you stay asleep. Adding some collagen, healthy fat, and even some raw honey to some tea before bed is a great trick, and it’s not heavy enough to keep you from falling asleep.
- Fave sleep nutrients and supplements
- Magnesium is by far one of my favorite relaxation supplements. If you have a lot of excess stress, your body burns through magnesium stores, which you need to be able to relax. Tri-mag has three types of very bio-available forms of magnesium, meaning your body can easily absorb it.
- Salt! Salt actually reduces stress hormones in the blood, so if you are hyper-cortisol adding in a little extra quality salt like pink salt to your diet can give your adrenals some extra love. Fun fact, your body will tell you how much salt you need. Just listen to your taste buds! Add as much salt as tastes good to you, and that is what your body needs.
- Adaptogens are amazing because they help regulate cortisol in the body. If you are hyper-cortisol, Adrenal Relief has an amazing blend of herbs which help keep you calm. It has cute little herbs like Maral root which is a stress modulator. It can reduce insomnia and is known as a cooling herb. It’s wonderful for everyone who just can’t seem to relax. If you are hypo-cortisol and you need your adrenals to kick it up a notch Adrenal Reboot contains herbs like Rhodiola root and Schisandra berry which help energize and modulate cortisol.
- Another game-changing nutrient is Reishi mushroom. This also helps regulate cortisol in the body. It helps you calm down if you need that or energize you if you are dragging throughout the day. It’s also helps rejuvenate your cells, improve circulation, and is great for your immune system.
In closing, sleep is so important. It is your right to get a good night’s sleep. Regulating your blood sugar, getting back in touch with your circadian rhythm, making a good nighttime routine, and supplementing when you need it can make a huge difference in your sleep. Getting enough sleep is the superpower you have been waiting for.