We sleep every day. We've been doing it all our lives. So, why wouldn't we assume we know all there is to know about getting the best sleep?
The thing is, we don't. Sleep is a science, and there are all kinds of biological, chemical, emotional, physical and lifestyle factors that influence the quality and quantity of your sleep. As a Sleep Acupuncturist with years of experience solely treating insomnia, I understand the complex mechanisms involved, and have used this expertise to help many patients.
Though we are all entirely unique individuals, there are a number of general best practices I like to share with my patients and anybody interested in getting high-quality sleep.
- The more tired you are, the harder it can be to sleep. That's why short naps or simply lying down for half an hour in the early afternoon can help insomnia.
- Insomnia can be induced by and fluctuate with hormonal imbalances linked with your menstrual cycle. Keeping track of your sleep patterns and menstrual cycle can help you feel more at ease, knowing there is reason and predictability to the changes. Then, work with a healthcare provider to regulate your hormones.
- Waking up earlier than most people, even by an hour or two, is a sign of stress, also possible anxiety or depression. Try starting or deepening meditation and stress-reduction practices. Even five minutes of meditation each evening for 21 days can better your sleep. Changes may be gradual, but even a 25% improvement is a sign that you can heal your sleep over time.
- Eating a healthy breakfast that includes protein shortly after waking up triggers a spike in cortisol levels. As a result, most likely there will be a significant drop in cortisol in the evening and it can help falling asleep and staying asleep more soundly at night. Try eating about 20 grams of protein and also getting morning exposure to sunlight for 30 days, to see improvements in your sleep quality.
- Just as you can't make yourself faint, you can't make yourself sleep. That's why the goal, in your mind, should always just be to rest. Usually sleep follows. This is similar to when we intend to meditate and end up falling asleep instead. Our thoughts are powerful, and setting appropriate expectations can be very helpful.
- Within a 24-hour day, 12 of those hours should be active, engaging and outward-focused. The other 12 hours should be less stimulating. I like to suggest that your life after 7pm be about slowing down, taking it easy, avoiding disturbing news, and putting aside most electronics (unless you want to watch a laugh-out-loud kind of movie).
- The more "at peace" we are with ourselves, the better we sleep. Take the evening to acknowledge your inner angst, fears and worries. If you feel them, they are a part of you. Allow them to be, and they will release a little more. Then you are more likely to fall into a deeper sleep.
- Drop any/all ideas you might have of what sleep should look like. Our bodies will do anything to get the sleep it needs to be at least functional. Allow enough hours in a night to sleep, but then forget how much you slept. Simply notice how you feel in the morning. That is how you gauge the level of your sleep quality.
- Establish a general idea of when you want to go to sleep, then watch for that perfect of moment of sleepiness. You don't want to miss that, or you will hit a second wind and have a harder time trying to fall asleep later.
- Wake up at the same time each morning, no matter for how long you slept. If you keep up with it, your body will learn that you are committed to waking up at that time, and will naturally make your sleep more efficient.