How do you sleep?
If you answered ‘with my eyes shut’ then you are correct, but you may have guessed that is not quite the question I am asking here!
Insomnia is an extremely common complaint, and I’m sure we all recognize that frustrating feeling of not being able to fall asleep, or waking through the night and not being able to go back to sleep. Rather than being a problem in itself, it can be a symptom of other underlying issues. Stress, anxiety, depression, pain, any disruption of the natural rhythms (travel for instance), hormonal fluctuations (especially during menopause), consuming alcohol/caffeine, certain medical conditions and pharmaceutical medications can all contribute to sleep difficulties.
If you regularly experience trouble nodding off, make sure you start cultivating some good habits (known as ‘sleep hygiene’) prior to bedtime, to help support your body’s natural ‘winding down’ process:
- As much as possible, go to bed at the same time every night, and get up at the same time, including on weekends.
- Avoid having alcohol, caffeine, spicy foods or sugary foods after 3pm, to give your body time to process and eliminate these from the body before you need to wind down at night.
- Get some exercise on a regular basis, as this helps to promote restful sleep. Make sure this is early in the day, and not right before bedtime, which can be too stimulating.
- Keep electronic devices out of the bedroom. There is emerging evidence that these play a role in disrupting your natural sleep patterns. If they must be in the bedroom, switch off the WiFi and place them well away from the bed.
- Try a cup of warm milk, a chamomile tea, a banana or a light snack before bed.
- Try placing a few drops of lavender essential oil on a tissue, and place on the bedside table. Lavender has been shown to help promote relaxation and induce restful sleep. There is also a lavender oil spray that can be purchased from chemists and in supermarkets (just make sure it is pure lavender oil, not a synthetic lavender-scented perfume).
- If you wake during the night and can’t fall back asleep within 15-20 minutes, it can be more beneficial to get up and leave the bedroom, instead of tossing and turning. Read a book, have a light snack, take a warm bath or do a quiet relaxing activity (NOT TV, it is too stimulating).
As always, searching for and addressing the underlying cause is always my priority when treating a patient with insomnia. There are many herbal medicines and specific nutrients which may be of benefit if you are experiencing sleep difficulties.