Good sleep isn’t a luxury. In my field of functional and integrative medicine, we think of sleep as one of the pillars of well-being.
Instead of looking at isolated symptoms, integrative medicine takes a whole-body approach to health care – and it’s clear that sleep has benefits for the whole body. Along with nutrition, exercise and stress management, sleep is key to building a strong foundation for a healthy life.
Unfortunately, many of us too often slog through the day bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived. It doesn’t have to be that way. The formula for healthy sleep is as easy as adding and subtracting.
Trouble Sleeping? Get Rid of Sleep Disrupters
The first step to better sleep is to take away the things that are interfering with falling or staying asleep. Avoid these so-called “sleep disrupters”:
- Electronics. These days, we’re rarely far from a screen. But electronic devices such as TVs, tablets, computers and smartphones give you a jolt of stimulation – the opposite of what you want right before bed. Avoid screen time for an hour before you plan to turn in for the night.
- Food and drink. Stimulants such as caffeine – found in coffee, of course, as well as tea and chocolate – can interfere with sleep. Avoid caffeinated food and drink in the afternoons. Eating late at night can also disrupt sleep, so avoid heavy meals and snacks before bed. Alcohol is also a sleep disrupter. A glass of wine with dinner or a nightcap might make you feel drowsy in the short term, but it often leads to interrupted, low-quality sleep.
- Aches and pains. If your back hurts or your knees ache, it can be tough to fall and stay asleep. Addressing chronic pain can also improve sleep. To manage pain, you might consider physical therapy or osteopathic manipulation, a technique to eliminate pain and improve body function by realigning the soft tissues, muscles and skeletal structure. For some people, massages can also ease muscle pain.
Good Habits: Embrace Sleep Promoters
Once you’ve taken away the things disrupting sleep, you can focus on adding in these “sleep promoters”:
- Sleep-wake cycle. When it comes to good sleep, consistency is key. If you burn the midnight oil all week and then sleep in on weekends to catch up, you disrupt your body’s natural sleep rhythms. Maintain a regular sleep-wake cycle throughout the week.
- Bedroom environment. Make your room an inviting place to dream. Dark, cool rooms promote good sleep. Even moderate light can interfere with your sleep, so pull the curtains or consider donning a sleep mask. If the room is too hot, you’ll toss and turn, so turn down the thermostat at night. If your feet get cold, wear warm socks but keep the air cool.
- Nighttime rituals. Engaging in the same bedtime routine each night can signal to your body that it’s time to sleep. You might take a warm shower or bath or sip some caffeine-free herbal tea. Many people enjoy using a guided sleep meditation app to help them fall asleep. Many such apps are available online for free.
Natural Sleep Aids: Help for Catching ZZZ’s
If you’ve addressed your habits both good and bad and still need some help, consider these natural sleep aids to help you drift off:
- Soothing scents. The aroma of lavender often makes people feel sleepy. Try a dot of lavender oil on your pillowcase.
- Herbs. Several herbs are known to promote health, including chamomile, valerian and passionflower. These are available in natural foods stores as supplements and tea.
- Melatonin. Melatonin is a natural hormone that plays a role in the sleep cycle. Melatonin supplements can help you fall asleep, but they aren’t a silver bullet. In fact, long-term use can disrupt brain chemistry and interfere with sleep. If you’re thinking of trying melatonin, talk to your doctor first to determine the right dose.
If you have trouble sleeping, an integrative medicine specialist can help address the problem with a fresh perspective. Integrative medicine looks at the whole person, using all available treatments and tools – from nutrition and exercise strategies to medications and acupuncture – to help patients achieve optimal health.
Our goal is to look at the big picture to help our patients be as healthy as they can be, and sleep is a key piece of that picture. Ready to learn more? Take a look at Inova Integrative and Functional Medicine, or call 703-671-2700 to schedule an appointment.