The term sleep hygiene might sound a bit odd at first. Isn’t hygiene about keeping the body clean and bruising your teeth? Yes, but as a word, hygiene means doing what maintains health. We know that sleep is deeply connected to how we feel as we go about our day, so creating a healthy sleep regime, now called ‘sleep hygiene’ makes sense in our busy world. Pohala Naturopath and Anthroposophical practitioner Lisa Del Alba shares her strategies for clients who want to create a calm mind and body through healthy sleep practices.
Sleep Hygiene Strategies
by Lisa Del Alba
You know you want to sleep better, but how do you get started? Here are three simple ways to add sleep hygiene into your daily life.
- Understand the role light plays in your levels of consciousness and general health.
- Explore the body’s rhythms.
- Figure out what nutrition promotes the most peace and stability for a good night’s sleep.
1)Light: How does light affect our mind and body?
For ages, human beings have associated sleep with the darkness of night and fully awake consciousness with the daytime light of the sun. Learning from the history we have in common as human beings allows us to retain our own healthy rhythms in tune with the cosmic rhythm of the sun; even as we lead busy lives here with the bright city lights. Waking up with natural light and going to bed in darkness, even if it is created by putting blankets on our windows helps the body enter and come out of sleep naturally.
Strategies you can use to help your mind and body prepare for a healthy sleep:
- Minimize or eliminate exposure to artificial light and digitized sound for two hours before bed. Ensure that electronic devices are not kept next to the bed and avoid contact with synthetic fabrics and artificial tastes and smells. These influences can have a stimulating effect on the nervous system.
- Expose your body and eyes to natural outdoor light during the daytime in order to promote restful sleep. This helps balance neurotransmitters, and counter the melatonin-seupressing blue light effects of computers and TV screens.
2) Rhythm: We have a circadian rhythm in our body, but did you know our various organs have their own clocks as well?
Scientists speak of a ‘circadian rhythm’ when referring to 24-hour rhythms pertaining to our bodily function. The sleep / wake cycle is the most apparent 24-hour rhythm, but there has also been considerable research into the circadian rhythms of various organs (notably adrenal glands, kidneys and liver). External signs that our organs have a circadian rhythm include variations in ‘clarity’ and energy levels throughout the day. The fact that we produce less urine during the nighttime hours and the fact that our bodies digest differently at different times of day shows the complexity of our bodies in their relationship to nature and the cosmos.
Use the following strategies to get in touch with healthier rhythms in order to promote restful sleep:
1) If you are waking often to urinate, consider using a strategy of two large sips of water or herbal tea every half hour instead of gulping down large quantities of water less frequently. This change in rhythm is less stressful for your kidneys. If you are still waking at night, consider a visit to your holistic provider to evaluate kidney health.
2) Warmth is important, and its timing is important as well. Sleep in a cooler room (studies show the ideal to be near 65 degrees). Then you can snuggle down into your safe and warm blankets! If you like warm baths, take them a few hours before bedtime; as a warm bath immediately before bed brings blood to the surface of the body instead of keeping your organs cozy while you are ‘away’ in dream-land.
3) Nutrition: How does what and when we eat affect the way we sleep?
It’s obvious that poor nutrition can upset sleep, such as having a reaction to a food or getting heartburn or an upset stomach from certain meals. But what about the more subtle changes the body goes through as it prepares for sleep? For example, the time in the day we consume certain types of food affects our sleep and wake cycle. A child who eats heavier food too close to bedtime may be more prone to nightmares. A focus of scientific studies has been the creation of a ‘jet lag diet’ that, if followed in the days before and during travel, can actually eliminate or reduce jet lag! The diet focuses on eating certain types of food (proteins or carbohydrates) at specific times of day. For example, carbohydrates tend to make us sleepy, while proteins and heavier fats tend to keep us awake due to the more vigorous digestive activities which require our full daytime energy.
Practical measures include:
- Complete avoidance of sweet tastes before lunch and including a protein source in the morning meal. These act as cues to set our biological clock to a healthy sleep and wake cycle.
- Avoiding heavy meals (especially high protein and fat) just before bed helps the soul and spirit to let go of our physical body’s functions so that we get a good night’s rest.
While poor sleep quality may be both the cause and effect of various medical conditions, the good news is that making these small changes can greatly affect our ability to have a good night’s sleep.
Start with one of these strategies and add new behaviors daily. The result can be a natural, healthy and deep restoring sleep.
Two final ideas for promoting restful sleep:
- Soft and harmonious human voices and playing of non-electronic instruments can also have a nourishing and calming effect on the nervous system.
- Warm socks and wearing pajamas can reduce sensory stimuli to the skin and protect the body’s warmth.
Dr. Lisa Del Alba