Getting Enough Zzzzz's


Dr Deirdre O’Neill

Sleep is such an important part of our lives. When it is in the right rhythm, we think nothing of it. When we are missing our sleep, it can cruelly creep its affects into many parts of our life.

Sleep is important not only to keep the grumps away. Lack of it is associated with increased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity and depression. Poor quality sleep negatively effects job productivity.

First let’s cover the basics of sleep hygiene

  • Go to bed and more importantly wake up at the same time daily
    • Our internal clock depends on this rhythm. When light hits the back of our eye in the morning, it surges the hormone melatonin from our pineal gland. This hormone controls our daily sleep rhythm. For those that wear glasses, try to spend 20 minutes in the morning without glasses or contacts to support light hitting the back of the eye without refraction.
  • Keep the bedroom dark
    • Eye pillows may be necessary, especially for night shift workers
  • Keep exposure to sound to a minimal
    •  Ear plugs or playing white sound can be helpful
  • Use the bedroom only for sleep and sex
    • This practice helps your brain recognize that the bedroom is for sleeping
  • Reduce electromagnetic frequency exposure at night
    • Keep all electronic devices eight feet from the head, at a minimum. Some people notice the benefit to their sleep of turning off wireless devices and wireless hubs
  • Limit TV late at night
    • Commercials and the news can trick the mind to be excitable, despite the conscious zoning out effect of television
  • Limit alcohol and coffee consumption 
    • Alcohol can disrupt the sequence and duration of sleep cycles and coffee can disrupt the ability to fall asleep, even for those who take their last cup in the morning

If you can cross off all the above and are still without sleep, underlying factors may be involved. Pain, hormones, and psychological factors can affect the body’s sleep rhythm.

Some people can sleep through just about anything. But when it comes to pain, it can be a whole other story. Solving the pain generators, rather than taking pain relievers, can be the most effective way to restore healthy sleep.

Hormones, primarily cortisol and progesterone, play a key role in helping people achieve restorative sleep. When hormones are at play, I often hear the story that a patient has no problem falling asleep, but wake frequently thereafter throughout the night. This lack of deep sleep affects other hormones, like DHEA and Growth Hormone, involved in repair and restoration in our body. Sleep deprivation is a common symptom of menopause, when progesterone levels decline. Unmasking which hormones are at play is a cornerstone of all of the naturopathic physicians’ practices at Sage Clinic.

Through difficult times it can be hard to relax into a deep sleep. Clearing one’s plate, so to speak, before bed can be helpful to put the day behind us. Writing in a journal, relaxing in the tub and meditation before bed can all be effective ways to clear this plate. Exercise is another great tool to relieve stress. Some very helpful herbs to support this relaxation process include chamomile, passionflower, valerian and skullcap.

If the sleep rhythm has been off for a long time, this is where melatonin and 5HTP come in. If Melatonin is being taken correctly, there should be no grogginess in the morning or night terrors, and it still hasn’t restored sleep, 5HTP can be an answer.

Helping our patients achieve restful sleep can be one of the more rewarding aspects of our practice. In natural medicine, it is often necessary to look into the root cause of the sleep disturbance which leads to a process of restoring other aspects of our patient’s well being.