• Julia Davies

How did you sleep last night?

Updated: Jan 26, 2019

Do you have trouble falling asleep? Or wake up numerous times throughout the night and have difficulty falling back to sleep? Do you wake up way too early, or have the feeling of not having had enough sleep, despite having slept for seemingly a sufficient amount of time? If you answered 'yes' to any one of those, or a few of them, you are one of the many millions of people who suffer from insomnia. Whilst sleeping tablets can temporarily resolve insomnia, they can mask the real reason, and often leave you feeling groggy the next day.


Causes of insomnia


Whether your insomnia has been on-going or if it came on suddenly, it's usually a symptom of an underlying factor, such as stress, anxiety, lifestyle, diet, menopause, hormone imbalances, psychiatric disorders, medications, and medical conditions. Blood tests are one way of ruling out some of these potential causes, but there are some things you can do to help improve your sleep that may point to the cause without the need for any tests.


Nutrition


Make sure you have a good diet. If your diet is lacking certain minerals, you may suffer from poor sleep. Magnesium supplements can help but make sure you get the right form of magnesium.


Ideally, try to limit your caffeine intake to one caffeinated beverage a day, and if you really must, then two. Swap them for herbal teas. You might feel like you need a pick-me-up when you first stop consuming caffeine, but after a few days, this feeling subsides, depending on how much coffee you were having to start with, of course.


If you do need a cup of coffee, make sure that you consume that one coffee a day as early as possible, or by 10am at the latest. Caffeine causes a release of cortisol, the stress hormone, and its effects can last up to 12 hours. The effects of cortisol keep you awake by stimulating brain activity, increasing heartbeat and breath rate, and interfering with blood-sugar balance, amongst other effects. Another problem with cortisol is that too much of it in circulation causes fat to build up around the waistline, so too much coffee can actually increase your weight. In addition, fat around the middle increases your risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.


If you were having 6 cups a day, perhaps start by having 5 or even half the amount if you can. Be gentle on yourself - do this for a few days or a week, so that you ease your way out of the caffeine cycle slowly. Often people find they have too much coffee and then feel they need alcohol to bring them down from the buzzy high of the central nervous system stimulant that is caffeine! However, avoid alcohol as a 'crutch' to help you get to sleep – it is a diuretic and will probably make you wake up to urinate during the night, and as it causes extra processing load on your liver, this causes you to wake up in the early hours of the morning.


Sugar is a central nervous system stimulant, and can cause a racing mind that cannot switch off. It also affects blood sugar levels, causing a crash later on, which might also cause you to wake up too early. Rather replace sugary snacks and foods with protein-rich foods and complex carbohydrates.


There are many herbs that help promote sleep by making you feel drowsy so you can drift off, as well as to keep you asleep for longer. If you have trouble switching off, there are herbs to help calm the mind and nervous system, as well as Bach Flower Remedies that can help with this.


Sleep hygiene


Make your bedroom a relaxing sleep paradise - don't do anything other than relaxing or sleeping in your bedroom. Don't have anything in your bedroom that may encourage you to start thinking about anything other than sleep. Put things up in your bedroom that make you relax or help you feel calm. Make sure you have dim lighting and keep the bedroom slightly cooler and well ventilated.


Make sure you go to bed at the same time every night. You don’t need to be accurate to the minute but within about half an hour at the most. Make sure you do things that you find relaxing for 1-2 hours before going to bed so that you’re in the right frame of mind to switch off. Turn off the TV, laptop, tablet and switch the phone onto airplane mode, and don’t watch any screens for at least 1 hour before bed. If you really want to reduce the air-wave emissions, you can switch off the router for your internet, and switch off everything that is usually on standby - you might even save a little bit on electricity!


Other


Try adding lavender essential oil to a diffuser, or a warm bath with lavender oil to promote a peaceful sleep.


Avoid drinking or eating 1-2 hours before bedtime.


Try some relaxation techniques - breathing exercises will help refocus attention on relaxing rather than the chattering in your mind or worrying about things.


You can also fill in a sleep chart to record how long you take to fall asleep, any night time awakenings, dreams you had, time you wake up, and even better, a diary that includes your diet, caffeine and alcohol intake in order to see if anything there affects your sleep. Please contact me if you would like one of these.


The natural way to help your insomnia is most successful when you combine various techniques. The tips above are just a few of the things you can try. If you are experiencing problems with sleeping, please don’t hesitate to contact me!

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© 2020 Julia Davies Medical Herbalist