A good night’s sleep truly paves the way for an enjoyable and productive day of work and fun. Sleep is a restorative time when your body’s energy is directed inwards towards healing. It is a time when you release the stress of the day and begin preparing for what is to come. When this is not happening, it can negatively impact every other area of your life - your mood, ability to focus and be present, attention to detail, and productivity will all begin to suffer.
I remember waking my Mom up as a child to tell her that I couldn’t sleep. She would, as lovingly as she could muster, suggest that I take a drink of water and a Tylenol PM and go back to bed. I’m sure that somewhere in there was a muffled, “I was sleeping just fine, thank you very much.” If you’re reading this perhaps you can relate. What I’m about to share with you would be lost on my husband, who’s often snoring before his head hits the pillow. Not that I’m jealous or anything. Really. Good for him.
I survived high school by keeping busy. I wasn’t going to sleep anyway, so I may as well have been doing something. Five years in the military nearly broke me. Between sharing a room with 50 of my closest female friends and twelve-hour shift work, I didn’t stand a chance. It took a toll for sure. By the time I made it to college, I had discovered Red Bull, ephedra, and chai tea lattes. Then, I would turn to Tylenol PM to try to get a few hours of sleep. A dangerous combination, it’s amazing that no permanent damage was done. About two-thirds of the way through chiropractic school, I began searching for a more permanent solution.
I tried everything I could think of. I changed my diet. I laid off the caffeine. I took a million supplements. I even almost bought an organic rubber mattress because an intuitive healer was positive that all those metal coils in my traditional mattress were directly to blame for the cause of my sleep issues. Those aren’t cheap, however, and as a recent college graduate with more bills than income, I had to draw the line somewhere.
After 30 years of insomnia, and a lot of trial and error, I consider myself to be a bit of an expert on what it takes to catch some zzzzz’s and I’m excited to share what I’ve learned with you. There are several simple changes you can make so that when the lights go off, your brain gets the signal, and you drift into a deeply peaceful slumber. In this five-part series, we’ll look at lifestyle changes, turning your bedroom into a sleep-inducing oasis, sleeping better with your partner, and developing a meditative practice. We’ll end with an introduction into supplements, herbs, oils, and essences for sleep. Start at the beginning, the solution you’re seeking may be more easily attained than you think!
Just like with most things in life, a little caffeine can be good for you, but too much can wreak havoc on your sleep. It can also overstimulate worn out adrenal glands (the stress glands that sit on top of your kidneys) and contribute to something called adrenal fatigue, perpetuating a vicious cycle of needing more and more caffeine to get a boost while the lack of sleep leaves you more and more exhausted.
If you drink coffee, enjoy a maximum of two cups per day and make that is your only source of caffeine. Two eight ounce cups, not the giant Christmas mug that can fit half a pot. Remember, blonde roast has more caffeine than dark. So, if you’re drinking blonde, consider switching to a darker brew. If you’re currently drinking significantly more than two cups, gradually decrease the amount over a week or two to avoid headaches and other symptoms of withdrawal.
Green tea has less caffeine than coffee and herbal tea has none at all. Caffeinated sodas and energy drinks come with a whole host of health problems that extend beyond your quality of sleep. An occasional indulgence won’t kill you, but if these are your beverages of choice, it’s time to make a change - your body will thank you in more ways than one.
Do your best not to consume caffeine after 1:00 in the afternoon. This gives your body plenty of time to metabolize what you have drank and get it out of your system before bedtime. If your energy takes a dump in the afternoon, there are several things ways to make it through the day without more caffeine. Get up and move! Take a quick power walk, move through a few of your favorite yoga poses, or do some calisthenics at your desk. Also, make sure you’re drinking plenty of water. One of the first signs of dehydration is feeling tired. Nothing will quench your thirst like a tall glass of water!
Going to bed on a full stomach diverts your body’s attention away from sleep and towards digestion. Avoid eating anything in the two hours prior to going to bed. If you find that you’re waking up to go to the bathroom, don’t drink anything during this time either. A healthy bladder should be able to make it through the night without needing to be emptied. If avoiding liquids before bed doesn’t take care of the need to urinate when you should be sleeping, talk with your healthcare professional. There may be something else going on.
While alcohol may help you get to sleep faster, it interferes with deep sleep. Limit alcohol consumption to no more than three to four drinks per week. If you use alcohol to decompress after work, start looking for an alternative. Incorporate things you enjoy doing - a hobby, being in nature, exercising. Find something that works for you and you may find that you enjoy your newfound interest much more than an adult beverage.
Develop and complete a nightly routine to get you in the mood for sleep and signal to your brain that it’s okay to slow down and take a break. For example, an hour before bed, unplug from all electronics. Do what you normally to get ready for sleep and then leave some extra time for yourself. Listen to some relaxing music. Enjoy the occasional Epsom salt bath. Read a passage from your favorite inspirational book or devotional. Journal your thoughts before bed. Getting it all out on paper helps to quiet the obsessive mind. Lastly, get up at the same time every morning, regardless of what time you fell asleep the night before. I know, this may be difficult. But, trust me, you’re training your brain for sleep just as you would train your body for a marathon.
Dr. Kate Flynn is a chiropractor and founder of The Alternative Pain Clinic in Knoxville, Tennessee where she works with her patients to resolve the emotions that are holding their chronic pain, complicated grief, or addiction in place through a simple, but effective, combination of holistic therapies in conjunction with a comprehensive self-care program.
Dr. Kate is passionate about offering creative solutions to physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual problems. She is a Reiki Master and an ordained minister and has created an entire system for living, healing, and creating from the heart in Activating Ascension. Dr. Kate is most excited about what her patients will do with their lives once their pain is gone.
She lives in Knoxville with the love of her life, 3 wonderful children, and their dog, Phoebe.