Clean Up Your Sleep!
We spend about a third of our lives doing this. We resist it as children and crave it as adults. It can revitalize us or can be an area of stress. For something that is so ‘natural’, why are there so many issues around sleep? Over the past few years I have noticed more and more how prevalent sleep issues are both in my personal and professional life and it has led me to wonder why this is so and what is the solution?
How Does Sleep Work?
Our sleep cycle is driven by our circadian biological clock and sleep/wake homeostasis. Circadian rhythm is a cycle that naturally waxes and wanes throughout the day. It is also driven by light; the dark signals a release of melatonin from something called the suprachiasmatic nucleus in our brain, causing a sedating or ‘sleepy’ effect which is why we typically become more tired in the dark. Our sleep/wake homeostasis responds more to the hours of sleep we get which dictates when our bodies need to sleep again.
What is Insomnia?
Insomnia is a general term for a sleeping disorder that includes either trouble falling or staying asleep. When investigating why someone is experiencing insomnia, it is crucial to find out what the cause for the sleep issue is. Some common causes include:
Medication side effects (ie. SSRI’s, biologics and beta-blockers)
Mental/emotional (ie. anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder)
Hormonal imbalance (ie. cortisol dysregulation affecting circadian rhythm)
Other physiological causes (ie. GERD, chronic pain)
Lifestyle (sleep environment, routine, stimulants etc.)
Primary Insomnia (insomnia not attributable to another cause)
Chronic lack of sleep has been linked to disease processes such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and depression. Visit the CDC’s page for more information about how insomnia can affect your overall health.
What Can I Do About It?
Since almost all of the causes above are highly individual, there isn’t one resounding solution. However, there is a little something called Sleep Hygiene which is a well-researched way that may help improve the quantity and quality of your sleep. Some aspects of this include:
Removing screens from the bedroom: This includes television, computers and phones (no Instagram scrolling in bed!). The light suppresses the body’s production of melatonin which signals your body to sleep and continual disruption can alter the body’s circadian rhythm.
Avoiding alcohol: While a glass of wine may help you fall asleep, it actually impacts your body’s ability to enter deep sleep (the restorative sleep).
Avoiding caffeine before bed or decreasing daily intake: Simply put, caffeine is a stimulant. However each person has different tolerance levels, so check out last week’s article to find out more!
Create a routine: Life is unpredictable, however, as much as possible, try to hit the sheets around the same time every night and wake up around the same time throughout the week. Not only that, but create a ritual in getting ready for bed which may include your latest book or favourite tea (herbal, of course!). Whatever you choose, make it your time to wind down.
Each person is unique in how much sleep they need to feel refreshed, energized and alert the next day. To improve or optimize your sleep, visit the clinic for an individual assessment and treatment plan!
1. The Canadian Sleep Society: https://css-scs.ca
2. National Sleep Foundation: https://sleepfoundation.org/insomnia/content/what-causes-insomnia
3. The Scientific American: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/bright-screens-could-delay-bedtime/
4. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/index.html