Sleep Like A Baby
We can all feel it, that time of the year is here. Slowly, but surely the sun starts setting earlier and earlier. All of a sudden you look outside your window before 6 pm and it’s completely dark. With this blanket of darkness, our body’s physiology starts to change. You may notice a drop in your mood, increased fatigue, and just overall wanting to stay in your bed in the morning under your covers. This happens to so many of us in the northeast with these seasonal changes. In New Jersey, 27.8% of adults report symptoms of anxiety or depression, along with around 5-10% of adults in the United States reporting Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) during 40% of the year. All of these seasonal changes can affect our body’s internal clock known as our circadian rhythm, and ultimately affects our quality of sleep. Here are a few steps we can take to ensure our sleep habits and daily routine are helping us catch the most z’s.
Everyone knows the most common way to get adequate vitamin D is by being in direct sunlight outside. Vitamin D is most easily absorbed through our skin, but a lesser known way of getting Vitamin D is actually through your eyes. Sunlight directly hits our retina and is then used to form other hormones, including melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone responsible for making us fall asleep and stay asleep. During the fall and winter months it’s more difficult to get sunlight on our skin, one way to address this problem is by making sure you expose your eyes to sunlight either early in the morning or evening when the sun is going down. Sunrise and sunset are two of the times where the light being emitted from the sun can have a greater effect on regulating your sleep cycle.
2. Morning & Evening Routine
As humans, we are creatures of habit. Having a simple morning and evening routine can really affect our sleep cycle. Starting in the morning with some simple exercises and stretching, or even a five minute meditation can set up our day for success. The easiest way to get in some light exercise in the morning is going for a quick walk. This will also allow you to get some natural sunlight first thing in the morning. Before going to bed, it’s more important to start winding down earlier than your bedtime, so that your brain starts to associate this time with sleeping.
This could include making sure all bright lights are dimmed or off and any technology is put away. Mindfulness meditation, in particular, appears to improve sleep quality and reduce daytime disturbance in people with chronic insomnia. In the long term, these improvements may be comparable to effects seen from sleep medication. Some easy to use meditation and sleep apps we like include: Insight Timer, Breethe App, Calm, and Headspace. Just remember to turn off notifications or turn on do not disturb on your phone while using them.
It’s also important to make sure your bedroom or space where you sleep is only used for just that. If you work during the day in the space where you sleep, this can cause your brain to associate your bed with a more active and alert time versus relaxation and sleeping.
As mentioned above, sunlight plays a very crucial role in regulating our circadian rhythm, the cycle in your body which determines when you’re awake and when it’s time to sleep. The light we can see with our eyes covers the entire spectrum of the rainbow, from blue to green to yellow and eventually red. With sunlight the color spectrum is balanced, meaning equal levels of each color, or wavelength, of light is being emitted. When it comes to artificial light, like an LED bulb or the screens on our phones, TV, & computers, there is an unbalanced transmission of the different wavelengths of light. These screens tend to emit more blue light than what we would be exposed to in nature. This type of light can send signals to your brain that make it believe it’s time to wake up and be alert. Studies have shown that it can take as little as five minutes to change your circadian rhythm and this is why many sleep experts suggest putting away electronics 1-2 hours before going to sleep. Another study showed that living one night a week by candle light is enough information to reset your sleep cycle and fall asleep better. If you’re not looking to time travel back to the pre-Thome Edison days, another way to protect your eyes and sleep cycle from junk light is to keep a pair of blue light blocking glasses that you can either wear every time you’re in front of a screen or just wear after dark to mitigate some of the effects of artificial light and electronic screens. To learn more about blue blockers and check out the brand we personally recommend check out the TrueDark site: https://truedark.com/truedark-science/
4. Foods & Supplements for Deep Sleep
Ultimately all of our daily lifestyle habits play an important role in the rhythms and cycles of our body, including the sleep cycle. What we ingest can play a role in how sound our sleep is. From the more obvious advice, like avoiding caffeine after noon, to adding in certain supplements, nutrition can play a big role in improving sleep. There are a few crucial nutrients that improve sleep, but also work on a variety of other important processes in the body. These are the core supplements we recommend to most patients. They include Omega 3’s, magnesium, and vitamin D. We generally recommend the Nordic Naturals brand of supplements for all three of these nutrients because they produce a high quality product and have vegan options as well. We currently carry these three supplements in office.
Besides supplements, there are many herbs that can be helpful in regulating the nervous system and getting the body ready for sleep. Ashwaganda is an herb commonly used in ayurvedic medicine practices. It is an adaptogen, which means that it supports the body’s ability to adapt to stress and its environment. Some other herbs that are commonly used to improve sleep are valerian root, chamomile, and passionflower. Many of these ingredients can be found in teas and tinctures making them easy to take. Traditional Medicinals and Gaia herbs are two brands we recommend. are two brands we recommend. These ingredients can promote a state of relaxation in the nervous system, which will help your body achieve optimal rest.