Get Your Sleep Habits Back on Track!

Published on January 20, 2014 by Dr. Colin O'Brien

First of all, you may think that you’re just fixing your sleep patterns but it’s important to know that you’re fixing much more than that. Research has shown that sleep deprivation can lead to more than a few yawns and a dragged out day. Here’s a brief list of health concerns that have been linked to poor sleep:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Increased susceptibility to infections
  • Osteoporosis
  • Diabetes and obesity
  • School and work performance deficits
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Increased risk of injury
  • Overall reduced quality of life

As you can see, sleep literally affects all aspects of our health. While the mechanisms responsible for sleep deprivation’s negative health consequences are still being investigated, it appears that they derive from alterations in hormone output. Relative to healthy sleepers, problem sleepers show a much greater release of cortisol (our “stress hormone”) and a lower amount of growth hormone (required to build tissues, as the name implies). Impaired glucose tolerance, decreased insulin sensitivity and low-grade inflammation are also all associated with impaired sleep. The combination of these factors makes it no surprise that poor sleep leads to poor health.

Now that you know how important sleep is, it’s time to make some positive changes! Try these tips and tricks to break your routine and get some well-deserved zzz’s:

1. Turn off ALL the lights: Complete darkness is required for our pineal gland to produce melatonin. Melatonin has been shown to not only be beneficial for sleep, but it also has anti-cancer properties.

2. Remove electronics: Cell phones, iPads, laptops, and pagers…whatever it may be, get it out of the room or at least a number of feet away from your head. Electronics are generally stimulating and their electromagnetic fields (EMF’s) can disrupt proper sleep waves and, once again, melatonin production.

3. Go to bed 15-30 minutes earlier each night: Here’s some quick math for you – if you went to bed 30 minutes earlier every night, you would gain a total of 3.5 hours of extra sleep per week. That’s the equivalent of 2 extra full nights of sleep per month (14 hours!). Small changes go a long way. Enough said.

4. Do “calming” activities at night: Avoid watching T.V. or playing sports (if possible) right before bed. Instead, try reading, taking a hot bath or doing some deep breathing exercises before starting your bedtime routine.

5. Reduce caffeine and sugar: While many people know not to consume coffee in the afternoon or at night, few understand the impact that refined sugars and caffeine play at any point of the day. Try cutting back and notice the difference that it can make.

6. It’s all about routine: Don’t have a routine? Get one. You should aim to be going asleep and waking up around the same time each day…sleeping in on the weekend can be great, but don’t over do it. This will make the Monday to Friday grind that much more difficult. If you don’t have a great routine yet, start with small changes (ie. getting changed into bedtime clothing at the same time each night, brushing your teeth at the same time, reading for 5-10 minutes, etc). It doesn’t all have to be changed at once!

If you have made all of these changes and still find no success, there are many natural options that can help ease you into a routine, just be careful to not become reliant on supplements if you don’t absolutely need them.

Given that many people are familiar with sleep aids like GABA, 5-HTP, L-Theanine etc., I thought I would mention a lesser-utilized sleep aid combination: B12 and Magnesium. B12 in its optimal form, methylcobalamin, actually helps to reset your circadian rhythm and normalize cortisol peaks. Methylcobalmin essentially resets your internal clock (very useful after the holidays to get you back in a rhythm!). When combined with magnesium, a well-known muscle relaxant, your body and mind can get back into a proper sleep routine much faster. This combination is also quite valuable in that most people have less than optimal levels of methylcobalamin and magnesium in their bodies to begin with.

*As always, if you are going to experiment and try some natural health products, be sure to speak with your doctor to ensure that they are safe for you. As a general rule of thumb, if you are on pharmaceutical medications for sleep and/or mood disorders and you don’t plan on seeing your doctor, don’t mix them with natural sleep aids. Many supplements share similar mechanisms of action with pharmaceuticals and, therefore, can be dangerous when mixed together.

Have you found a successful sleep aid or a trick that has forever improved your sleeping patterns? Share with us & leave a comment in the section below!

Image by © 2015 nenadaksic via DollarPhotoClub

Selected References:

Spiegel K, Leproult R, Van Cauter E. Impact of sleep debt on metabolic and endocrine function. Lancet 1999;354(9188): 1435–1439.

Van Cauter E, Spiegel K, Tasali E, Leproult R. Metabolic consequences of sleep and sleep loss. Sleep Med 2008;9(Suppl 1):S23–8

Knutson KL, Spiegel K, Penev P and Cauter EV. The metabolic consequences of sleep deprivation. Sleep Med Rev. 2007 June ; 11(3): 163–178

Kessler RC, Berglund PA, Coulouvrat, C, Fitzgerald T, Hajak G, Roth T, Shahly V, Shillington AC, Stephenson JJ and Walsh JK. Insomnia, Comorbidity, and Risk of Injury Among Insured Americans: Results from the America Insomnia Survey. Sleep 2012; 35(6)

Sands-Lincoln M, Loucks EB, Lu B, Carskadon MA, Sharkey K, Stefanick ML, Ockene J, Shah N, Hairston KG, Robinson JG, Limacher M, Hale L, Eaton CB. Sleep duration, insomnia, and coronary heart disease among postmenopausal women in the Women's Health Initiative. J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2013 Jun;22(6):477-86.

Fu X, Zhao X, Lu H, Jiang F, Ma X, Zhu S. Association between sleep duration and bone mineral density in Chinese women. Bone 2011 Nov; 49(5):1062-6.

McLean RR. Proinflammatory cytokines and osteoporosis. Curr Osteoporos Rep 2009;7:134–9.

Luciana Besedovsky & Tanja Lange & Jan Born Sleep and immune function. Pflugers Arch - Eur J Physiol (2012) 463:121–137

Cohen S, Doyle WJ, Alper CM, Janicki-Deverts D and Turner RB. Sleep Habits and Susceptibility to the Common Cold. Arch Intern Med. 2009 January 12; 169(1): 62–67

  • Ep

    I find EFT (or tapping) extremely helpful in case I wake up in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep right away. Nick Ortner wrote a book on tapping. I learned from Dr. Mona Lisa Schulz that having trouble falling asleep is a result of anxiety and waking up in the middle of the night is because of serotonin deficiency. Sounds logical to me. Different supplements may be required for each scenario, right? But tapping works for both.

    Nasal irrigation (with or without neti pot) right before bedtime enhances quality of sleep. Better breathing, better sleep.