Get Back to Sleep
Dr. Gina Johnson
According to the American Sleep Association, about 30% of adults face some form of insomnia or sleep disorder. Sleep problems tend to worsen with age, excess body weight, and stress. March 10-16, 2019, is Sleep Awareness Week, designated to increase public awareness and access to sleep support. Many sleep difficulties are preventable and manageable with lifestyle change. Most of us are not getting the recommended 7-9 hours of restful sleep. As a functional medicine specialist, sleep is viewed as a foundational health need for every client, even without the common complaint of “why am I so tired all the time?”
The Sleep-Health Connection
Not getting enough sleep is linked to many health concerns, such as low energy, weight gain, sexual dysfunction, high blood pressure, diabetes, hormonal imbalance, irritable or depressed mood, and mental fog or confusion. Adequate sleep quality and duration are critical to preserving optimal health. Often, restoring sleep quickly improves health outcomes.
Treatable sleep disorders include insomnia, narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome (RLS), snoring, and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Seek an assessment with your primary care provider who may refer to a sleep medicine specialist or neurologist.
Natural Sleep Support
First, find your sleep sweet spot. On a day off, weekend, or during vacation, allow yourself to wake up without an alarm. Did you feel rested the following day? Was your sleep between 7-9 hours? This is your natural sleep need, your goal is to honor this in daily life, making schedule adjustments to prioritize sleep. It’s as important for optimal health as brushing your teeth, eating vegetables, exercising, drinking water, and having loving connections.
The National Institutes for Health advise the following tips for better sleep:
Set a sleep schedule. Consider when you must wake up, count back 7-9 hours. This is your “head on the pillow” bedtime. I know, reminiscent of childhood, but sleep matters. Eventually, you’ll guard this time as precious.
Exercise daily, but finish 2-3 hours before bedtime. HIIT it up during the day. Gentle yoga and breathe meditations are great evening choices.
Avoid caffeine and nicotine. Especially after noon, since these stimulants interfere with falling and staying asleep. Nicotine is tied to much harm besides sleep disruption, get support for quitting altogether. If you’re like me and enjoy the warm coffee ritual, try weaning down gradually to decaf or switching to green tea. Green tea has less caffeine and contains the calming amino acid, L-theonine.
Avoid bedtime alcohol. While a nightcap may make us drowsy, the effect can increase sleep apnea and shorten sleep duration. Plus, the hot flushes of perimenopause are worsened with alcohol consumption. Stick to your glass of red with dinner and take several days off each week to lesson the down side of happy hour. Consider a sparkling water spritzer with a dash of bitters and twist for a saucy alternative.
Eat and drink lightly at night. A bloated belly and trips to the loo make for a sleepless night. As an added bonus, keeping 12 hours between dinner and breakfast supports a healthy metabolism and body weight.
Know your medication side effects. Treatments for blood pressure, asthma, and colds can be stimulating. Ask your provider if a change in time taken or type of drug may lesson the impact on sleep.
Nap wisely. Limit power naps to 20 minutes before 3 pm. Setting a timer helps. Anything beyond a quick refresh can cut into restful bedtime sleep.
Unwind before bed. Set the stage for sound sleep. Dim the lights, shut off or filter the blue light of screens, enjoy a hot bath, sip some herbal tea, read a book. If this put you in the mood for…then, well, you’re welcome. Sex, whether alone or with a partner, is a tried and true sleep aid.
Set the sleep stage. Your bedroom is an oasis for sleep and sex, only. Anything else is merely a distraction. Keep your sleep den dark, cool, uncluttered, and relaxing. Air quality is a concern, especially with carpets or pets; invest in a HEPA air purifier and ionizer to breathe easier. Consider hypoallergenic bedding, wood or tile floors, frequent linen changes, and separate pet beds/sleeping areas if a stuffy nose keeps you awake.
Increase daytime light. Let the sunshine in with morning rising or use a light therapy box if you live in a dark area. Our brain needs bright morning light exposure to quiet melatonin (sleep hormone produced in the pineal gland) production. Get outside whenever possible to enjoy the mind-body benefits of sunlight in nature.
Get up if lying awake after 30 minutes. Any longer only increases anxiety. Take this time to journal quietly in soft light or read a bit, continue to avoid blue screen light. Practice a slow, deep breathe meditation. Think of 3 areas in life where you are grateful. You may drift back off before you know it.
It’s ok to ask for help. Sleep is vital to health, seek medical assistance with persistent sleep disturbances. So many physical and emotional factors contribute to restful sleep.
Integrative Sleep Aids
Foods and Spices
Try a traditional Ayurvedic recipe; a warming coconut-nutmeg-spice beverage called Moon Milk to induce sleep, reduce inflammation, and aid digestion. Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) contains myristicin, responsible for it’s sedating, even dream-inducing effects. Avoid consuming nutmeg in large amounts and with pregnancy.
My go-to stress and sleep tea is Tulsi (Holy Basil or Ocimum basilicum), containing active saponins, flavonoids, triterpenoids, and tannins. This herb is revered in Ayurvedic medicine for it’s anti-stress and restful qualities (Natural Medicines Database). The Tulsi Rose formula is delicate, fragrant, and soothing. Combine this with a hot bath and you’ll be right as rain. Find my favorite teas and sleep aids at Wellevate or Fullscript and enjoy my 10% discount every day.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), contains many active constituents, particularly linalool and linalyl acetate . Both the essential oil added as aromatherapy to a pillow or the supplement gel cap for internal use, is well researched for it’s anti-anxiety, anti-depressant, and sleep promoting effects (Natural Medicines Database).
The smallest amino acid, Glycine, offers big yet safe support to the entire mind and body. As an inhibitory neurotransmitter, Glycine rapidly calms, quiets, and nourishes the brain to promote restful sleep and support mental performance. It is also an immune booster as a component of our master antioxidant, glutathione, as well as a muscle building block important for tissue growth and recovery after exercise. So much to love about Glycine, here’s a well-explained overview by Dr. Axe.
Magnesium is a wonder mineral, powerful for relaxing smooth muscle relaxer and calming the nervous system. Especially if muscle twitches, spasms, restless legs, or irritable mood keep you awake. The magnesium glycinate form is less likely to cause loose stools, but if you need a laxative then opt for magnesium citrate which will get things moving by morning. 3 cups of Epsom (magnesium sulfate) salts combined with a few drops of lavender essential oil, added to a hot bath, is the perfect ending to a long day or strenuous workout.
Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy
Sleep tends to decline with age as hormones wane in both men and women. Restoring natural hormone levels corrects imbalances, supporting overall well-being while preserving cardiovascular, brain, and bone health. Natural progesterone (not synthetic progestin), taken orally supports sleep in perimenopause, eases some menstrual or reproductive disorders, and protects the breasts and uterus. Bioidentical estrogen puts out the fires of hot flushes which disturb sleep . For both sexes, sleep deprivation leads to loss of testosterone production and testosterone replacement is associated with greater well-being, improved libido and more restful sleep.
Sleep inducing meditation can be as simple as a few minutes of slow, deep breathing or as elegant as a Yoga Nidra (sleep yoga) or a guided meditation session. Healthline covers the top sleep apps which are portable and popular with sleep-seekers. Consider keeping your cell phone on silent or airplane mode, stored well away from your bed to prevent disruptions. I like the added comfort of a heavy comforter or weighted blanket for added nervous system down regulation. For further support, I offer neurofeedback and biofeedback to deepen the relaxation response, build stress resilience, and strengthen both cardiovascular and nervous system wellness.
Schedule a telemedicine consult with Dr. Gina Marie at her virtual wellness clinic, Vital Mind Body.
Think of me as your expert guide in making this midlife experience a whole lot easier. Together, we’ll address hormonal, physical, and emotional issues that zap our sleep, energy, and sex appeal. Feel vibrant again with a confidence that carries over into all aspects of life, love, work, and play.
Get started with a comprehensive functional and hormone health assessment with Dr. Gina Marie. Receive a free health score consult to identify key concerns which may impact sleep and overall health. Begin today with my natural hormone reset e-guide for men and women, then schedule a consult to find out if bioidentical hormone replacement therapy is right for you. Live your best life now and enjoy great sleep for life!
About Dr. Gina Johnson
20 Years of Healthcare, a Lifetime of Caring. Dr. Gina Johnson is a licensed Naturopathic Physician in Washington State, with a concierge practice specializing in hormone and cognitive health for lifespan wellness. In addition to medical education at Bastyr University, Dr. Johnson received additional training in functional and regenerative medicine for age management from the Institute for Functional Medicine. She presents to community and business groups, with a keen interest in workplace wellness and stress resilience. Dr. Gina Marie offers telehealth and on-site corporate consultations to provide personalized, integrative care where you are. Learn more, schedule online at vitalmindbody.com, and receive a free copy of Dr. Gina Marie’s “Natural Hormone Reset Guide.” Corporate wellness and speaking inquiries are welcome, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. When not caring for patients, you’ll find Dr. Gina Marie spending time in nature or cooking healthy meals with loved ones. Live well for life.