Ask Alisha - All About Sleep

Sleep Hygiene. Does anyone else hate that term? I'm not a fan. I mean when did sleep get dirty? Seriously though, this is not a blog that will staunchly defend getting your 8 hours of sleep every night because sometimes that just isn't possible. This is a blog explaining what can interrupt your sleep and also give you some tips to maximise your quality sleep at night. But most of all this is not a blog that will have you worrying that you aren't getting enough sleep because honestly, worrying is the last thing that will help you sleep and you need to know that you aren't alone with your sleep issues.

I have done a lot of research into sleep and increasing the quality of sleep as I am not the best sleeper myself, especially since becoming a parent. The Sleep Foundation stats for Australia state that 'Poor sleep is increasingly common among Australians, with one in three people regularly struggling with their sleep.'

And one in 3 is only what is reported so I imagine it being a heck of a lot higher than that. Because I don't think those stats take into account parents raising babies and children, and constantly getting their sleep interrupted and I don't think it takes into account many kids having issues with sleep lately either.

So the most important thing to start out with before you read all the info below is to know that good sleep is a tricky beast and there will be times in your life when it is better than others, and times in your life that you wished you were getting more. There is no perfect formula for everyone to get a great night's sleep but there are things we can be more aware about, and that's what I aim to cover.

What affects our Sleep Quality?

In a perfect world you would have the following bases covered for a great night's sleep -

  • a good pre-sleep routine
  • a dark room kept at optimal temp, between 18-22 degrees as our body temperature falls as we sleep and being warmer can make us too restless to drop off
  • a comfortable mattress and pillow because we will remain asleep in our lighter sleep stages (between our deep sleep cycles) if we are comfortable
  • great gut health with a healthy microbiome. Yes! Higher levels of good bacteria in our gut ensures higher levels of the production of hormones that help us sleep and conversely, the more inflamed our gut lining, the higher our overall inflammation will be which can interfere with our sleep
  • not be on a reduced calorie diet! We generally have to eat less if wanting to lose weight but our body is always trying to remain at the weight it is now so if you consume fewer calories, it can change your blood glucose levels at night, causing more wakefulness. It's just your body's way of trying to get you to eat more calories because it is programmed to keep your fat stores on, which is part of your survival mode....but it will get used to the changes after a while
  • perfect hormonal balance - our sleep hormones which set our circadian rhythm (melatonin and serotonin) are affected by all the other hormones - insulin, progesterone, estrogen, testosterone, cortisol, adrenaline so if any are out, good chances they are throwing other hormones out too
  • no kids, no pets, live on a quiet street (yeah, good luck with these ones!)
  • not be a shift worker or have flown from another time zone - changing our circadian rhythm does affect how we sleep
  • healthy weight range and optimal structure of your nose and throat so there's no snoring, mouth breathing or sleep apnea issues
  • have no stress or anxiety in your day as the more cortisol and adrenaline we have produced during the day, the more likely we have thrown out our circadian rhythm

So as you can see, there are going to be some sleep issues crop up from time to time! In fact, we should be proud to be getting as much sleep as we do! 

Sleep Cycles

There are many cycles and stages of sleep so it's perfectly normal to stir and be restless between our deep sleep cycles. We may get up and use the bathroom or toss around a bit and then hopefully head back into another deeper sleep cycle. But I just want you to be aware that it's totally normal to not be in a deep sleep all night. Each sleep cycle lasts around 90 - 110 minutes with each stage within this cycle lasting between 5 and 15 minutes. REM stage is Rapid Eye Movement stage and this is when you may recall your dreams the next day or even feel like you are falling and is the stage when your brain is doing lots of rebooting! And non REM sleep, or deep sleep, is when the brain is very inactive and the body is doing lots of repairing. So we are constantly going through these stages and have around 4 to 5 cycles a night.

Meridian Body Clock

Oh and it's here I should mention that there are so many variables when it comes to getting a good sleep including our energy or meridian body clock! Some people are fine getting off to sleep but then their body might wake them during the night! Every 2 hours our body's energy is moving through a particular meridian or energy channel doing its repair and so if there are any current issues with an area or organ in your body, you may wake in this window of time. For example, if you are waking between 1am and 3pm this is the time your liver is clearing and detoxing stress and reproductive hormones as well as any toxins you've consumed or been exposed to. You are also processing the liver emotions of anger and frustration at this time. And waking between 3am and 5am is also common and is known as lung time so if you are waking up coughing at this time, you are expelling toxins from your lungs. You are also processing the lung emotions of sadness and grief.

Pre-Sleep Routine

But it's the pre-sleep routine that can help us the most and it's as important for adults as it is for kids, so I'll expand on that one the most but I will also give you extra tips for enhancing the quality of your sleep as well.

Blue light from our screens (TVs, phones, tablets and computers) make our brain think that it is still daylight and to stay alert and in action. We want to encourage the body's natural circadian rhythm by not looking at too much artificial light at night when we are supposed to be increasing our melatonin levels and winding down. So dim your lights 2 hours before bed (and install warm light bulbs instead of cool light bulbs) and get off your screens a couple of hours before bed as well.

Do things in the 2 hours before bed that relax you and connect you with yourself or your family like talking, reading, knitting, meditation and a warm shower or bath. Writing in your journal or diary is also useful at this time because you can brain dump any tasks or thoughts to address the following day instead of mulling those topics over in the middle of the night!

Take flower essences to help you wind down and diffuse some calming and relaxing essential oils.

Sleep and Stages of our Life

Of course different ages have different sleep requirements. Babies need lots of sleep, kids need a bit less and adults even less and as we age we might find that we are naturally having shorter sleeps. I've outlined the obstacles to quality sleep below so if you are having issues at these stages of your life, these are the ones to address first.

I'm not going to say how many hours of sleep each stage of life needs (you can google that if you really must know!) because everyone is different and if you are maximising quality sleep and that differs from person to person than so be it. It's important to not get hung up on numbers but also important to do everything you can to ensure a great chance of quality sleep. 

Babies

Even though they need lots of sleep there are so many variables that affect this age group's sleep! From digestive upset to teething to separation anxiety to not having learnt to self-settle between sleep cycles, it can be a very tiresome night! Make sure bub has reassurance that you are there for them, that they are not reacting to anything that may be present in the breastmilk or formula and causing gas and other digestive issues (see a naturopath) and get them into a good sleep routine with warm baths and soothing voices before bedtime. Then cross your fingers ;) There are lots of baby sleep books out there but I found my two children were completely different when it came to their sleep patterns and habits despite me trying to do the same things, so I do believe it's more about working out what is best for you and your baby and just getting through! Do contact your midwife or doctor if you are concerned and need some professional help with this as there is nothing worse than you and bub getting really sleep deprived.

Children

Make sure they have a great pre-sleep routine of a warm bath (add epsom salts for magnesium to further relax them) followed by books being read to them and when they can, reading on their own and then no screens after bathtime. If sugar is in the diet, I'd definitely make sure it's not being consumed at the end of the day. Kids can be so overstimulated by the end of the day so winding them down in the afternoon is so important to getting them to bed and asleep at a good hour. Using our Wind Down flower essence pack, epsom salts in their bath at night and a children's meditation app like Bedtime Explorers are all great pre-sleep ideas.

You might also want to ask them if there is anything they need to talk about as I find that when they are lying in the dark in bed, my kids tend to open up and offload anything that they are trying to process or feel unsure about and this can help a lot with getting to sleep (just like you brain dumping in your journal).

Food allergies and intolerances can also affect sleep, so if nothing is helping your child sleep, it's an excellent idea to see a naturopath to rule out this very common issue and get their gut health improved.

Tweens and Teens

This is when the obstacles to good sleep become more about overuse of technology and screens at night as well as increased stress and anxiety. I know it can be hard to control but the amount of teens suffering sleep debt these days due to being on their phones, computers and tablets at extremely late hours is really alarming and can lead to self-confidence issues, focus and learning issues and even depression. I think having a WiFi curfew to help enforce getting off screens and not allowing TVs and computers to be on past certain times is paramount to helping your tween or teen these days.

The Wind Down pack is extremely helpful for this age group too as well as encouraging warm baths and showers and diffusing calming oils in their room (if they let you!) lol! Making sure your teen has an outlet for their stress levels is so important too so partaking in sports or hobbies that give them a boost can really help with stress and anxiety. And if you really feel like they need some extra support, get them to talk to someone. Often it's hard for a teen to talk to their parent so having an adult relative, family friend or mentor figure in their life can help them open up or even taking them to a counsellor or psychologist which can teach them the importance of looking after their mental health and wellbeing. Unaddressed emotional issues are often overlooked when it comes to getting a good sleep.

Adults

Our biggest obstacles to sleep are often stress and hormonal fluctuation. So I beg you too to get a good pre-sleep routine happening. Even if you just choose one or two things from my Pre-Sleep paragraph above and expand on them when you are ready. And if there are unexpressed emotions or monkey mind syndrome keeping you awake at night, please look at the Wind Down Pack for yourself as it's marvellous for adults too.

Maybe also look at some natural sleeping aids like earplugs (I use them as I live on a busy road!) or eye masks if you are woken by early light and of course there are some great supplements out there to help induce sleep as well as give you more quality sleep. Supplements that can help with your sleep are a multi-strain probiotic (take just before bed), magnesium (bath in it as well as take it orally!) and there are also lots of lovely herbs to help calm your body and mind for sleep. A relaxing bedtime herbal tea or even a herbal tablet can help and look for herbs like California Poppy, Passionflower, Lemonbalm, Hops, Skullcap, Damiana and Valerian (if you are someone that goes ok on Valerian as it can have the opposite effect in some people!)  Ask your naturopath or local health food store for their recommendations.

And journal before bed if you are a worrier and need to brain dump. Also make sure you are talking to someone too if you need extra support with any anxiety or stress because this will not only affect your sleep but also every other area of your health.

You might also find that hot flushes are waking you and you need to curb things like alcohol, sugar, spicy foods and red meat (all can put an excess load on the liver which might already be very busy processing all your hormones!) and make sure your diet and lifestyle is supporting you rather than fighting your body's sleep and repair work.

If you suspect sleep apnea (snoring interspersed with prolonged silent pauses) in yourself, your child or your partner - do go ask your doctor for a referral to a sleep clinic because addressing this issue may also address many other health issues going on.

But if the main thing you take from this blog is that sleep is going to change for you over the years and the worst thing you can do for your sleep is stress about how much you are getting, then I've done my job. And of course with all the sleep interruptions in most households, I think everyone should have the Wind Down Pack handy!

Yours in Health,

Alisha x 

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