Reset Your Internal Clock for Better Sleep
By DR. CAROL ASH
A reported 50 to 70 million adults suffer from sleep or wakefulness disorders. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers insufficient sleep a public health epidemic.
Lack of sleep can contribute to numerous health issues, including higher prevalence of chronic pain, high blood pressure, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and premature aging. Changes in schedule, environment and stress levels can make achieving restful, restorative sleep a challenge.
One crucial consideration in combating sleeplessness is the circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm dictates periods of sleepiness and wakefulness throughout the day and influences our internal biological clock. This internal timer can shift over time and cause disturbances in natural sleep patterns.
Many Americans have trouble dealing with this shift and look to over-the-counter sleep aids to remedy the problem. In fact, around 25 percent of Americans take some type of medication to help them sleep, spending nearly $84 million on sleep aids.
These quick fixes provide short-term solutions to recurring problems, but many Americans are searching for natural, cost-effective ways to manage their sleep conditions.
Instead of shopping for solutions in the pharmaceutical aisle, try the following tips to reset your body's internal clock naturally for better sleep.
1. Create a Sleep Schedule
Maintaining the same bedtime and wake-up time every day (yes, even on weekends) helps set your biological clock. When you must make a shift due to changes in your schedule or environment, plan ahead by adjusting your bedtime and wake-up time by 15 minutes each night until you've gradually made the transition to the new schedule.
2. Find a Cause
Studies show volunteering and pro bono work helps create external focus and connects us to others. These types of commitments help people find purpose and meaning in life, which can help eliminate racing thoughts at night.
3. Open the Pantry
A restful night can start before you reach the bed. Foods that are natural sources of melatonin, tryptophan and other compounds can aid in preparing your body for deeper rest. Studies show that tart cherries are rich in melatonin and may help regulate the body's natural sleep cycle.
New research from Louisiana State University found that drinking Montmorency tart cherry juice twice a day for two weeks increased sleep time by nearly 90 minutes among older adults with insomnia. Other foods that contain sleep-inducing compounds include pumpkin seeds, walnuts and warm milk. Here are other foods that can help you sleep: 12 Foods That Help You Fall (and Stay) Asleep
4. Create a Bedtime Routine
Your brain needs environmental cues to help you wind down and prepare for sleep. We often bring thoughts of work stress and other activities into the bedroom, making the transition to sleep difficult. Create a calm sanctuary and keep the bedroom quiet, dark and cool. Commit to a nightly bedtime routine without smartphones, computer screens or tablets. Be consistent in your efforts. It will take time for your brain to make new neural connections, so you need to give it at least a month. Check out this easy yoga routine that will help you relax and fall asleep faster.
5. Take a Deep Breath
Mindful breathing helps you relax and clear your mind prior to bedtime. I recommend the 4-7-8 breathing technique: Sit with a straight posture with your tongue resting behind your upper teeth. Inhale for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 7, and then exhale for 8 counts. Repeat three times for a total of four cycles.
Readers -- How has mindful breathing helped you? Do you have any tips to share for relaxing before bedtime? Were you able to replace a sleep medication with a natural sleep remedy? Leave a comment below and share your experiences with us.
Carol Ash, DO, is a board-certified general internist, fellowship-trained pulmonary, critical-care and sleep-medicine specialist with more than 15 years of experience in clinical medicine. Dr. Ash has been a featured speaker at numerous professional engagements and has been featured in national media outlets including Today, Good Morning America, The Dr. Oz Show, The New York Times, Woman's Day, Shape, Prevention and Reader's Digest, among others. Dr. Ash is the Director of Sleep Medicine at Meridian Health in New Jersey. Follow Dr. Ash on Twitter.