April 29, 2019 - Wellness
Karli Carr, registered nurse and herbalist
Did you know more than one-third of Americans aren’t getting enough sleep? That’s a lot of tired people. If you consider yourself to be part of that one third, stick around. I’m going to be talking about the importance of sleep, disorders that can interrupt your sleep, and a few natural remedies that can help improve, you guessed it, sleep.
Sleep acts as a protective mechanism, like hunger or thirst, to make sure your body gets what it needs to function properly. Unfortunately, about 40 million people in the United States suffer from a chronic sleep disorder. A sleep disorder is anything that interrupts or affects a person's sleep routine. These disorders could include insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy, and toddlers (Can I get an amen?).
Now, let’s talk about why you’re really here: natural tips for improving sleep.
1. Get outside. The benefits are endless. When you spend time outside during the day, the blue light from the sun’s rays tells your body it’s time to be awake. This helps establish a strong sleep-wake cycle. While you’re outside, move your body. Moderate exercise is linked to mood stabilization and stress relief, which can make it easier for you to fall asleep. So, skip to the mailbox, go for a bike ride, play at the park, take a walk, or buy a tree-themed calendar (just kidding, that doesn’t count). There’s no wrong answer as long as it gets you outside.
2. Wear blue-light-blocking glasses. Blue light exposure during the evening can make it harder for you to fall asleep because it decreases the stimulation of melatonin—a chemical known for regulating the body's circadian rhythm and making you feel tired. Blue light is emitted from light bulbs, televisions, computers, and phone screens. So, what am I saying? You need to cancel your Netflix subscription (or at least stop using your dad’s) and go to sleep with the sun? Of course not. I recommend using a pair of blue-light-blocking glasses. These affordable, and somewhat unattractive, glasses block the blue light coming from your light bulbs and devices. Put them on at sundown or a few hours before bedtime, then take them off before going to sleep. Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it too?
3. Invest in a weighted blanket. Many of you might be struggling with anxiety or a sensory processing disorder that negatively affects your sleep. Weighted blankets mimic deep-touch pressure. This type of pressure promotes the release of oxytocin—a feel-good hormone that helps you feel relaxed, calm, and safe. A weighted blanket can be used day or night depending on your personal needs. For example, you can try using it before bedtime for 20 to 30 minutes to help your mind and body relax. Click here to find the right weighted blanket for you.
4. Learn how to meditate. Meditation stimulates your body’s rest-and-digest response. This can help you relax and sleep better. One of the fastest ways to stimulate this response is to practice deep breathing. You can try it whenever you’re feeling anxious, irritated, or restless. Practice deep breathing for three minutes before bedtime to slow your thoughts and relax your body. To learn more about meditation, search for breathing exercises on YouTube, download the Calm app or Headspace app, or sign up for a yoga class.
5. Get to know your herbs. Herbs are food. They’re tiny powerhouses filled with nutrients and minerals that strengthen and nourish the body and brain. When safely used, these green wonders can be an effective tool to help you sleep better. Herbs come in a variety of forms, including teas, tinctures (a fancy word for herbs in liquid form), capsules, and essential oils. Find what works for you. Diffuse lavender oil while you sleep or drink a glass of chamomile tea while wearing your blue-light-blocking glasses (See what I did there?). Click here to explore aromatherapy sleep products. Remember, talk to your health care provider first if you are pregnant, nursing, or already taking prescribed medication.
When it really comes down to it, do what feels right for you and be someone who does get enough sleep.
About Karli Carr
Karli is a certified herbalist and specializes in natural home remedies. In addition, she’s a registered nurse who has worked in hospital care, home health, hospice, and orthopedics. She enjoys hiking, gardening, and sleeping.