In this episode, you will learn natural sleep remedies for your sleep troubles. Resources mentioned in this episode:
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Natural Sleep Remedies
Today we are talking about sleep and natural sleep remedies. It's vital to living a full and healthy life, but it is elusive to over 50 million people in the US alone. What can we do to stop it? Natural sleep remedies, sleep hygiene, and sleep fundamentals to get you back on the fast track to catching your zzz's.
High-quality sleep is vital to every human’s well being and healing. For that matter - every non-human animal as well. And yet for so many people, it is elusive.
Think of how many times you hear someone say - I’m tired. I’m exhausted. I didn’t sleep. Now one end of that for SURE is the over glorification of busy BUT there is an other side entirely in the time and quality of heads on the pillow.
Sleep may not seem very important, I may have thought it wasn’t back in my late teens and throughout my 20s and its quite likely you didn’t either, maybe you don't feel sleep is important for you now. While the body appears from the outside to be still and inactive, sleep is a time when the body is quite busy.
During the night, while you snooze your body is working to restock your hormones, process serious toxins, repair tissue damage, re-arm the immune system with vital white blood cells, eliminate the effects of stress, and process those big heavy emotions.
Currently we humans have an epidemic of sleep disorders – from trouble falling asleep to often-interrupted sleep to actual insomnia. Luckily, there are several straightforward remedies I can offer you in the sleep area.
Whenever a new health participant is struggling with sleep, it is always one of the first priorities I address in their journey back to wellness. Routinely getting a sound sleep improves motivation and ability to make the changes necessary to heal the body.
There are 2 sides to the sleep story, the first part being what goes on in your body, the second being the environment you are sleeping in. BOTH are important to achieve really great nourishing sleep.
How You Fall Asleep
We human animals fall asleep due to the magic of the pineal gland. The pineal gland is a wee tiny gland, roughly the size of an ant (not a Texas ant, but a regular size one), located near the middle of our skull in the interbrain.
Following our circadian rhythm, the pineal gland secretes a neurotransmitter and hormone called melatonin. You’ve probably heard of it in the form of a supplement or sleep aid, but it is naturally produced in the body via this little pineal gland.
Melatonin suppresses the activity of many other neurotransmitters, resulting in the calming of the brain. Part of the reason for this brain calming is because it counters things like cortisol, the stress hormone secreted by our adrenal gland.
As you become more drowsy, your brain slowly begins to turn down the volume on our voluntary skeletal muscle functions, eventually turning them off. This is super cool because it is your body’s way of keeping you from moving around so much and doing things like acting out your dreams. Keeping you still is the body’s built in way to prevent disruption of that internal revitalization work I mentioned - the restocking of your hormones, processing of the serious toxins, repairing tissue damage, re-arming the immune system with white blood cells, eliminating the effects of stress, and processing those big heavy emotions. I love to geek out on this stuff but this function is why its hard to move your limbs or shout in response to a nightmare. The same thing happens to dogs - have you every seen a dog dream?
For you to have that ideal restful and nourishing sleep, melatonin should be steadily rising and cortisol should be super low at bedtime.
Sounds simple right? But there’s a catch: the pineal gland secretes melatonin largely in response to darkness and low noise situations. Now think about what you did last night in the hours before bed...does that align with starting up the pineal gland or supressing it? It’s okay if the answer is supressing it - we are going to fix that.
With our increasing addiction to TV, handheld devices, and email in the evening, our choices easily get in the way of these natural pro-sleep chemical shifts. Most of these devices display what is called full-spectrum light. This serves to confuse the brain, is it night time or not? Combine that with the type of shows we watch (or even emails), these shows are often loud and stressful. The evening news is designed to create stress and fear, maybe you watch crime dramas or violent shows or horror movies designed to do the same. We don’t check work emails for joy late in the evening either - its usually stress related or adding to the already extensive to-do list.
Digesting these things by our brain is like digesting a heavy meal eaten later in the evening - it all serves to disrupt or prevent sleep.
Sleep Hygeine - One of the Best Natural Sleep Remedies
The first thing you can do to return from the pits of sleeplessness is support your body with really good sleep hygeine. Often working with my one-on-one health participants, this is all someone needs to sleep better. Here's how:
- Choose calming, quiet evening activities. Often all it takes is identifying more calming, quiet evening activities (e.g. reading a book, taking a warm bath, going for a light stroll outdoors, playing with a pet, folding laundry). If you are having trouble sleeping, I recommend no email, TV, next-day-planning, no budgeting, or stressful conversations in the full hour before bedtime. The key here is to choose activities that resonate with you - hate reading - not for you. Laundry stress you out - choose something else.
*If noise is an issue, whether it be environmental noise or the snores of a partner or pet, it's easy to grab some super soft foam ear plugs or the white noise of a fan. There are lots of white noise machines that help with this too, both while sleeping and in the hour before bed.
- Turn off all full-spectrum light for a full 1-2 hours before bedtime. This means no email, TV, or smartphone apps. On the occasion that you do need to use these devices - try blue light blocking glasses to assist in diffusing the effect on your sleep cycle.
- Avoid all caffeine sources after 2pm (e.g. tea (even green), coffee, soda (you aren't doing that regularly anyway right?), chocolate, etc. Yes, it can affect you that many hours later.
- Mind the temperature. It is also important to the bedroom not be too hot, as this can disrupt sleep during the night. Rooms which are too hot or too cold tend to wake us up. In addition to waking us up to mess with the bedding, temperature extremes naturally increase our stress hormones which promotes wakefulness.
- Have a relaxing ritual at night. That might include some Herbal tea, like lavender, chamomile, valerian, or passionflower. These herbal teas can help you relax and set the tone for sleep. If you aren’t much of a tea drinker - or even if you are - a hot bath with Epsom salts may work well if you are like me - and a hot bath sounds like torture, maybe writing in your journal for 10 minutes or reading some inspritational or spiritual books will help. You can also meditate before bed, or meditate yourself to sleep.
- Quiet the digestion. This ony is particularly powerful, a full tummy often causes initial drowsiness but if you have restless or light sleep - avoiding eating the last 2-3 hours before bed is very beneficial.
Don’t worry you don’t have to remember all this - I have created a simple Bulletproof Sleep protocol for you to download or if you aren’t sure where to start you can book a quick appointment in the Sleep Clinic and we will get it sorted out.
Just like there are so many cases where fixing these few things fixes sleep patterns that have been disturbed for years there are many cases where its not enough.
What to do when Sleep Hygiene isn't Enough
Sometimes, for some of us, our brains simply can’t create the right mixture of melatonin and other internal chemicals to allow for a sound sleep all night long. Still not to worry, there are natural sleep remedies available if you need that extra boost. Some of the natural sleep remedies I am going to discuss here really should be checked through your holistic wellness practitioner to ensure that you are not going to have contraindications - meaning medications, conditions, or other supplements that will interact.
I also need caution you here, or maybe give you a little dose of tought love: when sleep hygiene isn’t enough, make sure that IS actually the case. It’s easy in our fast paced instant gratification world to want to continue watching our horror shows while playing on our phones up until the time of shuteye and expect to take some herbs to drift off to sleep. But that won’t work forever, and can cause more problems in the long run.
Also before I jump into the natural remedies, a word about over the counter and prescription sleep aids. There are many sleep medications available to you today. And as you know I take a "yes and" approach to medication and traditional medicine. Sleep aids, whether OTC or prescription can be useful for some issues and triage when one is going through short-term trauma or stress. Unfortunately, all of the sleep aids on the market today work essentially as mild sedatives and are not addressing the root cause of any long-term sleep disturbance. Remember that a sleep disturbance is a symptom, a downstream effect of an upstream issue.
These over the counter and prescription solutions seem like natural sleep remedies but come with a wide range of side effects that make them unacceptable for long-term use – from dry mouth to stomach ache to a hangover-like fatigue the following day. Additionally, it is important for you to understand that many of these medications can increase the risk of both cancer and death – even with just occasional usage. Many people assume that if its on the shelf at the store, then its safe to take indefinitely. And that is simply not the case. If you are taking these type of medications routinely, then a slow weaning process is important to try to prevent chemical backlash and neurotransmitter imbalance. I will spell that out plainly for you: DON'T STOP COLD TURKEY.
Natural Sleep Remedies by Type of Sleep Trouble
If you have trouble falling asleep, even with the improved sleep hygiene, then you may need a wee little help. Many times I see people land here because of extended use of anti inflammatory medications like steroids or even non-steroidal medications that are over the counter like Advil/ibuprofen and or high blood pressure medication. The quick fix here is Melatonin, dosed very carefully and used about 30 minutes before you lay down. Starting with a super low dose and working up is important to reduce side effects. Now this is used for a very short period of time, because if you use Melatonin long term - you will stop your pineal gland from making its own melatonin and effectively be dependent on supplementation for sleep.
If you fall asleep fine but wake up in the middle of the night and can’t easily drift back to sleep, then you may have an insufficient supply of melatonin throughout the night. Taking melatonin before bed probably won’t help much. Using something like the precursor 5-HTP might help. The body creates melatonin from serotonin, and we make serotonin from an amino acid called tryptophan. 5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin, and in a healthy body, can be converted to melatonin a few hours later to create that steady flow of melatonin. This helps you sleep more deeply, soundly, and without interruption. If this is you, jump on the sleep clinic schedule, as this is a situation that may require some quarterbacking from a holistic wellness practitioner, there are contraindications or reasons when and why it’s not safe to use 5-HTP.
If you have trouble with overnight “hot flashes” (particularly if you are not perimenopausal/menopausal women), then often you are having abnormal cortisol rhythms. If the flashes occur in the later hours of night (e.g. 2-4am), that is usually means your cortisol levels are high - they are rising to meet the day early and aggressively. This usually means that there is a pattern the body has adapted to of expecting stressful circumstances. Swift and significant, sustainable stress relief is key to fixing this. I often recommend scheduling a series of heart math sessions to work on that heart mind connection and active stress prevention as well as taking of calming adaptogenic herbs. A couple go-tos that I like are holy basil and ashwagandha.
On the other hand if the hot flashes are earlier in the night, especially if you wake up hungry, this could be caused by low cortisol/low blood sugar during your body’s normal fasting time. Essentially the body sends a surge of epinephrine to force the body’s blood sugar back up to an acceptable level. This can be solved by a little snack at bedtime with some protein and a healthy fat - such as an apple with almond butter - or half an avocado. While this may temporarily fix the problem - it's still a case masking the symptoms so we need to do a little investigating to the true root of the issue.
If you have full-fledged insomnia, then I recommend a combination of melatonin and 5-HTP (yep, you can take both at the same time). This can be a super helpful solution when combined with the sleep hygiene steps I discussed eariler. This is still a temporary solution, and I recommend once your sleep is in order we start working together to reduce your stress and increase primary food nourishment.
If you are having trouble getting stressful thoughts out of your brain at bedtime or cannot sleep due to pain, this is usually caused by an imbalnce of 2 neurotransmitters - glutamate (which is an excitatory neurotransmitter) and GABA which is an inhibitory neurotransmitters.
A reliable solution here is to take some calming adaptagenic herbs about 2 hours before bedtime. Holy basil, Ashwaghnada, and or valarian root are long-standing herbal remedies for this situation. Again, caution is requied to ensure safety because if you are ingesting a surplus of glutamate from your diet or we are fighting a losing battle.
If you have trouble sleeping when you’ve had a cocktail or two in the evening, this happens because alcohol interferes with that same GABA/Glutatmate balance. Just as I just mentioned in regards to the stress, and particularly if you are drinking something with glutamate in it - like using a diet soda as a mixer. What happens is the sedative effects of alcohol increase the GABA in the early sleep hours and then once that is processed through your liver you are wide awake at worst and restless at best - thanks to the rebound excitatory action of glutamate later in the night. Now ideally, if alcohol is causing a problem like this maybe you set it aside most or all of the time. If becoming sober curious or adopting a sober lifestyle isn’t an option, adding a supplemental calming neurotransmitter (and amino acid) called Taurine can help. Taurine helps to ease and reduce the rebound effect of glutmate. It works by increasing the GABA receptors binding and promoting an inhibitory state.
So let’s do a quick recap.
To wrap this up, if you are having trouble sleeping - don’t give up. You aren’t doomed to a life of sleepless nights and groggy-foggy days, there are plenty of natural sleep remedies to help. Download the Bulletproof sleep protocol here and give that a whirl - if you need more help grab a quick appointment at the upcoming sleep clinic 7/25. And if you are listening to this after that date, I will be scheduling another sleep clinic in late August/early September, you can jump on the waitlist here.
As always if you need more help? Be sure and check out AudreyChristie.com/work-with-Audrey to schedule a complimentary virtual session.
And thank you so much for reading and listening, if you would like to contribute, be sure to subscribe and leave a rarign on your favorite podcast provider or share this with your friends and family! I would be so grateful!