Posted on: July 25, 2017 at 3:47 pm
Last updated: June 28, 2018 at 2:49 pm

Having a hard time remembering the last time you had a full night’s sleep? Or maybe you’re someone who can sleep 6 or more hours a night but still wake up feeling unrefreshed. You’re not alone. North American’s are seeing a steady increase in sleeping issues – which to me is not surprising with more and more glowing screens, stress, and poor sleep habits on the rise as well.

According to the American Sleep Association (1):

    • 50-70 million US adults have a sleep disorder
    • 37.9% reported unintentionally falling asleep during the day at least once in the preceding month.

What Is A Sleep Disorder?

There are over 100 different types of sleep disorders which can range from having difficulty sleeping at night to problems with excessive daytime sleepiness.

Sleep Disorder: Insomnia

Though you may have heard this term thrown around frequently when speaking with people about their sleep issues, insomnia is a clinical sleep disorder that can have serious negative health implications. Most people only associate insomnia with its nighttime effects, but true insomnia has both daytime and nighttime symptoms.

Night time symptoms include (2):

      • Persistent difficulty falling and staying asleep
      • Sleep that is non-restorative sleep.

Daytime symptoms of insomnia can include (2):

      • Diminished sense of well being
      • Compromised mental functioning such as difficulties with concentration and memory, fatigue
      • Concerns and worries about sleep.

The diagnosis is made when the above symptoms persist for at least 1 month, and insomnia is considered chronic if it persists for at least 6 months. Nearly one in 10 adults in the United States suffers from insomnia (2).

Short-term or acute insomnia (more of a one-off or on occasion experience) can often be triggered by traumatic life stresses (i.e. job loss or change, death, or moving), an illness, or environmental factors such as light, noise, or extreme temperatures.

Long-term or chronic insomnia (insomnia that occurs at least three nights a week for a month or longer) can be caused by factors such as depression, chronic stress, and pain or discomfort at night.


NOTE: It is important to realize that not everyone who has problems sleeping has insomnia. The word persistent is emphasized because many people occasionally experience disturbed sleep at night, but their problem is not a chronic issue.

Common Causes of Sleep Disorders:

The root cause of sleeping issues can be multifactorial – often a combination of stress and lifestyle factors, hormonal regulation, and overall health.

Consistently needing more than 9 hours of sleep every night and still waking up unrefreshed is a sign to make a visit to your doctor for further investigation – this may indicate, hypothyroidism, depression or a deficiency of folic acid, vitamin B12, or some people just need more sleep than others.

Other causes of sleep disorders include (3):

      • Genetics
      • Shift Work
      • Medication
      • Aging
      • Physical health (such as ulcers, asthma, sleep apnea, etc.)
      • Psychiatric (such as depression and anxiety disorders)
      • Environmental (such as alcohol, poor access to a safe sleeping environment)

Recommended Sleep Requirements (1):

      • Adult: 7 – 9 hours
      • Teenager: 8 – 10 hours
      • Child 6 – 12 years: 9- 12 hours
      • Child 3 – 5 years:  10 – 13 hours (including naps)
      • Child 1 – 2 years: 11 – 14 hours (including naps)
      • Infants 4 -12 months: 12 – 16 hours (including naps)

How To Get To Sleep: Sleep Hygiene 101

Step 1: Getting ready for bed

Make your room as dark as possible

      • Why? When light hits your skin, it disrupts circadian rhythm of the pineal gland and as a result, hinders the production of melatonin.
      • Don’t have black out blinds? You might want to consider them. Ideally, you shouldn’t be able to see your hand in front of your face.
      • If you use an alarm clock, turn it away from you.

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Use low lighting in your home and bedroom

      • Dimming the lighting in your home in the evening helps to let your brain know it’s time to wind down.
      • Think candlelight type ambiance – avoid using overhead lights and lamps with high-wattage bulbs

Reduce Digital Noise (and light)

      • Turn off the TV, iPad, laptop, and phone and opt for a book, soft music, or journalling instead to give your brain a break
      • If you must be on an electronic device use the “Night mode” feature (found in Apple devices) or install f.lux to reduce the blue light that can be disruptive

Creating bedroom “Zen”

      • Use your bed for sleeping and sex only (no eating, working, or playing!)
      • Try removing clutter, homework, calendars, etc., if you can, think about painting the room to earthy tones or making it your relaxing place, use lavender essential oils, or peppermint

Choose comfortable, soothing bedding

      • Choose soft, clean, breathable bedding. Nothing that makes you too warm, cold, or itchy.
      • Also, make sure you have a comfortable mattress!

Avoid using a loud alarm clock

      • Waking up suddenly to the blaring wail of an alarm clock can be a shock to your body; you’ll also find you’ll feel groggier when you are roused in the middle of a sleep cycle, if you get enough sleep on a regular basis, an alarm clock will not be necessary, if you do use an alarm, you should wake just before it goes off
      • You can use a sunrise alarm, an alarm clock with a natural light build in that simulates a sunrise OR an alarm that gradually gets louder, or soothing classical music

Try to get to bed by 11 p.m

      • Your stress glands (aka adrenals), recharge or recover between 11 p.m and so going to bed before 11 p.m is optimal for rebuilding your adrenal reserves
      • If this is a long shot off of where you are now, start by going to bed 15-30 minutes earlier each night until you reach this goal

Step 2: What To Do When You’re In Bed 


Establish regular sleeping hours

      • We are creatures of habit – try to get up each morning and go to bed every night at roughly the same time.
      • Oversleeping can be as bad as sleep deprivation, how you feel each day is an indication of how much sleep is right for you

Take it off – sleep nude (or as close to it as possible)

      • Oh yes, you heard me – wearing tight clothing (bras, underwear, girdles) will increase your body temperature and interfere with melatonin release while you sleep
      • Don’t feel comfortable naked? You can also try a loose t-shirt or nightgown

Sleep 7-9 hours a night

      • Consistently needing more than 9 hours of sleep every night warrants a visit to your doctor for further investigation, or some people just need more sleep than others.
      • If you can wake with an alarm and feel rested, you’re probably getting the right amount of sleep for you

See the light first thing in the morning

      • Daylight and morning sounds are key signals that help waken your brain. Turning on lights or opening the blinds is the proper way to reset your body clock and ensure that your melatonin levels drop back to “awake” mode until the evening. Also, the exposure to morning light is one of the easiest ways to get a boost of energy

If you go to the bathroom during the night, keep the lights off

      • brief exposure to light can shut down the melatonin production, if you really need a light, get a flashlight, or a nightlight

Step 3: Staying Asleep

Avoid stimulating activities before bed, such as watching TV or using the computer

      • As mentioned above, computer use in the evening raises dopamine and noradrenaline, our brain-stimulating hormones that should be higher during the daytime. In the evening you need to engage in activities that make you more serotonin dominant, such as reading or meditation
      • Choose relaxing reading materials that have nothing to do with work!
      • Stop all your work-related activities at least 2 hours before bed

Develop a calming bedtime routine

      • Creating your own “wind-down” ritual helps to let your body know it’s time for sleep consistently
      • Start by dimming the lights, making yourself a cup of Nightly Zen, and putting on soft music.  This type of ritual can cue for your mind to relax and slow down

If you cannot sleep, get out of bed and do something else until you feel the urge to sleep

      • Staying in bed while tossing and turning can only make you feel more frustrated
      • Try getting up for a while but keep the lights low and TV and computer off
      • Avoid staring at the clock or continuously checking the time as that can also make you feel worse, so turn it around, or put your phone in a different room.

Make a to-do list or try writing in a journal

      • If you have problems sleeping because you feel that you have one million things to do then write everything down!
      • Emptying those thoughts onto paper, but knowing that they are somewhere you may access them when you are ready may create relief. Phew.

Exercise (at the right time)

      • Work out 3-6 hours before bed – this can help maximize the benefits of exercise on sleep since the body actually increases deep sleep to compensate for the physical stress of your workout
      • Exercise also promotes healthy sleep patterns because of its positive effect on body temperature (after a workout, our body gradually cools down, which naturally makes us feel sleepy) (5)
      • Exercising fewer than 3 hours before bedtime may be too stimulating and can impede your ability to fall asleep.  That being said, yoga and strength training are exceptions to this rule because they are less stimulating than cardiovascular exercise

Take a hot bath, shower or sauna before bed

      • Not only can a hot bath be a relaxing habit to wind down, but your body will naturally cool down after a hot bath or shower, making you feel sleepier
      • take a hot bath/shower about 2 hours before bedtime, keeping the water hot for at least 25 minutes to stimulate the drop in body temperature that makes you feel tired
      • To relax muscles and trigger the sleep response after exercise, try a hot bath with Epsom salts: soak in water as hot as you can stand with 1 to 2 cups of Epsom salts for at least 20 minutes. Place a cold towel around your neck if you feel too warm while in the bath

Avoid napping (or do so sparingly)

      • If you are getting enough sleep in the night, you shouldn’t feel the need to sleep in the day
      • If you need a nap, keep it to 30 minutes max to avoid interfering with your sleep that evening

Watch your caffeine and alcohol intake 

      • Caffeine may be metabolized at different rates in different people – if you must have it, have it in the morning and avoid having it later than 12 pm
      • The body metabolizes alcohol as you sleep, which can result in sleep interruption as it appears to affect brain chemicals that influence sleep – preventing you from falling into deeper stages of sleep
      • 1oz or more within 2 hours of bedtime may disrupt sleep

Avoid bedtime snacks that are high in sugar or simple carbohydrates

      • Bread, cereals, muffins, cookies, or other baked goods prompt short-term spike in blood sugar, followed by a sugar crash later on
      • Blood sugar drop = adrenalin, glucagons, cortisol, and growth hormone release to regulate blood glucose levels – all of these stimulate the brain, making you more awake
      • Try to avoid eating for at least 2 hours before going to bed and if you do need to eat go for protein-rich (source of tryptophan that will be converted to serotonin and melatonin), high-fiber snacks like a few almonds and half an apple, sugar from the fruit may help the tryptophan reach your brain and take effect more readily

Complete your meditation or visualizations in the evening

      • Progressive muscle relaxation and visualization techniques help to calm the mind, relax your muscles and allow restful sleep to ensure

Natural Sleep Aids:

I specifically left this section to last, as in my opinion sleep hygiene should always be the first step in improving sleep quality, and then additional sleep aids can be used if necessary while working with your primary healthcare provider.

      • Nervine Herbs
        • Valerian root, passion flower, skullcap, and oat straw all have a gentle calming effect on your mind, helping you calm down for more restful sleep – that’s why we chose them for our Nightly Zen Sleepytime tea blend
      • Melatonin
        • Melatonin is a neurohormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain, and it is well known for causing and regulating sleep.
        • Melatonin as a supplement is used to help normalize abnormal sleep patterns, meaning it may allow you to fall asleep, but does not necessarily enhance sleep quality. (6)
      • Magnesium
        • Not only are most people deficient in this amazing mineral but on a chemical level, magnesium aids this process by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, the system responsible for getting you calm and relaxed (7).
      • GABA
        • GABA is intimately involved with the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) which is primarily responsible for energy conservation at rest.
        • Although GABA is tightly regulated within the body, oral supplementation has been under debate.
        • Some studies indicate that GABA administered orally is unable to pass through the blood-brain barrier in amounts that can cause considerable change. (8)
      • Lavender
        • Lavender aromatherapy has been shown to improve sleep quality in cases of mild insomnia (9)
        • Lavender also appears to have remarkable synergism with lemon balm in regards to acting through the GABAA receptors, and the combination may lead to better sleep. (10)

Here’s wishing you ALL THE ZZZ’s

Dr. Nadia Kumentas ND
Co-founder at Affect Health
Nadia Kumentas is a Toronto-based naturopathic doctor, tea drinker, yoga doer, animal lover, and plant enthusiast. She is also the co-founder of Affect Health, a professionally formulated medicinal tea company. "

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