Listen up, ladies - did you know that we tip the scales on suffering more with insomnia than men? Stress (sleepless kiddos, anyone?) and traumatic events can trigger an acute case of insomnia, while longer struggles with difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep can be stem from some medications, substance use, hormone imbalance or medical conditions.
We also tend to be the ones responding to the children, doing the nighttime work, and balancing out those late nights with that morning, mid-morning and afternoon caffeine - which all on its own, can mess with our sleep patterns. The gift in the sleeplessness is, as Mommas, we often have a pack of really beautiful reasons why we’re not getting what we need and it will likely be a season. This doesn’t make it any easier and that’s why I’ve collected my favorite sleep hygiene tips in a quick and easy download.
First things first, what happens when I’m sleeping?
Your brain processes, formed memories and consolidates information. When you’re asleep, your brain doesn’t shut off, it gets to work encoding and solidifying the memories you made during the say. The REM dream states takes your fresh memories and files them away from the hippocampus, to the cortex for long term storage. When this happens, you can keep new memories, new learning. Learning a new skill like mothering, studying for schooling or integrating anything that’s new to you depends on sleep.
Your body powers down and lays low for those traditionally more dangerous hours. While we’re not regularly outrunning lions, tigers and bears during the daytime, we are outrunning crabby toddlers, navigating relational conflict and working through our own struggles during the day. When we sleep, there is balance to the go-go-go of the day, allowing us to do it again and again.
Energy Conservation. Did you know that your metabolism is reduced by as much as 10% during sleep? It’s all to make room for the other activities of sleep.
Dreaming. Sometimes dreams are fun and sweet, other times they can be tricky and frightening but they’re thought to play a key roll in the integration of experiences and emotions.
Tissue healing and growth. Your body produces Growth Hormone, at the highest levels in the overnight hours - this is required to grow new tissue. As we conserve energy typically spent on thinking, eating and talking, our body is freed up to focus energy on restoration: healing, y’all - happens when we sleep!
Your immune system gets a boost. Your long term health sees a direct boost or decline by how much space you allow your body to sleep. Both the activity and replication of your immune cells are higher during nighttime hours.
New neural pathways. Your brain is in charge of this whole thing we call, life, right? At night your brain will reinforce and strengthen the connections we use most often. That means the meditation and affirmations you’ve been reciting to yourself when little Jennie is stretching you - they’ll have a better chance of sticking when you gift your brain the sleep hours to make new neural connections. This process is dependent on getting enough sleep, regularly.
Detoxification. Your brain shrinks while you sleep, freeing up extracellular space by 60%. Why was this the design? So that there would be more space between cells for the removal of toxins. A toxic burden created by lack of sleep means your biological systems and foundations cease to function normally. Been there, done that, about to pause and take a nap as preventative measures, myself.
Microbiome management. For my girls working hard on their gut health, your sleep matters to your gut bugs. Sleep is the maintenance crew for gut flora, allowing the microbiome to thrive.
Why do I need sleep and how much?
If that long list of tasks your body needs to get to is motivation enough for you to head to bed, think of all that you are capable of when you feel rested. Your sleep quantity need and stages vary throughout life, based on development and your age. A general healthy starting point is 7-8 hours per night. If you’re feeling the need to sleep 9 or more hours, respond to your body’s innate intelligence with adequate rest - chances are you are needing the sleep to heal from an underlying condition. To check on sleep adequacy notice how you feel when you wake - are you rested and refreshed? Did you wake up on your own?
Keeping a sleep journal is a great way to reveal patterns and see root causes - bonus points if you work with a practitioner who can help you identify the roots of your sleep dysfunction and work toward finding solutions.
Some natural ways to fortify my sleeping? Yes, please!
Kick the caffeine. That caffeine is so great at giving you a boost because it binds to the adenosine receptor sites in the brain. Ok, Elizabeth, don’t care why, just need it to be working, what’s adenosine anyway? Adenosine is a sleepy neurotransmitter and if your caffeine is hopping on those plug-in spots, it won’t activate effectively. If you’re one of the lucky ladies whose body clears caffeine slowly, it’s half-life os 5-7+ hours will keep you up at bedtime.
Whole food, nutrient-dense diet. Just as we work toward removing caffeine, we want to work toward removing other stimulants like sugar and alcohol. Not only do they promote sleeplessness, but they can function as anti-nutrients - leaching sleep-supportive nutrients from our bodies. Some foods we know to support sleep include almonds, white rice, bananas, walnuts, tart cherries, kiwi fruit and organ meats.
Integrate herbs. The classic standby sleep-inducer is a cup of chamomile tea. Perhap less readily available, the flowering plant Valerian has shown in research to improve sleep quality and overall effectiveness with clinical insomnia as well as a reduction in the amount of time it takes to fall asleep. Passionflower, readily available as a tincture may improve sleep in those with restless or disrupted sleep. Lavender (pop out the oils, Momma) promotes an increase in that slow-wave, deep sleep. Skullcap serves as a nerve tonic, calming the mind while lemon balm promotes sleep by reducing sleep disturbances, reducing restlessness and promoting a sense of calm. Hops can also act in a sedative manner on the body.
Manage inflammation. Diets rich in inflammation regulating omega-3 fatty acids ahev been shown to improve your sleep as the hormone melatonin is better produced and releases. Melatonin is the hormone that sets the nighttime phase of your circadian rhythm.
Hydrate. While increasing your water intake can lead to more frequent waking and urination, nighttime dehydration may disturb your sleep by way of dry mouth/nasal passages and snoring. Plus, your body needs to be well lubricated to move out all those toxins and wastes as it nighttime detoxifies.
Supplement with magnesium. It’s the fourth most abundant mineral in your body and it’s busy working an essential roll in over 300 enzymatic reactions in your body. Magnesium deficiency is becoming more prevalent in America as we shift away from diets high in fresh veggies and whole grains towards more refined and processed foods. Magnesium promotes relaxation, calming the body in preparation for sleep as it promotes GABA production.
Eat for blood sugar regulation. This is a key factor in supporting your nighttime waking. Waking 3-5 hours after you head to bed, nightly? There’s a good chance you can work on regulating blood sugar and sleep soundly. Blood sugar regulation has ripple effects on your circadian rhythms and sleep-wake cycles. Melatonin, cortisol (stress hormone), adrenaline, leptin and ghrelin (hunger hormones) all see significant shifts based on sleep quantity and quality. Working with a nutritional therapy practitioner can give you the tools to eat to stabilize your blood sugar and to identify any nutrient depletions that are affecting a roller-coaster blood sugar level.
Establish sleep routines and sleep hygiene. What’s sleep hygiene? The how and when and patterns of how your support your body in getting to sleep. Grab my downloadable guide for sleep strategy below!
Don’t feel like t…
get ‘cha some sleep, Momma.
Nutritional Therapy Association, Inc. (2019, June 26). Sleep, Stress and Movement.
F. (n.d.). Sleep Support Protocol: A Resource For Practitioners. Retrieved August 19, 2019, from https://fullscript.com/blog/sleep-support-protocol?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTWpVNFlUWXlZelJtTUdJMCIsInQiOiJVdWlmblhSY0NSaGlMYk1hTjFPRTkwVzJydGZKYnBZMmdtUlZOZk5PTGtFa0x3UTdxbEFIa0QwQmJBUWpKcHN3bXpTSVdZZGRacTR4dHpvbGQ2RElzZXgwQ3NuQUtlTzhYdmRMY3lBamdCeGhXbzk2RGpFUVVYQ05nNmQ3ZW1IdyJ9