Want to improve your sleep? Disrupted sleep can look different for everyone. A typical night’s sleep changes depending on age. The average adult sleeps 7 hours per night. By the time an adult is 55, this may decrease to 6.5 hours, while the average 80-year-old sleeps 6 hours per night.
Disrupted sleep may involve:
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Difficulty staying asleep
- Frequent waking
- Consistently getting less than 6 hours per night
- Non-restorative sleep (waking tired)
Naturopathic medicine has several tools used to support sleep, but the most effective types will differ depending on the individual. A naturopathic doctor will consider the following factors when addressing sleep disturbance
- Lifestyle & Sleep Hygiene
- Underlying Medical Conditions
Lifestyle & Sleep Hygiene for Improving Sleep Quality
A ‘physically active lifestyle’ is a ‘sleep-promoting lifestyle,’ but when it comes time to sleep, your environment should be calm and dark. Start dimming the lights a couple of hours before you go to bed to send the message to your brain that it is time for lights out. Yes, this means reducing or eliminating screen time. Your room should be completely dark and silent. Restorative sleep is best achieved when you climb into bed before midnight. The quality of sleep you get is better if you are in bed between 10-11pm at the latest.
Underlying Medical Conditions That Could Affect Your Sleep
If you are having sleep disturbance or low energy, it is important to check in with your primary care provider for a routine physical exam and bloodwork. There are a few conditions that can affect sleep; blood sugar imbalance or diabetes, digestive disturbance, heart disease, hormone changes, chronic pain, hyperthyroid, anemia, and stress are just some of the conditions that can impact sleep. A naturopathic doctor will screen for the causes of sleep disturbance and treat it holistically.
Eating well for healthy sleep is as much about ‘what’ as it is about ‘when’ you eat. It is difficult to sleep on a full stomach. Going to bed with a full belly leads to a blood sugar drop a few hours later that can wake you from a deep sleep. Try to finish your last meal 2-3 hours ahead of bedtime. Space your meals throughout the day (rather than snacking frequently) to give your body a chance to digest efficiently. This will prevent food from sitting in your stomach when it is time to sleep.
Overall, a low-sugar or low-glycemic index diet is one of the best sleep-promoting plans. A naturopathic doctor will assess your overall health to make sure this is the right program for you, as there can be other ideal dietary programs for sleep based on your individual situation.
Supplementation to Improve Sleep Naturally
There are many natural health products that help with sleep. The best supplement or herb for you depends on your unique history and biochemistry. For example, both melatonin and 5-HTP may be used in helping people fall asleep. How do you choose? Melatonin may be most helpful for someone with hormone changes, frequent travel, or shift work, while 5-HTP may be most supportive of someone under stress or who suffers from digestive upset.
Another example: both iron and chromium may be helpful for people experiencing frequent waking. How do you choose? Iron is specific to people with iron deficiency, while chromium is indicated for people with elevated blood sugar levels.
A naturopathic doctor can review the numerous sleep aids and help you choose the right support based on your medical history.
Most licensed naturopathic doctors in Ontario are trained in Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture. Acupuncture is a gentle and effective way to promote sleep. The traditional balancing effects and endorphin release from acupuncture help shift the nervous system into a relaxed state. Ask your ND about an acupuncture protocol to improve sleep naturally.