Sleep is such an important subject for health, because repair for the body and the mind occur primarily during sleep. Because of this, long-term sleep issues can make physical and emotional issues worse. They can also contribute in an increase in irritability, fatigue and low performance. For example, statistics show that people who are short of sleep are more likely to suffer from an accident in the workplace.
Let’s go straight into the subject by clarifying what is a healthy sleep. Individual requirements for sleep actually vary widely, from as few as 4 hours to 9 hours of sleep every night. It can be OK to sleep as little as 4 hours if this is complemented by a nap during the day (to accommodate work schedules or through customs).
What manages sleep in the body?
Medically, sleeping patterns are considered to be driven by the hormonal system: the levels of the cortisone hormones in the blood tend to rise just before waking up, and fall before going to bed. In parallel, the pineal gland secretes the melatonin hormone when it gets dark around us. Melatonin is indeed sometimes referred to as the “sleep hormone”. However, as in general for health, it is not as simple as that: many people can sleep in full light, or during daytime, and with practice most people can achieve “power naps” (a 15/20 minute sleep).
Sleep issues are actually not a disease but a symptom that can have many causes. Insomnia is defined as a partial or full lack of sleep during the night. It is the most critical sleep problem.
Disturbed sleep, excessive perspiration, difficulty to get to sleep or a feeling of being un-refreshed and tired when getting out of bed, are however equally damaging on the long run, and can also lead to problems.
How can I manage my sleep naturally?
Lifestyle has a big part to play in poor sleep patterns, and simple steps can have huge effects. The main approach is to be as relaxed as possible when going to bed. Follow this simple advice:
1. Do not to watch any TV, computers or play video-games one to 2 hours before going to bed. These are big exciters for our brain, and will definitely disturb the levels of cortisone and melatonin just before sleep. Try and replace this with a relaxing or a social activity.
2. Ensure that your diet is low in refined carbohydrate, soft drinks, coffee or tea. You may have sleep issues because of what you eat: foods that keep your brain active are likely to disrupt your hormonal system.
3. If you think that you are sensitive to electromagnetic frequencies (WiFi, mobile phones, DECT phones), then try and not use them one hour before sleep, at night put the DECT phones on their bases and switch off your WiFi and mobile phone. See if it improves over 2 weeks. Electromagnetic Field Sensitivity is not really accepted by the conventional medical sector in France and in the UK but it has been recognised by the World Health Organisation in 2005, and is also recognised among other countries in Germany, Russia and Switzerland. Its main symptoms are headache, insomnia and minor edemas. This can be improved with holistic approaches.
4. Also, strong spices or artificial additives like glutamate (MSG) have been linked to sleep issues. So if you suspect this to be an issue, try and stay off them for a couple of weeks to see if it makes a difference. – Drink at least 1.5 to 2 litres of water a day. Many people are not good at spotting that their body is not hydrated. A poorly hydrated body is usually under stress, and this can lead to anxiety and sleep issues.
5. Practice some form of relaxation or meditation to train your mind to “calm down”.
6. Finally, herbal tea like chamomile, passiflora, valerian or hops can help you find sleep. However, especially for valerian and hops, I have seen people being sensitive to these herbs.
What happens if the issue is so deep that the above advice does not help?
Since starting about 7 years ago, I have been seeing many people with sleep issues in my practice. This is definitely a 21st Century issue!
The most common cause is emotional (anxiety, depression or linked to a trauma). Homeopathy can help a lot here. Finding a remedy fitting the cause and the symptoms can bring amazing results. If you feel you know the cause, get a first-aid kit and see if you can find the relevant remedy (feel free to contact me for guidance).
The second type of issue is linked to a disturbance to the hormonal system/brain’s built-in clock. This is common after taking some conventional medications, or a long period of poor lifestyle. It can also be linked to a medical condition, like sleep apnoea, nasal polyps Alzheimer’s or even a stroke. In these cases, a consultation is required.
The other big cause is related to life patterns, such as for air pilots/air hostesses or after having to tend a dying relative or a young child. If the issue does not go by itself after a change of lifestyle or diet, then a consultation can help.
What happens if I am taking medications to sleep, and I want to stop?
If you have been a long term user of conventional sleep medications, and find you cannot stop them, then it is because the actual cause of the sleep issues has not been addressed. In most cases, it is best to consult Your health practitioner will have to first help you with any underlying issue impacting sleep and then work in cooperation with your GP so that the latter can reduce your medications slowly and gently.
We hope that your found this article helpful. Please share your experiences or advice on sleep issues by leaving a comment below.
Have a good month and a restful sleep!
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