7 Steps to Perfect Sleep

Thanks for joining us this month on our journey through exploring the Paleo Lifestyle. You can catch up on previous posts at the blog. We have been working our way through a special edition of Paleo Magazine entitled Go Paleo: The Step-By-Step Guide. Today, we are going to review "7 Steps to Perfect Sleep" by Melani Schweder:

  1. Steering Clear of Stimulants
  2. Taking Time Out
  3. Hacking Your Hormones
  4. Blocking Blue Light
  5. Going Herbal
  6. Making a Cave
  7. Embracing Your Natural Sleep Rhythm

Avoiding Stimulants

At first glance, this seems like it should be filed in the "Well, duh!" file. Who doesn't get that stimulants keep you awake? But, in reading further, I found something I didn't know: the half-life of caffeine can be up to five or six hours! That means, if you have a late afternoon coffee or a caffeinated soda with dinner, you still have about half the caffeine from that drink in your system at bedtime. For instance, an 8 AM coffee with 100mg of caffeine would still leave 50mg hanging around in your system at 1 PM and 10-20mg at bedtime. It is easy to see how that could interrupt sleep. It is best to either avoid caffeine all together, or at least switch to decaf by noon.

Taking Time Out

You don't have to reach too far back in human history to realize that evening and bedtime looked a lot different than it does today - we can thank Mr. Edison for that! Think about it: if you didn't have any lights, how late would you stay up? What would you be doing before bedtime? Probably not watching TV or squeezing in some last-minute emails for work! More than likely, you would be reading or talk with your family... maybe sitting outside, if it was nice! There is a good chance that you would be spending the last 20-30 minutes R-E-L-A-X-I-N-G! The suggestion in the Paleo Guide is to turn off distractions and spend some time in contemplation, walk, stretch, go through some deep breathing exercises, even journal. Who among us couldn't use a little "Time Out?"

Hacking Your Hormones

A lot of our sleep cycle is regulated by neurotransmitters - chemical messengers in your brain. The precursors for neurotransmitters come from food. Stress and age can degrade our ability to put together neurotransmitters, which can impact your sleep. One of the most common sleep neurotransmitters is serotonin. The precursor for serotonin is tryptophan. Tryptophan is found in things like turkey, eggs, salmon, nuts, and seeds. Having these as an evening snack may be helpful in inducing sleep. Additionally, magnesium is a mineral supplement that greatly impacts hormones, especially cortisol (stress hormone) and the thyroid (one of the master glands). A tremendous amount of body chemistry and interactions are dependent on magnesium levels, and low amounts can really disrupt a lot of things - brain function being one of them! This article explains how magnesium can help you sleep. Other recommendations include melatonin, GABA, and amino acid L-theanine. While I believe these could be very helpful, it is best to talk with someone who is well-versed in the effects of these substances before venturing out on your own. At our office, Dr. Markley does a really great job with nutrition - if you would like to schedule a visit with him, just call the office and let us know!

Blocking Blue Light

Blue light is generated by TVs, phones, tablets, computers, readers, etc. The current school of thought is that it interrupts production of melatonin - a signal for sleep in your brain. There has been an explosion of blue light devices over the last decade and it is often what people are using to relax before bed! The Harvard Health newsletter published this great article on the effect blue light has on your sleep and more. Most of the sources I have read suggest turning off your screens two hours before you go to bed to get the greatest effect - I am hearing a collective groan across our readership! This might be the motivation you need to talk more with your family, read a paperback book (yes, they still make those), go for a walk, pray, etc.

Going Herbal

Back in the days before Big Pharma, our ancestors used plants and food to assist their bodies when they weren't working right. In fact, a lot of medications you see today originate in the herbs your great-grandmother might have used for a headache or upset stomach! The nice part about herb-based treatment is its safety. It is pretty hard (but not impossible) to cause harm. Some of the more common herbs used to help the body relax and induce sleep are valerian root, lemon balm, hops, passionflower, chamomile, lavender, and skullcap. You can get a lot of these as a tea (un-caffeinated, of course).

Create A Cave

Remember when you were a kid and you made blanket forts or caves out of cushions on the furniture? One of my favorite things was to sleep in a sleeping bag! If you grew up in a cold climate, you know how nice it is to get into a warm bed and how hard it is to get out in the morning! While I don't want to sell our house and find a cave somewhere, there is no denying that some of the best sleep comes in cool, dark, relatively cozy spaces. Our bodies respond to physical cues like light, temperature, and noise when it comes to sleep. It makes sense that you would want your room to be dark (no night lights, heavy shades), quiet (you may need a white noise machine if you live in a noisy area), and cool The National Sleep Foundation recommends keeping your room at 65 degrees - personally, I like it colder, except when I have to get up!

Embrace Your Natural Sleep Rhythm

This section is my favorite because it says NAPS ARE OKAY! While the typical sleep recommendation is a "good eight hours," the author points out that there are other views, specifically biphasic or polyphasic sleep patterns. This means some people might do better to sleep a shorter amount of time at night and take naps during the day. If you have more than one child, you have probably seen a difference in how much sleep they need and who needs a nap! Winston Churchill only slept 5-6 hours a night, but he napped for at least two hours a day... at 5 PM! Here is a fun article on some of the sleep patterns of famous people.

Let's Put This Thing to Bed!
  1. Avoid caffeine altogether, or at least switch to decaf by noon.
  2. Be purposeful about the last 30 minutes before bed. Let your body and brain wind down.
  3. Consider having some sliced turkey as a light evening snack, along with taking 200mg of magnesium before bed.
  4. Turn off your phone, TV, tablet, and computer earlier and earlier each night. Work your way up to shutting things down several hours before bedtime.
  5. Consider an evening cup of herbal tea.
  6. Make sure your room is quiet, cool, and dark.
  7. Once you have done steps 1-6, be open to your body's own clock. Don't be afraid to sleep longer than 8 hours, or less, especially if you take naps.

I hope you got something out of this post on sleep... I know I did! Next week, we are going to tackle one of the most controversial topics yet: Unplugging! Watch out, millennials! May God bless you and your family this Thanksgiving week. I am very thankful that He has seen fit to let me start writing again! Care Chiropractic Lafayette, Indiana

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