On Sleep and Healing

Whole Systems Healthcare

Too often, we prioritize other activities over sleep. Some of us stay up late day after day to finish a work project, binge watch a TV show, or read that last chapter of a book. It is fair to say that our society does not value healthy sleep hygiene. But, did you know the average person is meant to spend 1/3 of their life sleeping? Sleep is an essential part of human health, and is one of the foundational biological drives that are essential for its survival: to eat food, drink water, reproduce, and sleep. In everyday life, sleep is essential for healing and forming memories, and is needed for recovering from exercise, building muscle, and detoxification. Chronic sleep deprivation has been shown to be a contributing factor to a number of health conditions, not to mention being chronically tired poses a safety threat when doing activities that require our full attention.

Sleep Hygiene Recommendations

Here are some recommendations for improving sleep:

  1. Create an environment of complete darkness.
  2. Use a blue light filter for your screen devices. We recommend Flux for your computer and the Twilight app for your phone.
  3. Establish a routine. Nothing helps better than a strong circadian rhythm that tells your body when it needs sleep and when it’s time to wake up. Try to go to bed within the same hour each night. Also work on your “waking hygiene”  so you wake up at a similar time each day (more on that in the next email).
  4. Take electronics outside of the room, such as computers, televisions, phones, and anything else that can cause you stress. Your bedroom should be for sleeping. Electronics can be used elsewhere. In our current era, removing electronics from the bedroom can be one of the best ways to help ensure better sleep hygiene.
  5. No caffeine 5-7 hours before going to bed. While individual people have different different tolerances to caffeine, not consuming caffeine 5-7 hours before bed is a good general rule of thumb. Coffee has a half-life of elimination from the body of around 7 hours, and if you are sensitive to caffeine, then best to avoid it as much as possible.
  6. Have you last meal of the day at least 4 hours before going to be. Digestion requires a lot of energy and resources from our bodies and is a very active process which can significantly affect sleep.
  7. Exercise regularly. Working your body out during the day is a good way to process lingering stress hormones and can assist with helping you body feel a need to rest at night. It can also help improving sleep quality, making it more deep and rejuvenating.
  8. Try to sleep before midnight.

Wake Hygiene Recommendations

What is your morning routine like? For many of us, it might go something like this: Wake up form an alarm, hit snooze three times, browse social media or emails in bed for 20 minutes, then rush through your morning routine: bathroom, shower, breakfast for the family, run out the door, etc. We’ve asked around about how to best structure a morning routine, and we’ve come up with the following guidelines:

  1. If you haven’t already, implement the sleep hygiene habits noted above– over time you may be able to wake up alerted and without needing an alarm.
  2. Turn on a light after waking up. This will help promote a healthy morning cortisol spike, which will support you in starting your day off on the right foot. You can turn on your bed lamp, open a blind, or invest in a gentle light source such as a Himalayan salt lamp to help ease your body into daytime light. Turning on a light after waking up is also helpful for those who wake up early when there is not much natural light present.
  3. Keep a morning reflection journal. This can take just 5 minutes of writing in the morning, and can help with setting your intentions for the day. Try keeping a journal and pen on your night stand.
  4. Keep your phone away from your bedroom. It is quite common to compulsively use our phones immediately when waking to check social media, emails, and other notifications. Keeping it away not only protects you from electromagnetic frequencies (EMF’s), but it also helps with starting the day more mindfully and intentionally.  
  5. Buy a clock. You can buy a new one, dig an old one out of a closet, or use a wristwatch alarm in order to avoid using your phone as your alarm clock.
  6. Meditate 5 to fifteen minutes in the morning. This will help you with waking up, clearing your mind, and setting intentions for the day.

Following these basic guidelines daily for 15 – 30 minutes can have a great impact on your day and in your overall health. Waking up alert and with energy is an indication that your health is going in a good direction. Initiating your day with a clear intention is a fantastic way to begin the day.

If you follow these basic recommendations, your sleep will likely improve. If you are having issues falling asleep, or need help establishing better sleep hygiene, feel free to bring it up during your next appointment with your healthcare provider.

Authors

  • Dr. Santiago Nevarez, ND, MAc, lived in the region of Guaynabo, Puerto Rico for the first 23 years of his life. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in General Biology with a focus on Human Physiology from the University of Puerto Rico. After training in biomedical research methods at the National Institutes of Health–National Cancer Institute (NIH-NCI), Dr. Nevarez earned a Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine (ND) and Master of Acupuncture (MAc) from the National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM) in Portland, Oregon. Dr. Nevarez is a Licensed Acupuncturist (LAc) and Naturopathic Doctor (ND) in the state of Maryland. Dr. Nevarez works as a Spanish-English medical interpreter at Johns Hopkins Bayview Hospital. Dr. Nevarez was first to adopt the WSHC Clinic Director model, and is currently the WSHC Baltimore Clinic Director.