Sleep. The most important part of our healing process, the tool to great health, and the one thing most of us never get enough of. The importance of sleep is being proved time and time again. Countless research studies are released yearly about its impact on mental focus, cardiovascular health, weight loss, hormone balance, increased stress and even diabetes. Sleep plays a critical role in immune function, metabolism, memory, learning, and other vital functions. Study after study has revealed that people who sleep poorly are at greater risk for a number of diseases and health problems. But what happens when you can’t sleep? When you finally get into bed, turn off the lights, close your eyes and nothing happens! When you can’t fall into that fantastic, soothing dream state? Or maybe your one of those people who can fall asleep with ease, but wakes up like clock work in the middle of the night? What happens then? What happens when you can’t sleep? Natural solutions you haven’t heard of 🙂
These are all real sleep issues that many of us suffer from. The problem is that we’ve tried the black out shades, reached for that cup of chamomile tea, listened to that sleep meditative music and still nada. No sleep. No waking up feeling rested and refreshed.
This is where I come in. I have put together a list of solutions for some of the most difficult sleeping problems. Let us even say insomnia. Because I have been there and I know how tormenting not being able to sleep is. There is a lot more to insomnia and the inability to sleep than most people know. So now is the time to get down to the real root of the issue, and to get you that good night’s sleep you deserve. No common advice, nothing you have heard, only real solutions for a very real problem.
First things first. Before we get into all the fun details of sleep problem solving, let’s make sure your bedroom is set up for optimal sleep.
The Bedroom Basics
- Bed orientation. Did you know that the direction of your bed can affect your quality of sleep? This is based on a practice called Vastu. Much like Feng Shui it is a practice that utilizes the natural energies of the earth to best orient your home. Based on its principles, the top of the bed (where your head goes) should face east. Second best is north.
- Darkness. Our bedroom must be dark. The body must know that it is night time, which is marked by darkness, so our room must be dark. Put black sheets over the windows, turn off your clocks, do whatever it takes to keep the room as dark as possible.
- Temperature. Having the room a bit on the colder side has been found to promote a more restful sleep. Even if you are always cold like me, it is better to have the room on the colder side. Just plan on wearing more layers to bed.
- Wear socks. Yes, this is something your mom probably always told you, but guess what it works. Studies have shown that having warm feet promotes restful sleep. Put on socks please.
*The following are recommendations and should never be taken over a doctor’s advice. Always consult with your physician before taking any supplement or modifying the diet.
Can’t Sleep? Natural Solutions you Haven’t Heard of
I just can’t fall asleep! My mind keeps racing
If you are like me and have a very annoying mind that just won’t stop thinking, making lists, and planning, it’s most likely your gallbladder. I know, sounds crazy. In Chinese Medicine, the gallbladder meridian is directly linked to the deep sleep point. When the gallbladder is not functioning properly, and for most of us it is not, then you will have trouble falling asleep. Therefore, the remedy is to address gallbladder health. Now before you scroll down thinking your gallbladder has no issues, think again. If you have been on birth control pills, eat or have eaten fried foods or fatty foods, are or have been stressed, have pain under your right breast or in your upper right shoulder, you have a gallbladder that is not functioning at its optimum. Believe me, this was my issue and I never had a good night’s sleep until addressing this.
What to Do?
I suggest taking 1-2 tsp of the supplement Gallbladder ND at bedtime. This natural formula is a God send for sleep. Trust me.
I would also suggest eliminating any foods that aggravate the gallbladder such as fried and fatty foods, such as mayonnaise, french fries, tempura etc. You also might want to try a liver/gallbladder cleanse for more permanent results if it doesn’t fully resolve with the Gallbladder ND.
Next up, calm the nervous system. This is another important step of solving the problem of the racing mind. While the gallbadder ND is the first part, and in most cases, the most effective, another thing you can do is calm the body before bed. The most effective ways to do this is by taking a hot shower or bath, and/or using a hot water bottle or heating pad on your stomach before bedtime. While these seem like super common suggestions, they actually have real physiological effects on the body. The warming of the body calms the nervous system and gives it a signal to relax and prepare for sleep. Case and point – how do you feel after sunbathing at the beach? Ready for a nap? Yep, I thought so. Warming up the body makes you want to drift off to sleep. Try it. This is one of my favorites.
Ahhh! I am too amped up at night to sleep!
If you are totally wired and amped up at the end of the day, it’s a good bet that you are in adrenal burnout. This is where your adrenal glands have had enough! They have been sufficiently abused (constant stress, working too hard, physically pushing your body, not sleeping) and they no longer function as they should. This causes you to be in a constant fight mode (of the fight or flight response), thinking that a lion is running after you. Your adrenaline is in full force 24 hours a day and your body has no idea how to relax anymore. So for you, the goal is to restore function to the adrenal glands.
What do I do?
The goal is to calm the adrenal glands and nourish them. There are many ways to do this, but the most important is to start by reducing stress. I know, easier said than done. Reducing stress is something that will be a lifelong challenge for most of us since our whole world is designed to cause stress in some manner. My favorite techniques is a combination of a herbal supplement with tools such as guided meditation, a short yoga practice and breathing technique called pranayama. Foot massage is another technique that helps to calm the body and prepares for sleep.
My favorite supplement for reducing stress is Rhodiola Rosea. It helps ease the anxiety and stress of the day without making you feel groggy or tired. I then suggest pairing this will a supplement called New Mood by Onnit. The combination is great for calming the body and adrenal glands and aiding with sleep.
Next up, start eating foods that nourish the adrenal glands. This includes foods rich in B vitamins, healthy omega 3 fatty acids, and mineral-rich sea salt. The foods richest in B vitamins are dark leafy greens, cruciferous veggies, quinoa, lentils, asparagus and beans. Then include flax seeds, avocado, raw nuts and seeds, and wild salmon. Cut out fried foods, red meats, processed foods, white sugar and flour. Add a healthy sea salt to your meals.
We now have to address the caffeine factor. As much as you don’t want to hear this, caffeine is no longer your friend. You are enemies. You have burned the adrenals out to the point where caffeine no longer works, despite what your addiction might tell you, and only further perpetuates the cycle of insomnia. So it is time to get off of it. Besides, you are tired all day regardless, so what’s the difference? There are many really good caffeine-free or lower caffeine-alternatives to choose from. In fact, I wrote a whole post about it called The Best Coffee Alternatives for Energy. These options will help to rebuild the adrenal glands and heal the burnout so you actually can start to live again. Yes, it is possible.
*adrenal fatigue is a real issue and cannot be covered thoroughly in this short post. If you try the recommendations above without results, it might be necessary to work with a practitioner for full adrenal gland restoration.
My sleep patterns are all messed up!
Whether you are an avid traveler, always going to bed in a new time zone, or have trouble falling asleep at normal hours of the night due to a night job or bad habits, these tips are for you.
If you do not seem to be able to get to bed at a routine time every night and/or travel often, you might have messed up your normal circadian rhythm. This is the normal rhythm that your body uses to regulate bodily functions. When your body loses its connection to this rhythm it can no longer send the signal to release melatonin properly. When melatonin, the sleep hormone, is not released at the right time or in adequate amounts, you cannot fall asleep or sleep soundly.
Recommendation: Take Melatonin by Premier Research Labs nightly. This will help to induce sleep and get you back on a rhythm. Melatonin also works really well when traveling to get you adjusted to the new time zone.
*Melatonin is a hormone. It is best to cycle off of it every 4th week for 7 days. I suggest that you also check out the article on circadian rhythms and how they affect your health in Body Earth Rhythm.
I’m always using a device before going to bed
Just like going to bed in different time zones or at varying times of night, looking at your phone, iPad, and computer, or watching TV disrupts your melatonin release. Our modern lifestyles of staying up late in well-lit rooms and staring at bright computer, TV and phone screens into the small hours is thought to suppress melatonin release, with blue light thought to be especially harmful.
Recommendation: Avoid using brightly lit screens, or to at least use filters that reduce the amount of blue light reaching the eyes at least an hour before trying to sleep. If you stop using your devices and still have no sleep resolution, start taking Melatonin. I personally like Melatonin by Premier Research Labs
* Note: If you sleep with many electronics in your bedroom, such as a computer, TV, iPad, clock etc. you are exposing yourself to Electromagnetic Frequencies that interrupt your normal sleeping patterns. Move those electronics out of the room.
I always waking up in the middle of the night! It’s like clockwork!
The body follows a circadian rhythm that creates a particular sleep cycle. This sleep cycle is used to repair the body, making sleep a vital part of the healing and rejuvenative process. At various hours of the night, the body is repairing different organs and glands, so if you are having trouble sleeping through the night, the time you wake up gives us a clue of what organ/gland is in stress. Refer to the following below to find out which organ/glands you need to support so you can finally sleep through the night.
11 pm- 1 am: Digestive Organs including gallbladder
If this time frame is you, I would suggest adding in a supplement called Gallbladder ND. This is my favorite way to improve gallbladder function naturally and safely. If you also find that you have other symptoms of a digestive disorder such as constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, pain, bloating etc. head on over my to digestion guide for more details. You can also refer to my easy intestinal cleanse, and my natural gallbladder care article for more information on how to improve gallbladder health.
1 am- 3 am: Parasitic Stress (liver and small intestine)
Don’t freak out. If you are frequently waking up between 1 am and 3 am, it MIGHT mean you have a parasite. But believe me, it is not as bad as you think. I have had two types of parasites in my life, and both are gone, and I am happily alive today to talk about it. The first thing to do is to see if you have any other symptoms. This may include allergies, skin disoders, mental instability, foggy brain, weight loss, hair loss, indigestion, diarrhea, constipation and intestinal pain. If any of these symptoms sound like you, it could be that a little bugger is living inside of you. It also increases your chances of having a parasitic infection if you love to eat at little hole in the wall restaurants, have traveled to third world countries or have a pet.
*stool testing is one way to test for parasitic infection but is not always conclusive or reliable.
3 am- 5 am: Urinary Bladder and Lung
This is one of the most common ones, especially for those of us who wake up to go to the bathroom at night. There are different reasons for waking up to urinate at night, which can include a weak prostate or infection/irritation of the bladder. It is not normal to wake up at night to urinate (unless you are pregnant), so consider using a natural remedy to address it.
For lung issues: refer to below. Also, lung is a reflection of digestion, so look into the digestive remedies listed above.
I can’t breathe! It’s impossible to sleep!
If you are breathing fine all day with no congestion, but as soon as your head hits the pillow, BAM you can’t breathe, it could be because of your room environment. Many of us are allergic to things such as dust, dust mites, the chemicals used on our bed sheets, and even other toxins that might be floating around in our bedroom from our paint, bathroom cleaning supplies, mattress, and furniture. The best way to tackle this is by going toxin-free in the bedroom.
The easiest way to begin is to buy an air purifier. I personally use and highly recommend the Austin Air Purifier. This bad boy tackles all the nasty irritants that can prevent you from breathing well and sleeping.
Next, start going organic. Switch to organic sheets, I personally use Boll and Branch, and organic cleaning supplies like Mrs. Meyers, Seventh Generation or Bronners. If you really want to go for the gold, get an organic mattress.
Another great tip is to use a neti pot to clear the sinuses before you go to bed. Check out this article for more details about this practice. You can also diffuse essential oils that are known to open the lung and nasal passageways for a better sleep.
*if these solutions do not provide you with relief, it is quite likely something more serious is going on such as sleep apnea, a deviated septum, or sinus infection (acute or chronic).
Nope! Tried them all and still not sleeping
Okay, you’ve gotta be the tough guy. Just kidding. If you have tried all the suggestions above including all the basics of a good night’s sleep (sleeping in a cold room with black out shades, no noise, socks on your feet etc.) then it could be that you have a little gene keeping you from sleeping. This is a newer one that I came across where some people have a gene that prevents them from connecting with the circadian rhythm. So essentially your body never knows when it should go to sleep or how long it should stay asleep for.
What to do?
Hops. Nope not like a bunny, but rather like the beer. Hops have been shown in studies to activate our adenosine, GABA, and melatonin receptors, thereby inducing sleep, helping even the helpless to fall asleep. It is an approved remedy of Germany, commonly used for those with unresolved sleep issues. While I have not had the pleasure of exploring this remedy too thoroughly as of yet, it looks quite promising and worth a try.
One final essential note: do not eat within three hours of bedtime, especially not a big meal. It takes energy to digest our food, and that energy can keep us awake. So if this has become a habit of yours, it is time to quit. If you get home late and absolutely must eat something before you sleep opt for something lighter and easier to digest. A cup of soup, a smoothie or a piece of toast are all good options. Plus, this is also an essential tip for weight loss. Win, win.