Your Brain on Sleep: A DIY Guide to a Better Night’s Sleep
Dr. Shannon Vander Doelen, Naturopathic Doctor
We all have experienced the way sleep affects our brain. When we get a good night’s slumber and we feel alert and full of energy the next day. Our mood is more stable, and we’re able to take on the day in a calm manner. But on a night where we toss and turn, cannot shut our mind off, and just don’t reach the deepest stages of sleep it’s an entirely different story. We feel bad, more down, more anxious, and can’t shake that brain fog.
What if I told you that you can get a good night’s sleep EVERY night of the week? Follow the steps below for strategies you can start implementing tonight for a better slumber and a better brain.
- Assess your sleeping environment.
Does your bedroom look like a clothing bomb went off? Do you cringe every time you go in there because it’s a dumping ground for everything that doesn’t have a spot? Step one is to make sure that the room you sleep in is clean, tidy, and used for just two activities (sleep and sex… what did you think I was going to suggest?!) Get your desk out of there, put your laundry away, and find somewhere else to eat popcorn and watch Netflix.
- Engage in a little sleep hygiene.
Just like you practice dental hygiene daily (I hope…) sleep hygiene involves maintaining healthy bedtime habits. An hour before you want to go to sleep, shut off all of your electronics (phone, tablet, TV, computer… if it has a screen it’s a no go). Brew yourself a cup of herbal tea (chamomile, passionflower and peppermint are my favourites) and engage in a relaxing activity. I like to take a warm bath or shower, but you could read a paper book, meditate, practice restorative yoga, or any other thing that helps to wind you down. In bed, make sure your room is cool and dark, and try sleeping naked (research shows that it’s better for your circadian rhythm!)
- Get yourself on schedule.
Your body craves routine, and the more regular you are with your bedtime and wake-time, the easier it will become to stay on track. Go to bed at the same time each night, and wake up at the same time each morning. If you can’t get to bed on time (I get it, Fridays…) maintaining your wake up time will still make things easier on your sensitive internal clock. If you are someone who has trouble with nighttime sleep, cut your daytime nap too.
- Decrease your stimulants.
I love my morning coffee… but give me one after 12pm and I’m up all night. We all metabolize caffeine differently, so if you are someone who has trouble getting their nightly zzz’s you might want to reassess your java intake. Other stimulants include soda, chocolate, nicotine, and certain drugs. Try reducing, and if you’re still not sleeping well, you might need to bite the bullet and eliminate these all together (good news – Naturopathic Doctors can help you to do this in a way that will minimize withdrawal and keep your energy levels up during the day).
- Move your Body
Research suggests that regular moderate activity in the late afternoon leads to deeper sleep. If you’re a regular follower of this blog, you know that we are all about movement – so choose any activity that gets you to move your body, that you enjoy and stick to it. Just like contributing to your RRSP, when it comes to movement, every little bit counts. An easy place to start is looking at your commute to and from work. Can you walk or cycle for part of it? If not, can you fit in a lunch hour or after work walk?
If you have tried all of these strategies (I mean really tried… like for a few days in a row) then you need to check in with your ND! There are a lot of reasons why you might not be getting a good night’s sleep, such as anxiety, pain from an injury, digestive concerns, or hormonal imbalances. As a Naturopathic Doctor, my job is to look for the underlying cause and develop a plan of action to treat that, not just the poor sleep itself – this will lead to long term healthy, deep and restorative sleep – and that will lead to a more balanced and happy brain!
Shannon will work with you to help you live your healthiest and happiest life. Since this means something different to everyone, she is excited about exploring your individual needs and working with you to create a treatment plan that is unique and sustainable for you and your busy lifestyle. Shannon is passionate about health and happiness and believes that the two go hand-in-hand.
Clinically, Shannon practices functional medicine. She maintains a general family practice, with a special interest in managing fatigue, stress, anxiety, and depression; digestive health; skin health; irregular or painful menstruation; and endocrine/hormonal disorders.