How to Harness the Healing Power of Sleep

Dr. Sara DeFrancesco is a Naturopathic Doctor and Chinese Medicine Practitioner in Portland, Oregon with an expertise in treating insomnia and sleep disorders.

Have you ever noticed how around 10:30pm bed seems like an amazing idea, but if you push yourself to get that one last thing done or squeeze in just one more episode, by 11pm —BAM — you’re wide awake and half way through the latest season of Scandal?

I know! (Hold the spoilers.)

The “second wind” isn’t a myth. At night melatonin (a nocturnal hormone largely responsible for our sleep/circadian rhythm) levels begin to rise which causes you to feel sleepy. Melatonin peaks at 10:30pm and if you miss the natural rhythm to a restful night’s sleep, you might just find yourself feeling wide awake and staying up well past midnight.

Adequate sleep is absolutely imperative for health. It's just as important as your diet, exercise, and stress management. In other words, even if you're eating super clean and hitting it hard at the gym regularly, if you're not making sleep a priority you're missing out on a crucial determinant of health.

It’s estimated that 30% of Americans are suffering from sleep deprivation. And studies have shown that missing out on the restorative power of sleep can affect our mood, make us more accident prone, decrease our immune and brain function, and increase our risk of major illnesses like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.

This scary, yet poignant infographic by The Huffington Post is no joke.

Fortunately, when it comes to snoozing soundly and waking up refreshed - I’ve got
your back.

1. Make your last call for caffeine before 2pm.

Minimizing caffeine helps regulate your circadian rhythm. If you’re taking a B Vitamin Complex or B12, you’ll also want to make cut off time 2pm to avoid being over stimulated when it's time for bed.

2. Go to bed between 9:30 – 11pm. Every night.

Seize the moment. This is the optimal time to harness your sleeping super powers (ala melatonin). If you miss it, you’ll get a second wind (ala cortisol) that will make you feel like staying up later and like hitting the snooze button 3-4 times in the morning.

3. Avoid bright lights and electronics 1 hour before bed. 

Our sleep wake cycle is heavily influenced by light. Bright lights and blue light emitted from electronics (yes, especially that fancy new iPhone you just got) suppress melatonin, which makes it harder for us to feel like going to bed and to fall asleep.

Dim the lights around your home or get ready for bed by candle light. If you need to use electronics, use a program like F.lux to change the screen from blue light to a warm hue or try a pair of these futuristic night glasses (don’t blame me if you look ridiculous, you could have just put down the iPad).

4. Sleep in a completely dark room for 8 – 9 hours.

Sleeping in total darkness helps us by leaving melatonin production unopposed so we can get our best night’s rest. Decorate with dark curtains or blackout curtains and make sure your alarm clock’s light can be switched off.

If after implementing these steps you're still having trouble sleeping, it's important to work with a practitioner to identify and resolve the root cause of the issue. While melatonin is a popular over the counter choice, it may not be the right one for you and it's inappropriate to use for long periods of time, due to its effect on hormone regulation.