Why is everyone talking about "sleep hygiene?!"
Sleep hygiene is a big topic in the world of brain health for both adults and children because so many people of all ages are having issues with sleep. Falling asleep is a big one for people who are chronically stressed, have a diagnosis of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, anxiety, depression, etc. Especially right now, while our lives are all being affected by closures and lock downs, along with all the uncertainty and anxiety, it's hard to stop our brains from running through all kinds of dooms-day scenarios about everything. Then, those of us who are experiencing hormonal shifts as we move through life, might be able to fall asleep ok, but it's difficult to stay asleep through the night.
So here are some ideas to help with creating the ideal sleep environment to give your body and brain the best chance of diving into a restful slumber, allowing you to do all the important healing and repair in your sleep, so you wake rested and rejuvenated. These ideas are not meant to be all followed, all the time religiously. Try a few at a time and see what works for you. If you've had long-standing sleep issues, these aren't something you try once and then stop. You'll have to give them a good couple of weeks to a month to get your clock on the right rhythm for your body. These can be used for both adults and children and are a great way to get the whole house working together acknowledging the importance of sleep for your overall health.
I wish you all many night of restful and rejuvinating zzzzzzzzzz's:
1. Make sure you give yourself the “sleep opportunity” needed to get the appropriate hours you need for sleep. This means giving yourself at least eight hours of time asleep in your bed before you have to be awake. This means planning your sleep routine before lights out, so those eight hours do not start until you are head down on the pillow, lights out.
2. Stick to a sleep schedule. This means waking up and going to bed at the same time every day. This seems to be the most important tip on this list.
a. Set an alarm for bedtime. You don’t have to be militant, but definitely try to stay
within a half hour to an hour of your wake and bed times every day so that your body
gets into a rhythm.
b. This is especially important for older teens and young adults. Because they tend to
want to go out with friends on the weekends, stay up late and sleep in, if that is not their
schedule throughout the week, they can have what is called “social jet lag.”
3. Design a consistent and enjoyable bedtime routine that you make time for every night so there is time to unwind from the day. This would include relaxing activities starting 30 minutes before bed – take any supplements, a warm bath (the drop in body temperature after getting out of the bath may help you feel sleepy), a story or two (for younger children), reading (for older children and adults), shutting the blinds, shutting off the lights, and closing the door.
4. Set up a “sleep-friendly” bedroom.
a. The best environment for sleeping is quiet, dark, with a comfortable temperature (on
the cooler side – ideal 18.3°C).
b. It should also be a screen-free zone for a few reasons:
(1) Screens are distracting and too stimulating before bed
(2) The blue light from screens is in a wavelength that does not tell your brain to
start producing melatonin. LED lights are in this wavelength zone too, so it’s best to
dim lights and get off screens two hours before bed. F.lux on computers, Night
Shift on phone, and screen protectors can help protect against blue light exposure.
The best way to protect your brain from this exposure is through using blue light
blocking glasses (the best forms are Luminere from Amazon.com and True Dark
glasses from www.truedark.com).
c. Individuals with sleeping issues often watch the clock – turn the clock face out of view
so you don’t keep checking the time and charge your phone outside of the bedroom.
d. A family charging station is the best way to get your children to part with their phones
at night as they see that you are doing the same and it is for their benefit, not a
e. Teenagers may complain that they need their phone for their alarm. Fortunately you
can buy small digital clocks that do not have a lighted face to use for alarms instead
(can be purchased at places like London Drugs).
f. If reading in bed is relaxing, use low level light and read non-stimulating material (not
on your iPad or phone! Even Kindles emit a low-level of blue light – turn down the
brightness on your screen and wear blue-light blocking glasses).
5. Teach yourself or your child one or more relaxation techniques:
a. Deep breathing such as breathing in through the nose to a count of 4, pause 2-3
seconds and breath out through the nose for a count of 4, again pausing at the bottom.
b. Buteyko breathing (see Patrick McKeown’s book, “The Oxygen Advantage: Simple,
Scientifically Proven Breathing Techniques to Help You Become Healthier, Slimmer,
Faster, and Fitter”)
c. Progressive relaxation – progressively tensing and relaxing muscle groups in the body
for a few seconds each starting at the toes and finishing with the face.
6. Exercise, especially for those with ADHD, anxiety, and depression, has many benefits. If you can do it outside in the light of day, it’s even better. Try to exercise at lease 30 minutes on most days but not later than two to three hours before bedtime.
7. Avoid caffeine and nicotine. Coffee, colas, certain teas, and chocolate contain the stimulant caffeine, and its effects can take as long as eight hours to wear off fully. Therefore, a cup of coffee in the late afternoon can make it hard for you to fall asleep at night. Nicotine is also a stimulant, often causing smokers to sleep only very lightly and also wake up too early in the morning due to nicotine withdrawal.
8. Have the right sun exposure – daylight is key to regulating daily sleep patterns. Try to get outside in natural sunlight for at least 30 minutes each day. If possible, wake up with the sun or use very bright lights in the morning. Sleep experts state that if there are issues falling asleep, you should get an hour of exposure to morning sunlight and turn down the lights before bedtime.
9. Don’t take naps after 3 pm. Naps can help make up for lost sleep, but late afternoon naps can make it harder to fall asleep at night, especially those that happen before dinner.
10. For our young adults and up, avoid alcoholic beverages before bed. Having a nightcap before sleep can help you relax, but heavy use robs you of REM sleep. Heavier alcohol ingestion also may contribute to impairment in breathing at night and you tend to wake up in the middle of the night when the effects of the alcohol have worn off.
11. Avoid large meals and beverages later at night. If you have a child who is an athlete that trains into the evening, ensure they have the bulk of their meal after school. Then when they get home from practice, a light snack or a smoothie will be fine to get them through the night.
This mineral helps to relax the body and calm the mind and is one of the best sleeping aids you can give to an adult or child. Research has found in nine out of ten kids with ADHD, magnesium deficiency is often the cause of sleeping problems. Dr. James Greenblatt, as described in his book "Finally Focused," has also found that these problems typically clear up in one to two months after supplementing with magnesium.
Dr. Greenblatt’s recommendations:
400 mg of magnesium citrate or bys-glycinate daily in powder form, 200 mg with breakfast and 200 mg thirty minutes before bedtime.
By age (same as the Recommended Daily Allowance from the National Institutes of Health):
1-3 years old: 80 mg
4-8 years: 130 mg
9-13 years: 240 mg
14-18 years: Males – 410 mg; Females – 360 mg
19-30 years: Males - 400 mg; Females – 310 mg
31 and older: Males – 420 mg; Females – 320 mg
If after one month, you or your child’s sleep problem hasn’t lessened significantly, maintain the breakfast dose and double the bedtime dose. Or stick with the above dosing and add 120 mg of magnesium glycinate 30 minutes before bedtime.
If after another month of this, you or your child continues to have sleep problems, it’s time to add another sleep aid.
We know that the brain starts manufacturing melatonin around 9:00 pm, with levels staying high throughout the night and falling around 9:00 am. To aid this process, Dr. Greenblatt suggests giving your child a supplement of 1-3 mg of melatonin, about 30 minutes before bed (but don’t stop the magnesium).
If your child’s sleep problems haven’t improved after two weeks of melatonin, stop the melatonin, stay on the magnesium, and add another sleep aid.
Tryptophan is an amino acid that helps your body manufacture serotonin, a calming neurotransmitter. This amino acid also helps your body make more melatonin too.
Dr. Greenblatt suggests giving your child 500 mg of tryptophan, 30 minutes before bedtime. It is best if you can find a chewable form (Lidke brand makes a nice one).
If you or your child’s sleeping problem isn’t solved in the next two weeks, meaning they still have trouble sleeping after taking magnesium, melatonin, and tryptophan, it’s time to switch things up again.
High tryptophan foods include nuts, seeds, tofu, cheese, red meat, chicken, turkey, fish, oats, beans, lentils, and eggs
Theanine and Glycine:
These are also amino acids – L-theanine (from green tea) and glycine (found in high protein foods like red meat and chicken)
Dr. Greenblatt suggests supplementing with 100-200 mg of L-theanine, 30 minutes before bedtime.
Like L-theanine, studies show that the amino acid glycine can help people fall asleep faster and sleep deeper and longer, with less daytime fatigue and better daytime focus. Glycine may work by keeping core body temperature low, a must for a good night’s sleep.
Dr. Greenblatt suggests taking 1-3 grams, thirty minutes before bedtime.
If you or anyone in your household are having issues with sleep and you would like to come up with a plan, please contact me here through my website for a free 20-minute consult to see if this is something that I can help you with.