by Dr. Bart Precourt
If you have ever dealt with sleep issues, you know this is no laughing matter. Poor sleep can affect every part of our lives: energy, hormone balance, attitude, motivation, and even our immune system. Some people tout that they don’t need much sleep (bad idea I used to do that), and others have just come to survive without good sleep.
Yet surviving and living are two entirely different ways of experiencing life. As a holistic practitioner, treating poor sleep is a priority in ANY clinical situation.
If there is anything that should come naturally, it is SLEEP! Your body heals when you sleep. This applies to everything from exercise to the flu. Sadly, over 70 million Americans deal with sleep problems every year.
Here are three proven strategies to improve sleep:
1. Environment: Your bedroom should be a sacred place. Your sleep environment should include 3 key features: First, it must be dark. Bright light stimulates your hypothalamus (hormone regulator) and tells your body it’s not time to rest, so your pineal gland will not secrete melatonin in a bright environment. No TV, light coming through the windows, and no bright lights from cable boxes, smoke detectors, or alarm clocks. Second, it must be quiet. Again, no TV, cell phones, iPads, or outside noise. Leave all of these devices outside of your bedroom! Third, it should be cool. Your body temperature naturally decreases as you sleep. It’s trying to put out the fire. Heat will keep your body active.
The next two sleeping solutions are ones that I find are completely overlooked. This is because sleep issues are poorly diagnosed and, as a result, treated improperly. Poor treatment includes using sleep drugs like Ambien, Lunesta, or Trazodone. These are popular choices yet can lead to long-term dependency and worsened hormone imbalances without fixing the cause of the problem. Remember, sleep should be one of, if not the most, natural events for all humans. Another one to note is the popular “natural” choice: Melatonin supplements. This too is not a good idea. Melatonin is a hormone. So by taking melatonin, you are effectively practicing hormone replacement therapy. This does not fix the cause, but rather leads to more hormone imbalance over time.
Determine if you have a “falling asleep” problem or a “waking problem.” A falling asleep problem is when you toss and turn from the start and can’t fall asleep. A waking problem means you can fall asleep yet you wake up and have a hard time falling back to sleep. This creates what I call busy brain. Some people have both problems, trouble falling asleep and waking during sleep.
2. Falling Asleep Problem: I start by giving my patients a very gentle and effective herb called Valerian Root. This has a calming effect and naturally helps the body to begin slowing down and preparing for sleep. In turn, this allows for melatonin to be secreted by the pineal gland. This has proven to be very effective for people with issues falling asleep. The exact dosage varies from case to case based on the patient. Often I may include other natural supplements like Kava Forte, yet this is where to start.
3. Waking Problem: Occurs when the brain does not have the proper tools (nutrition) to calm the brain. Essentially there is too much yang (fire) energy and nothing to calm it down, yin (cool) energy. For this I use Magnesium Lactate. Magnesium is a yin mineral that benefits almost everyone due to its tremendous health benefits. It leads to better sleep and elimination, calms your muscles and nerves, and is involved in nearly 300 biochemical reactions in your body. Sugar, alcohol, and stress deplete this valuable mineral at nearly double the normal rate.
You can choose to use both of these supplements together. Often they start to work immediately, yet don’t give up if it takes more time. Poor sleep is not something that should be overlooked. Consult your Holistic Health Care Practitioner if you need help!