Have you been experiencing restless sleep? Waking up at odd hours of the night and can’t fall back to sleep? Or maybe you’re experiencing troubles falling asleep. Any of these issues can really affect our daily lives. We may need multiple cups of coffee throughout the day to just ‘function’ and even sometimes that doesn’t seem to work.
In this post I am going to walk you through the common reasons why your sleep may be affected outside of common factors such as, cosleeping, new borns, etc. This post is going to help you get to the root cause of your sleeping troubles and give you some practical tips on how to improve your sleep. I will also recommend some supplements that may help you sleep. However, keep in mind that ‘sleep supplements’ such as melatonin, aren’t addressing your root cause. Meaning, once you go off of the supplement your sleep issues might persist.
DISCLAIMER: This article and all information on this site is meant for informational purposes only. Please consult your health care provider before supplementing with any nutrients found in this article and throughout the site.
Waking Up In The Middle Of The Night
Waking up from a restful sleep in the middle of the night able or unable to go back to sleep can be extremely frustrating. If this happens frequently it can be a sign of a few things that may be going on.
You may have heard that the time in which you wake up is connected to the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) “clock” and that the time is associated with a specific organ system. It is said when you wake up during that time in the night you may some some imbalance within that organ system. Let’s look into what the different times are associated with.
The Most Common Times People Wake Up At Night:
The most common times I see in my practice that people wake up at night and are unable to fall back asleep are around 2-3am. This is the “Liver” time. As stated above, when we wake up around this time it can be a sign that our liver needs some extra love and support.
Look over the TCM clock above and see what times you wake up to see where you body might need that extra support.
#1 Blood Sugar Issues:
Another very common, if not the most common, reason I see when clients are waking up in the middle of the night and are not able to fall back asleep is due to blood sugar dysregulation. Blood sugar issues are very common these days due to the diet culture and processed carbs and sugars.
Before you think, “I eat healthy and avoid all processed foods, so I should have balanced blood sugar”. It is important to know that you can have blood sugar spikes and imbalances even when you are eating healthy with little to no processed foods. We as a society haven’t been properly taught on how to eat for our bodies and how to support blood sugar.
At night our bodies aren’t sleeping. They are running many important processes such as detoxification. When our bodies don’t have enough blood sugars to run these processes it will wake us up. Sometimes people will binge eat at night, wake up in the middle of the night hungry, have a headache or just not feel good. This is usually because the blood sugar is too low in the night time. This can be because the meals you ate throughout the day did not support a blood sugar balance. Or you may suffer from insulin resistance that is keeping that insulin from getting into the cell.
From a mineral perspective, we need an adequate amount of potassium and calcium in order to get the insulin into the cell. So, if we are having issues with insulin resistance or blood sugar dysregulation we want to support your minerals in order to help that insulin get into that cell.
Easy ways to support our blood sugar are:
- Eating enough throughout the day. Shoot for high protein meals 3x per day with 1-2 snacks in between
- Focus on having a protein, carb, and fat with every meal and snack. Protein & veggies should make up the bulk of your meal or snack
- Complex carbs that are high in fiber and starch are blood sugar supportive. These are things like, quinoa, rice, potatoes, legumes, etc.
- Eat every 3-4 hours. Set an alarm on your phone to remind you to eat.
- Walk 10 minutes after every meal. Research has shown taking a quick walk after a meal will help lower blood sugar levels.
#2 Circadian Rhythm Dysregulation:
Our circadian rhythm is our body’s internal clock that helps us maintain a regular sleep schedule. It is what is responsible for the release of melatonin in the evening and the spike of cortisol in the morning time. When we have a dysregulated circadian rhythm we can see decreased melatonin release in the evening. For those who don’t know, melatonin is the hormone that is incharge of managing the ‘sleep-wake-cycle’. Most people have heard of melatonin as a sleep aid that is recommended for those who have trouble sleeping. Though it may help with sleeping troubles it isn’t solving the issue as to why you melatonin may or may not be being released at the proper times of day. And yes, people can have an issue with melatonin production but more on this in a later article.
Managing a healthy sleep-wake cycle is very important to having a good night’s rest. If our body’s don’t think it is night time it will continue to release cortisol (stress hormone) to keep us awake.
What disrupts your circadian rhythm?
- Too much exposure to artificial light at night. This includes blue light from screens and fluorescent light bulbs
- Stress and anxiety that keeps you up at night
- Nervous system dysregulation
The circadian rhythm is not just important for the sleep wake cycle. Just about every part of our body relies on circadian rhythms, which will affect, blood pressure, body temperature, hormonal balance, digestion, metabolic balance, alertness and cognition, cell repair, immune system, and musculoskeletal health.
Tips on how to reset your circadian rhythm:
- Consistent bedtimes & wakeup times: Your circadian cycle will work best if you maintain a consistent sleep schedule.
- Exposure to morning light: Because the circadian rhythm functions the best when you expose yourself to natural light, it is essential to expose yourself bright and early in the morning.
- Dim lights at night or consider red lights: Your body will naturally start to become sleepy when the lights dim and it is dark out outside. This signals to the body’s internal clock to release melatonin. I recommend dimming the lights once the sun starts to go down in the sky. Alternatively you can turn on a lamp with a red light bulb or have light bulbs throughout the house that change color. So, when it is evening the house switches to red lights.
- Reduce or limit screen time: The blue light from our screens send confuses our internal clock that it isn’t actually night time so melatonin release may be halted. I get it, not looking at your screen when it’s dark outside might be a challenge but try to turn off all screens 1-2 hours before sleeping. This will ensure proper time for the body to release melatonin and calm the body down for rest.
- Exercise Daily: Exercise has shown to have a positive impact on sleep. This can help your body be ready & tired for bed and it may even improve your sleep quality.
- Practice health sleep habits: There are some healthy habits your can incorporate into your daily routine that can help improve your circadian rhythm and sleep.
- Go to bed early enough to get 7-9 hours of sleep
- Maintain your sleep schedule even on the weekends
- Do not take naps that are longer than 20-30 minutes in length
- Stop drinking caffeine after 2pm
- Avoid electronics and bright lights before bed
- Keep your bedroom quiet, dark and cool.
- Avoid stressing about how much sleep your got the night prior.
- Wind down before bed: As I mentioned above you want to turn off all screens about 1-2 hours before you go to sleep. So, what should you do in those 1-2 hours? I recommend practicing relaxation. Here are some ideas to incorporate into your ‘wind down’ routine; gentle yoga such as yin yoga, stretching, mediation, journaling about your day, deep breathing techniques, reading, take a bath, or drink a caffeine free herbal tea. The goal is to get your body to relax to make it easier for you to relax and be ready for sleep.
#3 Nervous system dysregulation:
You may have heard this term before but might not know what it really means. To put it very simply, it is related to stress. Most of us live our days 95% in stress mode. This could be because your work is stressful, you may be getting stressed out about your schedule and trying not to be late to work, activities, meetings, etc., having a long list of responsibilities, maybe even your relationships are going through a stressful time, etc. When we are in a constant state of stress our nervous system can get stuck in the “fight or flight” response. Thus creating a nervous system dysregulation. Essentially meaning we are stuck in ‘one mode’, typically fight or flight, and our bodies cannot rest.
Trauma can also play a major role in nervous system dysregulation. This is when we have an experience where our body and mind experience a state of panic or being ‘unsafe’. These experiences can be short term or long term. Resulting in our mind and body ‘programming’ that it is not safe. Thus making it hard to get into a ‘rest and digest’ state. All of this can be happening subconsciously without us evening being aware of it.
Here are my tips and practices that can help you get into a relaxed state:
- Making space in your days: Taking things off your schedule and your ‘plate’ can be a quick way to start to bring your body into a more relaxed state.
- Inner Child Work: Is a form of personal exploration / therapy for you to emotionally and mentally release experiences in your life (mainly childhood) that have shaped your nervous system to being in a ‘fight or flight’ state. These experiences could be things like trauma, abandonment, or other heavy experiences you had as a child. This work is helping you get to the root cause of why your nervous system may be stuck in a heightened state.
- Journaling: A lot of what keeps us in a ‘fight or flight’ state is our internal dialogue that gets stuck in repeat. Myself and many clients of mine have found journaling out our thoughts and emotions onto paper being very therapeutic. Start with ‘freewriting’. This is where you just write without judgement. You can free write about an experience that made you feel overwhelmed, angry, or upset. Alternatively, you can journal about your hopes, dreams, and goals.
- Breathwork: Studies have shown the impact intentional breathing practices have on our nervous system. Doing short or long term breathing practices can help reset the nervous system from being stressed into a relaxed state. I recommend using an app like Othership to guide you through breathing practices. They have sessions that are anywhere from 3 minutes to 60 minutes long.
- Meditation: Guided meditations can help restore the nervous system back into a relaxed state. Meditation may not be for everyone but for those who find great benefit with it, I recommend using an app such as Insight Timer to have thousands of guided meditations at your fingertips. Alternatively you can find many great meditations on YouTube.
- Daily Walks: Walking has been shown to decrease stress levels. Getting outdoors to walk for 20-30 minutes can completely change your state.
Working daily to improve on these 3 reasons as to why you’re not sleeping well, will help you transform your sleep. If adding all those these things in at once stresses you out, start with #1 Blood Sugar Balance, as this is the main reason I see people have issues with sleeping.
If you are wanting more support in getting better sleep check out one of our many services to work with Jacquelynn one on one