Troubleshooting your sleep

Russell Foster does a better job at explaining why we sleep in his famous TEDTalk:

We all know why it’s important to get proper sleep. But since you are reading, I suppose you are looking to troubleshoot your sleep to lose weight, gain health, prevent diseases, rock your mission etc.

So, let’s jump right in. There are obviously many ways that your sleep can be messed up.

Problem #1: can’t fall asleep

Major cause: Your body clock is messed up.

Symptoms: You catch a second wind and may be up until the wee hours of the night and then feel terrible waking up in the early morning. So, you may snooze a million times before you actually get on with your day. You zombie your way through the week, possibly with some help from coffee, and catch up on sleeping on the weekend. PS getting really sleeping at any time of the day is also a sign that your body clock may be messed up.

Possible causes/contributors

1. Lights and electronic gadgets. All animals and plants have circadian rhythms in response to light, namely the sun. Natural lights are full-spectrum, but they contain blue light. After dawn and during the night, we are evolved to live with wood fire, which emits mostly red light. So, if you are exposed to blue lights from house lights and gadgets, your body may mistake these as the sun and stay awake accordingly.

Solutions: install and use the free app F.Lux to reduce blue light from your gadgets at night. Also, wear low blue light glasses, especially if you are exposed to artificial lights at night. You may be amazed by how fast you get sleepy.

Even better yet, set up a time when you will turn off all electronics, then enjoy some time reading a book with a candlelight.

Conversely, make sure you are exposed to sunlight or natural lights during the day. If you do shift work or during the cold, dark seasons, a blue light therapy machine may be a great tool in addition to the blue-blocking sunglasses 2 hours before you sleep.

2. You take stimulants too late in the day.

Solutions: ease off the stimulants throughout the day, especially coffee. Replace with milder options like green tea and yerba mate. Try your best to eliminate caffeine after 12 PM.

3. Hidden internal stressors like food sensitivities and gut critters (mostly parasites) inside your body are awake at night and they won’t let you sleep. In fact, the Biohealth 205 hormone panel that I routinely run in my practice also measures melatonin levels. Low or misregulated melatonin levels is a sign for gut dysfunction. That’s because 80% of serotonin (the mother of melatonin) is made in the gut. Eating foods that you are sensitive to can raise your cortisol, in addition to being bad for your gut. Also, critters like parasites are often awake at night and their activities keep you from sleeping.

Solution: see a practitioner to get tested for these food sensitivities and/or bugs and eliminate them accordingly. (PS the ones your doctors order may be grossly inaccurate.)

4. You lack those wind-down time before you sleep.
Solution: have a sleep routine. Do something that you can habitualize and associate with sleep, such as an epsum salt bath, using a relaxing essential oil, gratitude journaling, reading a relaxing book.

To accelerate the process, I like to take a small dose of prolonged-release melatonin. I’m talking about 0.5 – 1.5 mg here so you don’t get hungover from it. Fortunately, melatonin is not habit-forming so I am comfortable recommending this here, although I don’t recommend relying on them forever.

Problem #2: Can’t stay asleep or wake up in the middle of the night

Possible causes/contributors

1. night time urination.
This may just be okay if you can go right back to sleep. What’s not okay is turning the lights on and being exposed to blue light at night. So if you do wake up often and walk around, get a red light for night light.

2. blood sugar problems or HPA axis dysfunction. A characteristic of this is if you wake up with your heart racing and that keeps you awake for 2 hours (lifetime of adrenaline in your system). First of all, if you have been fasting or severely restricting carbohydrates or calories, STOP, then check out this blog post.

Problem #3:Wake up feeling like you are hit by a bus, or you snooze 10 times before you can get on with your day.

This excludes the fact that you didn’t get enough sleep. I’m talking about sleep quality.

Possible causes/contributors

1. Light exposure prevents you from getting optimal sleep.
Don’t just think you can get away with using the eye cover, because your skin has light sensors, too. So, it’s best to make sure your skin is not exposed to blue light during the night.

Solution: make sure your room is completely dark when you sleep, especially if the lights you may be exposed to are blue, green or white. Cover up objects that emit those light (including the window).

I know, I know. I rent, too, so I don’t always get to choose. I live right in the city and I could read a newspaper with all the lights off if I only rely on the blind that comes with my unit.

The solution: the paper Redi-shade pleated curtain is a great option for temporary blackout. It’s easy to roll up and clipped up to let the light in, and also easy to remove.

2. Electromagnetic exposure. These things interfere with your brain function and may disallow it to go into the proper sleep stages.

Solution: Stay away from your gadgets while you sleep. Turn off your phone, computers, tablets, or turn it on airplane mode and put them 10 feet away from you (ideally). Do not sleep with your gadgets right next to your head. Make sure there is no live power cord that goes right underneath or near your bed while you sleep.

(Bonus) get grounded, as in going outside and standing barefeet on the soil, grass or a body of water for at least 15 min a day. When it gets too cold, you can get a grounding sheet from Earthing that you can use if outlets in your house has a grounding port.

3. Poor liver function. Ever experience a hangover? That’s when the liver can’t catch up with everything it has to do. Night time is when the liver works to clear up many toxins, and if it doesn’t function well, you won’t feel great.

Solution: (this has been my motto by now) – live a low toxin lifestyle, eat organic, eliminate toxic products from your house. Eat liver. If necessary, try liver support supplements.

4. You don’t get enough deep sleep or you wake up at the wrong state of your sleep.

Solution: Try an app like Redmed S+ or Beddit to see if you have trouble reaching the deeper state of your sleep, or if this is because you wake up at the wrong state of your sleep. The app can wake you up during the more shallow state of your sleep and make you feel better throughout the day, even though you didn’t get enough sleep. I find this incredibly helpful if I try to wake up earlier or shift my circadian rhythms. If you fail to reach deep sleep on a consistent basis, though, it is a good idea to go through all the other sleep disturbance tips above and troubleshoot your sleep.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments below.


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