During the summer of 2018 while I was searching for a diagnosis to answer my health ailments I noticed one common theme that all of my doctors focused on: sleep quality. Every single one of the medical practitioners I am working with emphasizes the importance of sleep at every appointment, and in all honesty improving my sleep hygiene was one of the biggest lifestyle changes I made to promote healing. My entire childhood and most of my adult life I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. Insomnia was a foreign idea to me until Lyme disease, and I’ve never had to consistently put so much effort into regulating my circadian rhythm.
We’ve all had nights where our head is racing with ideas, concerns, or musings; but nights like these started becoming my norm. I am riddled with fatigue during the daytime, yet can’t sleep many nights due to anxiety and/or stomach pain. It’s a vicious cycle, and it’s something I’ve been diligently treating with natural remedies with a lot of success. My Lyme doctor pushes the use of low-dose Trazodone on me every time we speak, but I’m against adding any unnecessary pharmaceuticals to my regimen right now — after all, I am pursuing a career in functional nutrition, and my philosophy is rooted in uncovering the root cause of symptoms instead of using a band-aid fix to cover up symptoms.
Lately I’ve been dealing with another lull in my health. I had a month where I was almost completely symptom free and had bountiful energy, and just as I got used to feeling somewhat “normal” again a whole new whirl of symptoms developed; namely in my gut. I’ll hopefully get some answers this week about what’s going on, but I anticipate that I’ll need to drastically change my treatment approach for Lyme to be less of an assault on my weak and leaky gastrointestinal tract. The decision with how to proceed feels very precarious — I don’t want to undo all of the progress I’ve made so far by changing my treatment strategy, but I also don’t want to cause irreversible damage in the form of an autoimmune disease. I’m walking a very fine line. Restful sleep is particularly important right now, so I’m honoring that.
Why you need good sleep
Chronic illness or not, sleep is vital for everyone. During sleep, your immune system is replenished — when you sleep your body repairs cells, blood vessels and even your heart. Your brain also creates neural pathways which help with the processing and retention of knowledge from the previous day. An important consideration for college students heading into midterm and finals season. Sleep also has a big impact on weight and helps you regulate your blood sugar, and getting a good amount of sleep translates to vibrant and healthy-looking skin and overall appearance. Hence the term “beauty sleep.”
On the other hand, sleep-deprivation has been linked to suicide, depression and making poor decisions. Because sleep is connected with healing cells and the circulatory system, chronic sleep deficiency can increase the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. Assuring good sleep is yet another means of preventive healthcare.
Over the past 9 months I’ve developed a tool cabinet with several arsenals to ward off insomnia-ridden nights. I invite you to try incorporating some of these lifestyle changes and routines into your self care protocol for optimal sleep.
7 tips for restful sleep
Create a nighttime ritual
Creating a nighttime ritual that I look forward to is one of my favorite ways to get me excited about going to bed each night. I love making tea or a golden milk latte a couple hours after dinner, I typically turn down all the lights in my house, and I spend the evenings lounging and relaxing with Neel. I always dedicate about 15 minutes to my evening self-care routine to take care of my skin, teeth, and take supplements. I typically sleep with a cold pad on my head (for headaches) and a hot pad on my belly (for stomach pain). I also like the window open to keep the room at a cool temperature — studies have shown that 65 degrees is the optimal temperature for good sleep. I suppose my sleep routine is a bit high maintenance right now, but it’s what works for me during this healing process. Find what works for you and make it a priority.
Keep your bed for sleep + sleep only
This is something I’m a stickler about. I never do work, watch Netflix, or hang out in bed during the day — it’s just not my thing. Making my bed is the first part of my morning ritual, and it leaves that space feeling clean and inviting for nighttime. Do your best to keep your bedroom setup for optimal sleep. This looks different for everyone, but I personally always have a candle, lavender essential oil, and a CBD:THC tincture on my bedside table.
Limit blue light exposure at night
This is a tough one. Not having a screen in front of you at night isn’t always realistic, but there are ways to turn off the blue light on your phone and computer once the sun goes down. There are also blue light blocking glasses that seem to be super helpful for a lot of people, but I haven’t personally tried them so I can’t offer any testament of their benefit. I also recommend keeping electronics out of your bedroom — the electromagnetic frequencies (EMF’s) can inhibit sleep quality and it’ll stop you from scrolling through social media + emails right before bed or first thing upon waking.
REI is onto something. Going for a walk in the morning and in the evening can help regulate your circadian rhythm. This will be particularly helpful if you spend a lot of time each day looking at a screen. In the morning time, exposure to sun and/or bright indoor light will both give you a quick energy boost and aid in resetting your circadian rhythm. Similarly, going for a walk as the sun is setting triggers the brain to know that it is nighttime. I also recommend keeping lighting low in your house at night to support this cycle.
Limit caffeine intake after noon
When you find yourself reaching for an afternoon pick-me-up on the daily, I highly suggest working with a practitioner on regulating blood sugar levels. Contrary to our society’s expectations, it’s not “normal” to need an extra boost around 3 o’clock via caffeine or sugar. In fact, this habit could be a major cause of sleepless nights. Reserve caffeinated beverages for the morning, and fuel your body and brain with healthy fats throughout the day to avoid blood sugar dips and caffeine/sugar cravings.
CBD + THC
Personally, pure CBD doesn’t do the trick for me when it comes to sleep. However, micro-dosing THC with CBD is a sure solution for nights when the insomnia is all consuming. Accessibility is an issue here, because I know this isn’t legal in all states. I’m thankful I live in a place where plant medicine is widely accepted and promoted. My THC tincture is usually a last resort for me, as it sometimes causes me to feel incredibly groggy the next morning. Nothing a good matcha latte can’t fix, though.
Supplements + Herbs
My favorite herbs, adaptogens, and supplements that help promote restful sleep, relaxation and overall calm are: ashwagandha, reishi, magnesium, L-theanine, GABA, melatonin, valerian root, and chamomile. These can be incorporated via capsules, tinctures, teas, powders, etc. Try them one-by-one to see which ones offer the most benefit to you.
I’m on an even more restricted diet than usual this week as I prep for my first ever colonoscopy. I’m actively wishing for answers that will guide the direction of my treatment plan because I know I can’t continue down the path that I am on. As someone hoping to pursue a career in helping others heal, I’m not exactly feeling comfy in my own skin right now. I felt certain that I had found a diet to nurture my body in a way that reduced debilitating symptoms, so this low hit particularly hard. Additionally, the more I learn about the physiological digestive process the more worried I become about the direct assault of antibiotics on my system. Surely these are the kinds of thoughts that keep anxiously awake at night.
At the end of the day, it is up to no one but ourselves to maintain optimal health. Practitioners facilitate healing, but it’s up to us to advocate for our body’s queues and carry out our practitioner’s recommendations. Prioritizing sleep is an important mode to stay healthy and promote healing — I imagine this is one of the few unconditional agreements among allopathic and naturopathic practitioners. I hope this has shed some light on why sleep is so, so important, as well as given you some new tips to improve your sleep habits. You can always reach out to me with questions, I’d love to chat.