How to Fix Your Sleep
by Laura Cini
My client sat in front of me teary and overwhelmed. “I’m exhausted. My days are so busy. At night I lie in bed and my mind races. When I finally get to sleep I wake around 3am and then can’t get back to sleep. Plus, my sugar cravings are out of control and I can’t stop eating chocolate. I need help.”
I replied that this was common and that there was a lot we could do to help, starting with her sleep. Firstly, I told her that the body doesn’t change gears quickly. If you are super busy, rushed and stressed most of the time, you run on adrenaline and disrupt the natural rhythm of cortisol. You then go to bed feeling tired and wired and can’t get into a deep sleep.
I advised her she needed to take mini-breaks across her day. Take a moment for a few deep breaths, get outside for a walk, take a lunch break, even if it’s short. These ‘go slow moments’ help to reset the nervous system out of the ‘fight or flight’ mode into the calm (parasympathetic) setting making it easier to wind down in the evening and sleep better.
I explained she needed to make time to eat during the day instead of just snacking, getting home desperately hungry and eating a huge dinner. Going to bed with a very full stomach can disrupt sleep.
So far so good. My client was listening and nodding. I continued, telling her to stay off screens at least one hour before bed and not to use screens like iPads and her phone while in bed. They emit light that blocks the release of the sleep hormone melatonin. They also keep the brain stimulated, rather than powering down into a state ready for sleep.
My client stopped nodding and looked teary again. She thought that would be hard; she would miss her couch time after dinner scrolling through her social media feed. She told me her partner used these screens right up until bedtime and didn’t have any problems with sleep. I explained that some people’s sleep/wake cycles are more robust and not as sensitive to screens. I also explained that she would probably be able to relax the screen rules once we’d improved her sleep pattern with the above strategies and some evidence-based herbal medicine.
Lastly, I said she could stop beating herself up about sugar cravings. Poor sleep messes with hunger hormones (ghrelin and leptin) leaving you craving rubbish food and making it harder to feel full. Once sleep improves, sugar cravings usually ease. She nodded and smiled.
Laura Cini is an expert nutritionist, herbalist and naturopath with over 20 years’ experience. She sees clients, is a regular guest on ABC radio, does podcasts and blogs. Visit lauraciniwellness.com or connect @lauraciniwellness.