Get Back In Sync and Sleep Better In 7 Days

By Dr. Linda J. Dobberstein, DC, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

October 8, 2018

Get Back In Sync and Sleep Better In 7 Days
We all know that quality sleep is essential for health. Sleep is the prime time for our bodies to clean house, repair, rejuvenate, and even burn fat. When was the last time you popped out of bed feeling rejuvenated? Whether it is getting to sleep or staying asleep, millions of Americans toss and turn at night. Here are some key steps to improve sleep quality. Begin today and start getting better sleep in as little as 7 days!

Step 1 – Set a Consistent Bedtime

Adults on average need 7-8 hours of sleep each night. So, if you want to get up at 6:00AM, then you should be in bed with lights out by 10:00 to 10:30 PM. In healthy adults, it takes 5-15 minutes to fall asleep. If it takes you longer to fall asleep, then you need to work on your wind-down or relaxation routine and sleep hygiene. Take a look at some of these factors as discussed below.

A consistent bedtime is a fundamental concept. Parents set a consistent bedtime for their young children to establish a routine and external structure. This routine and consistent bedtime, however, changes with teenagers, college and older individuals with work demands, social schedules, and free will. A consistent bedtime schedule often gets bent out of shape with shorter sleep times during the work week and then catch-up sleep or late nights on the weekends. Think about your track record over the previous months and even years. An occasional departure from the consistent bedtime is not a major concern for most individuals. Rather, the concern is being consistently off schedule which wreaks havoc with our internal clocks.

Our bodies can certainly be flexible with sleep-wake schedules. There is no doubt about that, but in the last century with the globalization of electricity and now 24/7 schedules, the consistent bedtime that parallels the natural day-night circadian rhythm is challenged in no small way. Ultimately, quality restorative sleep is challenged. Regular schedules and consistent bedtimes in conjunction with day-night/light-dark circadian rhythms are at the core of healthy physiology, body clocks, restorative sleep and waking refreshed.

Understanding Your Master Clock

Humans and other mammals have a master clock set deep within the brain’s hypothalamus called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). The SCN, a control switch of 20,000 nerve cells, responds to light and dark signals in our environment through our eyes and retina. Its task is to coordinate body rhythms across the entire body and relies on the cues from day-night/light-dark signals. It sets a consistent rhythmic tone in the body.

The result of this rhythmic beat influences clocks in the rest of the body. Body rhythms and body clocks, also known as chronobiology, regulate numerous processes. Cortisol levels that wake us up in the morning, thyroid hormone rhythms, AMPK master enzyme switches that turn on metabolic fat burning, immune cells, gut motility and digestion, liver detoxification, and even the normal clean-up time in the brain known as glymphatics all rely on the internal clocks and synchronization. Every single cell in the body has a clock. These body clocks rely on the SCN and the day-night cycle.

If we break this pattern, grogginess, fatigue, brain fog, changes in appetite and food cravings, changes in bowel habits, mental acuity, memory, physical stamina, thyroid hormone release, adrenal cortisol rhythms, neurotransmitter release, leptin, AMPK fat burning enzymes, detoxification, etc. become challenged and out of sync. The more that we can follow a consistent sleep-wake schedule that follows the natural day-night schedule, the more in sync our body clocks will be. This is fundamental for great sleep and all of our cellular function.

Step 2 – Limit Electronics and Blue Light 2-3 Hours Before Bedtime

Your master clock relies on light-dark signals in the environment. So, in addition to the consistent bedtime schedule, we must address light-dark signals. Today’s environment and technology provides more interruption and challenge to natural light-dark signals than any other time in the history of mankind. Temptation to stay up and do computer work, watch movies or TV may seem acceptable relaxing activities but the lights affect the nervous system.

Sleeping with a night light, street lights filtering in the bedroom, and bright alarm clocks are common intrusions in the bedroom that affect the master clock. Bright LED light and especially blue light tell your brain that it is daytime and interfere with the natural release of the sleep hormone melatonin. Light exposure also awakens sympathetic nervous system (fight/flight/excitatory) and causes a release of glutamate, a wakeful, stimulatory neurotransmitter.

This may be a tough one, but it’s important to avoid the use of electronics at least two hours before your bedtime. Many experts recommend stopping use of devices with LED lights like computers, smart phones, iPads, and TV even three hours before bed because of their light exposure intensity.

EMF or electromagnetic fields from these devices or wireless and wired technology can also disrupt sleep as it impacts melatonin and increases free radical stress in the brain. EMFs create other concerns and are now considered a ‘possible’ Group 2B human carcinogen. Consider removing, unplugging, or at least shutting off the technology and electrical devices in your bedroom. At least keep them 8 feet or more away from your head. Check to see where the fuse box and appliances in other rooms are in relationship to your bedroom as this can cause hidden exposure during sleep.

These principles of having a specific bedtime and removing light/EMF exposure have a profound impact in restoration the of the body’s natural sleep rhythms. Shift workers, those with a history of traumatic brain injuries, concussions, acute or chronic pain concerns, teenagers and elderly with changing sleep-wake rhythms, parents of young children, those who have disrupted sleep because of nighttime urination, and those with chronic sleep disorders must be diligent about sticking to a regular sleep routine and avoiding blue light at night. These are simple, yet enormously deep principles.

Step 3 – Limit Alcohol, Nicotine, and Caffeine

Alcohol consumption or a little “night cap” before bed adds another challenge for sleep quality. It may help some individuals initially fall asleep; however, it actually interferes with deeper stages of REM restorative sleep as well as staying asleep. Alcohol intake interferes with all the major neurotransmitters – serotonin, dopamine, acetylcholine, NMDA, but especially challenges the balance between glutamate (excitatory) and GABA (inhibitory/relaxation).

Alcohol initially binds onto the GABA receptor sites in the brain causing relaxation (and loss of inhibition) and mimics GABA. However, as the night wears on and alcohol effects wear off, then GABA is recycled into glutamate, a stimulatory neurotransmitter. The result is loss of GABA and more glutamate which leads to lighter, fitful, less REM/restorative sleep.

Avoid nicotine, caffeine, and exercise before bed as these are stimulants. Some individuals may be highly sensitive to caffeine and cannot have them after noon. Exercise stimulates the release of cortisol for several hours which may interfere with sleep if performed later in the day. Pay attention to how you respond to these factors in addition to the body clocks, blue light, EMF, and alcohol.

Step 4 – Follow the Leptin Diet Meal Timing

Sleep is synchronized to the Earth’s 24-hour pattern. Meal timing is part of that pattern and hormones like leptin are intimately involved with sleep-wake cycles. Leptin is the conductor of your hormonal orchestra and will signal other hormones like melatonin that prepare you for sleep. Following the Five Rules of the Leptin Diet promotes a healthy 24-hour rhythm.

1. Never eat after dinner. Finish eating dinner at least three hours before bed.
2. Eat three meals a day. Allow 5-6 hours between meals. Do not snack!
3. Do not eat large meals. Finish a meal when you are slightly less than full.
4. Eat a high protein breakfast. Aim for 20-30 grams of protein at breakfast.
5. Reduce the amount of carbohydrates eaten. Limit (don't cut out) carbs.

Foods and meal timing regulate clocks found in the peripheral tissues of the body. These body clocks then talk to the master SCN clock in the brain as it is a two-way communication loop. If we snack, graze, skip meals, or have irregular eating habits, this deregulates the whole system.

Step 5 – Exercise First Thing in the Morning

A minute of vigorous exercise first thing in the morning helps the body with sleep-wake rhythms. Exercise causes an increase in cortisol which is the wake-up hormone. Try doing a minute of jumping jacks or push-ups to get moving for the day. If you can’t do a minute, try for at least 30 seconds. Some individuals may need to open the blinds/curtains or turn bright full-spectrum light to help wake them up and then do the exercise within 30 minutes of awakening.

If your energy crashes with this type of exercise first thing in the morning, then work on gentle stretching and taking a walk outside or turn on full-spectrum lighting. Even if it is cloudy, the daylight exposure will help turn off melatonin.

Others may prefer to use high intensity interval training (HIIT) to really turn on body clocks and metabolism. Exercise for one minute, rest for 30-60 seconds, and repeat for five repetitions.

Step 6 – Manage Stress & Promote Relaxation

Those with high stress and poor-quality sleep may benefit from nutritional support during the day to help support the adrenals and energy systems. Helpful nutrients include pantethine, acetyl-l-carnitine, carnosinecoenzyme B vitamins and adaptogenic herbs like holy basil, cordyceps, and rhodiola rosea during the day for energy and stress management. Magnesium glycinate, calcium with taurine and glycineL-theanine, taurine, and lemon balm may be used during the daytime and at bedtime to help relaxation.

Give yourself at least an hour before your bedtime to wind-down. Read a book (not in electronic form) in soft light. Relaxation and deep breathing exercises may be helpful. Have some snuggle time with your family. Gentle stretching helps relieve inner tension and tight muscles. Check your bedroom temperature. Sleep in bedroom with cooler temperatures (62-70 °F) as melatonin release depends on it.

Do You Feel Wired & Tired at Bedtime?

Your master clock is in the hypothalamus in the brain. The hypothalamus is part of feedback loops like the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA axis). Daily life stress such as pain, acute stress, mood stress, and low blood sugar, send stress signals to the HPA axis. This may make you feel wired and tired due to the stress effect and interfere with sleep.

Cell membranes, nerves, and microglial cells in the brain need omega-3 fish oils for healthy brain structure and function. Try taking DHA with magnesium glycinate and vitamin D to help relaxation and restful sleep. Vitamin D is essential for magnesium and calcium absorption. Some individuals, who are quite stressed, tired and wired, may feel better with an extra dose at dinner and repeated again 30-60 minutes before bed to help optimize sleep.

Others who need more support for stress may benefit by taking phosphatidylserine with calcium aep, magnesium glycinatevitamin D and a small dose of melatonin at bedtime.

Melatonin needs vary from person to person. If you have ambient light coming into the bedroom or use blue-light or LED light before bed, then melatonin levels will be altered. If you exercise before bed, this too will block melatonin and raise body temperature which interferes with sleep and sleep rhythms. The production of melatonin also declines with aging. Shift workers often struggle greatly with this concern. Use the smallest dose needed to get to sleep and stay asleep. If you feel groggy or unable to fully wake up the next morning, the melatonin dose was too high.

Nutritional Support

RelaxaMag – Magnesium glycinate bound to relaxing amino acids optimize magnesium absorption and promote relaxation. Magnesium is needed for muscles, nerves, and stress tolerance.*

Sleep Helper – A combination of nutrients designed to help your nerves tolerate stress more efficiently, in turn helping you to sleep better at night. Includes passion flower, lemon balm, l-theanine, and taurine.*

Super Coenzyme B Complex – B vitamins are essential for both sleep and wake processes. Stress, caffeine, poor gut health, and numerous medications and environmental toxins rapidly use B vitamins.*

Stress Helper – Nutrients that support stress tolerance and energy production, including acetyl-l-carnitine, pantethine, and carnosine. Helps morning energy and mental clarity.*

Daily DHA – The omega-3 oil DHA is an essential fatty acid, essential meaning that it must be obtained daily in the diet or taken in supplement form. The brain is primarily a fatty organ made up essential fats. DHA is critical for brain cell and nerve health.*

PhosphatidylSerine (PS) – This phospholipid supports healthy brain cells and nerve communication. It helps stress tolerance and focus. PS works with essential fatty acids like DHA to help the natural day-night/sleep-wake communications occur.*

If you had an opportunity this summer to unplug and go camping or to a cabin away from technology and ambient light exposure, think back to what your sleep was like. If you felt more in sync and had better sleep in that environment, then you must work on these concerns. A 2013 study showed that camping for a week could reset a person’s body clock and improve sleep. Make these changes today, be consistent (the first week is always the hardest), and improve your sleep!

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