4 things that are robbing you of a restful night’s sleep (& what to do about it)

When I saw this at the Oprah 2020 show, my jaw dropped.

In January of 2020 I attended Oprah’s tour at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul Minnesota. In the beginning of the show, she asked the audience to raise their hands if they were chronically tired and/or got less than 6 hours of sleep per night. What I witnessed next shocked me. Over 75% of the audience raised their hands! And this was a sold out show with over 20,000 people in attendance.

I’m proud to say I wasn’t one of them. 

And I’m also shocked and saddened to see how many people walk around fatigued, exhausted, sluggish, and with a lackluster appearance to their bodymind. These are the people of my community, my city, my state, my world. These are the people who run our schools, lead our city, educate our youth, train our employees, run our world. And they are downright exhausted.

I cannot express with more urgency that this global exhaustion crisis needs to change. Researchers have expressed that driving while falling asleep at the wheel is more dangerous at times than driving while intoxicated.

So what can we do about it? Where do we begin? As a health practitioner, I believe that the body is meant to and can heal on it’s own when given the proper environment, strategies, and resources. Another key element to making change is discipline. Most often when we take on new patterns and behaviors, there can be somewhat of a rocky start. This is because neurons that fire together, wire together. This includes with old habits that eventually become automatic and deeply wired within our physiology and ways of being.

Thankfully, we can change these patterns and begin to fire and wire new habits that serve our higher selves over time. It can take work, however, depending on the emotional complexity of the pattern itself. That topic is for another blog. For now, we’ll focus on a few simple things you can do to begin to access a more restful night’s sleep and stop robbing yourself of the vitality you deserve.

4 things that are robbing you of a restful night’s sleep (and what to do about it)

1. Too much tech 

Lately, you’ve probably heard the phrase “blue light” exposure. This is the type of light that is emitted from our technology including TV’s, computers, and cellphones. The sun also emits blue light within it’s light spectrum. For some perspective, you’ve also probably heard of “red light” therapy or infrared saunas. This is a similar concept just with a different wavelength of light. When our eyes and brain are exposed to this type of light (which is included within the light from the sun), it decreases melatonin production.

Melatonin is a hormone released by the pituitary gland in the brain that regulates our sleep-wake cycles and circadian rhythms. When healthy, this hormone increases before bed and slowly decreases as we get closer to our wake cycle and shifts throughout the day. Naturally, we want to be winding down as the sun goes down. This cues our brain that night is upon us and melatonin starts to increase…UNLESS…we’re scrolling on social media. Our eyes continue to perceive that it’s daytime and so melatonin production is impacted, leading to disrupted sleep cycles.

My suggestion: ditch your technology 30min before bed. If you’d like to go a step further. I highly encourage you to keep all technology out of the bedroom so you’re not tempted to do one last scroll. Treat your bedroom as a sacred sleep cave. Your brain, body, and energy levels will thank you later.

2. Food too close to bed

Ideally, we want to complete our last meal 3 hours before bed. This gives the gut a chance to kick in a second wave of digestion within the intestines that happens between 11pm and 3am. Think of it as like deeper cleaning for the food particles that have yet to be fully processed.

Going to bed with a full stomach doesn’t allow this type of deeper cleaning within the gut. Plus, your nerve system now has to send energy to the gut versus healing other areas from the day, injuries, other tissue damage, etc. Often times late night cravings can be a sign of stress within your body mind system. If you tend to stay up often past 11pm, this too cues the brain into thinking it’s staying up and needs energy for fuel for a few more hours.

Now of course, this might be a challenge for 3rd shift workers. What I recommend is if you do get hungry close to bed time, have something that is light on your stomach, easy to digest, and contains protein (which will help with healing when you’re asleep). My go to items are roasted nuts, hard boiled eggs, tea, soup, or a cup of bone broth.

3. Lack of transition between work and rest

Transitions are a natural part of life. It cues our nerve system that change is upon us without totally disrupting our current state. This is part of why I love living in Minnesota and experiencing the slow, seasonal transitions. Fall and spring remind us about the beauty of change and help prep our system for what’s to come.

We can do the same with our daily routine. Being able to cue our body that work is ending and rest is coming can be helpful in accessing more ease in falling asleep. Here are a few simple things I like to do to cue my system that the work day is done and I am moving into a restful evening:

  • Before I leave my car to walk in my home, I take a deep breath, exhaling the day and getting present for my evening with my husband

  • Changing my work clothes right away into something more soft and relaxing

  • Putting on essential oils that relax my mind (my go to ones are bergamot, lavender, and eucalyptus)

  • Saging my house when I get home

  • Listening to music on the way home that shifts my energy from work to play/rest

4. You’re in a constant state of fight or flight

There are many practices (such as the ones listed in point 3 above) that can help us wind down and decompress from the day. The key is to be able to have a healthy balance of work and play not only for our minds, but our bodies as well. Living in a constant state of “go go go” can eventually lead to deeper exhaustion, poor sleep, decreased bodily function, decreased healing, and so much more. We need to be able to learn how to turn on and off the brakes in any situation of life.

Here are some more tips that help rebalance the nerve system on a deeper level and help with sleep:

  • Body Care - chiropractic, acupuncture, massage, cranial sacral, therapy

  • Breathwork - this can be as simple as taking 5 minutes to practice deep belly-breathing before bed (you can check out my YouTube channel for more breathwork exercises)

  • Meditation - I personally love the Insight Timer App that has specific meditations designed for sleep

Cheers to more rest and energy for your days to come!

Dr. Mel

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