Drug-free Ways to Improve Sleep Naturally

Last month on the Canadian Mental Health Association’s “Anxiety and Depression Screening Day” I was invited to speak at a community event.  After I finished my keynote, in which I shared my own story of depression and the various natural ways you can boost your mood, naturopathic physician Dr. Neetu Dhiman took the stage.  I had been expecting her to talk about supplements for mental health, but instead she spent much of her presentation talking about ingenious natural ways to improve the quality of your sleep.

I often write and speak about the importance of sleep, as it makes such a huge difference to mood, health, vitality and productivity.  Experts estimate that in the early 1900’s North Americans got an average of 9 hours of sleep a night.  Today, on average we get less than seven hours.  I fight hard against myself (a night owl who wants to stay up surfing on line, or would love to watch a good movie or read a good book into the wee hours) and in spite of myself I usually manage to 8 hours or more.  On the nights that I don’t, I sure notice the difference the next day.  If I push it for several days, various aspects of me and my life will noticeably deteriorate.

If there is one health vow that you make, aim to get 8 hours sleep a night no matter what.  You’ll get sick less often, decrease your chances of gaining weight, enjoy better blood sugar control, think more clearly, be happier and less likely to get depressed, be less likely to develop heart disease and age more slowly – and that’s just the short list.

Some of Dr. Dhiman’s tips:

  1. When night starts to fall, your body should be getting ready for sleep

Our bodies weren’t designed for extra-bright lightbulbs and late night television.  Even a late-night check of your Blackberry or Iphone screen can trick your brain into thinking it’s still day and shut off pineal gland production of that fountain of youth, melatonin.  As evening settles, keep the lights low and engage in relaxing, quiet activities that will prepare your body for refreshing, deep sleep.

  1. Stick to a routine – your adrenal glands will thank you

Many holistic practitioners talk about “adrenal fatigue”- whether or not that’s a real physiological phenomenon is often hotly debated, however there’s no doubt that adrenal stress hormones such as cortisol naturally cycle over the course of a 24 hour day.  Cortisol levels should be lowest at midnight, and low cortisol levels stimulate precious growth hormone release.

According to Dr. Dhiman, If you overstimulate yourself with activities near bedtime, your cortisol may increase instead of decreasing at this critical hour. However, if you sleep at the same time every day and wake every day at the same time, your body will thank you for this regularity and apparently will function and cycle more smoothly and be less stressed.  Makes sense to me!

  1. Sleep in a pitch black room

As mentioned earlier, artificial light will trick your pineal gland into thinking it’s day and decrease melatonin production.  Apparently, even a small amount of light in your bedroom will do the same.  Dr. Dhiman advocates using blackout curtains, and don’t allow any light to come in under the door.  Cover any light from a digital clock and use a weak flashlight to find your way to the washroom (carefully!) instead of turning on bright lights that will turn off melatonin production.  She even said that the use of nightlights in children’s rooms can be highly detrimental, as quality of deep sleep is so critical to growing bodies.

  1. Eat a small protein snack before bed

A light snack of protein such as a handful of nuts or a glass of milk can provide the amino acid L-tryptophan that the brain uses to produce melatonin and serotonin that promote high quality sleep.

  1. Get in bed early to get some sleep between 10 pm and midnight

I had heard before that Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners claim that the hours between 10 pm and midnight are especially powerful for rejuvenation.  Some people, including Dr. Dhiman, claim that an hour of sleep during these “power hours” is the equivalent of two hours of sleep later in the night, such that you wake up more refreshed even if you didn’t manage a full 8 hours.  This is always a tough one for me, as I’m perpetually that little child who doesn’t want to go to bed, and my eight hours usually occur between 11:30 and 7:30 am.  I have a feeling she and others are right on this point, however.  I should try to get to bed earlier, I bet it really would make a difference.

For more information on Dr. Neetu Dhiman, see www.yourbriohealth.com.

For tips on how to improve all areas of your life beyond sleep – such as nutrition, self-discovery, relationships, creativity and much more – see my book, Live a Life You Love: 7 Steps to a Healthier, Happier, More Passionate You.

Susan Biali, MD is an internationally recognized medical doctor, wellness expert, life coach, speaker and flamenco dancer.  She has performed for and taught celebrities, and speaks and dances across North America. Dr. Biali blogs for PsychologyToday.com and appears regularly in media, including Fox News ABC,CBS,NBC and CTV, Global and CITYTV networks in Canada.  Her opinions  appear in publicatins such as Cosmopolitan, Self, Fitness, Hello!, The Medical Post, Reader’s Digest Best Health, Chatelaine and The Chicago Tribune.  She is the author of the best selling book Live a Life You Love! Seven Steps to a Healthier, Happier, More Passionate You (Beaufort Books, New York). To order Live a Life You Love, click on these links to Amazon.com and Amazon.ca

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  1. Judy says:

    Hello Susan: This is my first time on your web site. The sleeping tips are helpful, I have felt the Internet is not a good thing at night. Thanks!

    I enjoyed seeing you are a dancer, I studied until I was injuried, now persuing my dream as a Children’s Illustrator. I would like information on Codependence and how to help myself.

  2. Dr. Susan Biali says:

    Hi Judy!
    Thanks so much for your comment and I’m glad that you have found my blog to be helpful.

    Re. codependence, that is a challenge that is so common to so many, especially women. I wrote about my own experiences and work with clients around this issue in my book “Live a Life You Love”. I also wrote an article for my blog about it which you can find here:


    When I first started learning about codependence, I read the work of Melody Beattie and also attended 12 step groups in this area which were very helpful.

    I am cheering you on!

  3. Edy says:

    Fantastic posts. We have book marked your web site many thanks!

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