Sleep 101 Part 4: Troubleshooting Staying Asleep
In the last post in this series on sleep, we covered what to do when you are having trouble falling asleep, but what if you have the opposite problem: trouble staying asleep? Today, we are going to cover more tips to help you combat sleep problems during the night. Before we jump into the specifics, I want to make the point that all of the tips from all of the previous posts in this series are all valid for helping you stay asleep. The tips I will be sharing today are to be taken in addition to those that we've already covered! 1. Check Your Liver Health My acupuncturist and I have had many discussions about the role of the liver and sleep. Typically, if you are finding yourself awake from 2-4am and have a hard time falling back to sleep, you need to check in on your liver health. The liver is a detoxifying organ in our body, and today's society makes it work extra hard to keep our body running properly. The liver has to detoxify the foods we eat, alcohol, and toxins from our environment. We are exposed to so many more things that stress our liver now more than ever, and when our liver is overburdened, it can cause problems with our sleep. Supporting your liver is the one of the best ways you can help your sleep and your overall health. First, you want to make sure you're eating a real food based diet focused around meat, eggs, seafood, vegetables, fruit, and healthy fats (olives, butter, coconut oil, avocados, nuts, seeds). It's also a good idea to focus on liver superfoods such as organ meats (like liver itself!), leafy greens, bone broth, and seafood. However, it is almost more important that you are also avoiding processed foods, refined sugars, and gluten containing grains. These foods are high in refined carbs which are taxing to the liver as well as your entire body. In addition, other ways to support your liver health include avoiding excess alcohol, switching to more "holistic" beauty products (the chemicals all have to be processed by the liver), and changing out your cleaning products for more natural options. A quick note: liver detoxes are becoming a "buzz word" in the health world. Don't fall for any of those traps that have you taking a bunch of supplements or drinking only green drinks for weeks as a way to support your liver. The best way to support your liver is to drink plenty of water and eat tons of real, whole food (especially veggies) while avoiding grains, alcohol, and sugar. 2. Blood Sugar Regulation This tip might be the most important one for helping you sleep through the night. Often, we wake up during the night because our blood sugar has fallen to low and our body is forced to wake up. You might not feel this as hunger necessarily, but it is still often related to your blood sugar levels. It is critical to maintain stable blood sugar levels by eating a diet focused on a balance of protein, fat, and carbs from real food sources (meat, eggs, seafood, vegetables, fruit, healthy fats, etc). However, as with the section on liver health, it is even more important with blood sugar regulation to avoid processed and refined foods high in added sugars (real or fake) and grains. These foods cause all sorts of blood sugar issues as they spike our blood sugar very high, only to watch it fall 1-2 hours later resulting in an energy and mood crash. It is also important with blood sugar regulation to make sure you aren't eating carbs alone (that even means fruit!). Always pair carbs with protein and/or fat to help control your body's response to the carbs. Examples include apples with almond butter or a sweet potato with butter on top. 3. Water Intake Many people wake up during the night because they need to use the bathroom. This could be from drinking too much water before bed, which is an easy fix. However, this could also be a signal for blood sugar issues, in which case I'll direct you to my notes above! 4. Avoid Prolonged Naps Napping for extended periods of time during the day can mess up your sleep schedule. If you feel like you absolutely can't make it through the day without one, consider evaluating your total sleep routine and habits. Are you needing naps during the day because you are getting less than 5 hours of sleep each night or are staying up late on electronics? Try fixing the root cause of the problem instead of covering it with frequent naps. One quick note - I'm not saying naps are horrible, but if you are having trouble with staying asleep, it's definitely a factor to consider! 5. Establish a Consistent Wakeup Time This goes back to make a regular sleep routine, but waking up at about the same time each day helps your body get into a regular rhythm and pattern. This will, in time, help you stay asleep through the night. 6. Consider White Noise or a Fan If you are a light sleeper, consider playing some white noise in the background or running a fan to help you from hearing every small little noise. I have two fans going at all times because I'm such a light sleeper! 7. Avoid Alcohol Before Bed We talked about this with liver health earlier, but it bears repeating. Too much alcohol before bed can cause you to wake up in the middle of the night as your liver works to process the alcohol. Limit your consumption as your bedtime approaches, and maybe intersperse drinks with water. 8. Don't Look at Your Clock or Phone If you do find yourself awake, don't look at the clock or phone. The blue light from the electronics, especially in a dark room, can mess up your circadian rhythm even more than it already is from waking up. This goes back to our discussion about avoiding electronics before bed or wearing blue-light blocking glasses. 9. Evaluate Stress and Anxiety Levels Stress is the worst, and unfortunately, there is no magic pill to get rid of stress (if you know of one, let me know!!!). Stress effects every single area of our health, and until we start to manage it in a way that works for our bodies, we are going to continue to feel the nasty effects of stress. Having trouble staying asleep is one of those problems. With our circadian rhythm, we are supposed to have higher levels of our stress hormone cortisol in the morning. That is what wakes us up. We are also supposed to have higher levels of melatonin at night to help us go to sleep.
However, when we are stressed all of the time (from work, finances, friends, family, food choices, too much/too little exercise, etc), we develop chronically high cortisol that never seems to go down and follow its nature cycle. This means that we have higher cortisol at night when it should be lower, allowing us to sleep. Reducing cortisol through stress management is one of the best ways to help your sleep become deeper and better! Stress reduction looks different for everyone, but examples include massages, yoga, talking with friends/family, journaling, deep breathing, going for a walk outside in nature, and acupuncture. Find what works for you and make it a priority. It's not easy by any means, but I assure you it is completely worth the investment of time and money. 10. Supplements and Food Sensitivities Sometimes, certain foods or supplements you are taking might be affecting your sleep as well. I have a personal example with this scenario. Back in January, I was taking a multivitamin (Juice Plus) and a kelp supplement for the iodine. My sleep was awful; I was waking up every single night between 2-4am and was unable to get back to sleep. For some reason, I decided to cut out those two supplements because they were the only two I was on, and I was already avoiding sugar and gluten. I cut out those two supplements and the next day I was sleeping through the night, dreaming very deeply, and waking more refreshed than ever! Everyone is different with what they react to, but it's definitely worth a shot to see what food or supplement sensitivities you might have. The best way to test this is to complete an elimination diet by removing all of the common inflammatory foods (corn, soy, dairy, grains, alcohol, refined sugars) and focusing on real foods for a period of 2-4 weeks. Then, systematically adding and reintroducing foods after the 2-4 weeks will allow you to see what you are reacting to specifically. It will definitely reveal an issues with sleep or other health issues!
We've covered a ton of information in this 4-part series on sleep. It might seem overwhelming or daunting to start making sleep a priority in your life, but trust me. If you don't start now, you will regret it later! Sleep can help in the recovery process for most diseases and illnesses. It is our body's most healing time! Respect that fact, and start sleeping more to heal your body. You won't regret it!