Sleep – the Great Regulator

If there was super power for the nervous system, it would be called Sleep…the Great Regulator. I’m sure it would smell like lavender and wear a soft cape in the dark. Sleep is unparalleled as being the great regulator of our nervous system – helping our body heal and recover from the day but also helping the mind rest, process, and even clear our debris (or gunk as I like to call it) from a little cerebrospinal fluid bath as we sleep. So much research has been devoted to the importance of sleep and trying to pinpoint the right amount, quality, and environment of sleep. This week’s video talks about sleep ecology and how to set the stage for optimal sleep and how it’s contrary to most of our current lifestyle and sleep environments.
Sleep deprivation and sleep debt can be extreme for us – both mind and body. When med students (who are sleep deprived anyway) were deprived of sleep for long periods of time suffered increased somatic complaints, similar to fibromyalgia, increased aches and pains, depression and some even went into periods of psychosis. Those effects were reversed when sleep patterns then became regular. The majority of us will experience sleep deprivation effects in terms of lack of focus, memory impairment, irritability, reduced immune function, increased weight gain and energy deficiency but serious side effects long term including symptoms of ADHD, cognitive impairment, diabetes, heart disease etc. make regular restorative sleep something that should be a priority along with a healthy diet and daily exercise.
Restorative sleep is essential for overall health and wellbeing and studies are showing that we are getting less and less quality sleep and it’s impacting our overall health -not just in terms of mood stability and mental health but also physical health.
Here we’re talking about sleep ecology – setting the stage for transition from activity to rest. Rituals and environment play a big part in how we transition into sleep.
Also to note – many people that have been impacted by trauma or suffer anxiety notice their symptoms get worse just when they are starting to relax and prepare for sleep. This is confusing for many but a very common symptom of a dysregulated nervous system that is either stuck in fight or flight mode from previous trauma or simply overwhelmed or one that is in a scanning pattern of hyper vigilance – searching for threat on a continuous basis. We need to work with your nervous system to complete those cycles of fight or flight, to decrease activation and sympathetic arousal in your nervous system and to work with the area of sleep in a clinical way. In my office, we’d do that with Self Regulation Therapy – working directly with the nervous system to quench the kindling for where those brain centres are ignited.
Natural supplements can help and are preferable to anything pharmaceutical. Current prescriptions for sleep medications are habit forming and have often dangerous side effects – including a very common sleep aid Zoplicone/Imovane which is highly prescribed and not only very difficult to come off of but has a host of issues with memory, amnesia and more. I’m even cautious about Melatonin for the lack of long term studies on the various ages of regular use for this hormone we should be making ourselves.
Alternatives that are effective include a tincture that is a combination of valerian root AND California poppy – I like one from Botanica called Valerian Sleep Compound. Gaia Herbs makes one called Sound Sleep and Flora makes a tea called Sleep ZZZ that all have herbal components designed to encourage relaxation of body and mind. Chamomile tea is a simple one – known to increase GABA in the brain which is a natural soother.
Keep your caffeine in check. Don’t be afraid to have a small snack before bed (protein, carb AND fat please) to regulate blood sugars while you sleep. Exercise daily but not too late. Reduce your alcohol intake. Investigate essential oils, herbal formulas, and homeopathic remedies. Consider joining the 10 o’clock club (go to bed by 10pm each night thus maximizing your hours before midnight – as they have more value ). Develop a transition routine that slows, quiets, and dims your day as you prepare for rest. Use this as a time to practice self care and slowing. Get comfortable, follow the sleep ecology practice in this video and see if your sleep quality doesn’t improve. If you’re still struggling, there are techniques we use in session that can help assist your nervous system to relax including some basic visualization techniques.
Tell me your sleep ecology and transition practices – what works for you?

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