Put Down the Melatonin...Let's Talk About Sleep


Guest Blog by Dr. Sara Jean Barrett

Struggling with insomnia? Before you go reaching for melatonin think about what could be the underlying cause. In the world of alternative medicine it can be easy to slip into ‘green allopathy’ where you swap out a medication for a natural alternative. For example, using white willow bark instead of aspirin for a headache or red yeast rice instead of a statin drug for high cholesterol. The problem is that you aren’t getting to the root cause. Why do you have a headache? Why is your cholesterol elevated? Why do you struggle to fall asleep, stay asleep and wake feeling rested? Just swapping out a medication for a natural alternative is not a holistic approach. There are many causes of insomnia - here are just a few to consider:

  • Stress, anxiety, mood disorder - these are major players in insomnia

  • Inflammation

  • Adrenal imbalance

  • Apnea*

  • Underlying metabolic disorder (hyperthyroidism, diabetes, etc.)

Some things that will likely be much more valuable than grabbing melatonin is to work on your sleep hygiene and make meditation part of your daily bedtime routine. Most of us live very full lives with many things on our minds. Give these tips a try next time you are having trouble getting restful sleep:

  • Turn off overhead lights as early as possible - ideally as soon as the sun goes down. Use dim lighting and lamp light in the evening.

  • Shut down your computer, TV, iPad and smart phone at least 1 hour before bed. These devices are back-lit by blue light which simulates sunlight and can disrupt the balance of wakefulness and restfulness.

  • Consider using a dawn simulator alarm clock to gently wake you in the morning and aid in balancing your circadian rhythm. Spending time outside every day with sunlight in your eyes is another way to aide this balance.

  • Finish dinner (and any nighttime snacking) at least 2 hours before you go to bed so that you're body isn't focused on digestion when it should be resting.

  • Have a nighttime routine that tells your body to start winding down (brushing teeth, reading a book, stretching, etc)

  • Meditate before bed to lower your stress and relax.

  • If ruminating thoughts keep you up at night, try journaling or talking to get your feelings out. Find a way to work through any difficulties lingering from your day so your brain can unwind.

  • Use dim lighting in your bedroom and consider heavy curtains to keep evening light out in the summer.

  • Maybe most importantly, keep a sleep schedule. Large variations in when you go to bed and when you wake up make it harder to regulate your sleep.

*If you are not getting restful sleep and suspect you are snoring or stop breathing during the night please talk with your doctor about having a sleep study done

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