Sleep like a baby

How to sleep like a baby: Part 2

In the previous blog we mentioned five initial steps to follow for a better night’s sleep. They were: 1) Stop your snoring and sleep apnea; 2) Wake up early at a fixed time every morning and devote the first hour to “boot up” your day; 3) Boost your nutrition; 4) Manage your stress levels; and 5) Have your dentist assess whether your teeth and jaw are affecting your sleep quality.

In this second instalment on the same topic we outline 5 more steps to help achieve profound sleep:

Step 6: Stop the Sleep Thieves!

There are 5 main “lifestyle” choices that people make every day that impacts on how well they sleep. These 5 choices can easily be remembered by the acronym “CASE”:

1) C – Caffeine: This is the world’s most widely used stimulant and it works by temporary blocking a chemical called “adenosine” in the brain. From the moment you wake up, your body starts to accumulate adenosine and once it reaches a certain level signals to our brain that it’s time to sleep. We can trick our brains to “staying awake” by the way caffeine affects these nerve receptors. Late afternoon or evening caffeine (don’t forget chocolate and black tea) will disturb your sleep and create arousals.

2) A – Alcohol: Are you wired up and craving a few glasses of wine to “knock you out”? By now, if you are managing your stress levels and improving your nutritional status then there should be less of a need for an “alcoholic quick-fix”. Having more than two drinks shortly before bed leads to arousals. In some cases insomnia can also occur as the alcohol is broken down by your liver. Unfortunately, that is not all. Alcohol is a diuretic:  you may need to visit the bathroom in the middle of the night and will dehydrate your brain. Back to the first step in this blog on sleep apnea: Heavy drinking before bed makes you snore more loudly and impairs your breathing by reducing the muscle tone around your mouth, nose and throat.

3) S – Smoking: Nicotine is a stimulant for the brain and many smokers are unaware of its impact on sleep quality. There are, of course, other things to consider amongst smokers including the poorer nutrition from appetite suppression. Chronic smokers generally have lower levels of vitamin C, D and E in their bodies. Their levels of folate (Vit B6) and calcium absorption are also compromised. Let’s not forget the weakening of your immune system and impaired lung function. Might now, be a good time to quit?

4) E – Exercise: There is no contention that regular light to moderate intensity exercise has many health benefits. The timing of intense exercise workouts, however, may affect your sleep. Exercise is a great way to relieve stress, but research suggests that high intensity workouts that leads to an elevated heart rate before bed may make it difficult to fall asleep. Sleep may elude you if your heart rate is still 20 beats per minute higher than your resting heart rate when its time for bed.

Whether we like to admit it or not, our bodies are governed by internal biological clocks that control our circadian rhythm.

We will not discuss prescription medication here. Medications for the heart, anti-histamines, and anti-depressants are known to affect sleep quality for some individuals. Have a conversation with our doctor if you suspect that a medication you been prescribed is affecting your sleep. In many cases, the dosage, the time of day or an alternative medication can substituted to lessen the impact on your sleep.

Your bedtime routine

Step 7: Get into your Biological Clock

Whether we like to admit it or not, our bodies are governed by internal biological clocks that control our circadian rhythm. A “biological clock” can be defined as a process that controls functions external of itself.

Some of the most well known biological clocks are the cell cycles, sleep initiation and the menstrual cycle. The circadian clock helps to regulate not just our sleeping habits but also our eating habits, hormone production, urine production and even blood glucose levels.

If you go “against the grain” and do not pay attention to your circadian clock then you may experience insomnia, abnormal hunger cravings and fatigue just to name a few.

For adults, melatonin concentration steadily increases from 8pm and peaks around 2am. This hormone helps to induce sleep. For most people being asleep by 10 pm ensures you do not disrupt your circadian clock. Any form of artificial lighting stops your brain releasing melatonin. To help reset your circadian clock to your environment try to be outdoors between 6 – 8 am.

Step 8: Get unplugged and off the grid

Our bodies have become “detached” from our earth’s surface by wearing rubber insulating footwear that no longer gives us a direct connection to our planet. Couple this with a work environment that keeps us cocooned in our own “civilised”, but artificial environment and we often wonder why we feel ethereal. Have you ever had the sensation you are no longer connected to your body?

The expression “feeling grounded”, in broad terms, means to be fully present physically, emotionally and energetically. Making direct skin contact with the earth’s surface daily supplies us with many benefits, including:

  1. Helps reduce high cortisol levels which reduces our stress levels and improves our ability to sleep.
  2. Promotes muscle relaxation and shifts our nervous system to the relaxed parasympathetic nervous system.
  3. Decreases pain sensations by promoting anti-inflammatory mechanisms in our body.

Other researchers have found that people with depressive mood disorders can improve their moods with as little as 1 hour of daily contact with our earth.

I recognise that not everybody has the luxury of walking barefoot daily and alternative methods of assessing its health benefits include acquiring inexpensive earthing mats that are available in Australia and online.

Step 9: The air that you breathe

For most people being asleep by 10 pm ensures you do not disrupt your circadian clock.

The quality of air that you breathe can also have a profound impact on your quality of sleep. Many of you have witnessed that after a day of rain, nature brings us cleaner  “negative-ion” rich air that helps promote restful sleep.

The important factors to consider regarding your bedroom quality are:

1) Room temperature: Some researchers suggest a cool 19 degrees celsius is the optimal temperature with a few light bedsheets. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine informs us to think of our bedroom as a cave: “It should cool, quiet, and dark.”

2) Surrounding pollution levels: The majority of air pollution studies worldwide support the evidence that high levels of air pollution affect an individual’s lung function and ability to sleep well. If this is the case then look at ways of eliminating this problem.

3) Level of carbon dioxide in the air: When levels of carbon dioxide (from your exhaled breath) are eliminated by opening a window or a fan, mental performance is improved the following morning and sleepiness is reduced.

If you are fortunate enough to live in a relatively smog-free neighbourhood then leave your bedroom window ajar to allow fresh air to enter and carbon dioxide to escape which improves your ability for deep sleep.

If outside pollution, noise or smog prevent you from doing so then consider investing in a good quality air purifier that filters the air and pumps negative ions into your bedroom. It will have a similar effect to the cleansing effects of outside rain washing away the pollutants in our atmosphere.

Step 10: Sleep-inducing music

The expression “feeling grounded”, in broad terms, means to be fully present physically, emotionally and energetically.

Researcher Thomas Budzynski and others have found that certain forms of music can alter the neurochemistry of the brain. By doing so we can promote relaxation through inducing the alpha brainwave state that our brains enter just before sleep occurs. “Alpha wave music”, as it is more commonly known, is an inexpensive, non-addictive way to help you into a deeper sleep faster. Studies on disruptive school boys with hyperactive and disruptive behaviours found listening to these sound tracks decreased “off task” activities by 60%.

I have used this form of music for the past four years in my clinic for anxious patients. Personally I have found many to completely zone out and enter a relaxed meditative-type state. Some individuals have even entered a “REM sleep” phase just by listening with intent to the music played via headphones. The reduced anxiety is a welcome relief for patients seeking a drug-free solution without nitrous oxide gas or other sedatives.

If you have trouble getting to sleep (or children that stay “wired up” late into the night), then it may be beneficial to trial alpha wave music before bed.

To gain the most profound sleep possible, stop blaming your grandma or your partner for rousing you in bed! Start taking responsibility for your health by implementing these 10 steps to sleep like a baby.




Dr Nader Malik

Dr Nader Malik

Dr Nader Malik is a cosmetic and integrative dentist whose core treatment philosophy is to make a visible difference to the lives of his patients so that they can be inspired to laugh, smile and share the same experience with others! As a whole-body dentist, he focuses on understanding and treating the strong links between the teeth and the rest of the body. He also enjoys working with medical doctors and allied health professionals to ensure the best outcomes for his patients. Dr Malik practises at Our Medical Dental in Penrith, NSW Australia.

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