Sleep – Natural Approaches to Improve Sleep

There is nothing like a good night’s sleep. Many of my patients come in complaining of sleep issues, and Stats Canada says that six in ten Canadians report some insomnia.  Lack of sleep can rob you of your life force, affect your mood, and depress your immune system. Poor sleep increases appetite and makes it harder to control your food intake. Prescription drugs for sleep can have significant side effects which may including increased rates of cancer and death according to a large study. Long term use of these medications is not recommended under ordinary circumstances.

As a naturopathic physician, I believe in getting to the root cause of the problem and removing any impediments to sleep as a first step to overcoming insomnia. Some examples of issues that can affect sleep are: urinary issues, menopausal hot flashes, back or joint pain, restless leg syndrome, digestive issues, adrenal / nervous system imbalances, neurotransmitter imbalances, sleep apnea and more. Each of these issues can be effectively addressed safely and effectively without the use of drugs.  In addition, I am a firm believer that whatever stresses you have during the day can come back and bite you at night. Problem solving and relaxation techniques are an essential part of a program to calm and balance the nervous system 24 hours a day.

Once we have removed obstacles to a good night’s sleep, we look at “sleep hygiene”. This involves making sure you are going to bed in a quiet, dark room and taking time before bed for relaxation techniques. TV and computer should be reserved for other times of the day. Caffeine is best avoided all day.

For those people who still have sleep issue after implementing these basic strategies, I teach them Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia or CBT-i.   This comprehensive program has been proven to be more effective than sleeping pills for addressing insomnia. Major medical journals have published articles recommending these techniques, which are designed to help people get more shut-eye, without taking drugs.  CBT-i teaches skills to help retrain the brain to be able to sleep through the night.

Herbal and other natural medicines can be very helpful for balancing the nervous system, calming the adrenal glands and balancing neurotransmitters in the brain. For instance, valerian has been proven to increase sleep time for people with insomnia and specifically menopausal sleep problems. There are other natural medicines that can balance the nerves and mind to enhance sleep. So don’t settle for less than a great night’s sleep.

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