Fix sleep issues without pills
Q: For the past few months I’ve had rotten sleep. I have been using sleeping pills on and off just to get some proper rest but I don’t want to become reliant on them. Do you have any suggestions for fixing sleep issues without sleeping pills? Thanks, James.
Hi James, good-quality restorative sleep is a widespread challenge. It takes a third of New Zealanders more than 30 minutes to get to sleep and a few years ago in 2012, almost 680,000 unique sleeping pill prescriptions were given. When your body has lost the ability to do something so basic, that is a distinct piece of feedback from the body that something(s) need to change.
When sleeping pills are used as a bridge, as a short-term band-aid for sleep problems, it’s not usually a major concern. But sleeping pills are just that – a band-aid – and until the deeper issue(s) that
created the sleep challenges in the first place are addressed, no progress will be made that allows a person to come off the sleeping pills and begin sleeping naturally again.
Sometimes these sleeping challenges are linked to the biochemistry within the body (such as too much alcohol or caffeine), and sometimes it is emotional. For example, you may lay awake at night running through all the things you didn’t get done that day and how much that’s going to roll into tomorrow. I’ve talked about living in the fight or flight zone many times in my writing. That too is a common reason why many people don’t sleep well these days.
A great way to identify what lays at the heart of your issue is to ask yourself when you last remember sleeping well. If it was when you were on holiday, you can bet that stress is playing a big part. If the last time you slept well was in a hotel, again it could be stress but it might also be worth looking at what you’re sleeping on. People often keep their beds for far too long so it might be a lack of structural support that’s stopping you from resting easy.
Pay attention to whether you sleep better when you have a smaller meal for dinner and try omitting spicy food in the evenings and eating smaller portions.
Maybe the last time you slept well was after abstaining from alcohol for a period of time. Alcohol disrupts REM (rapid eye movement) sleep which is the fourth part of our sleep cycle and when critical repair work is done inside our body.
Sometimes our sleep cycle is disrupted due to an interference with melatonin production. Melatonin is your primary sleep hormone, it helps you to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. Its production in your body is affected by light. When you expose your eyes to light late into the evening, through any means, including the use of backlit devices (such as iPads, mobile phones and laptops), or you work until late under a bright light or watch television, it can Email your questions for Dr Libby to email@example.com. Please note, only a selection of questions can be answered. affect your melatonin production. Become aware of how much light you’re exposing your eyes to within two hours of bedtime and make your bedroom a television and wireless device free zone.
It’s also helpful to reset your circadian rhythm (your natural sleep cycle) by getting up at the same time each morning and exposing your eyes to gentle morning sunlight. It’s preferable to get up and go outside and exercise but even just walking outside for a few minutes to expose your eyes to the light of this new day can be beneficial. Commit to doing this for a week minimum, and begin to notice the difference.
Dr Libby is a nutritional biochemist, best-selling author and speaker. The advice contained in this column is not intended to be a substitute for direct, personalised advice from a health professional. Visit drlibby.com.
Sometimes sleeping challenges are linked to the biochemistry within the body and sometimes it is emotional.