The Natural Sleep Cure: How to Get Restful, Rejuvenating Sleep Without Popping a Sleeping Pill

by Dr. Sara Gottfried

the natural sleep cure

You know the breakfast cereal commercials that show a bowl full of bran flakes, a glass of milk, orange juice, a banana, and some eggs? Usually accompanied by the phrase, “Part of a balanced breakfast!”

I wish that instead they showed an image of someone deeply, contentedly asleep. Because unlike a breakfast of high carbs and excess sugar (like the one I just described), a night of plentiful, restorative sleep is the healthiest way to start your day.

Not only does a night of excellent sleep rejuvenate your very cells, but it also sets your circadian rhythm, keeping your hormone levels in synch with your varying needs throughout the day. Unfortunately for most of us, eight hours of high-quality sleep seems like an unattainable dream (pun intended).

Our modern lifestyles get in the way of a good night’s sleep in several ways. I’m going address three of the most common sleeping mistakes people make, as well as how you can change your habits to become a master sleeper.

1. Sleeping Pills Are Not the Answer

Data from 2011 show that pharmacists filled 60 million prescriptions for sleeping pills, which is a huge uptick from the 47 million prescribed in 2006. Even the most popular prescription pills add just 40 minutes (or less!) of sleep at night, and most are approved only for short-term use.The frightening part of this trend? Recent studies link prescription sleeping pills with a greater risk of cancer and death.

The Solution

If you struggle to fall asleep on your own at night, there are several proven supplements on the market that have none of the negatives of a costly sleeping pill prescription. One of my favorites is Valerian, a medicinal herb that was recommended by Hippocrates himself. In fact, a new randomized trial in menopausal women showed that 530 mg of valerian extract improved sleep in 30% of treated insomniacs, versus only 4% of the placebo-treated group.

2. Too Much Technology

Are you guilty of staring at your phone in bed? Falling asleep with the television on in the background? Checking email one more time before you hit the sack?

All of these could be contributing to an inability to fall asleep, as well as worsened sleep quality over the course of the night. Not only do these devices stimulate your brain, making it harder for you to relax, but the artificial light from their screens can mess with the sleep chemicals your confused brain should be making. Sleep is a crucial part of your self-care regimen. Angry Birds is not.

The Solution

Set a technology curfew. Turn off your phone, tablet, TV or computer roughly two hours before you want to go to sleep. This will give your busy brain a chance to wind down from the day and release the melatonin you need to drift off. You may even find yourself adjusting to an earlier bedtime, which leads me to my next point…

3. Late Nights, Low Energy

Are you a night owl? There are lots of us who claim to be “night owls” or “morning people.” Unfortunately, people who like to stay up into the wee hours of the morning are depriving their bodies of valuable nightly repair sessions, and those who wake up early for work some mornings but sleep until noon on the weekend are confusing their hormonal calendar. In other words: it’s not just how much you sleep that matters; it’s also when you sleep.

The Solution

Play Cinderella. I don’t mean you have to go out and buy some fabulous shoes (although if you have a pair in mind, I won’t be the one to stand in your way). What I mean is that you need to set a bedtime and stick to it. Setting a regular bedtime will do wonderful things for your hormones. Going to sleep and waking up at roughly the same time each day keeps your circadian rhythm steady, leading to a consistent release of hormones over the course of the day.

And if you set that bedtime to before 10:00 pm, you’ll be getting a double-whammy of cell repair and energy boosting sleep. We know that the hours between 10:00 pm and midnight are the most auspicious for cell repair, so being asleep during those hours will result in younger-looking skin, improved organ reserve, and decelerated aging.

If you want to dive even deeper into upleveling the quality of your sleep, please look into one of my latest products: The Sleep Cure. It contains the science, the advice and the steps you need to take for optimal sleep. Sleep is a free, readily-available, and incredibly effective hormone-balancing tool at everyone’s disposal. I suggest you master yours tonight!

 
References:
“IMS Health,” accessed March 24, 2012 http://www.imshealth.com/ and sleep data originally sited by http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/12/new-worries-about-sleeping-pills/. IMS data are proprietary and not reported in a peer-reviewed journal.
Kripke DF, Langer RD, Kline LE. “Hypnotics’ association with mortality or cancer: a matched cohort study.” British Medical Journal Open 2 (1) (2012): e000850.
Taavoni S, Ekbatani N, Kashaniyan M, Haghani H. “Effect of valerian on sleep quality in postmenopausal women: a randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial.” Menopause 18 (9) (2011): 951-5.
photo credit: Jerry Cooke

About the author...

 teaches women and men how to balance their hormones naturally so they can rock their mission and marriage. She is a Harvard-educated physician, MIT-trained bioengineer, certified yoga teacher, and speaker. She is regularly featured in magazines such as O Magazine, Glamour, and Yoga Journal, and TV, including The Ricki Lake Show and 20/20. Dr. Sara recently released her New York Times best seller The Hormone Cure which is invaluable for men and women looking to restore their youthful zeal.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve Cordova July 17, 2013

The idea that our cells are the most auspicious for cell repair between 10pm and midnight is interesting. I wouldn’t mind seeing the source on this to learn more about it.

Reply

Brad July 23, 2013

Steve, here is another article as well a link to some published studies that discuss this topic. Most articles agree that 10pm-2am are the magic hours for cell repair, but one of Dr. Gottfried’s associates advises that 10pm-12am are the real heavy hitters, hence her slightly-shorter recommendation.

Here’s an article from Dr. Oz that speaks to that idea: http://www.doctoroz.com/blog/kulreet-chaudhary-md/sleep-and-longevity
http://www.ndhealthfacts.org/wiki/Sleep

A few studies on the subject:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22947657
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22946089

I hope that’s helpful!

Reply

Steve Cordova July 27, 2013

Thanks so much Brad. This is really good stuff. It makes a lot of sense once you understand how it all works together. And this extra article from Dr. Oz is very helpful. Now if I could only get to bed earlier. 🙂

Reply

Brad July 28, 2013

Amen. That’s the trick!

Reply

Mary Beth Elderton July 22, 2013

i agree that *when* you sleep is important. I sleep very well between about midnight and 8 am (I’ve never heard of that 10-12 bit for cell repair) and have lots of energy for the day. What’s more,it’s a very regular sleep cycle for me. The problem is that we have to get up at 5 am for work, so I struggle to get to sleep around 9 pm. The whole ordeal is artificial.

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