What You’ll Learn

Category: Sleep
  • Sleep is an essential biological function that impacts the body in immense ways
  • The importance of sleep is often ignored or misunderstood
  • Sleep quality is negatively impacted by a number of environmental factors
  • Five natural ways to improve your nightly rest

Sleep is an often neglected, yet essential biological function that plays a major role in physical growth, neurological development, memory formation, emotion regulation, cardiovascular health, metabolic function, and detoxification. While quality sleep is critical for optimal health and overall quality of life, there is a vast lack of education and information from practitioners on proper sleep habits and practices to improve sleep. Here at Innovative Medicine, we want to ensure patients are doing everything they can to support their sleep hygiene and ensure optimal mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing.

#1 Stretching 

Stretching increases the release of endorphins and blood flow to the muscles. Muscles are controlled by the nervous system, which has two main components: fight or flight and rest and digest. Stretching can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting relaxation. 

 Try some of these stretches to assist with relaxation before bed:

Seated Forward Fold: Sit on the ground, back straight, legs together and stretched out in front of you. Flex feet (keeping them active) and bend forward from the hips, reaching for your toes (or as far as feels comfortable) with your hands. Hold for 15 seconds.

Happy Baby: Lie on your back, lift your legs and bend your knees with your feet flexed toward the ceiling. Grab the big toe of each foot with respective hands and further bend your knees towards your armpits. If able, rock left to right, gently massaging your spine. Hold for 15 seconds.

Figure Four: Lie on your back with your legs extended in front of you. Lift your right leg, bend the knee, and hug your leg with your arms into the chest for five seconds. Raise your left leg straight up towards the ceiling (or as high as you can), bend your right knee outward, and place your right ankle against your left quad. Move the hand behind the left leg and pull the left leg towards the body. Hold for 15 seconds.

Up the wall: Sit facing the wall and lie on your back. Moving your buttocks as close to the wall as possible, lift your legs and rest the back of your legs against the wall, with your legs perpendicular to the ground. Rest with your arms out to the sides, palms up. Hold for 15 seconds.

#2 Set a Bedtime Each Night and Stick to it!

Going to bed at the same time and waking each morning at the same time keeps our bodies in harmony with the yin and yang of nature. This will also prevent a prolonged misalignment between our lifestyle and our circadian rhythm, thereby minimizing the risk of disease. 

Related: 7 Holistic Methods to Reduce Anxiety

#3 Meditate Before Bed 

Mindfulness practices and guided meditations are wonderful ways to set the stage for a peaceful night of rest. By allowing you to focus on the present moment, you can let go of the worries of the day. And when we clear our mind before sleep we de-activate the sympathetic nervous system and allow the subconscious to take over our body and guide us into a restful state. Helpful apps include Headspace, Insight Timer, Calm, and the mindfulness app.

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#4 Breathe 

The Buteyko Breathing Method teaches you how to bring your breathing back to normal and reverse what’s called chronic hyperventilation or chronic over-breathing. When your breathing is normal, you have proper oxygenation of tissues and organs, including your brain. Ideally, you should breathe lightly, in a calm fashion, and only through the nose and not your mouth). The Buteyko method, realized in the 1950s by Russian medical scientist Dr. Konstantin Buteyko, aims to resolve a great number of bodily dysfunctions by normalizing breathing and producing a gas mixture that organisms require to function properly.

  1. Normal Breath In Through Nose: Sit down in an upright posture, and take a normal, calm breath through your nose. Do not take a deep breath. Focus on using your diaphragm to breathe, allowing the stomach to expand.
  2. Normal Breath Out Through Nose: Exhale as you normally would through your nose. Again, focus on using the diaphragm to push all air out of the lungs (stomach should move, chest should not).
  3. Shorter Breath In Through Nose: Now, take a shorter, more shallow and light (1-2 second) inhalation through the nose and stop.
  4. Long Breath Out Through Nose: Slowly release the breath over 5 seconds, using your diaphragm to empty out your lungs. Hold breath after complete exhale for 5 seconds.
  5. Repeat Steps 1-4: Take a normal, calm breath again through the nose (step 1), and repeat the entire process for several minutes.
  6. Breathing like this through the nose improves nitric oxide and carbon dioxide levels in the body, and will help improve your control pause time.

#5 Create the Environment Your Body Needs for Sleep!

Designing your room to enhance sleep by eliminating sounds, scents, noises and light are all beneficial to drifting off to sleep more easily. 

  1. Darkening your bedroom may be the most important tip to synchronize your sleep-wake cycle. When the sun sets, our brain begins to release melatonin, the sleep hormone. Therefore, any exposure to outside light, TV’s, digital devices, or indoor lights after sunset can negatively affect our ability to rest adequately. Using peaceful paint colors on walls or colors that feel tranquil to you will calm you before you sleep. It may also subconsciously affect your dreams! Installing dimmer switches or low watt bulbs in the bedroom and avoiding TV and cell phones one hour before bed will reduce the amount of junk light at crucial hours.

    Additionally, investing in blackout curtains is helpful against light pollution. The less bright a room is throughout the night, the less stimulation the brain receives. Bring on the melatonin! 
  2. Quiet the bedroom and focus on blocking disruptive noises. Sound machines or “white noise machines” with natural sounds such as water, rain, thunder, or wind can help you fall asleep. But if noise is a problem throughout the night, then try earplugs. Blocking out all noise is an effective way to improve sleep quality. 
  3. Invest in high-quality bedding. Non-synthetic materials inhibit the proper “breathing” of fabric and instead traps heat and moisture. Using 100% natural and organic sheets should help regulate your body temperature and allow for a more restful sleep. 

Following these basic techniques consistently will enable you to control your sleep patterns and work to improve the physical, emotional, and mental aspects of health. You have control over your well being, so why not start with your bedtime routine?

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About Caitlin Policastro, NP

Caitlin Policastro, BSN, MSN (ANP/GNP) attended the University of Pittsburgh for her undergraduate degree in nursing ten years ago. Shortly thereafter, while working in the ICU at Memorial Sloan Kettering Center, she enrolled at Hunter College for her Master's degree in Adult/Geriatric Health in Nursing. While achieving her Master's degree, she transferred to the Hospital for Special Surgery to work beside world renowned orthopedic surgeons in the post-operative unit for four years. Upon completion of her Master's program, she knew she had a strong calling for integrative medicine after witnessing so many of her patients experience chronic health issues with no reprieve from allopathic medicine. Caitlin has been with the New York Center for Innovative Medicine for five years and is trained in ACMOS, Neural therapy, oxidative therapies, BAH evaluation, physical therapies and more. Over the past several years, she has worked and trained with renowned biological dentists, ND's, osteopaths and MD's and continues to expand her knowledge to integrate the most effective and therapeutic techniques for the center.
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