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  • Writer's pictureDr. Hillary Roland, ND

TIRED? 7 Things That Can Sabotage Your Sleep

Updated: Mar 21, 2019

March is National Sleep Awareness Month. (Rather timely considering the havoc that Daylight Saving Time can wreak as we adjust to a new sleep schedule!) Sleep is vitally important to our overall well-being, and a deficiency in the quantity or quality of sleep can impact our health in a multitude of negative ways. Learn what NOT to do before bed as well as healthy sleep habits and natural remedies that can help you rest better.

More than a third of American adults are not getting enough sleep according to a new study for the Center of Disease Control. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommends that adults get a minimum of 7 hours per night to promote optimal health and well-being.

Sleeping less than 7 hours per night is associated with an increased risk of developing chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke and frequent mental distress. According to the CDC’s recent study, the average American slept less than 6.8 hours per night with 40% of us getting fewer than 6 hours.

The nation hasn’t always been this sleep deprived; in 1910 people slept an average of nine hours per night. Our culture of sleep deprivation has been propelled by technologies like the light bulb, the internet and social media, which have all encouraged us to stay awake in an increasingly 24/7 world.

In 2019 sleep disorders are becoming an epidemic; 30% of Americans have symptoms of insomnia and 10% of Americans have symptoms severe enough to cause daytime consequences. And we aren’t only putting ourselves at risk.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that “drowsy driving” causes 1,550 deaths and 40,000 injuries annually in the US. According to the National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep Poll, 60% of Americans have driven while feeling sleepy and 37% admit to actually having fallen asleep at the wheel in the past year.


Long-term health depends on the regeneration that occurs during deep sleep. Growth hormone, or the “anti-aging” hormone, is secreted during sleep, which stimulates tissue regeneration, liver cleansing, muscle building, break down of fat stores and normalization of blood sugar.

During sleep free radicals are scavenged in the brain, minimizing its aging. Many health problems are aggravated by inadequate sleep. Sleep gives us renewed vitality, a more positive outlook on life, and energy with which we can reach our full potential each and every day.

If you’ve ever had to parent while sleep deprived – and hello! what parent hasn’t? – you know it’s NOT pretty. Your patience is the first thing to go.


If you’re experiencing drowsiness, fatigue, decreased concentration, impaired memory, reduced stress tolerance, mood changes, irritability, muscle tension, or increased health problems such as infections you could very well be sleep deprived.

It’s generally well known that quality, uninterrupted sleep is essential for a child’s growth in terms of both their physical and mental development. Similarly, many people understand that teenagers need sufficient sleep in order to perform at their best in school and extracurricular activities.

Yet, our society almost glorifies sleep deprivation in adults. Like sleeping is a waste of time better spent doing something more… productive. Unfortunately, the reality is poor quality sleep is one risk factor that can contribute to cardiac rhythm disorder, hypertension, mental acuity issues, chronic headaches, attention deficit-like behavior, and other health issues like depression, anxiety, and hormonal irregularities. Don’t feel bad or “lazy” for getting the sleep you need to be a healthy, happy human.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following amount of sleep for different age groups:

  • Newborns: 14–17 hours

  • Infants: 12–15 hours

  • Toddlers 11–14 hours

  • Preschoolers 10–13 hours

  • School-aged children: 9–11 hours

  • Teens: 8–10 hours

  • Adults: 7–9 hours

  • Older adults: 7–8 hours


  1. Alcohol - although a glass of wine or two may help you feel drowsy, the sleep obtained after drinking is fragmented and light.

  2. Caffeine - the stimulating effects of your favorite caffeinated beverage may last up to 10 hours in some people. Caffeine is present in coffee, green tea, black tea, chocolate and some medications such as pain relievers, decongestants, thermogenic weight loss products, and unsurprisingly, energy supplements. Avoid it in the afternoon if getting to sleep is a problem at night.

  3. Nicotine - the stimulating effects of nicotine (first- or second-hand smoke) can last several hours.

  4. Sleeping pills - aside from being highly addictive and full of side effects, these pills only increase light sleep, and actually decrease the amount of time spent in deep sleep.

  5. B-vitamins - these supplements can increase energy that keeps some people awake, if taken before bed. Take B-vitamins earlier in the day.

  6. Full stomach - large quantities of protein are stimulating to the body as digestion occurs. It’s best to finish eating at least three hours before going to bed.

  7. Screen time – staring at your phone, tablet or TV before bed can leave you feeling groggy the next day. Exposure to the bluish light these devices emit can sabotage your sleep by disrupting your internal clock. Turn everything off up to two hours before hitting the hay.


  1. Your sleeping environment should be quiet, cool and comfortable. The room should be clutter-free. Feng Shui, the Chinese art of placement, can be valuable in creating an optimal sleeping environment.

  2. Reduce the amount of ambient light as much as possible. Electronic devices such as clocks, stereos and TVs generate electromagnetic fields that can disturb sleep for some people. Experiment with moving these into another room or using EMF shields.

  3. Maintain consistent sleep and wake times. (Thanks for making this harder, Daylight Saving Time!) Do not push yourself to stay up past the initial signs of sleepiness. This can create epinephrine production, causing more difficulty getting to sleep later.

  4. Establish a “getting ready for bed” routine to relax and prepare your body for sleep.

  5. Reserve the bed for sleep and sex only. Do not read, watch TV, eat, or worry in bed. Solve daily dilemmas outside of the bedroom. If you find that you’ve been lying awake in bed for 15-20 minutes, get out of bed. Do something mundane until you feel sleepy, and then go back to bed. Repeat this as often as needed.

  6. Avoid taking naps during the day if you have trouble sleeping at night.

  7. Exercise regularly. Exercising during the day or early evening decreases the time it takes to get to sleep and increases the amount of deep sleep obtained. Most people do better avoiding exercise late in the evening.

  8. Exposure to sunlight early in the morning and late in the afternoon or evening encourages a strong circadian rhythm. The hormone melatonin, which helps create a sleep state in the body, is suppressed in light and secreted in darkness. Consistently get exposure to sunlight as late in the day as possible.

  9. If you have problems with waking during the early hours of the morning, have a small protein snack just before bed to ensure consistent blood sugar levels throughout the night.

Improving overall health will improve the quality of your sleep. Work towards improving or eliminating health problems. Treatment modalities such as massage, acupuncture or cranial sacral will help to relax the body. Effective stress management is essential.

Here are some more strategies you can try to relax your body and prepare it for sleep:

  • Take a warm bath, possibly adding Epsom salts or lavender oil

  • Meditate for 5 - 30 minutes before going to bed

  • Practice breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation (various recordings are available) or any other means of inducing the “relaxation response”. Daily practice brings greater results.

  • Listen to special acoustic recordings that increase specific brain wave patterns for relaxation and sleep

  • Diffuse essential oils of herbs known for relaxation via aromatherapy


Consult your physician for recommendations and dosages regarding the following botanical treatments and supplements:

  • Chamomile

  • Valerian

  • Vervain (verbena)

  • Hops

  • Lavender

  • Passionflower

  • Avena (oat straw)

  • Lemon balm

  • Scutellaria (skull cap)


Magnesium: Magnesium is a mineral that helps quiet the mind and relaxes muscles making it easier to fall asleep. Studies show magnesium’s relaxing effect may be partly due to its ability to regulate the production of melatonin, the hormone that guides your body’s sleep wake cycles. Magnesium also increases brain levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter with calming effects. Magnesium glycinate is the best form to use for sleep support since the glycine molecule also induces relaxation.

Melatonin: Studies show that melatonin supplementation may improve overall sleep quality in individuals suffering from sleep disorders. Melatonin can reduce the time people take to fall asleep and increase the total amount of sleep time. It’s also particularly beneficial for individuals who require daytime sleep, such as shift workers. While short-term use is considered to be safe. Long-term safety is not well-established. Use for a couple of weeks to re-establish cycles is recommended. Some data suggests long-term use in children can suppress growth hormone production so I do not recommend using it for more a week in this population.

L-Theanine: This amino acid can increase relaxation and reduce stress by calming the glutamate receptor in the brain. Research shows it can help people fall asleep more quickly and improve the quality sleep. Specific studies have shown that l-theanine can help improve sleep quality in children with ADHD.

5-HTP: 5 Hydroxytryptophan can help shorten the time to fall asleep and increase sleep time. It has also been shown to improve mood and ease stress and anxiety, which can interfere with sleep. It may also be effective in reducing sleep terrors in children.

Glycine: A recent study of glycine showed it triggered a drop in body temperature and helped people both fall sleep more quickly and spend more time in REM sleep. It may also help you move more quickly into deep, slow wave sleep, which is the most regenerative phase of the sleep cycle.

Rest well, friends!


If you have questions about your individual sleep habits or challenges, or you want to know which sleep aid supplements may be right for you, schedule a new patient consult and we'll work together to come up with a plan.

Not ready to book an appointment? Schedule a free 15 minute introductory consultation via phone to learn more about how an experienced Naturopathic Doctor can help you live your best life.



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