healthy sleep

Do you have a problem falling or staying asleep? … If so you will be interested in noting the following naturopathic lifestyle tactics that can improve sleep.

The BodyMindLink series by Dr Ray Pataracchia ND provides insight on Nutritional and Naturopathic approaches that matter most and have the potential to benefit both physical and mental functioning.  Here we discuss the treatment approach and body-mind-links associated with aging, tiredness, mental performance, work performance, digestive upset, food intolerance, stress, cardiovascular health, insomnia, weight problems, and chronic disease.  Fall 2014 blog themes rotate between the topics of sleep, tiredness, and stress.  Clinical approaches discussed are implemented by the Naturopathic Medical Research Clinic in Toronto, Ontario.

Insomnia (Part 3): Healthy Sleep Lifestyle

Insomnia: A Three-Part Series

We divided sleep articles into three subtopics: i) problems falling asleep; ii) problems staying asleep; and iii) lifestyle factors affecting sleep (current blog).  The nutrient and biochemical imbalances associated with sleep can be addressed with Orthomolecular and Naturopathic Medicine.  The human body has about 15 top syndromes associated with sleep and physical and mental health.

Sleep Deprivation Effects

Sleep contributes strongly to our mental and physical health, for adults and young adults.  If we are sleepy we respond to the world differently.  If sleeplessness becomes a cycle, the accumulated lack of it worsens your daytime functioning at a physical and mental level.

Sleep is important for adults but it is more important for young adults in developmental stages of growth, metabolism, and emotional, psychological, and thought (memory/learning/cognition) processing. Young kids are reporting 25% more sleep problems and teens are reporting 25-40% more sleep problems.

How Much Sleep Is Enough?

Where adults can get by on 6-9 hours of sleep, preteens need 10 plus hours of sleep and, teenagers need 9-10 hours of sleep.

To determine how much sleep you need you can do the following test.  Take one week, get to bed at the same time every night, and don’t set your alarm.  If you take note of your wake time you may notice that the first few days you awaken later to make up for an accumulated lack of sleep, this is typical.  Then, after day 4 you should notice that you awaken at a time that your body deems adequate for you.  The duration of sleep ideal for you is that that enables you to function better throughout the day without feeling sluggish, having need for excess stimulants such as coffee, or long daytime naps.  

Healthy Sleep Lifestyle Factors

Screen Time

The more time spent before bed viewing electronic screen media (TV, smartphone, laptop, etcetera), the later we get to sleep, leading to a sleep deprivation cycle.  The synthetic cues of media remove us from the natural cues of nature and disrupt natural sleep rhythms.

BodyMindLink Solution: Spend more time with self-care, non-screen tasks before bed.  Avoid screen media 1-2 hours before bedtime.  Do not allow any screen media in your bedroom.

Ambient Light

Melatonin is the hormone responsible for helping us sleep and the more light we get at bedtime, the less melatonin we make.

BodyMindLink Solution: Invest in shading that blocks outdoor light from entering your bedroom.  Some find it useful to use a mask that covers the eyes to limit light exposure.


As a stimulant and releaser of cortisol it is no wonder that caffeine (cola, coffee) keeps us up at night.  The cumulative effects of sleep deprivation from caffeine are well documented.  Caffeine use has eased so far into 21st century lifestyle that we now see daily caffeine consumption in 30% of young adults.

BodyMindLink Solution:  No caffeine after 4pm.  Limit the number of cups of caffeine.  Remember that the more caffeine your body demands the less healthy your adrenal gland, a stress regulating gland that helps us maintain energy and balance thyroid function.

The Weekend/Weekday Discrepancy

Our sleep rhythm is highly dependent on routine and any upset in this pattern tends to have a cumulative effect.

BodyMindLink Solution:  Moderate your weekend routine so your body can compensate more easily come Monday morning.

Nip it in the Bud

I constantly see cases where poor sleep effects mental performance but in those cases where we see more profound shifts in sleep patterns we are more likely to see mental health problems, mild to severe.

BodyMindLink Solution:  If you know sleep is a trigger for mental health (irritability, nervousness, depression, anxiety, inattention, compulsions, obsessions, psychosis) or physical health (fatigue, weakened immune, symptoms, then the cause of the problem may be more ingrained and demand metabolic balancing.  In such cases, it is always best to intercede early with nutritional or naturopathic treatment.  As part 1 and 2 of this sleep series indicate, there are some simple yet specific metabolic approaches that can help in cases with problems falling asleep and in cases with problems staying asleep.

Regular Naps

If you take daytime naps is this a sign of laziness or could it be restorative to the body and overall helpful?  Thankfully for most of us, naps are not a sign of laziness.

BodyMindLink Solution:    Naps of 10-30 minutes may help you function better and be more productive during the day.

That being said, some research associates regular napping with longevity while other research associates negative metabolic effects from napping; trends in the research are however showing that longer naps (especially lose that result in reduced sleep at night) are the naps that are more detrimental, versus the shorter naps which can be beneficial.

Naps are not a sign of laziness but shouldn’t exceed 30 minutes because some studies suggest negative effects and, you are more likely to enter deep sleep making it harder to get up (a disorienting experience) and harder to fall asleep at night.

Other Lifestyle Considerations

Other key naturopathic lifestyle approaches to sleep and overall health are described in my blog on Orthomolecular Lifestyle.