Is a good night's sleep a thing of the past?

How much sleep did you get last night? If you're one of the 30% of the population that suffers from a sleep disorder, the answer you would likely give is "not enough". The next question I ask you is: how much is not enough? Well, when I pose this one to my patients I get a large assortment of numbers, often ranging from zero to seven hours. You may be thinking "seven hours, that seems like a lot of sleep to me" The truth is that, for many people, it's not enough. We are all very different and our sleep requirements vary. There are some people that can function on four hours of sleep, and there are others that need eight or nine to effectively go about their daily routine.

Sleep requirements also vary with age, with children needing more than adults. The type of sleeper you are also changes. Children who sleep poorly may grow up to be fantastic sleepers, while others who sleep well during childhood may go on to develop sleep problems later in life.

As a child I was a great sleeper. I fell asleep soon after my head hit the pillow and woke nine hours later feeling refreshed. That all changed, however, around the time of my 15th birthday. I suddenly found myself wide awake until about 2 am. This did not serve me well as I had to get up at 7 am for school on weekdays and 8 am for work on Saturdays. I was exhausted and would spend most of my Sundays semi-conscious laying on my parent's couch.

My teachers and my family were very concerned. Nobody understood it....no caffeine or nighttime TV. Why was this happening? Well, unbeknownst to me at the time, I was suffering from a circadian rhythm sleep-wake disorder, the delayed sleep phase type. Basically, my body clock was out of whack and my sleep time was pushed far later than it should've been. I suffered with this well into my University years until a specialist recommended a schedule of melatonin and bright light therapy, which worked to some degree. However, it was not until I changed my diet that I noticed my circadian rhythm shift to where it should be.

I share my story to instill hope, to enable you to realize that sleep disorders can be overcome. Now chances are, if you suffer from a sleep disorder, your story is different than mine. Most people with sleep issues suffer from the most common sleep disorder, insomnia. This is when a person has trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep. Throughout my battle with circadian rhthym disruption I also suffered from insomnia, as the fear of not being able to sleep would keep me tossing and turning long after the clock hit 2 am.

As a naturopathic doctor I have treated many cases of insomnia (and other sleep disorders) with natural medicine. A good night's sleep does not have to be a thing of the past. Simple dietary and lifestyle changes can lead to significant improvements in the quantity and quality of your sleep. In future posts I will share some simple tips and strategies that you can implement right away to help you sleep tight, every night.

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Lisa Varadi's books on Goodreads
Sleep: The Secrets of Slumber Sleep: The Secrets of Slumber
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