By Ann Nakajima, ND

September is a busy time for families and teachers as they start a new school year and get back into a school routine. After a summer with longer days, a more relaxed pace, and likely later bedtimes, it can be a challenge re-establishing an earlier sleep schedule.

Ensuring sufficient rest is important for both physical and mental health, including cognitive
performance, mood balance, immune function, and tissue repair. Growth hormone is normally
secreted at night while we sleep with the highest levels around 11pm. There are studies
suggesting the brain may have a waste removal system whereby it releases or flushes out
toxins that accumulate during the day as we sleep. Decreased sleep has been associated with menstrual irregularities, elevated levels of ghrelin (known as the hunger hormone), insulin resistance, and increased blood sugar levels

As you gradually try to shift your bedtime earlier, keep in mind you will likely benefit from shifting your dinnertime as well to ensure lower blood sugar levels before bed.

Although it is often tempting to stay up late on Friday and Saturday nights and to sleep in on the weekend, consistent routines will help your internal clock stay on track.

Cortisol and melatonin work on opposite diurnal rhythms. Melatonin levels begin to increase before bed when cortisol levels should be at their lowest. Melatonin production is then suppressed as cortisol levels rise before we wake up in the morning. As cortisol levels can also increase with stress and impair melatonin levels at nighttime, try to facilitate a relaxing bedtime routine. You can consider chamomile tea, an evening bath or walk, calming essential oils such as lavender in your diffuser or sprinkled on your pillow, relaxation music, meditation, journaling, or a neck/shoulder massage from a family member, as ways to help decompress and unwind after a busy day.

I encourage that you stay off social media and technology after a certain time at night to avoid mental stimulation immediately before bed, as well as the stimulating nature of the light emanating from the phone. Light exposure can hinder melatonin levels, so to optimize sleep quality, try to keep your sleep environment as dark as possible.

Various health concerns including restless leg syndrome, musculoskeletal pain, hormonal
imbalances, such as high cortisol or low progesterone levels, impaired blood sugar control, and prostate or bladder issues can all impact one’s sleep. Consider working with a Naturopathic Doctor as we can assess nutritional markers, blood sugar control, and hormone levels and provide you with individualized support.

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