Dr. Mara Karpel

“A well-spent day brings happy sleep.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci

©M. Karpel, 2015

©M. Karpel, 2015

Last week, I wrote about the importance of sleep for physical and emotional health and the obstacles to getting enough good sleep. The bottom line is that it’s not just the quantity of sleep, but also the quality of sleep that’s important to how we feel during the next day.


Tips For Getting Better Sleep:

  • Have a regular time for going to bed and for waking up. The closer you are to keeping a solid routine for going to bed and waking up, the better your body and brain will be at adjusting to a sleep/wake cycle that provides you with good sleep and high energy when awake.
  • Be active and engage in social activities during the day. The more active and engaged you are, the better your mood. The better your mood, the better your sleep.
  • Be physically active during the day. But, do not exercise too close to bedtime. Keep your exercise to at least three hours prior to sleep, as exercising too close to bedtime can keep you awake.
  • Become an optimist to decrease stress, worry, and sadness when trying to fall asleep. (Read my blog, “10 Tips For Following Your Dreams – While Riding Life’s Ups and Downs,” specifically the sections, Become a Glass Half Full Person and Have an Attitude of Gratitude, for tips on how to do this.)
  • Get at least two of hours of sunlight during the day. This has the effect of increasing melatonin––a natural hormone that we have in order to help with a restful sleep––and it helps to regulate our sleep-wake cycle.
  • Avoid all forms of caffeine after 2:00 p.m. if you are having a sleep problem, and decrease caffeine in general. (See the section, Coffee May Be the Cause of Your Anxiety, in my blog, “I Love Coffee,” for more on this.)
  • Avoid alcohol close to bedtime and limit alcohol usage in general.       (Read the section on Alcohol and Sleep, in my blog, “Alcohol:       The Good, Bad, & Ugly” for information about this.)
  • Limit nicotine, as it is a stimulant and will keep you awake. Discontinuing your smoking will significantly benefit your health in multiple ways. This is the case with any type of nicotine usage.
  • If you’re having trouble sleeping, then your brain may be sensitive to artificial lighting at night, as it can have the effect of waking up and stimulating your brain. Therefore, avoid any backlit device, such as a computer, smart phone, television, or a backlit e-Reader device, for 2-3 hours before going to bed.
  • Keep your bedroom as dark, quiet, and cool as possible.
  • Take a hot shower or bath about two hours before bedtime.
  • If you’re unable to sleep within thirty minutes of getting into bed, get out of bed, and do something in another room until you feel sleepy. You want your bed to be associated with good sleep, not sleeplessness. Avoid doing anything stimulating, such as getting involved in a late-night movie or reading a mystery novel or the news. This same routine applies if you wake up during the night and cannot fall back to sleep within thirty minutes.
  • Use a relaxation technique before you go to bed or if you wake up during the night. (You can find one in the section, Relax, in my blog, “10 Tips for Following Your Dreams.”)
  • Have a small snack before bed. You will want to eat something that will help stabilize your blood sugar while you sleep, so that you don’t experience any highs or lows of blood sugar during the night, both of which will wake you up. The best type of snack to eat in order to get better sleep is one that has a concentration of tryptophan, as well as having some complex carbohydrates (complex carbohydrates won’t spike your blood sugar). Tryptophan is an amino acid that’s needed in order for our brains to create serotonin, which brings about feelings of relaxation, calm, and sleepiness. Serotonin is also needed by our brains in order to cycle through all of the stages of sleep multiple times during the night. You might try a handful of sunflower seeds, a couple of whole grain crackers, or a half of a banana. These all contain, both, complex carbohydrates and tryptophan.


Natural Remedies

There are many natural remedies for sleep, including herbs, such as chamomile tea and valerian root tea. I recommend that before trying any of them, you speak with your medical practitioner, as herbs are very powerful substances and can have negative interactions with medications or medical conditions.

Melatonin is a hormone made by our pineal gland in our brain to control our sleep/wake cycle, as mentioned above. Some people find melatonin supplements to be very helpful in getting better sleep. But, this is certainly not true for everyone. I once took melatonin to help me sleep, and I felt as if I had just had several cups of coffee. Needless to say, I did not sleep, nor did I ever take melatonin again. Since melatonin is a hormone, it’s very important to speak to your doctor before taking this to see if it’s safe for you.



I have found the best results with magnesium––a mineral that plays a very important role in the human body, helping with hydration, muscle relaxation, energy production, regulating heart rate and blood pressure, and the deactivation of adrenaline. It turns out that most people are deficient in magnesium, especially if they drink a lot of coffee, which can flush magnesium from the body. A deficiency of magnesium is likely to cause difficulty sleeping, as well as muscle tension, anxiety, high blood pressure, irregular heart rate, and can even cause seizures.

Dr. Mark Hyman, a member of the Medical Advisory Board at The Dr. Oz Show, recommends that most people benefit from 400 mg. to 1,000 mg. per day. He also advises that we take a chelated form (such as citrate, ascorbate, orotate, glycinate, or a mixture of these forms). Oxide salts can tend to cause stomach upset. In fact, you may find that even the other forms cause some stomach upset. It’s best to start with a much lower dose and gradually increase to see how much your stomach can tolerate.

Yet as much as we all need magnesium, before taking it as a supplement, you should do the research and check with your healthcare provider to make sure that it doesn’t have a negative interaction with any of the medications that you’re taking or with any medical condition that you might have. For example, if you have kidney disease or severe heart disease you must take magnesium only under a doctor’s supervision.

If you’re uncomfortable with supplements, eating foods high in magnesium would also be beneficial. These include: dark green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, beans and lentils, whole grains, avocados, bananas, and dark chocolate. One word of caution is to be careful with chocolate because it contains sugar and caffeine, which can backfire and keep you awake.

Everyone is different, so you need to research if any of these would be right for you.

Wishing you all a good night’s sleep.

* You can read more about improving the quality and quantity of our sleep in “Getting to Sleep,” last week’s blog.

©M. Karpel, 2015

©M. Karpel, 2015

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