Sleep — it's a huge part of the everyday bustle. The average person spends 26 years sleeping throughout his or her life. Plus, most people eat up about 7 years trying to fall asleep. That's a grand total of 33 years centered on sleeping. (1)
Even though sleeping takes up such a huge chunk of time, many people struggle with sleeping disorders or poor overall sleep. An estimated 50 million to 70 million Americans suffer from a chronic lack of sleep. And this poor sleep can completely derail day-to-day tasks and impairs long-term health. (2)
Why Sleep Matters for Your Health
You've probably heard the recommendation of eight hours of sleep each night. But for many, getting the recommended amount of sleep can be challenging. With everything going on during the day, you may find yourself running on less and less sleep.
In modern society, insufficient sleep has become a public health problem. On the surface level, lack of sleep can take a toll on cognitive abilities, memory, performance, and psychological well-being. (3, 4)
In the long-term, lack of sleep can contribute to major medical conditions like: (5)
Cardiovascular diseases and arrhythmias
Impaired immune function
Mental health and mood disorders
On the other hand, proper sleep can help:
- Improve mood
- Improve performance (cognitive and physical)
- Modulate hormone levels, metabolic status, and immune system
- Support quicker recovery from fatigue and injuries
What Causes Sleep Issues?
Detox Organs and the Chinese Body Clock
According to traditional Chinese medicine, the body regulates various organs at specific times of day and night.
Having trouble sleeping at a specific time? Or feeling “off” at a specific time each day? The Chinese body clock is one tool that might help you find the meaning behind your imbalances. Scan through the Chinese body clock – you may find out why your body is trying to get your attention. (6)
9 pm to 11 pm: Triple burner (or triple heater)
This pertains to the endocrine system, which controls the body’s homeostasis and where enzymes are replenished. Sleep is especially beneficial at this time so the body can conserve energy for the following day. It can be helpful to filter, detox, and cleanse the body to help with this process.
11 pm to 1 am: Gallbladder
If you find yourself waking up this early in your sleep cycle, according to Chinese medicine, your gallbladder may be trying to tell you something. Look to support your drainage funnel better, since sluggish digestion can make it difficult for your gallbladder to empty. TUDCA, a water-soluble bile, may help support gallbladder function because it promotes healthy bile flow.
1 am to 3 am: Liver
Without a well-functioning liver, every other bodily process and organ will suffer. Sometimes your liver works overtime to handle the influx of toxicity and unwanted materials. So if you wake up often during these hours of the night, your liver may need a helping hand. In this situation, you can take certain liver-supportive nutrients or herbs to help boost your liver’s performance. (7)
3 am to 5 am: Lungs
This time of the morning is when your lungs are at their peak energy. It is also the time of deepest sleep and when your lungs detox if they’re working properly. If you wake up frequently during this time, you may need to better support your oxygen levels. Look for ways to support your lung health in this case.
5 am to 7 am: Large intestine
Chinese medicine focuses on this time for your body's key elimination function. Waking up this late in the sleep cycle may point to drainage issues, particularly in the intestine and colon. If you are not having two to three healthy bowel movements a day, you may want to consider intestinal-moving herbs for additional drainage support.
7 am to 9 am: Stomach
When it comes to breakfast, Chinese medicine says it should be your biggest meal of the day to optimize digestion and absorption. Warm meals high in nutrition are best. If the stomach is not digesting well, it may need some help to function at its best.
The Chinese body clock can work as a snapshot into your internal organs. By understanding what could be causing your sleep issues, you’re well on your way to improving your health and well-being. (8)
Another major reason for sleep issues is toxicity, especially mold toxicity. Human exposure to molds and mycotoxins, such as in water-damaged buildings, can damage the nervous system. This exposure can also lead to respiratory issues in all age groups. Directly related to sleep, mold toxicity can contribute to insomnia. (9)
You may find help eliminating toxins with carbon-based binders. They nourish good bacteria in your gut, infiltrate all the cells of your body, and remove the toxins. Think of carbon-based binders as a sponge that absorbs toxins and eliminates them from your body. (10)
Studies have shown that humans and other mammals that sleep for longer periods have reduced levels of parasitic infection. During sleep, the body isn’t as active, so it has more energy in reserve to support the immune system. The longer a person sleeps, the stronger the immune system stays, being more able to defend against parasites. (11)
When the immune system doesn’t have enough energy to fight these parasites, the parasites remain strong and active. Some parasites are nocturnal and are most active during sleeping hours. This can lead to more symptoms at night, including difficulty falling and staying asleep. Plus, if the immune system has become compromised, it cannot fight parasites as well, creating a vicious cycle. (12)
Adequate and uninterrupted sleep is vital for the immune system to defend against parasites. Energy normally used during waking activity would be available during the hours the body is asleep to meet the demands of the immune system. (13)
If you suspect these critters are behind your sleep issues, you may consider natural parasite cleanses. Detoxing during a full moon may help boost your cleanse, since this is when parasites are at their most active.
Sleep disturbances are common for people with Lyme disease. In one study, four out of six people with Lyme disease had moderate to severe trouble sleeping due to pain and bad dreams. (14)
People with chronic Lyme disease often have fewer hours and less restorative sleep compared to healthy individuals. Poor sleep may worsen other symptoms. Both non-restorative sleep and chronic stress from being sick contribute to disease progression. This can potentially lead to compromised immunity, fatigue, low resistance to infectious diseases, and poor regenerative functioning. (15)
So for those with Lyme disease, better sleep and better health likely start with detoxification. Removing Lyme from the body, as well as any coinfections, will go a long way to restoring normal body functions. Some natural herbs may help this detox process.
What Are Natural Ways to Support Sleep?
Besides detoxifying your system, you can make certain lifestyle changes to help your body better prepare for sleep each night.
Bright Light and Blue Light Exposure
You may have heard of your internal clock, or circadian rhythm. This influences your brain, body, and hormones. It’s basically your internal alarm clock for sleeping and waking up. But certain activities can help and hinder your circadian rhythm. (16, 17)
The amount of bright light exposure you receive each day can support your body’s natural sleep processes. Researchers have found that increased sunlight or bright light during the day can boost mood and sleep. One study noticed that adding two hours of bright light exposure improved sleep efficiency by 80% and overall sleep by two hours in older adults. By soaking up more sun each day, your body can better fall asleep and stay asleep. (18, 19, 20, 21)
On the other hand, another type of light can disrupt your circadian rhythm and sleep patterns. Blue light exposure — which emits from devices like smartphones and computers — can trick your body into thinking it should stay awake. It can also impair your body’s production of melatonin, a crucial hormone for sleep. (22, 23, 24)
With this knowledge, you can look to make lifestyle adjustments to support your body’s sleeping processes naturally. You may consider:
- Getting outside during the day to increase your bright light exposure
- Staying away from your phone and other electronic devices one to two hours before bed
- Using blue-light glasses, filters, or apps to limit exposure at night (25)
Diet and Physical Activity
Besides bright- and blue-light exposures, diet and physical activity can also affect how well you sleep. What you eat — and when you eat it — can influence your body’s sleeping habits. For example, eating later at night can interfere with hormone production. Both HGH and melatonin levels can take a dive, which negatively affects sleep. (26, 27, 28)
Alongside late night snacking, both caffeine and alcohol consumption may disrupt beauty rest. Caffeine can act as a stimulant in your blood for six to eight hours. And these effects worsen on individuals with caffeine sensitivity or sleeping disorders. Research has connected alcohol to poor sleep, sleep apnea, and snoring. Those key hormones HGH and melatonin again come into play here. Alcohol lowers the natural nighttime elevation of HGH and melatonin. (29, 30, 31, 32)
It probably comes as no surprise, considering its many health benefits, that physical activity also boosts sleep. Regular exercise and physical activity can lessen insomnia and promote all aspects of sleep. Although much like diet, the time of day you participate in physical activity matters. Physical activity during the day — particularly outside with natural sunlight — may help you sleep better at night. But physical activity later at night, especially right before bedtime, can act like a stimulant to your body. So be mindful of the time of day and your own body’s reaction to physical activity. (33, 34, 35)
Through diet and physical activity, here are some suggestions for optimizing your sleep:
- Avoid caffeine four to six hours before bedtime
- Avoid eating large meals a few hours before bedtime
- Don’t drink large amounts of liquid before bedtime
- Get active and go outside when you can, but watch out for physical activity immediately before bed
- Limit alcohol consumption before bedtime
Other Lifestyle Adjustments
Blue and bright light exposure, diet, and physical activity all contribute to how well you sleep. Besides these crucial factors, the following may also help you catch more zzzs:
- Clear your mind and relax in the evening. You may try journaling, meditation, reading a book, soaking in a hot bath, etc.
- Establish a bedtime routine. Going to bed and waking up at consistent times can help your body get into a rhythm.
- Make your room completely dark at night and maintain a comfortable temperature. Light, noise, and temperature can all disrupt your body’s circadian rhythm. (36, 37)
- Try essential oils, like lavender, that promote relaxation and restfulness. (38, 39)
Supplementation and herbal remedies can also improve sleep quality. In particular, melatonin and lymphatic-supportive herbs can help. (40, 41)
Melatonin has a wide variety of benefits. It helps improve total sleep time, fatigue from jet lag, and poor sleep from rotating shift work. It may help reduce the time it takes to fall asleep, and to reset the body’s sleep/wake cycle. Because melatonin has very low side effects, melatonin supplementation is a great resource to improve sleep quality.
- The brain is one of the most active organs in the body. Its high energy demand continues during REM sleep. The glymphatic system is a transit pathway for cerebrospinal fluid in the brain. It’s responsible for toxic waste clearance and interstitial fluid exchange. It functions during sleep, which is important for the elimination of waste products. Look for natural ways to help support lymph drainage and health, which will in turn support sleep.
There are a plethora of ways to improve your quality and duration of sleep. By supporting the organs and systems, you are well on your way to achieving the nightly rest and restoration your body needs to function.
What will you do today to improve your quality of sleep?