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It used to be thought that you can minimize sleep and increase productivity. Many people wore that like a badge of honor: how little they sleep and how productive they are.

Studies show that this is nothing to be proud of. Sacrificing sleep leads to severe health hazards.

Besides the obvious fatigue and fuzziness, a person feels when they have not slept well, all chronic diseases are accelerated when sleep is poor.

Heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disease, hypertension, and dementia are the most noteworthy.

Dementia has the spotlight because it is on the increase. 1 in 3 seniors have cognitive impairment and well over 55 million North Americans die of dementia a year – this is more than those who die from breast and prostate cancer. This number is in epidemic proportions.

You know how you feel after a bad night of sleep, and if you have chronic trouble sleeping, you know how desperate it feels to have a good night of sleep.

The recommendation for an ideal amount of sleep is 8 hours. There is a genetic influence on how much sleep is ideal, however, only a very small percentage of people will remain healthy on 5-6 hours of sleep due to this. Most people require 8 hours of sleep, and some can do well with 7-7.5 hours of sleep.

The first half of sleep is mostly deep non-REM sleep. This is the time during which you repair your body tissues and build muscle and bone. Your immune system repairs and strengthens during this time.

The second half of sleep is made up of mostly REM sleep. This is when you seal in learning and prepare for new learning the next day. It is a time when your brain processes memories, stores the ones that are important, and deletes others.

If you give up 1 hour of sleep, you are actually giving up 25% of the benefits derived from the second part of your sleep cycle, not 12.5% of all sleep benefits.

It has been shown that taking sleeping pills merely puts you in a state of unconsciousness. Like if you got a head injury. The brain waves/ brain activity do not follow the pattern of normal restorative sleep.

This is why you need to focus on restoring sleep that is efficient and normal. 

Sleep is not just necessary for rest and to have energy throughout the day.

Efficient sleep balances brain chemistry, which you need to 

  • feel happy, 
  • calm, 
  • motivated, 
  • alert, 
  • prioritize your thinking and reactions
  • quick thinking
  • Control appetite
  • Regulate emotional reactivity

Brain chemicals important for sleep are serotonin and GABA.

During sleep, you seal in learning from the day and prepare for new learning.

 Sleep gets more difficult as you age. 

Your hormone levels decline and stress and nutrient depletions erode the mechanisms of sleep.

Alcohol, caffeine, screen time, and other habits of the modern day distort sleep architecture.

Nutrient depletions can cause sleep disturbances and prevent you from getting into a deep sleep. 

  • Magnesium
  • B vitamins
Hormones and sleep:


When cortisol is high at night, it will interrupt sleep. Even worse, high night-time cortisol causes you to lose memory. The highest amounts of cortisol are produced in the first half of the day and lower throughout the day.

People with trauma and high stress in particular can have high nighttime cortisol and hypervigilance. High night time cortisol typically results in poorly restorative sleep and light sleep that is easily interrupted by the slightest of sounds or movements.

Your saliva test holds vital information about sleep. Saliva testing is the gold standard to measure cortisol. The adrenal panel reflects your pattern throughout the day and night, which helps understand the impact of cortisol on your brain and sleep.

Estrogen and progesterone affect sleep. These hormones are best followed up on saliva testing for optimal dosing. When we balance these hormones, your brain function and brain chemistry are supported and your sleep improves. 

These are essential in addition to addressing your cortisol-melatonin ratio and hormones that help sleep. CBT-I (Cognitive behavior therapy for Insomnia) is the gold standard to treat sleep issues, yet sleeping pills are most commonly prescribed instead of this. 

Always eat a whole-food diet that is anti-inflammatory. It is the first step towards having a good sleep because of the gut-brain connection. Inflammation affects your brain.

10 things to do for better sleep:

1. Avoid caffeine 

Many people are slow metabolizers of caffeine. If you have any trouble sleeping well, avoid caffeine after noon. 

Caffeine is also found in green tea, chocolate, energy drinks, matcha, energy drinks, and some sodas. Read labels carefully. 

It is best to eliminate caffeine completely for a few weeks and then assess your sleep quality.

2. Restrict alcohol:

Alcohol is mistaken for a sleep aid.

It can make you feel sleepy, however, it affects deep sleep. It also leads to poor sleep quality later at night.

It increases your heart rate, which should drop during the night (important for heart health).

3. Do not eat within 3 hours of bedtime.

The process of digestion needs to be completed before you sleep. It can affect heart rate, temperature, and quality of sleep.  It has been shown that sleep is distorted when you eat close to bedtime.

 If you wear a tracker, you can see this for yourself. Pulse rate and HRV (Heart rate variability) change when you eat or drink alcohol close to bedtime.

4. Set a regular bedtime. 

It’s important to train your brain that it’s time for sleep. 

Start getting ready at the same time each evening with the same routine. 

Dim the lights at this time. Always go to bed at the same time, regardless of weekday or weekend.

5. Your bedroom is for 2 things only. 

Sleep and intimacy. 

Not TV watching. Not exercising. Not eating. 

Just sleep and intimacy. 

Create a peaceful ambiance. Make your room cozy. 

Scented with lavender essential oils. 

If you cannot fall asleep, get up and leave your bedroom. 

Read in very soft light. Listen to music or a calming meditation. 

Do not do anything on a screen (which will further lower your melatonin levels). 

6. Keep it DARK. 

Your room needs to be absolutely dark. 

Use an old-fashioned clock, not a digital clock. 

Use blackout blinds. 

Wear a sleep mask if you do not have absolute darkness. 

7. Reduce EMF. 

Charge your phone outside your room.

Keep your phone away from your bed by 6 feet. 

Keep your phone on airplane mode if you must keep it near you while you sleep. It is recommended you turn off your wifi router if it is close to your sleeping area. 

8. Junk Light & Blue Light

Junk light = artificial light. As you go about your day, you use a lot of screens and are exposed to artificial light. This lowers the amount of melatonin you make. Using blue light filtering glasses and a special lens an hour before bed can improve your quality of sleep. 

Use the yellow lens in the later evening. Use the red lens for an hour before bed.

Do not look at screens for a minimum of 1 hour before bedtime.

No phones, no Ebooks, no TV. Blue light from screen time affects sleep quality and depth.

9. Supplements: 

B vitamins, magnesium, and amino acids help make brain chemistry. Without this, sleep will not restore brain chemistry.

Stress, exercise, and nutrient-depleted food all affect nutrient availability. You may have ‘normal’ blood levels, however, most people have suboptimal levels for their needs. Most people do not eat enough protein which provides the amino acids to create brain chemistry and hormones.

  • Super B: 1 cap twice a day. The second dose should be taken by 4 pm.
  • Magnesium: If you have anxiety, take Relaxmax 1-2 scoops in water 1.5 hours before bedtime. This contains a blend of calming nutrients with magnesium (GABA, L-theanine, and inositol).

If you do not have anxiety, take Super Mag  3-4 caps or 1-2 scoops of Reacted Magnesium in water. Magnesium needs to be taken to ‘bowel tolerance’ rather than a ‘recommended dose’.

This is because each person has different nutrient requirements. Keep increasing your dose of magnesium until you get loose bowel movements. Then reduce to the previous dose which is what your body needs.

  • Braintonin: 3 tabs 90 min before bed. This helps restore serotonin levels. It needs the magnesium and B complex vitamins to work best.
  • PhosphatidylSerine: 3 capsules 90 minutes before bedtime. This quiets a monkey mind/ busy brain. It also helps protect your memory. Phosphatidyl Serine has been shown to help lower high cortisol levels. 
  • Melatonin: 3-7 tabs (PR = prolonged release).

Find a dose that helps you sleep best. This depends on your melatonin and cortisol ratio. If you are stressed, and your cortisol is high in the evenings. you will need higher doses of melatonin. 

Cortisol levels should lower through the night, while melatonin rises and is highest at night.

When you have high cortisol levels at night, your melatonin levels are lower than the cortisol. Raising melatonin levels above the cortisol level must be done.

It is safe to take high doses of melatonin to balance this ratio.

Start with 2 tabs and increase each night until you get a good sleep. 

SL (sublingual) is a quick-acting melatonin for use if you have trouble falling asleep. PR is for those who have trouble staying asleep. 

Take these with your reacted magnesium for a ‘sleep cocktail’, 90 minutes before bed. 

10. Other modalities for better sleep:

While addressing the cause of high cortisol, and learning to manage stress/ resolve trauma, you can use other natural interventions.

Acupuncture is very helpful to get better sleep.

Acupuncture helps calm your stress response. It has been shown to bring about improvement in heart rate variability (HRV). Acupuncture helps bring about parasympathetic-sympathetic balance. When you are stressed, you are in a state of sympathetic overdrive. Your fight-flight system is more activated than your rest-relax system.

Studies support the benefits of acupuncture and it is known to be safe. What makes acupuncture more appealing as a first choice for better sleep, is that it is a non-drug therapy.

Medical Cannabis:

CBD and THC can help you sleep, safely and without addiction or intoxication. 

CBD helps lower inflammation. We know that brain inflammation is common and caused by many factors, including diet, alcohol, food sensitivities (leaky gut), toxins, and mold toxins. Using CBD to bridge the gap as an anti-inflammatory can be very useful in getting better sleep while the underlying factors are corrected.

Many patients are hesitant to try medical cannabis because of stigma and other fears. THC is particularly helpful in patients with PTSD, high stress/ heightened stress response, or those who have experienced any stressful/ traumatic event. Studies show that it helps the brain pathway that is altered in PTSD.

Medical cannabis is available through prescription, which allows access to more potent products, and coverage through certain benefit plans.

Sleep is by far one of the most critical health habits to focus on. Sacrificing sleep has proven to be one of the biggest destroyers of health in modern society next to food manipulation and altering of the foods we eat.

People sleep on average 6-6.5 hours a night when evolution dictates 8 hours is necessary. One must always ask, ‘Why did a man have to sleep 8 hours a day when there was the threat of predators in the day of caveman?’.It is because you die sooner, you suffer from or accelerate the progression of crippling diseases like depression, dementia, cancer, and heart disease when you sacrifice sleep.

Dr. Natasha Iyer
Hormone balancing | Weight Loss | Medical Aesthetics