It does not make much sense to spend time, money and energy on fancy interventions when the most basics of quality human health have not been tended or given attention. Now, that said most of us know what those basics are: enough sleep, good nutrition and hydration, exercise, social life and a sense of purpose, which may come from a paying job or domestic pursuits. Sometimes the most straight-forward things are ignore or rejected as too simplistic.
I'm not going spend this article trying to reiterate what so many others have said along the lines of what to do to be in good health or get good sleep, but I do want to try to convince you of the power of sleep! If you want all the science I'll refer you to: WHY WE SLEEP by Matthew Walker, PhD.
I think cultivating good sleep hygiene is the SINGLE MOST IMPACTFUL thing we can do towards great physical, emotional and psychological health. Here's a few things you may not have heard:
Just as the lymphatic system drains contaminants from our body, the GLYMPHATIC SYSTEM removes dangerous contaminants generated by the work our neurons perform. It's a night time "power cleanse" where the cerebrospinal fluid cleanses the brain that ONLY happens in DEEP (NREM) sleep. Now, you may be thinking...oh, I can do without that...and the answer is, yes, you can....but, if this area is not cleansed in this way regularly the first place to accumulate junk is the area of our brain which generates deep sleep, lose that and then you also lose the ability to access this power cleanse at all. This process is connected to Dementia and other diseases. (see book page 160 for more details).
Most people know we have sleep cycles such as deep sleep, REM, etc. But, did you know that each cycle does something uniquely different and that having some and not the others can cause us to miss out on major health benefits, creativity, learning and memory advantages? Furthermore, we have different needs related to sleep cycles at different ages (I won't get into that here, but it's hugely important!). Simply stated, we go back and forth between NREM and REM sleep throughout the night on a 90 minute cycle, but the ratios are different for each cycle. Okay...blah blah blah...one of the things that that means is...if you short yourself from 8 to 6 hours sleep you are consistently denying yourself your last REM cycle again and again. That REM cycle does something different from the other REM cycles. AND the same is true if you go to bed later, sleep cycles are specific to time and length. (see book page 43 for more details).
Okay, let's say you're on board for improving your sleep! What to do first?
The single most consistent advice is to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, even on days off. If you've got that going on, but you're having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep it might be time to try some anxiety reducing practices to help the nervous system (stronger interventions may be needed for those with PTSD and severe/recurring trauma nightmares). Cutting out late night or heavy meals, caffeine, sugar and alcohol are key. Some people say alcohol helps them to relax at night, but then as it leaves your system, you wake up. Not a great trade-off. Similar effects can come with THC use also.
When sleep is consistent and on-track, all areas of your life improve. Some people need to see a sleep specialist or a natural doctor if simple interventions are ineffective. Sleep medications are discouraged as they are more sedative rather than helping us sleep (our body sleeps, but we do not get the benefit of all of the processes we get without them), so sometimes it takes time to figure out what will help. It's worth the effort for so many reasons.
All this said, you may have pain related sleep issues or trauma related sleep issues. If this is the case, there is a formal program that may be helpful such as: THE POST-TRAUMATIC INSOMNIA WORKBOOK: A STEP-BY-STEP PROGRAM FOR OVERCOMING SLEEP PROBLEMS AFTER TRAUMA