Better Sleep Protocol From Catherine Darley, ND
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Supplementing to Support Sleep
There are a lot of reasons why sleep problems might be increasing. When people feel worried or unsafe, they can’t sleep. Other situational factors that may be affecting people’s sleep include irregular schedules and eating patterns, increased alcohol consumption, social isolation, watching too much news and checking social media at bedtime.
Healthy sleep depends primarily on lifestyle factors as well as nutrition to support a robust circadian physiology. Catherine Darley, ND, director of The Institute of Naturopathic Sleep Medicine in Seattle, recommends the following key behaviors to support sleep for all ages:
- Wake up at the same time every day (no more than an hour later on days off).
- Get 20 minutes of bright outside light within the first hour or two of the day, plus 10-minute bursts of light throughout the day.
- Limit caffeine after noon and alcohol after dinner, as both can disturb sleep more than people think.
- Be in very dim light for the hour before bedtime, and in as complete darkness at night as possible.
- Make the bedroom an ideal place to sleep—cool, dark, quiet, with a comfortable bed and no waketime activities.
- For those with an active mind at night, take 10 minutes an hour or two before bedtime to write your thoughts down. Then if your mind starts chattering later in the night, tell yourself: “I already thought about that, and will have time tomorrow to think about it. Now it’s time to sleep.” This is a skill that gets better with practice.
Special Considerations for Children
While children can safely take many of the same nutrients and supplements as adults, youngsters typically don’t have a “melatonin deficiency”. Therefore, melatonin is best for only short-term use in children, to help regulate a disrupted circadian rhythm.
Special Considerations for Teens
The most common sleep situation in teens is delayed sleep phase. Adolescents naturally feel better when they go to bed late and sleep in later in the morning. Consequently, it’s best if they can design their responsibilities around their natural sleep hours. When this isn’t possible, they can shift their wake times to earlier hours with a combination of light therapy and melatonin.
Light therapy has the larger therapeutic effect, and therefore melatonin is simply an adjunct that can be removed after being entrained to their desired sleep and wake times.
Start the light therapy protocol when the teen is on their natural sleep schedule. Begin with light exposure when they wake up, and then add 10 minutes of light every couple of hours throughout the day. Gradually shift their wake time, light time, melatonin time, and bedtime earlier by 20 to 30 minutes per day until the desired wake time is established.
Dr. Darley chooses supplements based on the clinical picture and likes to use just one at a time. But there are four supplements she considers first: glycine, l-theanine, phosphatidylserine, and melatonin.
Glycine is a calming amino acid that also helps depress a person’s core body temperature. As the body temperature drops, the person feels sleepier and sleeps more deeply. That’s good for people who have a sense of light sleep or struggle with sleep as they get older.
Phosphatidylserine supports the natural circadian rhythm of cortisol release and is a good choice for those with stress interfering with sleep. Theanine is also a good choice to support calm and relaxation.
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Catherine Darley, ND, is the director of The Institute of Naturopathic Sleep Medicine in Seattle. She specializes in the natural treatment of sleep disorders, especially insomnia and circadian-rhythm sleep-wake conditions. While attending Bastyr University she worked as a technologist at Virginia Mason Medical Center Sleep Disorders Center and did an intensive preceptorship at the Stanford University Sleep Disorders Center. Dr. Darley regularly writes and speaks on a wide range of sleep topics and consults with first-responder agencies. She views sleep health as a social-justice issue, and enjoys working with sleep-disadvantaged populations like shift workers and teens. The mission of The Institute of Naturopathic Sleep Medicine is to provide patient care, public education about sleep health, and research on natural treatments for sleep disorders.