Sleep Success: Tips From Dr. Kat

The benefits of sleep are severely underestimated in our culture. Our day-to-day lives seem to inhibit it at every turn.

Whether we lay awake with work stresses, kids crawling under our covers at all hours of the night or constantly taking our tablets and smart phones in the bed to read one more e-mail, we simply are not sleeping enough. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have gone so far as to say that it has become a nationwide public health epidemic (1).

The consequences of this are playing out in the quality of our lives. When we sleep less, we tend to report worse moods and lack an ability to clearly communicate with our partners and children. Not only that, but research indicates that adequate sleep is necessary for maintaining good health. Not to mention how we let a lack of sleep negatively affect our ability to work or drive vehicles around with the most precious of cargo. The National Department of Transportation estimates drowsy driving to be responsible for 1,550 fatalities and 40,000 nonfatal injuries annually in the United States (2).

In addition, the increased use of electronic devices has been linked to interference with our “circadian rhythm” or natural sleep/wake cycle (5). Being awake more at night while being exposed to artificial light can lead to moodiness (6). But, many of us think we can outsmart our bodies by artificially “waking ourselves up” via energy drinks, caffeine and sugar. Unfortunately, we cannot trick ourselves out of the need for real sustained sleep. We have just become so used to not sleeping that our sleep debt is never addressed and we lose sight of what it even feels like to be well-rested.

I consider getting enough sleep one of the essential components of good health and relationships. It is actually one of the first things I ask my clients when they come in for therapy. In light of May being Better Sleep Month, I decided I wanted to help people set themselves up for sleep success and develop good sleep hygiene habits – yes, this is a real thing.

Get Enough Exercise: Tiring your muscles out and enjoying the influx of endorphins can help you sleep later in the evening.

Bedroom as a Sleep Sanctuary: Your sleep environment is important. Make sure it is not only dark and quiet enough but, that it is a restful space with soothing colors, no clutter and a comfy bed and sheets.

Bad Mood = Bad Sleep: If you feel like you are being kept up due to the effects of stress, then you may want to try a natural supplement like l-tyrosine. The body uses tyrosine to promote more alpha brain waves, which help relieve stress and calm the mind.

Restful Rituals: Sleep cues are not just for babies. Adults need them too. Begin to unwind an hour before bed by taking a bath, using sleep friendly essential oils, stretching or massage. You can even listen to music that you associate being calm or enjoy a hot cup of tea before bed. Even better, herbal supplement teas, such as passionflower or valerian, have been traditionally used to support restful sleep.

Melatonin as an Option: Introducing melatonin to improve your sleep hygiene can be very helpful. Melatonin may help promote optimal sleep while improving that deep REM sleep that everyone needs.

Don’t Self Sabotage: Avoid eating a huge meal within a couple of hours before bed. Get to know what your limits are with caffeine and alcohol. Some people can’t do any caffeine after noon, while others experience sleep disturbance with even one glass of wine.

Going Natural: Natural supplements may be the best option for people needing a little extra help without feeling unduly groggy the next morning. There are natural solutions that contain combinations of sleep romoting substances like 5-HTP, l-theanine, lemon balm and valerian to support restful sleep patterns.

Give the Electronics a Rest: It may be tempting to bring in your trusting personal electronics into bed but I advise you to just do not do it. It becomes a pattern very easily. And it can end up not only getting in the way of your sleep but, your sex life too.


  2. US Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, National Center on Sleep Disorders Research, National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Drowsy driving and automobile crashes [National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Web Site]. Available at
  3. Institute of Medicine. Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2006.
  4. Institute of Medicine. Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2006.

Dr. Kat Van Kirk is currently serving as an expert consultant to Twinlab, and recommends looking for trusted products and brands such as Twinlab nutritional supplements and Alvita single-herb teas where you can find many of these recommendations. She is a licensed marriage and sex therapist, certified yoga therapist, author and media host. You can find out more about Dr. Kat by visiting

*Dr. Kat Van Kirk is not a medical doctor. NOTE: The statements presented in this blog should not be considered medical advice or a way to diagnose or treat any disease or illness. Dietary supplements do not treat, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of a medical professional before adding a dietary supplement to (or removing one from) your daily regimen. WholeFoods Magazine does not endorse any specific brand or product.

Posted on 4/28/15