If you’re like most adults, you might have a hard time falling or staying asleep. In fact, a 2018 Consumer Report found that 68 percent of Americans struggle with their sleeping patterns at least once a week. That accounts for 164 million Americans. If you’re included in that number, you may want to try the phenomenon of “clean sleep.”
Clean sleeping seeks to repair the damage that lack of sleep does to our bodies. After all, sleep deprivation can affect digestion, memory, mood, ability to think, performance at work, libido and increase your risk for health issues like cardiovascular disease, depression and diabetes.
“We need about seven hours of consistent sleep to truly help our mind and body attain homeostasis,” says Ingrid Prueher, certified pediatric and adult sleep and nutrition consultant.
Can lack of sleep cause cancer? According to Joselyne John, certified sleep science coach at Sleep Is Health, yes. “The International Agency for Research on Cancer, along with the World Health Organization have listed night-shift work as a class 2A carcinogen,” John says. “Not sleeping at night depletes melatonin, which is an anticancer hormone in addition to initiating sleep. It also has to do with the changes the body experiences when forced to stay up when naturally, it should be sleeping.”
All the more reason to get some quality shut-eye and make slumber a priority, right? However, instead of turning to supplements or pills, the goal of clean sleep is to get to the root of the problem while focusing on your environment.
“Clean sleeping is all about making sleep a priority by incorporating healthy sleep routines for wake up and bedtime and focusing on creating an environment that is conducive to sleep,” Prueher says. Known as the Baby Sleep Whisperer, Prueher recommends turning off WiFi at night and banning technology from the bedroom, creating a consistent sleep routine, setting a goal of getting at least seven hours of sleep and waking up the same time each morning, eating clean (cutting out alcohol, caffeine, sugars and heavy carbs), and refraining from napping.
There are many reasons we find sleeping difficult. For registered nurse Anwen E. Jones of Ventility Sleep Solutions, sleep issues can be broken down into two main categories: poor sleep initiation and sleep maintenance insomnia.
“People of all ages can find it difficult to fall sleep initially as they can’t switch off anxiety about school or work,” Jones says. “Insomnia can be the result of previous or recent traumatic events.”
But if falling asleep isn’t the issue, you might be struggling with sleep maintenance insomnia. “This is when a person finds it difficult to stay asleep after the initial few hours, or they may have a restless sleep that is not restorative,” Jones says. “This can happen due to consumption of alcohol, caffeine and certain illegal or prescription drugs such as antidepressants. It is also prevalent when there are other health related issues such as Restless Leg Syndrome, pregnancy or complex health problems such as Peripheral Artery Disease or Neuropathy.”
For both of these issues, Jones recommends taking a look at your sleep habits. The cleaner they are, the more improved you might find your sleep.
So where does clean sleep come into play? Clean sleep focuses on creating a natural, peaceful environment. The most common core tenets of clean sleep include keeping technology out of the bedroom, making the room as dark as possible (no night-lights, no TV, getting black-out curtains), reducing alcohol and caffeine consumption and ceasing phone/laptop use about an hour before bed.
Ingrid Prueher also recommends clients sleep on the right material, as sometimes that can be an important factor.
“What you sleep on and what you sleep with makes all of the difference in the world,” she says. “We do spend one-third of our life sleeping, so it’s absolutely worth it to invest in sleep products that will offer comfort while we sleep. You need to sleep on breathable, climate-control and moisture-wicking materials. If you are too hot or too cold, you will not sleep well.”
As for specific sleeping positions, Prueher recommends staying on your side and back. “Sleeping on your stomach creates pressure on your lower back and neck,” she says.
All that being said, if clean sleep doesn’t work for you, consulting a sleep specialist might be an option you want to consider.
“Inability to sleep is usually not the problem, but the symptom,” John says. “I usually recommend seeing a doctor or specialist when someone has unexplained symptoms or when I suspect that lack of sleep is associated with undiagnosed condition, or underlying medical issue beyond just nutrition, gut health, hormones, thyroid or sleep hygiene concerns.”
According to Prueher, “The best times to see a sleep specialist are when you have already spoken with your doctor, have checked the blood for vitamin deficiency and have tried clean sleeping techniques, [but] are still feeling exhausted.”