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How to Sleep Better

When asked for advice on how to address any chronic health challenge, I like to remind my clients about the importance of getting deep, restful sleep. It's during restful sleep that your body produces hormones that are essential to healing (growth hormone, testosterone, and erythropoietin). These hormones work together with your self-healing mechanisms to restore every part of your health.

An often overlooked determinant of quality of sleep is cleanliness of the nasal passageway. Assuming that you have access to clean air, a clear nasal passageway ensures optimal delivery of oxygen to your blood, which in turn, ensures optimal oxygenation of all of your organs. And it's optimal oxygenation of your organs that should be a top priority at all times. Why, you ask? Oxygen plus glucose equals energy, the very same energy (ATP) that drives every metabolic process in each of your trillions of cells.

When your nasal passageway is partially blocked by debris, your body compensates in part by drawing air in through your mouth. But it's always best to rely on your nose for drawing in fresh air because your nasal passageway is lined with mucous and hairs that specifically work to trap dust, harmful microorganisms, other small particles, and even larger particles like dirt. In effect, this filtration mechanism allows little but air molecules, including oxygen, to travel to your lungs via your pharynx, larynx, and trachea.

Sneezing, by the way, is the mechanism that your body uses to rapidly discharge foreign material that your nasal passageway has trapped.

So, getting back to quality of sleep, if you have a buildup of mucous and waste materials - usually called snot - in your nasal passageway, chances are good that your brainstem will sense a suboptimal ratio of oxgyen to carbon dioxide in your blood, which, via altered autonomic nervous system tone, will disrupt your overall quality of rest. In this scenario, none of your glands and organs can do their best work in restoring your health, and this is how a little or a lot of buildup in your nasal passageway can hurt your health over the long run.

There's no doubt in my mind that sleep disruption from partial nasal passageway blockage is a contributing cause of ill-defined health challenges like chronic fatigue, problems maintaining mental focus and attention, and increased risk of physical injury. Bottom line: When your tissues are not properly oxygenated, a lot can go wrong.

I take this matter very seriously, especially with our children. Every night before story time, our routine is to take a bath if needed, floss, brush teeth, wash face, clean out nasal passageway, change into clean underwear and pajamas, then jump into bed for some good books. On the few nights here or there where circumstances cause us to miss nasal passageway cleaning, almost always, there is noticeably more tossing or turning - we know this because we all sleep together on a sea of mattresses in the same room.

Of course, there are factors that affect how much buildup occurs in the nasal passageway. During colder months when we have to use dry furnace heat to help keep warm, there is more dust floating around, which increases buildup in the nose. When one of us has a cold and associated running discharge from the sinuses and nose, there tends to be more buildup.

In case you're not sure how to thoroughly clean your nasal passageway, here's a simple protocol:

  1. Stand over your bathroom sink, get a stream of warm water running, and cup your hands together to form a basin-like shape that allows the water to pool.

  2. Bring your nostrils down to your hands so that both nostrils are filled with water. You can inhale very gently to ensure that water goes as far back in your nasal passageway as is comfortable. Hold this position for up to 3-5 seconds.

  3. Move your hands to the side and allow the water to drain from your nasal passageways. As the water runs out of your nostrils, you can cover one side up at a time while blowing gently through the other side. This will help remove any mucous and waste materials that are in your nasal passageway.

  4. Repeat the steps listed above two to three times or until you feel that your nasal passageway is completely clear of debris.

In helping our boys with this, we have them stand on a footstool and lean their heads over the sink while we go through each step. Our younger son still doesn't enjoy the feeling of having water in his nasal passageway, but we can usually coax him through the process by encouraging him to aim for a target when blowing out, the target usually being my glasses as I bend over awkwardly and peer right up his nostrils to make this fun for him. Usually, debris will just pop out of his nostrils and remain right against the area of skin between his nostrils and upper lip, which makes it easy to wipe the debris away.

Since our boys don't love this process, before going through it, we go through a test to see if it's necessary. We have them close their mouths and breathe out through their nostrils. If there is whistling or any other sounds of obstruction, it's time to clean things out, no excuses.

If, after cleaning your nasal passageway, you still feel somewhat blocked or congested and can't see any debris in your nostrils, you may be intolerant to something that you're eating. Some food intolerances (dairy is a common one) can increase congestion throughout your sinuses and nasal passageway, as well as within the blood vessels that line your nasal passageway, and all of this congestion can partially obstruct air flow, thereby taking away from your health potential.

I hope these thoughts on cleaning the nasal passageway to help ensure optimal sleep quality prove to be useful.

For more suggestions on how to sleep better, have a look at:

How Much Sleep Do You Really Need To Be Healthy?

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I have never tried the method in this article, but have been using a neti pot to wash my nasal passages. To use it you mix some salt in warm water to create a saline solution. I use special neti salt that has no caking agents or other additives. With your head tilted, you pour the water through one nostril and allow it to pour out the other nostril. My nose has never been so clear. It is especially helpful if I have a cold and need to release nasal congestion.

Hello, Dr kim,
Thank you for this informative article. Thank you for believing in the human body's power to heal itself by itself.

Please allow me to share my experience:
My husband suffers hard time sleeping, goes up at night to pee at list 4-5 times,
He already has an allergy towards Acari which makes it even harder to sleep: we cover our mattress with an Anti-Acari cover.

His physician prescribed to him:
Nasonex (a sort of a cortison: Mometasone Furoate (nasal spray)) ,
Aerius (desloratadine), and
physiomer. (sea water in spray form)

He has benefited from them, but he stopped them because he is not a fan of medications.
He was still on physiomer, but he stopped it as well once the can got empty (it's a rip-off to buy a little sea water for 15$ !)

Strangely, when we went this summer daily to sea (swimming and diving), the quality of his sleep increased, his nostrils felt less congested, and he had less need to pee at night.
Is it the happiness vacation and swimming bring? or is it the purifying effect of salty water? I think both!

I will definitely recommend this article to him

P.S: You say "get a stream of <strong>warm</strong> water running" and then you say "so that both nostrils are filled with <strong>cold </strong> water. " is it a typo?

Kindest Regards

Dear Stephanie and Dr. Kim,

Good point about cleaning nasal passages; most especially since we are being sprayed probably daily by the military with aluminum and barium and lots of other stuff. (see for example, Clifford Carnicom, Aerosol Crimes.)

In any case, if you want to clean your nasal passages, you need to add a bit of salt so it doesn't hurt, and so the Ph is the same as the body's.

Use Sinus Rinse, you can get it at a drug store, costs maybe 20 dollars,
you rinse your sinus passages with a salt/soda mixture, then PUT YOUR HEAD DOWN for about 2 minutes, to get the water into the tiny passages in your sinuses in your head, and voila! you feel better. Do this at least two hours before you sleep, as otherwise it might pool in your sinuses.

Good health,

Why not suggest using a neti pot? This is really effective, and is kind of fun to use. I think even kids would enjoy it--just take care not to over-salt the water.

I have had chronic sinus issues, and yes, lost sleep due to a stuffy nose. I too have been using the Neti Pot now for about 3 months and have had no trouble with my sinuses since.

Dr. Kim,

I always enjoy reading your articles. As I read the article about better sleep through having a clear nasal passage for better oxygenation of the body, I wanted to share with you something I discovered around the time of the swine flu "pandemic" scare. It is a soothing and moisturizing nasal wash with Xylitol under the brand name "Xlear". It contains purified water, Xylitol which is a form of sugar (containing only 5 carbon atoms rather than the 6 of most other sugars which give it its bacterial infibitor properties), saline, and grapefruit seed extract (or Citricidal) which is deadly to yeast (something that likes to grow in warm moist areas like our sinuses). The Xlear comes in a convenient nasal spray bottle, and one or two squirts in each nostril whenever the nose is starting to feel a little plugged will clear it within minutes. One can even take a cup of warm water, 1/4 sea salt, 1/2 to 1 teaspoon xylitol, and 3 - 5 drops of citricidal and put it in a netti pot and rinse that way.

Thank you again for your informative articles.