For many people who are successfully making healthy changes to their lifestyle, a good night’s sleep is still an elusive dream. We’ve all dealt with poor sleep at some point. Sadly, for many it’s the norm.
Do you pass out when your head hits the pillow but you wake up around 2-3am and can’t get back to sleep?
Possibly you lie awake at night and though exhausted, you just can’t seem to “turn off” your brain to get to sleep?
Whatever your issue, getting quality sleep is extremely important for our long and short term health.
What happens when we don’t sleep?
When you are continually sleep deprived, the effects can manifest in decreased productivity and cognitive decline (forgetful or can’t think clearly?), depression, increased stress, high blood pressure, decrease in immune system function, appetite and blood sugar regulation issues, and SO much more.
Instead of going on and on telling you how horrible it is if you are not sleeping well, I’m going to give you some tips and tricks to help you get better sleep. I used to be one of those whose sleep quality left much to be desired. I began researching and experimenting and I’ve come up with 10 tricks for better sleep that I want to share with you:
1. Get into a routine
Ahhh, routine. We all know HOW to get into a routine because we likely do it everyday! Maybe you wake up to go to the gym a few times a week before work. Maybe you get out of bed and make breakfast for the kids before sending them off to school and getting yourself ready to head to the office. The point is, routines are all around us-it’s part of life. If you are not sleeping well, you should highly consider a NEW bedtime routine. I’ll get into the details of some specific suggestions for your routine later into the list, but one of the most important aspects of a routine is CONSISTENCY. Go to bed at the same time every night (BEFORE 11pm!) and wake up at the same time in the morning-or as much as humanly possible.
Your circadian rhythm is your internal “body clock” that helps to regulate your sleep/wake cycle as well as brain activity, hormone production, cell regeneration and more. Going to sleep and waking at the same time will help to keep your circadian rhythm from becoming disrupted which will help to make sure the above processes are operating at peak performance.
2. Stop electronics before bed
This should absolutely be part of your new routine. If you are getting into bed at night and watching TV, playing on your phone, or using your computer you need to STOP. Light from electronic devices can definitely interfere with our ability to fall asleep as well as decrease the quality of sleep we get. The National Sleep Foundation stated:
“There is robust scientific data documenting the role of light in promoting wakefulness. Photoreceptors in the retina sense light and dark, signaling our brain about the status of the outside world and aligning our circadian rhythms(centered in a small region of the hypothalamus called the suprachiasmatic nucleus) to the external day-night cycle.
This signaling of light and dark helps us to be alert in the morning and be able to fall asleep at the appropriate time at night. The power of light as an alerting agent is easily conceptualized when we think of the sun, but may be more difficult to appreciate when considering the light emitted from a tablet or smartphone.”
Electronics are a major culprit for most in regards to wakefulness when we want to be sleeping. Not only are the lights that are emitted an issue, but whatever it is we are watching or looking at also distracts us from being able to wind down and relax so that our bodies can relax and our minds can slow. Your best bet: Stop all electronic devices an hour before bed. BUT WHAT WILL YOU DO WITHOUT FACEBOOK? Read a relaxing book, talk to your significant other, meditate, have sex, but turn off that TV! You’ll thank me later!
3. Lights and darkness
As stated above, we now know that lights can interfere with our quality of sleep. Other than electronics, it is important to make sure the lights around your house are dim in the evenings. In the summer you may need to pull the curtains down or possibly turn the ceiling lights off if there is enough natural light in the room for whatever activity you are doing. Anything you can do to dim the amount of light in the evenings will help your body increase melatonin levels naturally (the hormone that tells your body it’s time for sleep!). In your bedroom, it should be as DARK as possible. Blackout shades are a great investment, as well as covering up ANY flashing or blinking lights, and turning cell phones OFF or over so that no light is emitted from them. Even the light from an alarm clock can interfere with sleep. If you are one of those who just HAS to know what time it is, I challenge you to remove the clock from your room for two weeks. I think you’ll realize that you aren’t as wrapped up in it as you thought. Looking at the clock in the middle of the night usually does us no good and only contributes to stress levels.
4.Make the bedroom a sacred sleep space
This goes along with number 2 quite nicely. Now that we’ve gone over getting your electronics out of the bedroom, let’s talk about making your bedroom a sacred sleep space. Let’s concentrate on two things in your bedroom: Activity and Atmosphere.
Activity: The Two S’s should be the only things that happen in your bedroom: Sleep and Sex (or snuggling!) Occasionally some people really enjoy reading before bed and it helps them to unwind. If that’s your thing-go for it. Other than that- the two S’s ONLY!
Atmosphere: In order to make your room a sacred sleep space, you need to optimize your space to get the best sleep of your life! There are three necessities that I have found can make or break my quality of sleep: darkness (discussed above), temperature, and a comfortable bed.
5. Find a comfortable temperature
As far as bedroom temperature goes, each person can be different. Scientists have not agreed upon an optimal temperature for sleep, but it has been agreed upon that a slightly cool room helps to contribute to better sleep. Personally, I like my room to be in the mid 60’s with the fan running on low so I can get under the blankets. You may like it a bit warmer or cooler than that, but we can likely all agree that going to bed hot or waking up sweaty is the WORST. It’s incredibly hard to fall back asleep after waking up hot.
6. INVEST in a nice bed
Having a comfortable bed is an absolute MUST. It kills me when people tell me they sleep on a mattress that hurts their back or that they find uncomfortable.
WHY? You spend at LEAST a quarter (hopefully more like 1/3!) of your life sleeping. That’s a lot of time! Why not spend it getting the highest quality rest and recovery that you can? If money is an issue you can usually buy a mid price mattress and spend a little more to get a good mattress topper (memory foam, pillow top, etc.) that will increase the comfort of your bed. If you are in the market for a new mattress, make sure you shop around. Many places will offer a return policy if you get the mattress home and find that you don’t sleep well. TAKE ADVANTAGE of this! Think about it? Would you spend 8 hours on your feet in horribly uncomfortable shoes EVERY DAY of your life? Then don’t waste your precious time sleeping on a mattress that you find uncomfortable. Life is just too short! The same goes for your bedding and your pillows, make sure you get a set that you find comfortable.
Having the TV on, your cell phone dinging, or your dog snoring in bed next to you absolutely contributes to your poor sleep quality. Though evidence shows that for some individuals, white noise can help them fall asleep, nocturnal noise may be linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. And not to get all serious on you, but if your room is QUIET, you’ll sleep better, end of story. You may think you can fall asleep easier with the TV on, but the quality of sleep you get will not be as high as sleeping in silence. Though you may be “asleep”, your brain and body are repairing and rebuilding and if there is noise and other distractions, your body can’t focus on the important tasks at hand.
I am always very careful about recommending supplements because it is generally foolish to make blanket recommendations to everyone. One mineral that about 75% of the population is deficient in that can severely affect sleep quality is: magnesium. Do your research and you’ll see! Magnesium plays a role in the deactivation of adrenaline (we can’t sleep when our adrenaline is high!), hydration, muscle relaxation, and energy production. Supplementing with magnesium doesn’t mean you’ll pass out like you’ve taken a sleep aid, but if you are deficient, you certainly won’t be getting a good night’s sleep. For clients I work with that have sleep issues, I typically recommend trying ZMA nightly for 30-60 days and if they don’t experience better sleep, they may choose to stop taking it.
9. Nutrition before bed
Don’t go to bed hungry. Don’t go to bed extremely full. Being hungry or being too stuffed are two sure fire ways to guarantee horrible sleep. That being said, what should you eat before bed? If you tend to wake up hungry in the middle of the night (say around 2-3am) this is likely due a blood sugar crash. Most of my clients have experienced increased sleep quality when they add in some fat and possibly a bit of a slower digesting protein source 1-2 hours before bed. Fat is a slower digesting macronutrient that will help to keep you blood sugar levels stable. Along with this, adding a lean protein source can help to keep you from getting hungry in the middle of the night and help your body repair itself while you sleep. The casein protein in this is a slower digesting protein. Along with the fat from the sunbutter, this is a delicious treat that will likely help to increase your sleep quality! Dessert can help you sleep? Why not!
10. Essential Oils
I saved this one for last because some of you might find it a little “woo-woo” but I have had really good luck with it! If you have not heard of essential oils, they are natural extracts derived from plants. There are thousands of different essentials oils that can be mixed or used full strength for many different things such as cleaning, personal care products, aromatherapy, supplements, etc. My favorite essential oil for sleep that I highly recommend is lavender. You can purchase a high quality lavender (preferably organic) essential oil online for around $10. Simply rub a few drops on your wrists and massage into your temples before going to sleep. Lavender is a very calming scent. It has been shown to sooth nerves and aid in digestion, has pain relieving qualities, and can even lower blood pressure in some. It’s been used widely for insomnia, tension, depression, headaches, stomach cramps, and earaches. I personally really just like the smell of it. When I smell lavender now, I instantly relax (whether it’s time for bed or not). My body now recognizes the smell and it helps me to unwind. If you have never looked into essential oils but you have poor sleep quality, it’s definitely worth a shot!
If your sleep is consistently poor, you owe it to yourself to try some of the above recommendations. Don’t go through life constantly tired, stressed, and overwhelmed because you don’t have to! Make sleep and your sleep quality a priority and I think you’ll be amazed at the results.
What have you found to be the most helpful tips for YOU to get a better night’s sleep?