Have you noticed that when you don’t get a good night’s sleep your mood is off, you don’t think as clearly, and/or you find yourself gravitating to sweets, especially in the late afternoon? It is real work for me to get to bed on time every single night. I get busy or engrossed in a movie and the next thing I know I have it is past my bedtime or I have fallen asleep on the couch. The one night turns into two and so on. Most adults need 7-8 hours of sleep a night or more. I find that if I don’t pay attention, I get into the 6-hour range pretty easily.
Sleep plays a vital role in our health and wellness. It helps our whole body restore and reset. If you ask me what one of the absolute superfoods I can recommend for everyone, it is sleep. It helps regulate appetite, improves cognition, supports mood, supercharges the immune system, and helps balance blood sugar and insulin. For many of us, our sleep is not as good as we would like it to be. I wanted to share some tips on getting a good night’s sleep.
Plan your sleep like you plan your day. It is important to place sleep front and center as we plan our day. Set a regular time for going to bed and waking up every day. Create a ritual for the evening like you would do with a small child so that your body knows it is time to go to sleep. Make that ritual something that you look forward to like a cup of special tea, a warm bath, a mindfulness, meditation or gratitude practice, or a good book. There are lots of great sleep mediations and I highly recommend giving one a try.
Finish eating 2-3 hours before you go to bed so that your body is finished digesting before you go to sleep. Exercise can help you sleep and restorative yoga can be a delicious treat in the evening that can help you relax. If you plan to do any sort of strenuous exercise that day, complete it at least 3 hours before bed. If you can, try and avoid any anxiety-provoking activities before bed and schedule them the next day.
Optimize your Environment
Turn off your electronic devices an hour or two before you go to bed. The blue light can interrupt your circadian rhythm and make it harder to fall asleep. You can also look into getting some blue light blocking glasses or put your phone, tablet, and computer on night mode or install an app like FLUX that does it for you. When you wake up, try and get some bright sunlight. This is not always possible, but even sitting by a window with natural light can help regulate your sleep cycle.
Upgrade your bedroom if you need to. Keep your room cool and dark. If you have bright electronic lights, you may want to turn clocks in the other direction or put black tape on any small lights on electronic equipment. Consider blackout shades if you have light coming into your bedroom, especially street lights, and a white noise machine if you hear neighbors or street noises.
Is your bed inviting? Do your pillows support your sleep position? If not, make some changes. Adding some lavender essential oils to your bedroom in the evening can be calming and help your body associate the scent with going to bed. These days many of us able to work in our pajamas. That does not mean it is a good idea to do so. Reserve your sleep clothes for sleeping.
Take note if your partner, kids, or pet is contributing to a less than ideal night’s sleep and implement some strategies to help mitigate these issues. This may be the hardest part of optimizing your environment and be prepared for this step to take some time to resolve.
Address Underlying Issues
Some of us have underlying issues that are affecting our sleep. It turns out that there are lots of hormones that can affect sleep including cortisol, progesterone, insulin, and melatonin. If these are not optimal, they could be affecting your sleep. If you or your partner think you might be suffering from sleep apnea, get checked. Sleep apnea is when we stop breathing in the middle of the night. It is common and sometimes snoring can tip you off to a problem. Restless leg syndrome, cramping, pain, and urinary issues can all contribute to sleep problems too. If you think you may have an underlying issue, reach out to your healthcare provider.
What you eat and drink affects how you sleep as well. If your blood sugar goes too low during the night, it can wake you up and if you eat too much before bed, your sleep can be affected as well. Try and avoid foods that you are sensitive to that are difficult to digest before bed. A bout of heartburn or an upset stomach can make it harder to sleep.
Alcohol may seem like it helps you fall asleep, but most people do not get as good of a night’s sleep if they have had a glass or two or more of alcohol that evening. Same thing with caffeine. If you are a slow caffeine metabolizer, enjoy your last bit before noon.
If you have made a plan, are sticking to it, optimizing your environment, addressed any underlying issues, are still having issues with sleep, and are still having sleep issues, I recommend tracking your sleep either with a sleep tracker or in a notebook that you keep next to your bed. Review the data and look for trends. What can you figure out on your own that you can address.
If you are still having issues, you may consider taking a supplement to help you sleep. Sleep supplements can include herbs (lavender, chamomile, lemon balm, passionflower, valerian, St. John’s wort, CBD, tart cherry …), minerals, nutrients, and hormones (magnesium, GABA, 5HTP, glutathione, melatonin …). Most important before starting any new supplement, and especially those relating to sleep is to know how they help, are they right for your problem (not your friend’s, sister’s or partner’s sleep issues), and if these supplements have any side effects or interactions with each other or with any medications or supplements you are already taking, you may be taking. Several common supplements that help with sleep can interact with SSRIs.
We think sleep is something that should come easily and automatically, but most of the time we have to be proactive to get a good night’s sleep. If you are having trouble sleeping or feeling less than ideal during the day, consider taking a deeper look at your sleep. It might be time to make some changes or even seek out professional help.