How would you rate your sleep on a scale of 1 to10?
Do you wake up energized and ready to start the day or are you groggy and needing a cup of coffee? Do you sleep through the whole, night or wake up multiple times? Do you have an easy time falling asleep once your head hits the pillow or do you toss and turn with racing thoughts?
Believe it or not, sleeping is one of the most important things you can do for your health!
If we don’t get enough, it can lead to weight gain, anxiety and even depression. Sleep affects how we look, feel, and perform on a daily basis. It has a major impact on our overall quality of life. Besides just making us feel restored and energized, there are many miraculous things that happen when we sleep. Proper sleep can help us improve our memory and learning capabilities, reduce inflammation, boost creativity, sharpen attention, regulate appetite hormones allowing us to maintain a healthy weight, increase immunity, lower stress levels, and boost our moods. Have I got you convinced? Let's explore about what exactly happens when we fall asleep? First... a little biology lesson...
Nearly a hundred years ago, scientists discovered that humans sleep in cycles. These cycles are 90 minutes in length and have five stages, including light sleep, deep sleep, and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.
Between being awake and falling asleep
Onset of sleep
Becoming disengaged from surroundings
Breathing and heart rate are regular
Body temperature drops
Deepest and most restorative sleep
Blood pressure drops
Breathing becomes slower
Muscles are relaxed
Blood supply to muscles increases
Tissue growth and repair occurs
Energy is restored
Hormones are released - one major one is the human growth hormone (HGH). HGH is essential for growth and development, including muscle development
Provides energy to brain and body
Supports daytime performance
Brain is active and dreams occur
Eyes dart back and forth
Body becomes immobile and relaxed, as muscles are turned off
Sleep cycles are super interesting because depending on what stage of sleep you wake up in determines how you’ll feel. Have you ever woken up super groggy even though you got 7+ hours of sleep? This is most likely because you woke up in the middle of your sleep cycles. Yes, this means that you can sometimes actually feel more rested with less sleep, weird to think about, I know. So, for example if you wake up after 6 hours, that’s 4 full sleep cycles. Right... 90 mins or 1.5 hours x 4 equals 6 hours. If you wake up after 7 hours you’ll wake up in the middle of the 5th full cycle and that leads to that groggy feeling. Interesting, right?
To get the most out of your sleep, not only the duration is important, but the quality as well. Luckily, there are many simple and easy adjustments you can make to your daily routine and environment to get better sleep. I’m guessing that since you are still here that you are thinking that you could use either a longer or more restful sleep… or both.
So, as promised…
15 Sleep Solutions to get the Best Night’s Rest.
1. Have a consistent wake and sleep time
Your body is running on a 24 hour internal clock - your circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm dictates when you’re tired and when you are awake based on the earth’s cycle of sunlight and darkness. When it’s daylight, we feel awake, and when it’s dark, we feel tired - this is no coincidence. Our internal clock is super sensitive and when we don’t keep a consistent sleep schedule our whole system gets thrown off which has us experiencingr poor sleep and low energy levels throughout the day. It can be easy to sleep in on the weekends, but do your best to treat every day the same by going to bed and waking up at the same time.
2. Sleep in a dark environment
As I mentioned above, our bodies are reliant on the outside environment to create our circadian rhythm. This is especially key to be aware of at night and protecting our sleep space from any light. I am not just talking about the room light or your bedside lamp, I am also talking about the natural light from the moon shining in our window. All of these can have a negative impact on our sleep. At night our bodies produce a hormone called melatonin that makes us sleepy. Ok, I’m going to geek out on you here for a moment… ready?.... Ok, so back to melatonin - it’s a hormone that is produced by the pineal gland in the brain and it is extra sensitive to any type of light - especially blue light from electronics. Being stimulated by this type of light, winds your brain up for awake time, even if it is almost midnight, and you should be sleeping. This blue light slows the production of melatonin and without your body’s required amount of this integral hormone, your body has a harder time feeling tired and so a more difficult time falling asleep. My suggestion is to aim for a minimum of 30 minutes without any technology before bed - yes, this includes your phone! In addition to cutting out electronics before bed, make sure all of the lights are turned off in your home. Using black-out curtains to block light from the outdoors is a great way to ensure your sleep space is light-free. Another alternative is the sleep mask, and it is an option I use when I am travelling. I know, I know, it’s not sexy, but it works. Whatever it takes for a good night’s sleep, I say.
3. Get outside to see the sun
One of the best ways to ensure you’ll be ready for bed at night is to get exposure to natural light during the day. Just like we discussed above, light stops the production of melatonin - which is exactly what we want during the day. I'm gonna state the obvious here, but staying awake during the day has us feeling tired at bedtime. And that, my friend, is exactly what we want.
4. Establish a bedtime routine
To help you keep a consistent sleep schedule and go to bed at the same time every night, create a bedtime routine. Your bedtime routine can be anywhere from10 minutes to an hour in length. Choose calming and relaxing activities to fill this space. These activities might include things like meditation, prayer, journaling, a warm bath, or stretching.
5. Drink tea before bed
I am sure that you have heard of drinking tea before bed - tea makers label these teas that are great for just before bed, accordingly. Think, Sleepytime Tea, or Calming Time - sound familiar? Most of the time this label is reserved for Chamomile tea. Now, if you have tried Chamomile tea in the past and it didn’t feel like it helped, it’s not just you. Our bodies react differently to herbs and so if you are still open to experimenting, there are other herbs that could help. For years, I too, thought Chamomile was the only one. That is not so. We have choices, and, oh how I love choices! Valerian Root, Lavender, and Lemon Balm are other great options for easing your body into sleep mode.
Sipping on a warm cup of tea is a great calming activity to add to your bedtime routine. An interesting note here is that routine is important for preparing our bodies for bed. Making a calming tea part of that routine, is a double bonus.
6. Keep a cool bedroom
As our bodies follow the rhythm of light and dark of the outdoors, it does the same with how the outside temperature drops at night. Our body’s core temperature tends to drop when we are sleeping. So, you can see how keeping your room cooler to mimic this prepares our body for sleep. Having a cooler room keeps us from tossing and turning as is often the case when we start the night in a stuffy, warm room. As a guideline, adjust your thermostat to between 60 and 70 degrees for optimal sleep.
7. Eliminate noise at night
Even the slightest sounds can keep you up at night (if you are already struggling with sleep). If I said this to Hubs, he would look at me like I was crazy… well, except he wouldn’t because he has lived with me for so many years and knows that this is true for me. That guy can drop into bed and off to sleep in 32 seconds - oh I envy that! If there are regular sounds that come into your room or home at night, ear plugs can help. Remember Hubs, yeah… he can really get into a snore fest during the night. My go-to can be to use ear plugs, I would suggest using ear plugs as a short-term solution. Ear plugs are great for short-term noise issues, they can cause ear wax build up/ hearing issues if this goes on for too long. [If you have a bedmate who has a loud snoring issue, it is a good idea to do some research into that as well, for their best health. We did this for my hubby and he ended up needing a sleep guard for his teeth at night. This worked like a charm on his snoring, which is not non-existent.] On the contrary, some people actually have a hard time falling asleep if the room is dead silent - that wasn’t always me, but it has been for the last few years. I love my little fan and I turn it on each night before I tuck in. I know there are also apps available for this. Again experimenting with what works for you is a great idea.
8. Try Aromatherapy before bed
Scents are powerful! When we smell something, it sends signals to our brain that can trigger a response from our nervous system. Essential oils can be a great way to help you fall asleep and calm down before bed. We use oils everyday here in our home. Lavender is one of the most popular for calming the nervous system and lowering blood pressure, which is exactly perfect for promoting feelings of relaxation and peace. Other oils to try are lemon, bergamot, clary sage, and jasmine. You can diffuse these oils into the air or rub them onto your wrists or the bottom of your feet. I would suggest using a carrier oil for this, especially when using oils on children. Right after you apply the oils, take a nice deep Inhale and enjoy the lovely scent. You can also put essential oils in a mister bottle with some water and spritz onto your pillows. When my girlies are having a hard time falling asleep they love to just take a roller ball of lavender and roll a little on their feet and their pillow. This helps them focus on just laying there smelling the lavender, and then of course the effect of the lavender starts to kick in and off to dreamland for them.
9. Avoid snacking before bed
It’s ideal to give yourself at least 2 - 3 hours to digest your last meal before are ready to tuck in. If you eat a large meal right before bed, your body won’t get optimum sleep because it’s still digesting the food you ate. The process of digestion takes an immense amount of energy. Large amounts of food can also trigger heartburn and acid reflux making it uncomfortable to fall asleep and relax. Feeling hungry before bed is also not ideal because this can keep you up. If you’re hungry late at night, here are a few key things to keep in mind for that snack: keep it small, and light, and low in sugar, a high fat, high protein snack is a great choice. Some examples of this could be a few nuts - really, just a few 5 or 6, with a very small piece of cheese, or a very small piece of chicken from dinner. Combine one or two of these as soon as you realize you will be snacking late. You want just enough to have your body feeling like it had something to eat but not too much so you don’t feel stuffed.
10. Keep your naps short
If you find yourself needing a nap during the day, it's important to keep them to 25-30 minutes max. Another thing to keep in mind, is to have the nap earlier in the day so you have a chance to get tired again before bed. Some people may call this a “Power nap”. Power naps can be a great way to recharge and give you an extra boost of energy to make it through your day. Remember that a full sleep cycle is 90 minutes. If you find yourself needing longer than a 30 minute nap during the day, just be careful about how long you sleep because you may wake up feeling even groggier. Take your nap before 4PM, so you can still fall asleep easily at night.
11. Find a good quality mattress
Your mattress can be what’s standing in the way of you and a good night’s rest! The wrong mattress can cause a lot of issues such as allergies, sweating and back pain. Everyone prefers a different level of firmness, so choose something that feels good to you. It’s important to spend just as much time making sure you have a good quality pillow and comfortable sheets as well. Flannel is a great sheet material for cold winter nights, while cotton sheets are great for hot summer nights.
One of the reasons people have a hard time getting to sleep is because they have so many thoughts racing through their head at night. Journaling can be a great way to get your worries out of your head and onto paper. Keep a journal next to your bedside and take 10-15 minutes to write down your thoughts. Doing this brain dump can help you clear your mind and help you sleep better. Sometimes even journalling does not aleviate our racing brains - there are those of you who know exactly what I am talking about. You may want to check out the BONUS section below.
13. Exercise in the morning - not at night
Exercising regularly has tremendous health benefits, with improved sleep being one of them. Have you ever been full of adrenaline after finishing a good workout? Getting our heart rate up can make us feel energized and if you exercise too close to bedtime it can interfere with your ability to wind down and fall asleep. When we exercise our bodies increase the amount of cortisol (stress hormone) in our blood, so it’s important to exercise early in the day to allow time for your hormones to regulate back to normal levels before bed. Aim to finish all strenuous activity at least 2 hours before bed.
14. No caffeine after 2pm
Caffeine is a stimulant, and often makes falling asleep more difficult. This is so true for me. My hubby, on the other hand will argue that he can have a cup of coffee and then fall right asleep - which, actually, is true for him. The thing to note, even for those ‘unaffected’ by the caffeine, that their quality of sleep is affected. Aim to consume all caffeine during the first half of the day, say before 2pm. Keep in mind, that coffee isn’t the only way we can get caffeine, chocolate can also be a source for this stimulant.
15. Eat a healthy, whole foods diet
Your body performs best when you feed it with the nutrients it needs! Processed foods that are high in sugar can throw our blood sugar levels on a roller coaster, interfere with our bodies hormone production, and deplete us of natural, stable energy levels. Make sure you are eating a well rounded balanced diet that includes lots of lean proteins, healthy fats, fresh fruits and vegetables.
BONUS - Supplements that may help If you're still struggling with sleep, or still want to amp up the quality of your sleep, and you have included some of the above lifestyle changes, there are a few ways that supplements can help. Magnesium, L-tryptophan, Melatonin, L-Theanine, and CBD oil are great natural remedies that have been proven to help with sleep. I would definitely discourage use of any over-the-counter sleep medications. While they may feel like they are working for a short time, they actually end up wreaking havoc on your sleep and sleep cycles, they can definitely make matters worse! There are so many beneficial and health-promoting ways you can accomplish better sleep without the use of drugs.
I would suggest being open to experimenting with all the different ways and combinations of ways to improve your sleep. You won’t have to adopt all of these practices, and with patience and time you will discover the methods and routines that work for you and help you sleep better. The cool thing about adopting some of these changes is that they will affect your entire body, your outlook, your level of joy, your relationships - I could go on. And... you can thank me later.