Solutions For A Better Night’s Sleep
Simple Solutions On How To Improve Sleep
Having problems falling asleep or waking up in the early hours of the morning is incredibly common and you certainly aren’t alone if its happening to you currently. The truth is sleep problems are incredibly common and today I wanted to help give you some solutions to improve your chances of getting to sleep and staying asleep so that you can benefit from this restorative time and improve your overall wellness.
Sleep deprivation is so common that many don’t even realize they are suffering, the feeling of average is common and it’s what they are used to. The more deprivation you get though can have some pretty serious affects on your wellbeing
- Weaken your immune system
- Accelerate tumor growth
- Affects hunger levels and causes overeating
- Impair your memory; even a single night of poor sleep
- Impair your performance on physical or mental tasks, and decrease your problem-solving ability
When we get disrupted sleep, melatonin gets out of balance. Melatonin acts as an antioxidant in the body, helping to heal and fight cancer and suppress free radicals. Sleep is where our body does all of its physical and mental-emotional repairs. So it makes sense that you would want to ensure as much as you can that you are aiming to achieve that quality sleep each night.
Before I go too far into the what to do, I think it’s important to understand how the body works and so then why the solutions I suggest may work for you.
Our body has its own natural rhythm, a rhythm that we have no control over. It is dependent on the movement of the sun and moon. When the sun rises and your skin gets light on it, your body produces hormones, these are the hormones that wake you up and make you feel ready to face your day. A prime example of how these hormones work in your body is when you wake up with light coming in your bedroom versus an alarm in the dark. With the alarm, you are half asleep until you get into the kitchen and you turn the lights on then your body starts to wake up. You cannot control this, this all happens naturally from light exposure.
On average we need 7-9 hours sleep and while there is proof that 1% of the population do well on less, most of us need on average 8 hours of deep sleep nourishing sleep per night. This is the type of sleep that when you wake up you feel refreshed. It is not the type where you have vivid dreams and keep waking up. This is called REM sleep (rapid eye movement). REM happens when our stress hormone levels are too high which can be due to a number of possible things like the types of food consumed, emotions, physical or lifestyle stress. Whatever is causing it, you want to find out the reason why.
You see we need our sleep and it’s important to value it by making good choices each day that help you to get the quality sleep your body desires. Knowing that light affects how you feel, first, you want to ensure you are sleeping in a dark room. Remember light makes you feel awake so any light coming into your room is going to affect the quality of your sleep. Make sure you turn off all your electronics, see to it that your phone is away from your bed and you have blackout curtains. Our body reacts to the extremes of light and dark. Just as much as we need darkness, we also need sunlight. So if you are struggling to get a good night sleep, make sure you are getting enough light on your skin throughout the day versus being in buildings all day. Take a walk or do some gardening, get some good quality daylight into your body in order to help your body sleep.
How Our Body Naturally Works
First, let’s look at the good cycle. As the sun comes up and you get up, light naturally increases the hormone cortisol. These natural stress hormones in your body increase in the morning when you get up and this is where a lot of your body’s natural energy is up. Then as the day goes on, these stress hormones naturally decrease allowing you to slow down as the day slows down. Then when the evening comes you are ready for rest, these hormones have dropped to allow melatonin (your sleep hormone) to rise. Then between the hours of 10pm-2am, your body does its entire physical repair and between 2am-6am your body does its entire psychological repair. So if you have a niggly knee problem, backache or skin problem, between 10pm-2am, it during this time when your body is fixing it. If you had a terrible emotional, stressful day, between 2am-6am is when you forget it and move on the next day.
Now, let’s take a look at a bad cycle. This is an example of someone who is leading a very stressful life. They wake up, feeling groggy, reach for the caffeine, and head into their day. As the day goes on they need sugar and more caffeine to keep them going. They finish their workday stressed and wound up and then eat a huge dinner because they have been starving all day. This dinner then sits insides them and takes the body ages to metabolize so it keeps their hormones up. They then sit in the lounge with all the lights on watching an emotional drama on TV until 9.30pm -10.30pm or even 11.30pm, then try going to bed. The body has been exposed to light and stress right up until 10.30pm so it is still feeling wide awake. They then go to bed and feel tired but wired. Fall asleep about an hour later and wake up exhausted but still repeat the cycle.
An Ideal Scenario
Now, we aren’t all going to have perfect circadian health and we can’t all wake up to the sunlight every day. We live in a modern word and we all have different lifestyles. We have days when we get stressed and days when we just have to get through. The reason I am making you so aware of this is, remember what I said at the top, all this happens without your control. You have to understand your bodies on natural internal rhythm and on days when it just gets messed up, what can you do to bring it all back.
If you have trouble falling asleep at night and you are waking up exhausted or you are having REM sleep, ask yourself what you are doing at night time to promote deep sleep and that natural winding down. Are you eating too close to bed? Are you dimming the lights in your house to reflect the outside? Find ways to help your body unwind. So when it comes to 10 pm you are already asleep and not just thinking about sleep.
In the hours between 10 pm – 2 am your body does the majority of its physical repair, so the niggly knee problem, the headache, the fat burning, the muscle building this is all happening in these earlier hours. Then between the hours of 2 am and 6 am your body is doing more of its psychological repair, so improving moods, emotions, memory, focus, and productivity. It’s been said that for every 1-2 hours of lost sleep you lose up to double that of productivity the next day. I don’t know about you, but it really is so hard to function on lack of sleep and get things done.
So if your goal is weight loss, sleep is crucial because physical repair happens between 10pm-2am. If you are going to bed late, you might be training all you like, but if the body doesn’t get that opportunity to change your body in your sleep you will remain in the same weight.
But I’m A Night Owl And I Can’t Change?
I hear this all the time and if you have done any sort of travel and you were to fly to the other side of the world, you would change your sleep pattern within a few days due to the sun and the moon. What doesn’t change at home, however, is your habits. So you can’t expect your body to fall asleep earlier if your routine and patterns remain the same.
What About Night Shift
Everything I have mentioned above is the ideal scenario and of course, there are times when this doesn’t apply, but it’s about understanding how it works so you can trick the body and get the best sleep you can, even if it is the middle of the day. As much as you can you are trying to reflect whats going on outside with the sun and the moon, so if you have to work night shifts, when you get home you want to ensure you are replicating as if its night time and create dim light and an opportunity for your body to wind down and ensuring your room is pitch black with block out curtains.
How Food Affects Your Sleep
It’s important to make sure you eat regularly throughout your day, as this going to also help with your sleep patterns. If you consume dinner near bedtime, your body will be going to sleep trying to digest food, you won’t be able to get into that deep sleep you need. You see melatonin is produced in your gut, so if your digestive system is in full swing digesting this super full-on meal, your body is being told to stay awake. You will then wake up feeling exhausted and unrested. So making sure you eat leaving at least 2-3 hours before going to bed as this really going to help with your sleep quality and how you feel when you wake up.
Another indication that you may not quite have your meals right or that you aren’t eating right for your body is if you are waking up between the hours of 1am-4am. This can be an indication of high cortisol levels or a drop in blood sugar and a disruption in your hormonal balance, another reason to do what you can to restore natural rhythm. So you may want to play around with more carbohydrates for dinner, adjusting your protein or more fat and eating earlier. Its all about tweaking things and finding what works for you.
Solutions To Improve Your Sleep
We absolutely 100% need our sleep. However, there are going to be times when you can’t get that amount, for whatever reason. If and when this happens, you have the tools to improve it and you understand why this may be affecting how you feel and perform. Sleep is incredibly powerful. You cannot function without it, and if you don’t get enough of it you will function poorly.
Create A Ideal Sleep Sanctuary
To start with where you sleep and the space you sleep in is important, so pay attention to what may be affecting the quality of this space and see if there are ways you can improve it.
Even the smallest amount of light in your bedroom can disrupt your internal body clock and affects your pineal glands production of melatonin and serotonin. So remove or cover lights from clocks, make sure NO TVs are in your bedroom and you have blackout curtains to create a dark cave. Close your bedroom door and if you get up to go to the toilet in the middle of the night reframe from turning lights on as this will make falling asleep again much harder. Our body responds to the natural circadian rhythm going on outside with the sun and the moon, modern day lighting can disrupt that internal clock by sending lights through your optic nerve to your hypothalamus, which controls your biological clock. So paying attention to how dark your room is important. The aim to not be able to see your hand when you look at it in the dark.
As much as you need to ensure you get to sleep in a dark space you also want to ensure that during your day you are getting natural light exposure. So get outside during your lunch breaks if you work in a building and help your body absorb that natural light. Its the contrasts of light and dark that help to normalize our hormonal rhythm and that helps us to fall asleep much better with better quality sleep also.
Your bodies temperature needs to drop while you sleep and to help you fall asleep you want to try and have a cool room. So if you can sleep with the window open to get fresh air in. Ideally no higher than 21 Celsius /70 Fahrenheit.
4. Remove electromagnetic fields (EMFs)
These can disrupt your pineal gland and production of melatonin and serotonin, both of which you need to fall asleep. So ensure your phone is switched off or onto airplane mode overnight and turn off wifi in the evenings. At the same time remove other electronic devices away from your bed. If you need an alarm don’t have this near your head. Have it at least 1 m away.
I am all about evening routines and it’s so important to appreciate how this plays a part in what time you fall asleep.
1. Get to bed early
Our body does all of its physical repairs in the first 4 hours, so this is where you adrenal system does the most of its recharging and when your gallbladder dumps toxins out at the same time. If your wide awake and miss these early hours it can back up the load to the liver and can disrupt sleep even further. Prior to modern technology humans would go to bed just after the sun went down, similar to what animals do. So as much as you can try and replicate what nature had in mind.
2. Stick to routine
Don’t change your bedtime, aim to find a time that works and stick to this on the weekends also. This will help your body to find its natural rhythm and help you fall asleep consistently.
3. Bedtime routine
Find a routine that you can do in the evenings that help you to wind down. Things like reading, camomile tea, meditation, shower, bath, listening to audio or watching tv. The key is that you find something that makes you feel relaxed and repeat this each night to create triggers to your body to wind down.
4. Avoid Bluelight
It’s not uncommon for people to have a TV going, with a laptop on them and the phone beside them. It’s part of this modern lifestyle and the more time we spend with technology the more blue light exposure and less natural light. The problem is blue light is a stress inducer and it affects your bodies ability to produce melatonin, your natural sleep hormone. So in the evenings its important to have a cut off time from your phone/computer with at least 30 minutes to 1 hour before you wish to go sleep. So that means definitely no using your phone while in bed.
5. Don’t drink too much water at night
Try not to drink all your water intake for the day at the end of the day. Make sure you hydrate first thing in the morning and spread it out during the rest of the day. Then stop drinking 2 hours before bed so that you don’t need to get up to go to the toilet in the middle of the night. Also, make sure you go to the toilet before bed too.
6. Eat high protein
L-tryptophan that is in protein helps with the production of melatonin and serotonin, so make sure that your evening meal contains good amounts of protein. At the same time, you may want to have a small piece of fruit following that meal as this helps tryptophan cross over your blood-brain barrier.
7. Good quality evening meal
Make sure your evening meal is simple, yet good quality foods. Avoid sugars, highly refined grains and desserts and overeating in the evening. Make the meal easy to digest and eat early. If you do the opposite is can cause blood sugar levels to drop really low (hypoglycemia) in the early hours of the morning and increase cortisol which will cause you to wake up and have a hard time falling asleep. This is much easier to achieve when you get your meal sizes around the right way. Eat like a king for breakfast, queen for lunch and a princess for dinner.
Try having a shower/bath in the evenings before bed. If it’s hot, have a cold shower to help lower your core temperature and if it’s cold have a warm shower. When your body temperature is elevated and then you facilitate the change you will be helping to send signals to your body that its time for bed.
9. No work in the evenings.
Avoid answering emails, taking phone calls and doing work at least 1 hour before bed. This will give your mind a chance to unwind and help you fall asleep much quicker.
If you are in bed and your mind is racing, get into the habit of having a journal beside your bed and write down your thoughts.
Lifestyle Changes To Help Sleep
1. Avoid caffeine
If having any only consume before lunch, for those with serious sleeping issues. This includes coffee, energy drinks, and black/green tea. Caffeine has a 1/2 life of 6 hours, so if you consume within 6 hours of bed, it will still be having an affect on your adrenal glands.
2. Avoid alcohol
Alcohol can help some people feel drowsy and fall asleep, but this is often short-term and will often find it wakes you up several hours later. Alcohol also prevents you from getting into a deep sleep which is where your body does most of its healing.
Moving your body daily helps to improve your sleep, so aim to get 10,000 steps per day of walking. Don’t exercise close to bedtime though as this can cause you to stay awake. If possible early morning or lunchtime.
4. Avoid inflammatory foods
Stay away from foods you are intolerant to and also foods containing sugar. If you are unsure of what foods these are, start with avoiding packaged and processed foods and stick to meals that are based off whole real ingredients cooked at home.
5. Get Outside
Nature has a wonderful way of grounding us and if you can try and get outside barefoot. It may seem a little out there but there are many studies proving how “earthing” helps to ground the body. Particularly powerful if you spend time in planes or driving throughout your day.
6. Natural Sleep Supplements
There are a few supplements that can help with sleep, the first being magnesium as this is a natural muscle relaxant and helps to regulate blood sugar levels by assisting the cells in producing energy from glucose. Along with that Chamomile is naturally anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic and is known to have such a calming sedative effect which is highly beneficial for sleep. Great to have a herbal tea before bed. Also helpful are the amino acids L theanine, 5 HTP, taurine and GABA or herbs like lemon balm, passion flower, magnolia and valerian root taken per package instructions.
7. Eat early
In the evenings aim to eat your dinner 3 hours before bed and allow your digestive system time to digest and then rest. This will ensure that all the digestive process is well underway and almost complete when you head to bed. This will then allow you to get a much deeper sleep.
8. Avoid snacking/dessert
Processed foods, refined grains, and sugars at night can spike your blood sugars and overstress the organs involved in hormone regulation throughout the body. This can cause your blood sugar to plummet in the early hours of the morning, creating a stress response in your body which is typically shown when people wake around 2-3am and are wide awake having problems falling asleep. So instead, ensure you eat well through your day and your evening meal is well balanced, therefore not needing to snack.
9. Schedule “Worry Time”
Often we can go to bed anxious and wound about many things. So instead of staying up worrying or trying not to worry. Write down in your journal that you now have beside your bed and put it down for a time the next day to think clearly about. Often when we revisit it, we find that we can process it much better.
10. Try Meditation
There are studies proven that those who practiced meditation saw improvements in total sleep time and sleep quality. Other relaxation tools like yoga and deep breathing also help.
11. Dim the lights
Bluelight wakes us up and sends signals to our body to stay awake, so too does white light. However picture the light from a campfire, this doesn’t. So in the evenings, use dim lights, lamps or even candles and create a space that is similar to campfire light. You then may want to consider checking that the light bulbs you use are soft/warm varieties with less than 3,000 kelvins, all of which can reduce lights’ effects on our nervous systems.
So there you have it, some simple solutions to help you improve your sleep and overall energy. Don’t underestimate the power of making sleep a priority. It can have a huge influence not only on how you feel but also what you achieve in your day. Its all about habits and creating good routines that optimise wellness.