Let’s talk about sleep. It’s one of the most important things we can do for our body, yet it is also one of the most elusive. When we are stressed about work or life in general, sleep is often the first thing we sacrifice. However, this creates a vicious cycle of exacerbating the stress and disrupting your quality of sleep. In reality, sleep is one of the most important things we need in order to keep our bodies functioning properly—especially during times of stress.
Life is busy, and yes, life with kids can be even crazier. If you have kids or a demanding job, it’s likely that sleep is not necessarily high on your list of priorities. Work, school, soccer practice, and other side projects can take over the bulk of your time and overwhelm you. However, I encourage you to take a look at your sleep habits and see if there’s room for improvement.
Getting consistently good sleep can increase your productivity and mood throughout the day, leading to a large increase in your overall quality of life. Although it takes some planning and commitment, the work you put in will definitely be worth the effort. I’ve done the research for you, so let’s talk about simple practices and changes you can make to improve your sleep.
Lifestyle changes for better sleep
First up is lifestyle changes. This is where the hard work comes in. It can be tricky to stick to good habits, but start small with just one change and build up from there.
Set a bedtime routine
Having a routine and set bedtime helps your body know when it’s time to wind down. Journaling or brain dumping is a great way to calm your mind. Reading a novel or magazine is also a great way to clear your mind before bed. Studies show that light emitting e-readers such as the Kindle Paperwhite can cause disruptions in your circadian rhythm. For this reason, it’s best to steer clear of those and opt for a non-light emitting readers, such as the traditional Kindle, if you prefer to read on a device. If you’re not a big book reader, audiobooks are a great alternative to traditional reading.
There are also different devices such as Hatch Restore that help you set up a bedtime routine with calming sounds and a dimming warm light to help soothe your mind and body.
Exercise is crucial not only for overall health, but also to improve your mental health. Exercise is an extremely healthy stress reducer which will in turn help improve sleep. Exercise does in fact help you fall asleep faster and sleep better, according to available studies (more information here). Personally, on days that I exercise, I notice a huge improvement in my ability to get quality sleep. Keep in mind that different types of exercise should be done at different times of the day. Aerobic exercise can increase endorphins and make it harder to sleep. On the other hand, relaxing exercises such as yoga or stretching can help ease the mind into bedtime and loosen your body to help you feel more comfortable.
Put down the electronics
As mentioned above, artificial light makes it hard for your brain to “turn off.” Make a goal not to use your phone or other electronics for at least 1 hour before bed. There are great pouches and boxes available to put your device into to make it less tempting to use them at night. Most phones also have a “Do Not Disturb” mode to remove the distraction caused by notifications during nighttime. Another thing that can help: Use blue light blocking glasses during the day, especially if your work requires long hours in front of a computer screen. You can also dim your lights at night to help promote sleepiness, as well as make your environment soothing and cozy!
Don’t eat 3-4 hours before bed
Eating food causes your body to go into digestion mode, which can be problematic at bedtime. Not only does it cause your body to remove focus from resting and repairing, but it can also cause heartburn or other sleep disrupting digestion issues. There are theories that our bodies are made to eat during the day and fast during the night, and changing this pattern can disrupt our metabolism and overall health. A good rule of thumb? It’s best to eat a full and well-rounded dinner at least 3 hours before bedtime.
Food for better sleep
We all know that good nutrition is essential for our bodies. Everything we put into our bodies, whether it’s food or drinks, impacts it in some way. Therefore, what we feed our body also feeds our sleep! Here are some ways that you can improve your sleep using your diet.
High sugar consumption has been linked to poor sleep. Swap out your sugary sodas for bubbly water to get the refreshing soda feel you crave. Caffeine-free tea is another great way to get a good tasting drink in that won’t affect your sleep patterns.
Magnesium is an essential nutrient for our body. It helps to regulate blood sugar, improve muscle function, and control nerve functioning. It is also a great way to improve your sleep quality. Many of those who struggle with insomnia have low magnesium levels. If you’re struggling with sleep, increasing magnesium is a great place to start. There are many foods that contain magnesium such as leafy greens, nuts and legumes, whole grains, milk, and yogurt. Talk to your doctor if you suspect your magnesium is low and they can order a blood test to check your levels.
Fiber intake is associated with deeper, more restorative sleep. It’s possible that a diet rich in fiber, with reduced intake of sugars and other non-fiber carbohydrates, may be a useful tool to improve sleep depth in individuals struggling to catch some Z’s. High-fiber foods include lentils, chickpeas, avocados, oats, almonds, bananas, and more.
Dehydration can cause many problems that affect your sleep such as dry mouth, headaches, and muscle cramps. Poor sleep habits can in turn cause your body to improperly balance your hydration and cause more problems during the day. The best thing to do is to hydrate smartly throughout the day and try not to over hydrate right before bed.
Increase omega 3’s
Getting adequate Omega 3 fatty acids has been associated with better sleep. The best way to get these is through your diet rather than by taking a supplement. Fish, seeds and nuts, and plant oils are the best sources of Omega 3 fatty acids. Increasing your intake of these foods can help improve your sleep and overall health.
Supplements for better sleep
My advice to you, even if you’re struggling to get quality sleep, is to ditch your melatonin pills or gummies. Many people don’t know that melatonin is actually a hormone that is produced by your brain to help you fall asleep. However, the melatonin that you buy at the store is a synthetic version of this naturally made hormone. I would never recommend a synthetic hormone for a long term solution, so I cannot recommend melatonin as a sleep aid. There are many other products out there designed to support our body’s natural production of melatonin and help us sleep. Here are some of my favorites:
Supports deep rest with herbs and other natural ingredients.
CBD oil can help calm your body to encourage a better nights rest.
Creating a cozy sleep space
Creating a comfortable sleep space can improve your sleep a ton! For me, I know that a clean room makes a big difference in my stress at night and my ability to unwind and sleep. Put on your favorite podcast and make tidying up a part of your bedtime routine. Keeping your bedroom at a cool temperature is another great way to improve your sleep environment. Opening a window or turning the AC down a notch is a simple but effective way to get better sleep. Snuggle up under a cozy and warm blanket and use some lavender essential oil to create a mist for your pillow. All of these little tweaks can help soothe you as you fall asleep.
Questions to ask your doctor for better sleep
If you’re still having a hard time sleeping, I’ve included some questions that you can ask your doctor. Oftentimes the solution is to throw a medication at it and call it a day, but this isn’t necessarily always the right choice. Sleep issues are often linked to underlying causes that you should discuss in depth with your doctor. Keep in mind that you are the best advocate for your own health. Asking these questions might help your doctor dig deeper into the “why” behind your sleep troubles, solving the bigger problem.
- Does my bloodwork show that I am deficient in nutrients in any vitamins or minerals that could be making it hard for me to sleep at night?
- Is my cortisol off?
- Is my progesterone low?
- Am I low in omega 3s?
- Am I low in magnesium?
- Am I dehydrated?
- Are some of my medications making it hard for me to sleep at night?
- Is my stress playing a role? Do my other hormones need support?
- Because Melatonin is a hormone, is that something that could be affecting me long term?
- Are there any herbs I can take to help me sleep?
- What are other things that can help my circadian rhythm? What could be affecting it?
- Do I have a sleep disorder?
I hope that this post has given you some new information about the importance of sleep. Habits are best developed one at a time (so you don’t overwhelm yourself further!), so pick one thing to change about your sleep habits and start from there. Over time, your sleep patterns will improve and your daily life will as well. Increased energy and better work are coming your way. Now, put your phone away and go get some sleep!