Sleep: you either love it, or you hate it. Or, maybe you don’t hate it, but you almost dread going to bed because you know you’re not going to have a good sleep. You’ll be up all night, tossing and turning, not able to fall or stay asleep throughout the night. Or maybe you can fall asleep okay, but you wake up exhausted anyway, which tells you that your quality of sleep wasn’t all that great.
Sleep is vital to health. In fact, it’s probably one of the biggest contributors to our overall wellbeing. Our mood, cravings, appetite, weight gain or loss, decision making, stress-ability, and, of course, energy levels are all dramatically impacted by sleep: how much you get, and how restorative it is.
There are many reasons why someone might not be able to fall or stay asleep, or might otherwise have trouble sleeping. Things like stimulants (caffeine, soft drinks, black tea, etc.), alcohol, hormonal imbalances, depression, stress, tension, indigestion, blood sugar swings, and adrenal fatigue can all be underlying factors in why you might not be getting the sleep you need. These might seem like insurmountable issues, but if you break them down and tackle them one step at a time, you will see a huge difference in little time. Plus, most of these issues can be addressed by looking at the same causative factors. So, let’s dive into 10 ways to get a good night’s sleep!
Sleep Environment: this might seem like an obvious one, but to get a good night’s sleep, you need to have a good sleep environment—aka, a good bedroom environment. Cool, quiet, and completely dark are the first requirements for good sleep. You should try to eliminate all light contamination: make it so dark that you cannot see your hand in front of your face. This might mean covering windows (get black-out blinds if you need to), getting a digital clock or alarm clock that doesn’t emit light, and maybe even wear a sleep mask. Why do you need dark? Melatonin—your sleep hormone—is produced in the dark. If you have light penetrating your eyes while you’re trying to fall asleep, your body might get confused and not make the melatonin it needs to fall asleep. Cooler rooms are also better, so that your body isn’t putting energy into sweating (and also for comfort reasons), and the less noise the better—it’s distracting and again, interrupts with your body’s rhythms as you’re trying to fall asleep.
Stress: a busy mind is one of the main reasons that people are unable to fall asleep. Stress comes in many forms: emotional, relationship, chemical, environmental, dietary, and nutritional stresses all take their toll. Deep, abdominal, diaphragmatic breathing is a simple but powerful antidote that you can use to calm yourself down and reduce stress. Take time to relax and unwind before going to bed. This might mean meditating, writing in a journal, reading, or taking a bath. Try not to do anything stimulating—like watching TV or exercising—right before bed. These activities can get your cortisol revving up, which can get your stress response going. If stress is a major issue for you, consider addressing your adrenal glands with diet and supplements. Our supplement department experts and healthy living advisers can help you, and our Lifewatchers course also spends a whole week on addressing stress and the adrenal response.
Cortisol Rhythm: one of the most commonly ignored but essential rules of good sleep is to respect your natural cortisol rhythm, as it regulates your sleep/wake cycles (or tries to!). You should have higher cortisol in the morning, waking you up with energy to start your day. Levels gradually decline throughout the day, with a temporary rise after eating. By evening, your cortisol should be at its lowest and you will then begin to feel sleepy. When cortisol is low, we can make the sleep hormone melatonin (if you have a good sleep environment like we talked about). If you ignore and override this natural cycle, you will develop sleep challenges by night and an energy crisis by day, as well as impairing the body’s ability to manufacture human growth hormone—a critical factor in cellular repair. Have you ever had a “second wind”? Ignored your fatigue and just pushed past it? This is an unhealthy and destructive habit, because that second wind means that cortisol is on the rise again and we are not able to make melatonin efficiently. Falling asleep will be a challenge and we will not feel energized in the morning. Respect your cortisol rhythm and go to bed when you start to feel tired, which should be around 8:00-10:30pm.
Avoid Stimulants: caffeine, alcohol, and refined sugar are all stimulants that interrupt the body’s natural hormone process, including the stress and sleep cycles. Many people rely on caffeine in the morning to wake them up, and sugar in the afternoon to give them a boost, and then might have a drink in the evening to wind down. All of these things wreak havoc with your adrenal glands and stress response, and actually steal energy reserves. They provide a “fake” energy, followed by a very real crash. Plus, if you have these things in the afternoon or later in the day, they can directly impact your sleep quality. Many people think that alcohol helps them sleep, and while it might help you fall asleep, it hinders your ability to have the good quality, deep sleep that you need, and often produces night time waking. It’s best to avoid these things when we are trying to get a good night’s sleep!
Magnesium Deficiency: no discussion on sleep would be complete without considering magnesium. This vital mineral is important for so many things in the body – over 325 functions to be exact – and sleep is one of them. It helps to relax the body, reduce stress, and ease muscle cramps and tightness—all of which are great things on their own, and also contribute to our ability to fall and stay asleep comfortably. Most of us are depleted in magnesium due to our mineral-depleted soils, and our modern diets (sugar, soft drinks, certain medications) deplete magnesium further, as does stress. Try Magnesium Calmas a relaxing, calming beverage before bed to start restoring your magnesium levels and help you get to sleep, or talk to a health care practitioner about supplementing with magnesium.
Extra Weight: Who would think that the extra weight accumulating around your middle would have anything to do with insomnia? However, researchers have discovered just that! Insulin resistance, which leads to central weight gain, is intimately connected with a number of sleep problems, from night waking to snoring and the more serious sleep apnea. What this means is that those fat-free bagels, pop, chips, or cookies you enjoyed might rob you of a good night’s sleep. Surprising? Yes, for sure… but here is what is happening. Blood sugar swings occur throughout the day… and night. In the day, they create cravings which drive you to eat more carbohydrates, perpetuating the cycle. By night, your blood sugar drops and your adrenal glands kick in to tend to the crisis, raising your cortisol, and you find yourself wide awake and unable to go back to sleep. Our Lifewatchers program and Janet’s best-selling book, Discover the Power of Food,can help you reduce insulin resistance, lose weight, and get better sleep.
Exercise: earlier we said that exercise too close to bedtime might not be a good idea—but exercise in general, at a reasonable hour, is a great way to fatigue the body and mind. If you can, exercise early in the morning or in the afternoon—sometime before dinner hour. Morning is the most beneficial time to exercise in terms of metabolism, muscle, and cardiovascular benefit, and you want to avoid exercising when your body is on its natural downward slide to sleep (i.e., after dinner), as it’s a stimulating activity. Fatigue your muscles early on to help prime your body for bed!
Avoid TV, Cell Phones, & Laptops: all of these items emit electromagnetic radiation, which is taxing on the eyes and stimulating to the mind. It hinders our ability to produce melatonin because it is actually stimulating. Try not to watch TV right before you go to sleep, and don’t bring your laptop or cellphone into your bed with you. These things are the opposite of relaxing and will reawaken your brain and cortisol levels.
Aromatherapy: aromatherapy is a great way to reap so many benefits for the body, including inducing a relaxed state of mind for sleep. Make sure you use a high quality diffuser to emit the essential oils so that you are not damaging them and you get the full effect. Oils like lavenderand chamomile are great for relaxation and sleep, and we also have some sleep blends in store. Ask our supplements and personal care department about how to use essential oils, and get a head start by reading out Ultimate Guide to Essential Oils here.
Come Talk to Us: if all of these things sound great but you don’t know how to start, or if you’ve tried some of these methods and you’re still struggling with getting a good sleep, come and talk to us. We have health experts and Healthy Living Advisors on staff that are here to help you. They’ll help you get to the root of the problem and start to solve it. Check for the Goodness Me! nearest you and come on in!
Katie has worked in the natural health & wellness industry for over 10 years and is currently studying to become a Registered Holistic Nutritionist. She is passionate about eating #feelgood food and recognized that this might look different for each and every person. She truly believes that in a healthy lifestyle, you can have your cake and eat your kale, too! Follow her on Instagram @katielmitts