If you’re reading this, you already know how debilitating sleep deprivation, or insomnia, can be. Difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep are among the most common ailments in our society. Lack of sleep affects every aspect of your health. It’s vital that you take action now to help yourself experience truly restorative sleep.
Here are ten tips you can implement immediately to help you sleep better TONIGHT.
IMPORTANT: If you’ve tried most, if not all of these suggestions in the past, and you still aren’t sleeping well, then I have a challenge for you: Try them all again, ALL AT THE SAME TIME, for the next two weeks. If your quality of sleep still doesn’t significantly improved, then you need to dig deeper to find out what’s wrong. Take the challenge, and then read: Four Tests that Can Help You Find the Cause AND Solution to Your Insomnia to find out what you and your doctor can do to get you sleeping well.
1. Cool down your room
Studies have shown that the ideal temperature for sleeping is a cool 60-68°F. Lowering your body temperature sufficiently just before and during bedtime is a key to sleeping well. Washing your face with cool water before bedtime, dropping the thermostat down, and shedding a layer of clothing might do the trick.
2. Block out the lights
Our body clocks are set to be awake when it’s light and sleep when it’s dark. If you have too many light sources entering your bedroom, they are messing with your circadian rhythm and telling your brain that it’s time to be awake. So darken your room with blackout curtains, and block or turn off any ambient light source during your bedtime hours.
Conversely, if you have trouble getting up and around in the morning, opening the drapes and turning on some full-spectrum lights first thing in the morning can jump start your energy and your day.
3. Turn off your screens
The blue light that is primarily emitted from electronic screens stimulates your brain and keeps you awake. In addition, looking at moving objects in your visual field and listening to sounds that are unanticipated and unpredictable–like we experience in TV shows or video games–stimulate the centers in the brainstem that are responsible for wakefulness.
Bottom line: if you are watching TV, gaming, or even just scrolling on your phone or device at night before bed, it’s almost guaranteed to mess up your sleep patterns.
The solution: turn off all screens at least two hours before bedtime to give you brain time to wind down (yes this means ALL screens: TV, computer, phone, tablet, etc). Instead of electronic media, try reading a book (printed on paper), listening to relaxing music, meditating, journaling, taking a walk, or calling a friend.
4. Exercise first thing in the morning
One of the best ways to reset your circadian rhythm is to exercise first thing in the morning. It doesn’t have to be a long session—even just five minutes of daily morning activity that raises your heartrate sufficiently can release the hormones and chemicals that regulate your wake/sleep cycle. Get the right ones surging in the morning, and it will be easier for them to be in synch at bedtime to allow you to sleep deeply.
5. Stop drinking liquids 90 min before your bedtime
This is especially important if you wake up in the middle of the night to pee. Ninety minutes should give your body ample time to eliminate any liquid that you’ve had before you go to bed. If you’re still waking up during the night to urinate, talk to your functional neurologist. You may have a tonic bladder or interstitial cystitis. Both of these issues will make it more likely for you to have to wee-wee in the wee hours of the night.
6. Stop working in your bedroom
Your bedroom should be your relaxing haven. It should be used for sleep and sex, and that is it. If you have files and papers and bills or anything reminding you that emails need to be answered, I can pretty much guarantee that your sleep will be compromised.
Stop sending your brain mixed signals by making the delineation between sleep-time and work-time more punctuated. Give your subconscious a rest, and make the sleeping hours a true mental break from everything that envelops your time during the day. As an added bonus, you’ll likely find your brain is able to come up with more creative solutions to tackle your daytime problems if you give yourself this break every night.
7. Omit all stimulants after 4pm
It probably goes without saying that you shouldn’t be drinking an espresso in the evening if you are already having trouble sleeping. But many people drink caffeine way too late in the day, usually because they experience an afternoon crash in energy (due to blood sugar imbalances or adrenal fatigue), and reach for a caffeine boost. Even if you think that doesn’t affect you, make 4pm your new cut-off point, and see for yourself if it makes a difference after a day or two. And remember: chocolate contains caffeine, so make 4pm its new cut-off time as well.
Do the same with your B vitamins and other stimulatory vitamins, supplements ,and herbs, such as licorice, ginger, L-tyrosine, green tea extract, Rhodiola rosea, L-histidine to name a few. Ingesting these supplements after 4pm could wreck your sleep for the night, even if you still feel tired after having them.
Even adaptogens such as Ashwagandha can have the propensity to interrupt sleep in some people when taken too late in the day. So if you supplement with them, move them to the morning or earlier in the afternoon.
8. Try these calming supplement ingredients (ask your doctor before adding any of these to your protocol)
- Magnesium works wonders to calm the nervous system and musculoskeletal system, with the added benefit of relieving constipation. Some forms are more absorbable than others, so make sure you get expert advice on what type to take.
- Highly Concentrated Lavender Oil taken orally before bed has some fantastic research behind it and has been clinically shown to help not only with sleep but anxiety as well.
- Taurine is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that crosses the blood-brain barrier, and has the added benefit of improving brain function (neuroplasticity).
- Banaba Leaf has been clinically proven to reduce cortisol levels in the blood and can also positively affect blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Since it drops cortisol levels, taking it in the evening can help you wind down and sleep better if you happen to have cortisol levels that are too high at bedtime, or that spike during the night. However, it’s best to test your cortisol levels first to see if this is what is actually happening in your body.
- 5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin, an inhibitory neurotransmitter critical for mood stability. Increasing levels of serotonin in some patients have been shown to help with depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Serotonin is a precursor to melatonin, which may be why increasing serotonin levels can help with sleep.
- Melatonin is a hormone that our body makes, and normally our levels are higher at night to help us sleep. Many have safely used it as a sleep aid in supplement form. It also acts as a powerful antioxidant, and has been clinically shown to significantly help some patients who experience migraines or cluster headaches. I recommend you have your PM Melatonin levels checked first, and ask your doctor about controlled-release supplements if you wake up multiple times per night.
9. Cut out alcohol
Yes, alcohol is a neuro-depressant and may help you relax and get to sleep. But alcohol is also an indirect stimulant and has shown in numerous studies to wreck your sleep architecture (the pattern and structure that your body and brain experience during normal, healthy, restorative sleep).
Alcohol interrupts your sleep patterns, makes you wake up more times during the night, and causes you to sleep lightly when you do sleep. So it’s best to cut out the sauce if sleep is an issue for you.
10. Develop a pre-sleep routine.
Our bodies and brains work in cycles and rhythms, and our brains love a predictable schedule. Help it along by developing a routine to train your brain that it’s time to go to sleep. This works even better if you have a set time to go to bed every night.
Here’s an example where you can implement many of the above tips into your routine, with the addition of a few other gems:
- Two hours before your scheduled bedtime, turn off the electronic screens.
- Make sure your bedroom is cooling down to your ideal temperature.
- Wash your face, brush your teeth, and gargle with a natural mouthwash or plain water afterwards (gargling activates the parasympathetic centers to help your system get out of stress-mode).
- Take your nighttime supplements.
- You may also put calming scents such as lavender, ylang ylang or bergamont in a diffuser next to your bed.
- Turn on some calming music, such as classical guitar.
- Get into your comfy PJs (best if you have specific clothes for sleep time instead of wearing daytime clothes) and crawl into bed.
- Journal your anxious thoughts away (on paper). Make sure you end your journaling session with thoughts of forgiveness, love, and gratitude.
- Actively meditate for at least 10 minutes on forgiveness, love, and gratitude.
- Finally, do some deep breathing exercises and slip away into dreamland.
Now, let’s say you’ve implemented these 10 steps for two weeks and still aren’t sleeping well. It’s time to go deeper into your physiology and find out what the problem is, so you can take specific steps to correct it. Read Four Tests that Can Help You Find the Cause AND Solution to Your Insomnia