Unlike my daughter-in-law Kaitlyn (who put together this post,) I do NOT need a lot of sleep. At least that’s what I tell myself. After reading a lot of research on the subject however, I’ve come to the conclusion that my night-owl tendencies could be doing me more harm than I ever imagined. A few months ago I made a promise to my doctor that I would make a real effort to get more sleep and I’m happy to say I’ve been somewhat successful. I have a ways to go, but I’m hopeful the tips below will get me the rest of the way there!
I am one of those people that is just not fun to be around when I haven’t had enough sleep. While I can function on 5 or 6 hours of sleep (and did quite well sleeping that much or less all through high school and college) I am by no means a happy camper unless I get 8-10 hours. When my husband Erik and I first got our Boxer, Milo, Erik was the one that had to get up in the night to take him out because I was an absolute zombie in the middle of the night. Despite my love of sleep, I don’t always sleep that well. I’m a perfectionist and a bit of a workaholic. When I get in bed night I tend to lay there just thinking about my to-do list. Does anyone remember “The List” scene from the movie “I Don’t Know How She Does It?” I can SO relate!
I recently read an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review entitled “Sleep Deficit: The Performance Killer.” The article said that if you stay awake for longer than 18 consecutive hours your reaction speed, short-term and long-term memory, ability to focus, decision-making capacity, math processing, cognitive speed, and spatial orientation all start to suffer. If a person averages four hours of sleep for four or five days, they develop the same level of mental impairment as if they’d been awake for 24 hours. That level of impairment is equivalent to legal drunkenness! Ongoing lack of sleep has also been linked to an increased risk of obesity, heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. And this fascinating TED Talk from Neuroscientist Jiff Lliff suggests that a lack of sleep may contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
Anyway, all of this rambling is mostly to say that sleep is very important and most of us are not getting enough of it! Even if we get enough, it might not be the best quality sleep. Many people turn to over-the-counter or prescription sleeping pills for help, but those types of medications can be addictive and have negative affects on your health. So today I’m sharing some natural and effective ways to get better sleep.
1. Wear soft, comfy clothes.
This may sound like a no-brainer but I recently recently read a little blurb in FIRST for Women Magazine about how Yale Scientists have found that snuggly fabrics can lead the brain to produce the calming hormone oxytocin. I especially love to put on fuzzy socks when I’m trying to wind down for the night.
2. Work out earlier in the day.
This is one I have a major problem with! I love to workout at night because I am not a morning person. However, working out right before bed can definitely make it harder to fall asleep. The exception to this rule is doing moderate intensity exercise a few hours before bed. I recently read an article in Women’s World that said exercising in the early evening sets off a slow build-up of melatonin ensuring that it peaks right before bedtime.
3. Don’t use your phone, tablet or computer in bed.
I’ve always heard this advice but never knew there was a scientific reason behind it. Apparently the backlight from electronic devices can interfere with melatonin production and keep you awake. If you’re like me and you need to do something to wind down before falling asleep, trying reading a real book (gasp!) or using a tablet without a backlight. Since my husband and I both use our phones as alarms we like to plug them in across the room from our bed so they don’t tempt us when trying to fall asleep.
4. Develop a bedtime routine.
I used to always tease one of my best friends/roommates in college because she had a very specific bedtime routine that she did every. single. night. She always had to write in her journal, drink water, go to the bathroom a couple of times, put lotion on her hands and feet, turn on her fan, put on her eye mask, etc. But having a ritual like that can be very effective in helping you get better sleep because completing the same steps every night signals your body that it’s time for sleep.
5. Keep your bedroom cool.
Whenever my husband and I visit my parents my mom gives us a hard time because we both have to sleep with a fan on. She thinks it is too funny. But we just can’t stand having it too warm at night! Did you know studies have actually shown that the ideal sleeping temperature is 65 degrees? Now I can tell my mom that I’m not crazy, I’m just trying to get my room to the ideal sleeping temperature ;-)
6. Add some white noise.
I mentioned above that my husband and I both like to sleep with a fan. Although the cooling effect is major for me, I also love the white noise a fan provides! I absolutely cannot sleep in a silent room. I even bring a small fan with me on vacations and business trips. On occasions when I’ve forgotten my fan, I’ve downloaded a white noise app on my phone to help me fall asleep.
7. Keep your bedroom dark.
I used to love sleeping with an eye mask! It sometimes seemed silly and a little high maintenance but just about any amount of light can actually disrupt your sleep cycle. Light inhibits the secretion of melatonin, a hormone that naturally promotes sleep.
8. Drink tart cherry juice.
I started drinking tart cherry juice a few months ago when a nutritionist at my gym suggested it as a remedy for sore muscles. It works wonders for me after a really tough workout! But I recently read an article that said tart cherry juice is also a natural source of the sleep regulating hormone melatonin. You’ll want to drink 4 oz of juice right after you wake up and 30 minutes before you go to bed to get the most benefit.
9. Have nightly pillow talk.
A study done by Wayne University and UCLA found that women who took time during the day to talk to someone about their thoughts and concerns were more likely to reach the deepest restorative stages of sleep than those who did not.
10. Try some Dreamy Sleep Salve.
Dream Salve is the brain child of Jillee’s sister, Rebecca at Camp Wander. I absolutely love this salve! I love to slather it on my feet and then put on cozy socks before bed. The salve uses a special blend of essential oils that can help level blood sugar and calm adrenals thus allowing the body to drift into sleep mode when it’s time for bed. You can purchase the salve pre-made on Rebecca’s site or click here to get the directions to make your own.
11. Indulge in a “Sweet Dreams” Soak.
Dissolve 1-3 cups of magnesium flakes or Epsom salts in full tub bath or foot bath, add 20-30 drops DREAM essential oil blend (click here for the DIY recipe of this blend), and soak for 20 – 30 minutes. Temperature of the water should be warm, but not too hot. Very hot bath water causes the skin to eliminate rather than absorb. Following the bath, rinse skin with cool running water, then pat skin dry with a towel. Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxant and releasing muscle tension is necessary for good sleep.
12. Practice yoga.
The stretches and meditation you learn in yoga help to release tension and silence racing thoughts. But even if you aren’t a yogi you can still employ deep breathing techniques! Try breathing in slowly and deeply then breathing out slowly for about 20 minutes before bed.
13. Include more vegetables and fish in your diet.
Researchers have found that the antioxidants and vitamins in vegetables and the healthy acids in fish can combine to reduce chronic pain that often interrupts sleep as well as sleep apnea.
14. Make dinner your lightest meal of the day.
Be sure to finish eating anything heavy a few hours before bed. Heavy foods can cause digestive issues that an keep you awake. However, it doesn’t hurt to have a small snack before bed. Click here for a great article from Women’s Day about foods that can help you fall asleep.
15. Soak your feet.
A recent study in the Journal of Caring Sciences found that warming your feet dilates blood vessels, drawing heat away from your torso. A cooler torso helps to switch your body to sleep mode to conserve energy. Simply soak your feet in warm water for 20 minutes, about 90 minutes before you plan to go to bed. Learn how to make your own Homemade Detox Foot Soak.
16. Limit caffeine to morning and early afternoon hours.
Caffeine has a different effect on everyone but to avoid sleep disruption, restrict your caffeine consumption primarily to the morning hours. If you do have a midday cup of coffee, make sure to drink it before 2 p.m. Anything later, opt for a caffeine-free herbal tea. Herbs like chamomile and mint have great relaxing properties.
17. Skip the alcohol.
Alcohol does allow healthy people to fall asleep quicker and sleep more deeply for a while, but it reduces rapid eye movement (REM) sleep which is the restorative stage of sleep when people dream. Disruptions in REM sleep may cause daytime drowsiness, poor concentration, and rob you of needed ZZZs.
18. Make sure your kids and pets sleep in their own beds.
A Mayo Clinic study found that 53% of people who sleep with their pets and more than 80% of people who sleep with their kids don’t get a good nights rest.
19. Skip your afternoon nap.
Most of us probably don’t have time to nap anyway but I know I love a good nap on the weekend. If you need an energy boost in the afternoon, head outside for a walk and some fresh air.
20. Get a new mattress and/or pillow.
Similar to your favorite old chair or worn pair of shoes, your mattress can still feel somewhat comfortable long after it has lost its ability to provide your body with the proper support it needs. It is important to evaluate your mattress on a regular basis to know when your sleep is being compromised. Click here for a some tips on how to know if you need a new mattress. Click here for a great guide on the right type of pillow for your sleeping style.
What methods do you use for better sleep?