If getting more sleep was one of your New Year’s resolutions, then this post is for you! If you hadn’t really thought about it, ask yourself, when was the last time you woke up feeling rested and ready to take on the day? Do you need coffee to make you feel human in the morning? Guess what? It doesn’t have to be this way. Read on to discover how to have the best sleep of your life tonight.
Exactly how much sleep each person needs has been debated by scientists for ages, but the National Sleep Foundation recommends getting between 7-9 hours per night. Anything less than this, and you are likely to experience any or all of the following symptoms:
- Impaired memory.
- Clumsiness, or lack of focus and coordination.
- Weakened immune system.
- Increased cancer risk.
- Blood sugar problems, and a higher propensity for diabetes and obesity.
- Impaired cognitive and physical function.
- Increased incidence of depression.
- Increased inflammation in the body.
- Cardiovascular stress and increased risk of heart disease.
- Hormonal imbalances.
That’s quite the list of some scary problems. Since you’re on my holistic nutrition site, I’m guessing you’re more of the mindset of taking a preventative approach to health. So let’s look at a 5 easy peasy things you can do, starting TODAY, to help you get a better night’s sleep so you can wake up feeling like your badass self.
1. Prioritize an Earlier Bedtime
This is NOT rocket science, but it’s really hard to fudge the numbers on this one. If you need to be up and getting ready for work by 6:00am, going to bed at 1:00am every night is not going to cut the mustard.
Maybe your mom once told you that every hour of sleep before midnight counts as two hours! While I can’t scientifically validate this, your wise ol’ mamma may have been on to something. By getting to bed by 10pm, you’ll be working with your body’s biology and natural circadian rhythm, as your natural melatonin levels (ie: your sleep hormone) are at their optimal level between 10:00pm-1:00am, and your cortisol levels (your hormone that wakes you up in the morning) are at their lowest. Missing this optimal sleep-window because you’re binge watching Making a Murderer is sure to sabotage your chances of waking up feeling rested and ready to tackle the day.
How to do it:
Start with just going to bed 30 minutes earlier each night. You don’t even have to fall asleep right away, but just get used to shifting your nighttime routine to be earlier and earlier, and get comfortable with being in bed. Soon you’ll appreciate the extra “me” time you get by going to bed early, and eventually you’ll find it easier and easier to fall asleep.
2. Make Your Bedroom an Electronics-Free Zone
Have you ever dropped your iPad on your face when playing Kwazy Cupcakes in bed? Keeping your electronics out of your bedroom, or at the very least your bed, will not only prevent any future iPad-induced black eyes, but also greatly improve the quality of sleep you’re getting each night. Modern research (check it here & here) is showing how frequent use of electronic devices in the evening is leading to an increase in sleep disturbances.
Why does using an electronic device at bedtime disrupt your sleep? It all comes down to the colour temperature of light. It may be hard to notice with the naked eye, but light has a colour temperature. Daylight tends to have a cooler, bluer colour temperature. This blue light helps signal our bodies to create the correct hormones to keep us awake during the day. Lights that we tend to use in our home often have a warmer or more amber colour temperature to them, somewhat resembling the light emitted from a candle. This warmer, amber light helps signal our bodies to start winding down and preparing for sleep. However, when we throw an electronic device such as an e-reader, iPad, cellphone or computer into the mix, which all emit blue light, we confuse the body and disrupt the natural rhythm of our sleep hormones, suppressing melatonin, and potentially diminishing the quality of our sleep.
How to do it:
This may feel like a hard habit to break as we all seem to be addicted to our devices, but I promise you there are a lot of fun things you can do after dark that don’t involve checking Facebook. For example, instead of watching 3 hours of TV before bed, pick up the book from the top of your pile and start reading, or start a journaling practice. You can also play a board game with your partner (you’ll both benefit from the extra quality time). Go for a nice evening stroll, or do a fun, low-impact activity like indoor rock climbing or a restorative yoga class.
If you absolutely have to use electronics after dark I recommend getting a sexy pair of Amber Goggles, which will help cut out the blue light and protect your hormones. You can also try installing the F.lux app on your computer, which adjusts the colour temperature of the light emitted from your screen based on the time of day. Regardless of what you do, I would make it your goal to not use any devices for at least an hour before bed to get the best night’s sleep possible.
3. Embrace the Darkness
For the same reason you don’t want to be using electronic devices before bed because it can suppress your melatonin, you should also try to make your sleeping environment as dark as possible. This means that any blinking lights on a computer monitor, push notifications on your cell phone, or green lights on your alarm clock need to be removed to improve your sleep.
In your brain you have a group of cells in your hypothalamus called the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (SCN), which responds to light and dark signals picked up by the body. Optic nerves in your eyes sense light and then sends signals to the SCN telling the brain if it’s time to wake up. The SCN uses these signals to tell the rest of your body to start raising its temperature and produce cortisol, the hormone that helps you wake up in the morning. Cortisol is supposed to be low at night, so you can sleep, and higher in the morning and throughout the day, regulating your energy levels. However, artificial light can unnaturally elevate cortisol levels at night, making it harder for you to fall asleep, and causing other sleep disturbances (not to mention other not so fun effects it has on the body such as increasing body-fat levels, increasing insulin resistance, and inflammation.)
How to do it:
Likely the biggest source of light in your bedroom is from a street lamp outside. Inadequate window shades can let in a lot of light. If you’re like me and don’t own your home, your landlord may not appreciate you drilling a new window cover into your walls. For you, I recommend getting these handy peel and stick paper blackout shades. Not only are they super affordable, they can be cut with scissors to fit smaller windows, so no professional installation is required.
For any electronics that emit light and cannot be removed from the bedroom, simply put a small piece of black electricians tape over the light to keep it from blinking throughout the night.
If your phone is your alarm clock, then I suggest making sure it’s either on Do Not Disturb, so you don’t get unimportant push notifications throughout the night, or airplane mode. In both settings your phone alarm will still go off in the morning.
4. Snack Smarter at Night
One common cause for sleep disruptions is blood sugar dysregulation. If you are prone to dysglycemia or low blood sugar, then a mid-sleep blood sugar crash could potentially wake you up and have you rummaging in the fridge for that midnight snack. Avoiding refined carbohydrates and simple sugars before bed can help prevent blood sugar crashes, and help you have a more restful sleep.
How to do it:
Instead, if you are hungry before bed, I recommend having a small protein and fat-rich snack to help keep your blood sugar stable for the duration of your slumber. A handful of nuts, or some almond butter on celery sticks are two really fast and simple snack ideas that can satisfy your hunger, and also keep you asleep
5. Have an Epsom Salt Bath
Tell me this doesn’t sound amazing: 9:00pm rolls around, and you draw yourself a nice hot bath. You dump in about ½ a cup of salt, maybe a ¼ cup of baking powder and a few drops of lavender oil. You light a candle, turn out the lights, and put on you the latest podcast episode of Serial. You slide into your bath, and simmer for 30-45 minutes, while Sarah Koenig tells you all about the injustices and controversies of the world. You finish your bath, dry off, brush your teeth, and then crawl right to bed for the deepest sleep of your life.
It may just be me, but what I described above sounds like heaven. And I know it’s heavenly because it is a regular part of my bedtime routine. The magic ingredient to this whole recipe of self care? Epsom salt!
Epsom salt is a naturally occurring mineral compound of magnesium and sulfate, both of which are highly absorbable through the skin. Magnesium is an essential mineral, which relaxes your muscles and allows you to have a calm and restful sleep. Unfortunately magnesium is becoming harder and harder to get through diet alone due to the mineral depletion of our soil, so supplementing with a good quality supplement, or using a magnesium oil or epsom salts can really benefit your body.
How to do it:
Fill your tub with warm water and add one half to 2 cups of Epsom salt. The more salt you add, the more detoxifying it will be, so you may want to start small and work your way up. Try and stay in your bath for as long as possible; as mentioned above I like to listen to podcasts to keep me entertained, but you can also read or journal depending on how good you are with paper in a wet environment. After your bath, resist the urge to rinse off, and just towel yourself dry before crawling beneath the sheets for bedtime. I personally like to add about ¼ cup of baking soda to my bath, along with a few drops of lavender to help me relax even deeper.
These 5 tips are my best, most highly recommended, and most effective tactics for ensuring you have the most rockin’ sleep of your life. So if you’re in need of a deep, restful, restorative sleep so you can wake and make tomorrow your bitch, then give the above 5 tips a try. I’d love to hear how they go for you, so please let me know in the comments below!
If you’re an overachiever like me and want even more ideas to make tonight’s sleep the best of your life, then click here to download my complete list of the top 10 Rock Your Sleep Strategies, and get your zzzzzzz’s on!