Good quality sleep is essential for optimal health and well-being. You’ve probably experienced proof of this after a poor night’s sleep, or even worse, after repeated nights of poor sleep. Perhaps you felt like you were constantly reaching for “quick fixes” such as caffeine and highly processed sugar-laden foods the next day? Or maybe you were extra grumpy or more emotional than usual? These are common responses to hormone levels that have been thrown “out of whack.” Insomnia affects 40 million Americans! Get your stress, hormones and nightly habits in check with our best tips to beat insomnia.
The good news is there are a number of steps you can take to ensure you get a decent night’s sleep. Some factors may be out of your control (moms, we feel your pain!) but there are plenty of things you can do to get the best quality sleep in your given situation. Let’s take a deeper look at sleep and then we’ll share our best tips to help you get more of it.
Why we Need Decent Sleep
It’s easy to think that there’s not a lot happening during sleep, but the opposite is in fact true! This is where the “magic” happens. Your body goes through important repair phases, both physiologically and psychologically during sleep. This is the time when significant levels of growth hormone are produced, so sleep is crucial for muscle tissue growth and repair. In other words, this is when you really start to reap the benefits of that intense workout you did earlier!
Did you resonate with the comment we made about wanting to reach for highly processed foods after a poor night’s sleep? There’s good reason for it! Insomnia affects the hormones that regulate appetite levels. Leptin and ghrelin are two key opposing hormones in appetite regulation. Short sleep duration can decrease levels of leptin and increase ghrelin[i], leading to poor food choices. Sometimes you might feel like you just can’t get filled up at all. Again, this is likely due to imbalances of these hormones. Hormone imbalances combined with poor food choices may lead to challenges with maintaining a healthy body weight.
If this isn’t enough, insomnia can cause you to feel fatigued and to have difficulty accessing higher cognitive functions[ii]. This can equate to difficulty in focusing on tasks and taking a longer time to complete tasks. Furthermore, a lack of sleep can result in an increased risk for a number of health conditions[iii]. These include: anxiety and other mental health disorders, increased risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
What Helps Insomnia? | Our Best Tips for Better Sleep
So hopefully you’re more than a little bit convinced about the importance of getting good quality sleep. With that in mind, we’re excited to share our best tips to help you get the rest and rejuvenation you need.
In case you’re wondering how to fall asleep when not tired, you must first ask yourself why you’re not tired. Too much caffeine? Are you stressed out? Or have you simply not burned up enough energy during the day? Our tips cover off these points to fall asleep more easily and beat your insomnia!
Be Mindful of Caffeine
You may be wondering how to fall asleep after caffeine. This answer depends on a few variables; the most important being:
- How much you’ve had
- When you had it
- How sensitive you are to it
If you suffer from insomnia, avoid caffeine after midday. Caffeine has a long half-life, which means that traces of your morning coffee could still be in your body when evening comes around. If you think you might be really sensitive to it, then you may need to limit your intake to only a very small amount early in the morning. Consider avoiding it all together.
Remember that different foods and beverages contain different levels of caffeine. A cup of green tea, for example, contains a lot less than a store bought coffee. One study explored the effects of 400mg of caffeine on sleep when taken at zero, three and six hours before a habitual bedtime as compared to a placebo. It was found that a moderate dose of caffeine, even as far away as six hours before bedtime, significantly affects sleep compared to the placebo[iv].
Therefore, test, measure and decide what works best for your body.
Avoid or Minimize Bright Lights and Blue Light
Blue light is plentiful in modern society. It’s the type of light that is emitted from devices such as TV’s, laptops, tablets and phones. Even modern energy saving light bulbs emit it. It’s even found in…the sun! During the day blue light helps the body wake up and feel alert. However, exposure late in the evening can interrupt circadian rhythm and prevent you from falling asleep easily. This is because it suppresses the secretion of melatonin, which is a hormone that helps regulate sleep and wake cycles[v].
Most of us are guilty of working on a laptop late into the night, or checking social media just before bedtime once in a while. If you want to find ways to fall asleep more easily however, it’s best to reconsider this habit. As a general recommendation, aim to switch off devices and bright lights a minimum of 1-2 hours before bed to help assist with a good night’s sleep.
If you must work late into the evening sometimes, then install a free app such as f.lux[vi] into your devices. This makes the color of your computer’s screen adapt to whatever time of day it is. During the evening, it removes most of the blue light and minimizes disruption to your sleep cycle. Alternatively, purchase some “blue blockers,” (sunglasses that block out blue light).
Get out and Enjoy the Sunshine!
Serotonin is known to play a role in the modulation of sleep[vii]. Getting sufficient sunshine is an effective way of increasing serotonin levels[viii]. Serotonin has long been associated with helping to improve mood, which may be part of the reason that many people feel better when they spend time out in the sunshine. Not only limited to mood regulating benefits, with the potential to help you sleep better, it should certainly be considered as part of your daytime preparation plan to battle insomnia.
Enjoying the sunshine can be a challenge during certain times of the year in certain locations. The daylight hours are short, and you might find yourself inside the office for most of them. Try to get out in the sun for lunch breaks, or whenever you can. If you see the sun is out and you think it might not be out for long, get out there and enjoy it while you can!
Keep your Stress Levels Under Control
Stress levels and sleep quality can be very closely connected and are sometimes inseparable. If you’re worrying about an impending work deadline before you go to bed then you might have some trouble falling asleep. If you have a poor night’s sleep then you may feel like you have increased stress levels the next day. Lack of sleep is not only a physical stressor but also a mental stressor. A lack of balance in either stress levels or sleep quality has the potential to quickly throw the other one out of whack.
Here are a few simple suggestions to keep your stress levels in check:
- If you have a lot on your mind, it could be very hard to fall asleep. Write down your “to-do” list before bed to get it off your mind, or write in a journal about anything that is troubling you
- Find some time to yourself every day. “Me time” can be a great way to keep stress levels in check. If you lead a super busy lifestyle, make time for some micro-moments of “me time.” Even five minutes to sit and enjoy a cup of tea can be helpful
- Take stock of everything you do in your life. If you’re trying to fit too much in, what can you let go of? What can you delegate to someone else? Decide what’s most important and try to release some of the things that are not important. This might also involve saying “no” to invitations sometimes. Consider using a system to help you with this like the SmartLife Push Journals.
- If you wake up in the night…don’t stress! It’s normal to wake up between sleep cycles. Focus on staying calm and relaxed and simply focusing on your breathing. If you stress out because something has woken you, you may find it difficult to get back to sleep
Be Mindful of Alcohol
It might be tempting to have a glass or two of wine to help you fall asleep, and it may indeed help you to do so. However, alcohol can prevent your body from getting the deep sleep it needs[ix]. Therefore you may wake up and feel restless during the night.
Similar to caffeine, be mindful of your intake. Notice whether it affects your quality of sleep and if so, decrease or eliminate accordingly.
Use Podcasts if Needed
This might seem a bit counter-intuitive given that one of our earlier suggestions was to switch off devices before bed! Decide on whether the pros outweigh the cons so you can make an appropriate decision. If you do decide to use podcasts to help you get to sleep, we suggest that you download the episode you want to listen to. That way you can switch your phone to flight mode and listen without cell phone signals or personal messages interrupting your relaxation.
Check out our meditation article for suggestions on a few of our favorite relaxing meditation podcasts. Some of them have specific episodes designed to help you fall asleep. Alternatively, try something a bit different. The “sleep with me” podcast[x] offers extremely boring bedtime stories to help you fall asleep. The presenter uses a monotonous tone, coupled with pauses, a progressively more boring storyline, and other techniques to help you fall asleep. The producers describe the podcast as “a bit silly and odd like a funny dream you can’t remember.” We’ve tried it here at 131 Method and it worked for us!
Set up a Relaxing Sleep Environment
Give yourself an extra good chance of a great night’s sleep by ensuring your environment is set up to help you relax..
- If you find you get woken by noises easily, invest in a good pair of ear plugs
- Consider moving to a different room if a snoring bed mate continually keeps you up at night
- Use blackout curtains if you can. These can be useful during the summer months when the sun goes to bed late and gets up early…and you need a little more sleep than that
- Clear out the clutter in your room. Ideally, bedrooms should be used for sleep and romance, and not a lot else! TV’s and other electronic devices are best kept out of the bedroom. If you use your phone for a bedtime podcast or morning alarm, switch it to flight mode
- Replace sagging or lumpy mattresses. If you’ve had your bed for more than 10 years, consider investing in a new one to meet your needs (e.g. appropriate firmness of mattress to suit your body)
Use Some Relaxing Herbal Remedies
There are a number of herbs that are known for their relaxation properties. Here are a few of the most common ones that help ease insomnia…
- Chamomile can act as a useful sleep aid[xi], usually in the form of a cup of tea in the evening, or during the day. It has been shown to alleviate insomnia to some extent in post-natal women[xii] and significant improvements in sleep quality were seen when used for elderly people[xiii].
- Lavender has been found to reduce symptoms of restlessness and disturbed sleep[xiv]. It can also reduce anxiety levels, which may also assist in a good night’s sleep. As well as acting as a mild sedative, lavender has been found to increase vigor in the morning after exposure[xv]. Aromatherapy with lavender essential oil is an easy way to enjoy the relaxation benefits of lavender.
- Passionflower in the form of tea has the potential to produce improvements in sleep quality and is another herb worth considering for a restful night’s sleep.
Consider a Supplement for Insomnia
- Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that has been used to treat sleep problems. Although many studies have shown limited effectiveness in treating sleep disorders[xvi] [xvii], it may work for some people. Melatonin also occurs naturally in edible plants, and tart cherry juice is often sold in pharmacies as a natural melatonin boost to treat sleeplessness.
- Vitamin D has been shown to increase sleep quality, reduce sleep latency and raise sleep quality in people with sleep disorders[xviii]. This links back to the point we made about the importance of sunshine. Sunshine is one of the best forms of vitamin D available to us, so get out in the sunshine for both serotonin and vitamin D to aid in a better night’s sleep. Fatty fish, egg yolks, cheese and beef liver are all good sources of dietary vitamin D
- Magnesium is known to help with muscle relaxation and may aid in improvements to sleep[xix]. Aside from its supplemental form, seafood, and many nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits and legumes are good sources of magnesium. Magnesium oil can also be rubbed on your feet at night before bed, and you can add Epsom salts to your bath for another magnesium boost.
Get Some Exercise
Finally, appropriate exercise can aid in a restful night’s sleep[xx] [xxi]. All forms of exercise have their place, but if you struggle with sleep, consider doing any high intensity forms of exercise earlier in the day. Completing them too late in the evening could keep the endorphins flowing for a while and you may find it harder to fall asleep. Conversely, very light forms of exercise such as stretching or gentle yoga may be beneficial to help you wind down and relax late in the evening.
Insomnia affects many other areas of health and well-being. Fix your sleep, and nutrition and exercise habits become easier. It’s a tough place to be if you’re not sleeping well! Let us know if these tips help you get your sleep back on track.