If I asked how many of you want to sleep better naturally, I’m guessing I’d see a lot of hands. Insomnia has become a modern day plague. These days there seem to be more and more people who have trouble sleeping, who can’t sleep through the night, and who are desperately looking for tips on how to sleep better naturally.
After all, we all know that prescription drugs come with side effects. That’s the nature of drugs. Luckily, there are some great tips for better sleep for those who can sleep at night: Remedies for insomnia to help you sleep better naturally.
I can’t sleep at night: My personal story
Of all the things I talk about here on Thank Your Body, I take sleep the most seriously. Why? Well, for starters I believe that no matter how perfect your diet is, or how consistent you are with exercise if you aren’t getting quality sleep your health will suffer. But mostly I care because, like so many others, I couldn’t sleep at night. Not long after my little C was born I was battling severe insomnia. It sucked. Big time.
Actually, no, those words don’t adequately describe how terrible I felt due to my inability to sleep. I remember five nights in a row where I went to bed before 9 PM only to stay awake until nearly 5 AM.
Five nights in a row, people. Five nights staring at the ceiling and feeling anxious as I watched the clock tick for HOURS. Eight hours, to be exact. Eight hours that I desperately wanted to sleep.
Natural remedies for sleep? I tried them all.
Herbal teas, essential oils, specific yoga routines designed to calm my body down, chiropractic, meditation, white noise, pink noise, brown noise (yes, those are all a thing), guided relaxation audio files, earthing sheets, magnesium, supplements, and more.
Throw in a lot of prayer. Each night I tried to remain calm, think positive thoughts, and prepare an environment that was ‘perfect’ for sleep. No lights, no screens, no technology. More prayer.
By midnight, I’d feel my heart racing. An hour or two later I’d start to feel drowsy (finally!) but then my baby would wake and I’d be up again. By four, I’d give up, get out of bed and scour the internet for more answers to help my sleep issues. By five, I would be sobbing at my computer. My husband would walk in to find me miserable. When asked what was wrong, those painful words escape my lips once again: I can’t sleep. I still can’t sleep.
Some Relief for My Insomnia
Even though I had struggled with insomnia and had trouble sleeping for several months before this (and to a much lesser extent throughout my life), after those five days of not being able to sleep until five (and then having to wake up to take care of the baby around 6:30), I knew I needed professional help. I made an appointment with my amazing doctor. (Actually, I called after day 2, but it took a few days before she could see me.) We did lots of blood work, but nothing seemed ‘off’ besides low vitamin D levels. I supplemented with some D3 for a while which seemed to make a big difference. I was once again at a ‘functioning’ level of sleep.
But it still wasn’t great. I still felt tired most days. I still longed to sleep through the night. I craved energy, rest, and peace. I still desperately wanted to sleep better naturally.
The Importance of Sleep
We all know sleep is important, but do we really stop to consider just how important sleep is? Consider that in many parts of the world, sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. And yet our society seems to put those who ‘sacrifice’ sleep in the name of productivity on a pedestal.
“Just as the sun is the main deciding factor in the temperature of the Earth, sleep is the main deciding factor in the health and performance of your body. In a healthy individual, nothing else competes.” – REM REHAB Guide
Some of the Consequences for Poor Sleep
Think you’re only sacrificing a little energy when you continually abuse your natural sleep cycles? Think again. Limiting sleep or simply getting poor quality sleep has mild to severe consequences including:
- Depressed metabolic function
- Disordered eating
- Decreased mental processing
- Increase risk of preventable diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes and Heart Disease
- Decline in sex drive
- Inhibited muscle growth and repair
- Worsened depression
No, thank you!
But here’s the thing: As a health and wellness writer, I actually avoided reading about sleep for the past couple years because I knew sleep was important. I dedicated 10+ hours a day to try and get quality sleep. But still, I knew my sleep was not where I wanted it. It’s improved, and that’s good, but I still wanted to feel AWESOME. After all, that’s the whole reason I care about healthy living. It’s not to fit into a certain size of jeans or to reach some ‘magical’ number on the scale. For me, healthy living has always been about feeling my best.
Am I Getting Enough Sleep?
That’s a question more people should be asking.
- Do you have difficulty waking up in the morning?
- Do you rely on caffeinated drinks to make it through the day?
- Do you have constant sugar and/or fat cravings?
- Do you lack energy in the afternoon, but somehow feel revved up as soon as it’s night time?
- Do you get muscle soreness that lasts more than 2 – 3 days?
- Is it hard to focus?
- Do you feel productive?
- Do you struggle with unstable moods?
If you said yes to any of these questions, it’s a pretty good sign that you are NOT getting enough sleep. Even if you dedicate 8 – 9 hours to sleep (like me), you may be unknowingly sabotaging quality sleep through a number of ways.
Hopefully, if you’re still reading this you understand where I’m coming from. Whether you’ve tried to get sleep but still can’t sleep at night, or if you tend to get sucked into other projects that take your away from your bed, I’m here to help give you the tips that have made the biggest impact in my life. After struggling with insomnia for years I feel like I’m finally getting good sleep. Not perfect (after all, I still have two young children with their own sleep issues), but I feel more energized than I have in YEARS.
An Important Note for Those Who Can’t Sleep Through The Night
Before I jump into the tips that made the biggest difference for me, I need you to remember two very important things:
- I am NOT a doctor. I’ve done a lot of research, and I’ve tried a lot of things. But I’ve also aligned that information with my own personal health history. And when appropriate, I have always included my own healthcare practitioner. If you are struggling with severe insomnia and can’t sleep at night consistently, do me a favor: Don’t rely on blogs or even articles by MDs to help your situation. Talk to a professional who can look at your individual history, blood work, etc. to make the best decisions for YOU.
- It’s hard to really distil into a single blog post everything that made a difference in my ability to sleep better naturally. For many, just putting forth a real effort to get more sleep will be enough. For others, you may want a more comprehensive guide to help you sleep.
Real Relief for Troubled Sleepers: Learn how to sleep better naturally.
For me, there are 3 major components to getting better sleep that helped me sleep through the night. They are:
4 Nutritional Tips to Help You Sleep Better Naturally
- Consider Your Carbs
I am NOT anti-carb. Or anti-fat. Or anti-protein. I firmly believe we need all three. However, I do think if you’re having troubled sleeping that you should consider the type of carbs you are eating, and when. Having long associated a big bowl of pasta with an immediate sleep coma, I was surprised to learn this one. According to Tim Ferris, creator of the 4-hour-everything, eating a high protein + high-fat meal before bedtime is the best for catching zzz’s. He based his conclusions on an in-depth series of tests on sleep performance. Paleo people rejoice!
I know many of the popular diet crazes preach NO eating too close to bedtime, but one common cause of mid-cycle waking is low blood sugar. And one proven effect of not getting enough sleep over time is weight gain. Help stave off blood sugar plummets with some healthy protein and fat before bed, like a small amount of almond or cashew butter or a hard-boiled egg (1).
For more information on this, check out the really fascinating book: The Adrenal Reset Diet.
- Check your Vitamin D Levels
This was a huge ‘ah ha’ moment when trying to improve my sleep. If you can, have your vitamin D levels checked. The best way to get vitamin D is through sunshine (yep, no sunscreen). Supplementation may be necessary although there is some controversy about taking supplements of vitamin D (even in the form of D3) as it’s less a vitamin and more a hormone. For a while, I did supplement with D3 (like this) to get my levels back into a normal range but no longer do. Again, talk to your healthcare practitioner.
- Don’t Be Scared of Fat
I love to talk about the benefits of good fats, but still some people can’t shake the whole low-fat craze. Not only does avoiding fat (or relying on rancid fake fats like vegetable oils) make you more susceptible to sugar spikes and cravings, but fat can be really beneficial in balancing your hormones, too. My favorite fats are coconut oil, butter, and ghee. If you can get your hands on quality tallow and lard, they are also excellent choices. When it comes to fat, remember that organic does matter! Animals store toxins in their fat, so if you can only budget for some organic foods, I’d choose fats over produce.
- Watch the booze
Waawaaaa. I know. But studies show that drinking two or more glasses of wine within four hours of going to bed decreases the deep sleep stage (REM) by as much as 20-40%.
Along with these four things, just eat real food. Avoid the fake crap. Okay?
4 Tips to Make Your Environment Sleep-Friendly
- Watch Out For Artificial Light
Light exposure is one of the most critical aspects affecting our sleep quality. Our bodies’ circadian rhythm is designed to respond to changes in light in our environment; traditionally the setting sun would cue our brains to sleep while the sunrise signaled waking. While we don’t always have the ability (or desire) to rise and retire with the sun, there are some handy technologies and tools that can offer us a simulated alternative:
- Sunrise Alarm Clock: Shocking I know, but it’s not exactly natural to jolt ourselves awake with a blaring alarm clock each morning. There are several models of sunrise alarm clocks out there (see here for the model I have). Benefits of the sunrise alarm include “increased ease of awakening, more alertness and energy, and an antidepressant effect.” (2). An added bonus is the dusk simulator that you use to wind down at night.
- Blue light blocking glasses: My husband will never cease to be entertained when I sport these so no points for cool on this one but they definitely make the cut based on functionality. Now more than ever we are bombarded with blue light from all the electronics and screens in our lives and this is thought to be one of the biggest factors interfering with our sleep cycles. Basically, exposure to blue light tricks our brains into thinking it’s still daytime so blocking blue light will help regulate our circadian rhythm. I start wearing these glasses about an hour before I want to be asleep and have definitely noticed an improvement (i.e. a decrease) in the amount of time it takes me to knock out.
- Blackout Shades: Ditto what I said above about blue light exposure. I recently got these installed and it’s made a huge difference in my sleep quality. Even though we had blinds on our windows the last few years, I didn’t realize how much light was still filtering in from the street lights outside our window. These are a relatively inexpensive way to keep your room nice and dark and ensure you sleep better naturally.
- Light Therapy: There is tons of research supporting the use of bright light therapy for seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D.) or the “winter blues” as it’s often referred to these days. I’ve used bright light therapy for the last few years and as an added bonus I have noticed that it improves my sleep and energy levels. If you are sensitive to seasonal changes in light patterns then I highly recommend giving it a try. All it requires is sitting in front of (without directly gazing into) your bright light box for 15-30 minutes every morning. Some people use this as a substitute for coffee and I have definitely noticed an immediate “buzz” or energy boost from using it. Make sure to check out this website before ordering. It explains the necessary criteria for effective light therapy (10,000 lux). Also, take the quiz to find out the best time of day to use your light box.
There’s a lot of research that shows the ideal sleep climate falls somewhere in the range of 65-70°F (some studies even suggest that as low as 60-68°F is optimal). I definitely notice having a much more restless night sleep when our room is too warm so I try and make sure to keep it within this zone.
- Get Connected
I’ve talked about the benefits of earthing a couple of times, but it stands to be repeated. Getting ‘grounded’ and connecting with the powerful electrical charges of the earth are really important. You won’t find a more cost-effective way to help you tap into the power of the earth and sleep better naturally.
- Get Moving
As if we needed another reason to exercise, research proves time and again that it is one of the best ways to improve our sleep quality. Recent findings suggest that the biggest impact of exercise on sleep quality is seen over time. The more consistent exercisers reaped the most benefit. Conversely, a poor night’s sleep was found to immediately affect your workout the next day (and as you can imagine, not in a good way). So simply put, exercise is important for good sleep and good sleep is necessary for the most effective exercise.
Routine is Everything to Help You Sleep Better Naturally.
Finally, if you want to sleep at night, sleep through the night, or simply get better sleep… you have to get into a routine. Quality sleep won’t happen if it isn’t a priority. If you continue watching television until midnight or keep falling asleep with your iPhone in hand you’re going to have issues. If you are like me and have serious issues around sleep I highly recommend making sleep a priority.
I’m living proof: From Can’t Sleep to Can Sleep!
If you can’t sleep, make it a priority. Stop torturing your health with sleepless nights and anxiety over the health consequences of not sleeping well. Be diligent in preparing your body and mind for bed. Dedicate at least 8 hours to it.
Eat well, get your bedroom in shape, and prepare to feel awesome and sleep better naturally.