Do you struggle to wake up in the mornings? Struggle to fall asleep at night because your mind is racing? Struggle to stay asleep? Or maybe you feel like you have no energy during the day?
This used to be me! All through my childhood and teenage years I struggled with sleep- I had terrible anxiety in the evenings preventing me from falling asleep, I woke up frequently throughout the night, and I struggled to wake up in the morning due to the lack of quality sleep. I also got that "2:30 feeling" since my sleep was all out of whack, making me crave sugary foods all afternoon.
Flash forward to now, and if you ask anyone who knows me, I am a big advocate for sleep and I let nothing get in the way of my 8+ hours of beauty sleep each night! Sleep is so important to our health, fitness, and overall physical and mental well-being, but I feel like it often gets overlooked. I personally have seen a lot of my own health concerns resolved once I focused on getting better quality sleep each night.
So, how do you improve the quality of your sleep? There's SO many factors that dictate the quality of your sleep, but I'm all about simplicity, so I'm going to break it down into a few simple steps that I do each night to make sure I get the most Z's, and wake up the best possible version of me! The most important thing is consistency- humans are creatures of habit, and by implementing a daily ROUTINE you will set yourself up for successful sleep every night.
1. Toss the Tech
This is probably the hardest one, especially for us millennials- heaven forbid we go more than 15 minutes without phone in hand! Our bodies are made to be in sync with the natural rise and set of the sun, but technology can mess that up significantly. Your tech devices give off blue lights that suppress melatonin, the hormone that signals to your body that it's time to go to sleep. This is keeping you awake longer. If you're sitting in the dark on your phone or watching TV right before bed, your brain doesn't know it's time to go to sleep! Plus, scrolling through Instagram or Facebook can create a lot of anxiety right before bed. I try to put my phone away around 9-9:30pm, but my iPhone is set to go on "Do Not Disturb" automatically at 9pm so I don't get distracted by texts from friends or other notifications.
2. Stretch and Breathe
I find that doing some gentle stretches/yoga poses before bed really helps to calm my mind and get me ready for sleep. I start with some arm stretches, then maybe runner's lunges and quad stretches. Hip openers are also great because we store a lot of tension in our hips. Try laying on your bed or on the floor with your feet on the ground and knees bent. Place your right foot over the left knee with your feet flexed, grab behind the left knee and pull towards you. Take really slow, deep breaths and focus on the rise and fall of your belly as you breath. Do the same on the opposite side.
"Legs up the wall" is a great yoga pose that doesn't require much strength or flexibility- lay on the ground with your tailbone against a wall and your feet up on the wall- your body will be in an "L" shape. Focus on taking several deep breaths and even close your eyes. This pose is great for circulation, slowing down your heart rate and relieving all the pressure we put on our feet all day! *This is my favorite pose to do before bed, it REALLY relaxes me!
3. Keep a Journal by Your Bed
Are you ever so exhausted you can barely function, then the minute you close your eyes your brain kicks into turbo gear? Mine sounds something like, "I need to reschedule my dentist appointment", then jumps to "did I remember dog food at the grocery store?" and it just keeps going from there. To prevent that anxiety, I simply keep a pen and note pad on my nightstand. If something pops into my head before bed, I write it down and then carry on with my evening routine. If I'm all snuggled up and then suddenly realize I forgot to send a work email, I just write myself a reminder and take care of it in the morning. Don't let little things become big sleep inhibitors!
4. Read a Book
The University of Sussex conducted a study in 2009 concluding that just 6 minutes of reading reduced stress by 68%- which is higher than the effects of music or walking. Give yourself some "me" time in the evening- even if it's only a few minutes. I read for at least 10 minutes each night, and I used to absolutely hate reading! I think the key is finding books on topics that interest you- some people don't like fiction, and others, you couldn't pay them to read a science book! Find what you like, then ask friends for recommendations. I'll be posting a book list on my blog soon, but some of my all-time favorite books are:
5. Set a Caffeine Timer
When I joined corporate America, I was notorious for those 3pm, or even 4pm coffee runs. Looking back, I realize that was a key factor in why I couldn't fall asleep at night- and some people drink caffeine even later that! Everyone reacts to caffeine differently, but if you're struggling to fall asleep at night, don't overlook your caffeine intake as a potential factor. I have 1-2 cups of coffee around 8:30am. I occasionally have one after lunch- but I have a hard stop at 1pm. Do some trial and error and consider switching to tea or nixing caffeine altogether!
Update 3/27/2020: I stopped drinking coffee for several months, and saw a drastic improvement in both my sleep AND my energy throughout the day. If you're following all the steps above but still struggling with falling asleep or feeling tired throughout the day, I' recommend cutting out coffee for 30+ days and see how your body reacts. I drink it now on occasion, but I don't rely on it. I switched to matcha tea in the AM and it's been much better for me!
6. Take a Hot Bath
A study published in Sleep Medicine Reviews showed that taking a hot bath 1-2 hours before bed could help people fall asleep more quickly. Sitting in the bath will increase your body temperature, and when you get out, you'll have a quicker drop in temperature. That temperature drop signals to your body that it's time to go to bed. I don't always have time for a bath, but I try to take a nice hot bath at least a couple times per week (especially on Sunday evenings). For me, bath time is sacred time- I like to light candles, use epsom salts, put my phone away and soak with a nice book!
The lifestyle changes above are the most important and effective methods for improving your sleep. There are, however, a few nutritional tweaks you can make to double down on those efforts.
Magnesium: The majority of Americans are chronically deficient in magnesium. Magnesium is essential for many endocrine functions, particularly the regulation of a neurotransmitter called GABA that promotes sleep. The quality of this supplement matters- you want naturally occurring, bio-available form of magnesium, not a synthetic version made in a lab. The brand I take daily is Truvani, which you can find on Amazon here.
Reishi Mushroom: This is something I've recently added to my routine that has helped me get into an even deeper sleep each night! I like to buy it in powdered form and add a little to my smoothie every morning. I like this brand. You can also drink teas and elixirs that have reishi added to them, but I personally find the best way to get it consistently is adding it to my smoothie. There's a lot of good brands out there, and I buy mine on Amazon here.
One last thought...
I get a lot of questions about taking melatonin. I personally do not take it at all, but I think it's OK on occasion under extreme circumstances, such as for jet lag. Just remember that taking a synthetic form of a naturally-occurring hormone should be a short term solution, and you want to focus on creating the right nutritional and lifestyle habits for the long term!
I believe that I'm the best version of myself when I am well-rested! What are you doing to improve your sleep?