By Bobbi McGarry
There are many factors that can affect our normal sleep cycles like hormones, stress over that big meeting at work, our internal clock, and worrying about finances, children, family, and so much more. We have all experienced getting ready for bed after a long day, slipping into our favorite pajamas, getting warm and snuggly under the covers, and as our head hits the pillow ready for dreamland...suddenly we are WIDE AWAKE.
Was it something we ate? Hot flashes from menopause? An uncomfortable mattress?
It may be something as simple as thinking about what to eat for breakfast the next day that gets our mind going or having that last cup of coffee too late in the day that prevents us from a good night’s rest. However, a constant or chronic lack of sleep can lead to health, mental, and emotional problems which is why we have compiled a list of 5 ways to achieve a good night’s sleep without the use of medications!
- Consistent Schedule - Our bodies run on an internal clock yet at times it can feel like a clock with a low battery or one that is wound to tight. If you find yourself waiting until you are dead tired before deciding to go to bed, and always needing an alarm to wake in the morning, it may be time to look at creating a more consistent sleep schedule.
- Try going to bed and waking at the same time every day and maintaining that schedule even on the weekends. Of course, we don’t want to seem “old” by going to bed by 10 pm on a weekend, but by limiting the difference to no more than about an hour on weekends can help prevent disrupting your body clock's sleep-wake rhythm.
- Use the hour before you intend to go to sleep for quiet time to signal to your body that it is time to relax. Read a book, take a warm bath, and avoid strenuous exercise the hour before bed.
- Also try to avoid bright artificial light, such as from a TV or computer screen, and try to keep your bedroom dim, cool, and quiet.
By creating a scheduled time for sleep, we can begin to reset our internal clock and enjoy more restful sleep cycles allowing us to feel refreshed and alert during the day.
Of course, for some people, such as couples with a newborn baby or someone who works shift work, a consistent schedule may seem impossible to achieve. However, there are still ways for you to signal to your body that it is “sleep time” not “wake up and worry about next week’s grocery list time” and they are as follows:
- Keep lights at work and at home bright during your awake cycle, signaling to your body that this is the time to be alert and active while keeping your bedroom dark to signal sleep time. Use blackout curtains to help with this if your sleep schedule falls during the day.
- Avoid caffeine. We all love a good cup of Joe, but caffeine effects from a single cup of coffee can last up to 8 hours so limit intake to early in your shift or switch to decaf.
- Take a nap. It is not just small children who love and need a good nap but be sure to limit your nap time to 20 minutes to avoid upsetting your internal clock to much.
- Bedtime Snacking - What we choose to eat or not eat before bed does have a direct relation to our body’s ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Stimulants such as nicotine, caffeine, pop, caffeinated tea, and alcohol affect our ability to have a restful sleep so try to avoid them as much as possible especially near scheduled bedtime. Other foods and beverages can encourage sleep so by implementing some of the tips below you may find you are able to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
- Keep an eye out for hidden stimulants such as chocolate, cold medications, and other medications.
- Eat foods containing natural Tryptophan, which is a sleep-promoting essential amino acid that our body can not produce itself, such as warm milk, chicken, ground beef, nuts and seeds, bananas, honey, and eggs.
Our bodies can turn Tryptophan into serotonin, which, in turn, be made into the melatonin hormone. Melatonin regulates your sleep-wake cycle.
- Eat light carbs such as whole-grain crackers and fresh fruit. When healthy carbs and foods high in Tryptophan are eaten together they are a great way to induce sleep and promote a restful sleep throughout the night. Try light snacks such as a few lean bites of chicken with an orange or banana or a glass of warm milk and crackers.
- If you are feeling hungry before bed and a light snack just isn’t cutting it, try adding fiber to your snack. Fiber slows down your digestive system, allowing you to feel full longer with fewer calories.
- Heartburn issues? If heartburn is waking you in the night try avoiding foods high in acidic acids such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, and tomato-based foods such as sauces, marinated foods, and foods eaten with vinegar such as salads. Of course, every person is different and what causes heartburn in one may not cause it in another. If you experience heartburn, try to keep a journal of what caused it so you may avoid those foods in the future.
- Regular Diet - Daytime eating does not seem like it should affect our sleep at night, however, what we put into our bodies throughout the day has a direct correlation to how well we rest at night.
- Diets high in sugar can cause uneven blood sugar levels. As blood sugar levels fall as we sleep, this can cause an unrestful sleep or even awaken you during the night. Try more natural sugars during the day such as fruits instead of high sugar content foods such as donuts and cakes.
- Avoid high saturated fats. Foods containing high saturated fats increase not only our calorie intake, but also cause our digestive system to work faster. This can cause us to feel hungry sooner and disrupt our sleep at night with more frequent trips to the washroom.
- Try eating more food high in fiber and protein. Both have shown to help us feel fuller, allow us to fall asleep faster, and get a full night’s sleep.
We are not always going to avoid high sugar, high saturated fat foods. However, we can try to limit the amount of them that we eat throughout the day by choosing smaller portions, including fiber to fill us up quicker, and avoiding them altogether near bedtime.
- Physical Activity - We all know that physical activity plays a huge role in our overall health, and it is also a huge factor in our sleep! Without physical activity during the day, our body remains in a constant state of rest making it hard for our internal clock to understand when actual sleep time is.
There are several simple activities that you can add to your day to increase your activity level without having to hit the gym.
- Yoga - Yoga is an activity that you can do from the comfort of your own home that will allow you to increase your breathing, increase muscle tone and definition, prevent back pain, and increase blood flow throughout your body. Yoga also helps to clear your mind, reduce stress, and allow you to focus more clearly.
- Take a Walk - Getting outdoors for a walk is a great way to not only get physical activity but also get sunlight which allows our bodies to know it is daytime, helping to reset our internal clock. Even a short 10-minute walk boosts your energy, improves your mood, and allows you to get a better night’s sleep.
- Take the Stairs - Whenever possible, choose to take the stairs instead of the elevator. This quick burst of physical activity helps improve your cardiovascular system including your heart and lungs. Plus, it helps burn calories helping you to maintain healthy body weight.
- Dance - Dancing is not only fun, but it is also a great physical activity you can do at any time and you do not need a partner to enjoy it! While watering plants, doing laundry, or cleaning your home...throw in a few dance moves to spice it up as your vacuum will never judge you!
- Play with your Children - No one knows better how to get moving then children! Enjoy a game of tag or frisbee in the backyard. Set up a treasure hunt or head to the park for an outdoor adventure.
No matter your current activity level, by changing up a few things or adding small amounts of activity each day will allow you to fall asleep faster and stay asleep for a more restful evening and a brighter morning!
- Take Time for YOU! - Stress and anxiety have a way of creeping up on us just as we lay down to go to sleep. There are tricks to deal with these issues before you retire to the bedroom and although they will not all work for you, you may find some very helpful in allowing you to achieve a restful night’s sleep or allowing you to fall back asleep more quickly should you be awakened in the night.
- Meditation & Visualization - These methods have been used for centuries to create an inner balance of mind and soul. Learning how to calm your mind and focus your thoughts can help alleviate the dreaded night time worry we all have experienced.
With practice, by using visualization meditation, you will be able to clearly visualize your dreams and goals and discover how to achieve them, while learning the benefits of deep breathing and relation.
- Avoid Stimulating/Stressful Activities Before Bedtime - At least one hour before bedtime, put down the phone, shut down the computer, and avoid all social media, work issues, and that email that can definitely wait until morning.
By stepping away from these activities, it allows our brains to focus on relaxation and to slow down so our minds are not full of current or upcoming stresses just before bedtime.
- Make Relaxation your Goal - Lying in bed worrying about not falling asleep is a great way to ensure you stay awake. To avoid this, focus on relaxation instead of falling asleep. Practice your breathing, focusing on each breath as you inhale and exhale feeling more relaxed with each breath.
Having a great night’s sleep and waking refreshed and ready for the day will not happen every night, however, with the tips above you will find you get better sleep more often and with time, you will know the tricks to return to sleep should you be awoken in the night.