Sleep. It's something that I have always prioritized both for myself and for my patients. Maybe I prioritize it because so many of my patients suffer from fatigue or poor sleep; Maybe I focus on it because there is research out there that tells us that certain sleep patterns help us feel better and live longer; or maybe I just feel so much better when I sleep well that I want everyone to feel this good.
I used to take sleep medication like so many of the people I see, but get this: The research says that people who take sleep medications die sooner and don't actually get better sleep. They just think they're getting better sleep. A reporter for the New Yorker did an excellent article on this called The Big Sleep if you're looking for a good read. Knowing this, I decided to work harder to make sure that my patients could find natural ways to sleep well.
Natural ways to get better sleep
- Wake up at the same time every morning, even on the weekends.
- Gradually work your bedtime to an earlier time. The most refreshing sleep occurs between 10pm and 6am.
- Avoid screens for 2 hours before bedtime including laptops, TVs, smart phones and tablets. I know this is something that many of us use to relax, but the blue light stimulates awake brain waves. If you absolutely cannot avoid using screens in this time period, you can try amber sunglasses that block the blue light. Some people wear these or turn off regular lights and turn on amber lightbulbs in their home before bedtime to decrease blue light exposure from regular light sources as well.
- Do something relaxing before bedtime - this can be an epsom salt and lavender oil bath, stretching or meditating. Preparing yourself for bed by doing something calming can make a big difference.
- Have something to drink that can help you sleep. Having some carbohydrates can help feed your brain and prevent you from waking early, just make sure they are healthy carbohydrates. This works especially well for people who are on low carbohydrate diets that may be waking in the middle of the night. See our recipe for Sleepytime Coconut "Latte".
- If you're having trouble falling asleep try a guided audio meditation. There are many free options on YouTube. I like Brain Sync products, because they use certain sounds designed to bring your brain waves into sleep mode.
- Track it. I use a Fitbit to track my sleep and this helps me to stay honest about whether I'm getting to bed on time and getting enough sleep. There are a lot of different activity trackers out there, and to me it's a big benefit to have one that tracks sleep. This helps me figure out what might be impacting my sleep - stress, food choices, exercise - so I can get better at sleep.
Sometimes changing what we do isn't enough, or sometimes we need more immediate help. In these cases there are some supplements that can help calm our brain so we can get better sleep.
- Melatonin - You've probably heard of this one. It's a hormone that we produce naturally in our bodies. What you might not know is that sometimes smaller doses can actually work better. I recommend 1/2mg - 3mg.
- Magnesium - Many of us are deficient in magnesium and it affects hundreds of body processes. People low in magnesium might experience trouble with mood, brain fog, muscle function, nerve function, blood sugar, blood pressure or energy. Taking magnesium before bedtime can help relax and reduce muscle cramps, as well as replete something we are probably low on.
- L-theanine is an extract from green tea that can help us feel relaxed. It may also have some immune benefits and heart benefits.
- 5-HTP helps our body make serotonin, a neurotransmitter (brain chemical) responsible for good mood and relaxation.
- Phosphatidylserine - is an important component of our cells' walls that help our cells to communicate correctly. This supplement can help with memory, stress and sleep.
One supplement that I like, because it contains several of these ingredients is Insomnitol by Designs for Health.
Sleep is incredibly important to preventing illness, feeling great throughout the day and living a long vibrant life. I wish you an amazing night's sleep tonight!