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I have suffered from insomnia for most of my life. Apparently, I’m not alone. An estimated 25% of all adults suffer from sleep issues. Insomnia can impact every area of your life.
“At night, your brain reorganizes itself. It’s as though it is updating software every night,” says Richard Horner, Canada Research Chair in sleep and respiratory neurobiology. “Your brain is always going to work; the question is, is it working as well as it could? People aren’t as sharp and are less able to grasp new things if they haven’t slept well.”
Poor sleep goes beyond just feeling bad the next day. We know that a lack of sleep impacts our immune system, but studies show that sleeping six hours or less a night can also lead to a shorter lifespan.
Sleep deprivation can also lead to weight gain. In a the University of Pennsylvania study, it was discovered that people ate an average of 553 more calories when they are kept awake until the early morning. Simply being sleep deprived can cause you to eat more and make it more difficult to resist cravings. According to research from the University of Chicago and the Medical College of Wisconsin, sleep deprivation can cause our bodies to secrete a molecule called 2-AG, which stokes hunger.
The truth is that most of us don’t pay enough attention to how well we are sleeping. “Sleep is necessary, but people don’t respect it in the same way they do diet and exercise for better health,” says Jill Creighton, assistant professor of Clinical Pediatrics at Stony Brook University Hospital in Hampton Bays, New York. “Sleep is so incredibly important for our health, both mental and physical. It helps protect against everything from anxiety to obesity and even cancer.”
The good news is that there are simple natural things that even the worst insomniac can do to improve the quality of their sleep. Let’s take a look at 23 of my favorite ways to sleep better.
23 Natural Ways to Sleep Better
1. Keep Cool – Studies show that a temperature between 60 and 68 degrees promote restful sleep. BONUS: A recent study in Diabetes found that people who slept in cool rooms – 66 degrees – increased their metabolism and energy expenditure even when they were awake.
2. But Get Hot First – Studies show that raising the body temperature by as little as one degree causes you to fall asleep faster and spend more time in deep sleep. A simple solution is to take a hot bath about an hour and a half before bed.
3. White Noise – I am addicted to sleeping with white noise. As an extremely light sleeper, I can tell you that few things have improved the quality of my sleep so much. We bought this Ecotones Sound + Sleep Machine when Skye was born to help with the boys noise when she was trying to nap. These days, Skye sleeps like a log at nap time, so now the machine is mine. I love it because it adapts to the volume of external noise, covering up the sound of trains, dogs and even loud little boys.
4. Pick Your Pillow – I like the Beans72 Organic Buckwheat pillow. It is pesticide-free and does a great job in adjusting to the shape you want. It is pretty firm, though, so it may not be right for you. The key is to find a pillow you love.
5. Gentle Exercise – “Traditional wisdom has been to avoid exercise before bed because it was thought the rush of adrenalin interfered with sleep,” says Dr. Elliot Lee, a psychiatrist at the Royal Ottawa Mental health Centre. As it turns out, as long as you don’t create too much physical stress this can help you fall asleep. As we get ready for sleep, our body temperature drops. Since your body is warm after a workout, the cool-down is more dramatic which makes you sleepier. (See #2.)
6. Give Your Pet the Boot – A Mayo Clinic study showed that 63% of those who sleep with a cat or dog lose sleep.
7. Try Hops – Clinical studies have shown that hops shortens the time it takes to fall asleep and improves the quality of sleep. It is especially helpful when combined with Valerian and passionflower. (Note: If you’ve had breast cancer, skip this. In theory, hops may increase estrogen levels.) This supplement is one of my favorites.
8. Have a Bedtime Ritual – You probably wouldn’t think of skipping your toddler’s bedtime routine, but chances are you don’t have one for yourself. According to David Randall, author of Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep, it a routine can be just as important for adults. He suggests going to bed at the same time, taking a warm shower or bath, and turning off bright lights, and screens are all important strategies.
9. Sip Smart – I’m obsessed with the Fidnemed Nighttime Tea from RoseMountain Herbs. It’s got Lemon Balm, Organic Hibiscus Flowers, Organic Skullcap, Organic Passionflower, Organic Hops Flowers, Organic Valerian Root and Organic Lavender Flowers. I don’t take the time to have tea every night, but when I drink this tea, I always feel like I sleep better.
11. Eat Smart – Did you know that certain foods can help you sleep and some can make you more alert? Foods that help you sleep include yogurt, milk and turkey. All of these contain the amino acid tryptophan. A glass of warm milk with 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg is good, because nutmeg is a mild sedative. Carbohydrates in the evening are important because they help the body produce serotonin which has been called a “lullaby chemical for your brain”. You also want to have some protein to help your blood sugar levels stay stable overnight. Avoid foods that trigger the release of a neurotransmitter (norepinephrine) because these can make us feel alert. These include cured meats, aged cheeses, avocado, nuts and soy sauce.
12. Power Down – Studies have shown that the short-wave blue light, like those emitted by TV’s, tablets and smartphones, suppress the rise of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. Low melatonin levels can make it difficult to fall asleep. A simple solution is to dim your tablet or phone to 50%. You can even switch to a black background with white letters. For your computer, try downloading this app Just Get Flux, which helps your computer adjust its light to the time of day. And as an FYI, A recent National Sleep Foundation surgery found that kids who leave their electronic devices on at night sleep an hour less than those who shut them down.
13. Tune In – Try listening to soothing music for about 45 minutes before bedtime. A study in the International Journal of Nursing Studies found that this helped people spend more time in restorative sleep.
14. Melatonin: In the evening the hormone melatonin is released from our pineal gland to induce slumber. As we age, however, our melatonin production decreases. This can negatively impact our ability to fall and stay asleep. Supplementing with melatonin can be helpful. I am a HUGE fan of Natural Sleep Aid – Remedy with Melatonin and Valerian Root – Phi Naturals, which has Valerian, Passionflower and Hops in it too.
15. Meditation – Just seven minutes of mind-quieting meditation can help you sleep better, especially when you are feeling preoccupied. For guided meditation, check out Pzizz.com. It is an amazing sleep and power nap system.
16. Spray Up – I love this Kill the Monster Spray as a pillow and linen spray. It has organic lavender and chamomile essential oils in it. It was designed for kids, and I got it for mine, but now I’m hooked on using it on my sheets and pillow. You can get it here.
17. Pull the Cord – Because all electronic devices emit electric and magnetic fields (EMFs), it is recommended that you keep corded devices six feet away from the bed. The reason is that some people believe that they can interfere with the electrical impulses in our bodies.
18. Be Grateful – Several studies indicate that writing in a gratitude journal before bed can improve your sleep, helping to fall asleep faster and sleep longer.
19. Go Outdoors! No, not at nighttime. Exposure to natural light during the day can also help to regulate your circadian rhythm. Some experts recommend a short walk in the morning.
20. So Very Cherry – Did you know that people who drank 8 ounces Tart Cherry Juice in the morning were able to sleep an average of 84 minutes longer that night than when they drank a placebo? I love adding it to my smoothies.
21. Oil Up! You know I love my essential oils, and I’m a HUGE fan of using them for sleep. Check out this post to learn more: Essential Oils for Sleep.
Choosing an Essential Oil Company to Trust with Your Health is a Big Decision
I recommend Rocky Mountain Oils because I honestly believe they are the best oils for the money. They have strong ethics about oil production and grow their oils in their native environment. All of their oils are either organically certified, organically grown or wild crafted with no adulterating. (Most oils you buy at the local health food store are adulterated with propylene glycol or a similar substance. )
22. Try Yoga! Yoga is a great way to relieve tension and help you have a more restful night’s sleep. Check out this post on the 10 Best Yoga Poses for Sleep.
23. Stick to a Schedule – We are so good about having bedtimes for children, but as adults we often forget this. To keep your circadian rhythms functioning properly, a consistent sleep schedule is necessary.
What are Your Favorite Tips to Sleep Better?