Achieving better sleep can lead to better health, there is no doubt about that!
It is a time when all the cells in our body regenerate, this includes the brain, gut and skin. Improving both onset and quality of sleep therefore improve energy levels, cognition, memory, skin appearance and overall functioning!
This is a list of suggestions that I use often with my patients to address poor sleep. It is not meant to be implemented all together. I recommend picking 3-4 changes to implement to improve sleep quality.
Some of these things you may not have considered before.
It may help to keep a sleep diary for 2 weeks to keep track of what works. There are also multiple products and phone apps on the market that help track your sleep. One to check out is called the “Oura” ring. It is pricey but may be a worthwhile lifelong investment in your sleep.
1. Minimize Stimulants
- Avoid alcohol within 3 hours of bedtime
- Avoid caffeine after 2pm; if extra sensitive to caffeine, avoid it after 10am. Remember chocolate contains caffeine.
- Avoid Sudafed or other decongestants cold medicines at night
- Complete any exercise before 6pm (at least 3 h before bed).
2. Tips For Nighttime Tension and Anxiety
- Avoid anxiety provoking activities close to bedtime. Spend a little more time thinking of what these are, and mindfully create a plan to minimize them.
- Avoid watching the news before going to bed.
- Avoid stimulating, exciting materials in bed. Reading fiction is often better than reading non-fiction.
- Avoid paying pills before bed.
- Avoid checking the stock market or your financial reports before bed.
- Avoid arguments before bed.
- Avoid repeated negative judgments about the fact that you are unable to sleep.
- Use positive self talk: “I can fall asleep”, “I can relax”.
- Write in a journal any disturbing thoughts that are running through your mind.
- Schedule a time within the next few days to deal with whatever is troubling you. If you are having trouble managing your concerns for more than a few weeks, consult your healthcare provider for treatment suggestions or a counselling/therapy referral.
- There are many relaxing yoga or stress reducing mindful breathing apps or websites available to help you find a relaxing bedtime ritual. Some to try are Buddhify, Headspace, Insight Timer, Calm or Calm.com, Breathe2Relax.
3. Sleep Planning and Preparation
- Plan for 8.5 – 9 hours in bed.
- As much as possible, go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day. This will help train your biological clock.
- Avoid getting into bed after 11pm as late-hour sleep is not as good as earlier sleep.
- Avoid afternoon naps – especially ones that are 45 min or longer. Unless you are sick.
- Finish eating at least 3 hours before bedtime.
- Avoid drinking more than 4-8 oz of fluid before bed.
- Take a hot bath before bed with 1-2 cups of Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate absorbed through the skin is very relaxing and effective), 1/2 to 1 cup baking soda (sodium bicarbonate alkalizes a stressed out body), and 10 drop lavender oil (helps lower cortisol levels).
4. Strategies To Use with Trouble Falling Asleep or Staying Asleep
- Don’t stay in bed more than 20-30 minutes trying to fall asleep. Leave your bedroom and go to a relaxing room other than the bedroom and read or do a relaxation technique (ex. Meditation).
- Consider reading a good neutral fiction or story based book under low light to help with falling asleep.
- If using a tablet or phone for reading, make sure they are in the nighttime setting and brightness as low as possible.
- If using a light, don’t use a table lamp. Use a HUD (head up display) light or other small light that only illuminates the reading material.
- If you awaken early because of light, put a dark covering over your eyes.
- If you awaken early because of recurring thought, try writing them in a journal. If this does not help, consider counselling. Depression might be a factor.
5. Check Light, Noise, Temperature and Environmental Issues
- Turn down the light in the bathroom and in rooms you are in 15 minutes before going to bed.
- Decrease the light in your bedroom by using a dimmer or a reading light with a dimmer.
- Consider using amber glasses for at least 30 minutes before bedtime to reduce light exposure.
- Use dark window shades or consider a black eye mask for your eyes when trying to sleep or if you awaken too early because of light.
- Decrease irritating noises in your space by closing windows, using ear plugs, or using a white noise generator or a HEPA air filter.
- Turn off or remove any appliances or clocks that make noise.
- Making sure your sleeping area is the correct temperature range. Ideal temperature for sleep is 16-20 degrees celsius.
- Avoid sleeping near electromagnetic fields. Try to have your head at least 8 feet away from these, if possible. Some sources include: electrical outlets, clock radios, stereos, cell phone, computers and monitors. Consider moving these devices or moving your bed. Consider using a Tri Field or other meter to test for these fields in your bedroom.
- Avoid sleeping with an electric blanket. Instead, turn on blanket when prepping for bedtime then turn it off when getting into bed.
6. Bedding and Pillows
- Consider replacing your pillows with hypoallergenic pillows. Use ultrafine allergy pillow and mattress covers.
- Consider using a “side sleeper” pillow for under your neck when sleeping on your side.
- Consider using a body pillow to hug and put between your knees to alight your back and shoulders at night.
- Roll backwards at a slight angle onto a body pillow if you have hip bursitis or shoulder pain.
- Sleep on the highest quality bed linens your can afford.
7. Supplements and Light Therapy
Consider taking supplements to aid your sleep. Some supplements are better for falling asleep while others help you to stay asleep. Working with qualified practitioner can help you figure out which one is right for you. The top ones include:
- Melatonin – 2-5 mg to fall asleep and or 5-20mg “time released” or “extended release” melatonin to stay asleep, 1 hour before bedtime.
- Glycine – 3 grams 30 minutes before bed in 1 glass of orange juice or cherry juice.
- Magnesium bisglycinate – 400mg, 1 hour before bedtime.
- Taurine – 500-2000mg 1 hour before bedtime.
- Pumpkin seeds – 1 handful or 2 tablespoons of pumpkin seed protein powder in 1 glass of orange or cherry juice, 1 hour before bedtime. Pumpkin seeds are high in the calming amino acid Tryptophan.
You may want to consider testing your nighttime stress hormone called cortisol through a saliva test. This can be done through your Naturopathic Doctor. If it is too high, then the following herbs and nutrients may be considered:
- Ashwaganda, magnolia, phosphotidylserine, L-theanine, valerian, hops, passionflower.
- Establish an evening herbal tea habit, such as lemon balm and passionflower. Suggestions: Sleepytime tea, David’s Tea mother’s little helper, Chamomile and Lavender Tea by Traditional Medicinals.
In terms of light therapy, consider 1/2 hour exposure to blue light or 10000 lux bright light (first thing in the morning) if you are going to bed too late and want to shift to an earlier bedtime.
To book an appointment with me:
-Dr Diana Semjonov, ND
This article is for educational purposes only and does not advocate self-diagnosis. Due to individual variability, consultation with a licensed health professional, such as a naturopathic physician is highly recommended prior to starting a natural treatment plan.