Updated: Apr 14, 2018
Sleep is so important, yet underappreciated. The body needs proper rest to have time to do numerous things like regenerate cells, store information into long term memory, and heal muscle tissue. Lack of sleep impacts your health in so many ways beyond poor concentration: Insulin resistance (which leads to type 2 diabetes), depression, heart disease, weight gain, sugar cravings...every aspect of your well-being relies upon the quality of your sleep.
I've been super focused on getting better sleep the past few years. This is a very short list of some of my favorite strategies that I either currently employ or have tried out. See which work for you!
Five Tips for Better Sleep
1. Magnesium glycinate
Most people are magnesium deficient. Depleted soil, pollution and processing practices are just a few reasons that we no longer get this vital nutrient abundantly from our foods. Magnesium is just one mineral responsible for all of our body tissues. It is necessary for physical and mental health including cell repair, improves muscle soreness and relieves cramping, as well as hundreds of enzymatic reactions related to heart/cardiovascular health and energy production.
This means we need to eat healthy magnesium rich foods like dark leafy greens, avocados, salmon, raw nuts and seeds but supplementation is also necessary. Did you know there are different formulations (chelation) of magnesium? Up until recently, I didn’t pay much attention, but it does matter depending on your needs. Magnesium glycinate is a calming formulation that has been a game-changer for me.
The fix: I take about 480-600mg per night about an hour before bedtime and it makes me very sleepy. Unlike OTC or prescription medications, this is safe to take nightly, is not habit-forming, and it isn’t difficult to wake up in the morning. Be sure to continue to include magnesium-rich foods in your diet.
In case you’re concerned, the upper tolerable limits of magnesium for adult women 19-70 years old is between 350-700mg/day and for adult men it is in the range of 420-800 mg/day.
2. Establish a routine
A consistent sleep routine helps get your mind and body prepared for rest. I’m a mom of two young kids to this is a bit easier for me since their routine has become part of mine.
The fix: Some options to consider. Go for a walk after dinner when the sun starts to set. Wind down by turning off devices at least an hour before you’d like to fall asleep, preferably much earlier than that. Lie down and do something that isn’t too stimulating with a dimmed light, like talking to your partner, reading a book or meditating. Try to do this the same time each night and eventually you’ll be tired at that time no matter what you’re doing!
3. Be Mindful with Light Exposure
This is a two-for-one. Getting the right kind and amount of light is just as important as removing light sources that interfere with sleep. Let’s start with what you can do during the day.
I’m sure you’ve heard of circadian rhythms. It’s the sleep-wake cycle and relies upon proper hormone signals to function properly. Light intensity naturally varies throughout the day and if you’re stuck in a dark room all day, you’re actually “light deficient”.
The fix: Get morning sunlight into the eyes for about 10-15 minutes not long after you wake up. In the middle of the day, when the sun is even more intense, make it a priority to get outside again for at least 30 minutes. Don’t look directly at the sun, of course, and don’t wear sunglasses so you have optimal light exposure.
Research has shown that blue light from your cellphone, Pad, laptop, artificial lighting, even alarm clock, disrupts your sleep cycle. The body relies upon a light-dark cycle to make hormones to help you sleep. When your eyes take in that blue light, it sends messages to your brain that it is much earlier in the day and you will not produce the melatonin you need to fall asleep.
The fix: Stop looking at your phone or device at bedtime! Dr. Mercola recommends turning off artificial lights and electronics at sunset or shortly thereafter. Another option is to wear blue-blocker glasses to filter out the blue light.
4. Limit caffeine and alcohol
Limiting caffeine right before bedtime seems like a no-brainer. Consider this: According to The National Center for Biotechnology Information, caffeine has a half-life of anywhere from 1.5 to 9.5 hours; the average somewhere around 5 hours. This means even if you drink a caffeine-containing product at 3 pm, typically the time of an afternoon slump, it may still be very much in your system by 10 pm.
The fix: Try to avoid excess caffeine throughout your day (no more than one or two cups coffee or tea, for example) and try to steer clear of it past 1 or 2 pm so it can clear out of your system.
Many view alcohol as an effective sedative. While some studies show that a glass of wine at night is not detrimental to overall health, if you’re drunk and pass out, you are exactly that. Passed out. This isn’t quality sleep and you’re likely not hitting important REM cycles for optimal cell recovery.
The fix: Limit alcoholic beverages to just one or two, drink plenty of water and be sure they are done well before your bedtime.
5. Eat a small amount of carbs at dinner
Do you wake up during the night and have trouble falling asleep? This tip may be worth trying if you are very stressed, eating very low carb (usually this occurs when you begin a low carb diet and it gets better over time) or have a tendency towards hypoglycemia. Blood sugar fluctuates throughout the day and your body is utilizing stored glucose to maintain its processes as you sleep. When blood sugar dips very low, hormones such as glucagon from your pancreas and cortisol from your adrenals kick in to raise your blood sugar again. This spike in cortisol is what can wake you up in the “middle of the night.”
The fix: Having a very small, nutritious carbohydrate with your last meal gives your body a little hit of glucose so it doesn’t panic and dip into stored glycogen overnight. Some examples are sweet potato, white rice or fruit.
The takeaway: Some or all of these may be effective. Everyone is different. Other dietary and/or lifestyle tweaks may be useful as well, so consult with a nutritionist to find out what works best for you. You can also book a consultation with me here to get started!
For a great resource and even more tips, check out Shawn Stevenson's book, Sleep Smarter! Click this link to buy now.
NOTE: This is my Amazon affiliate link and I may gain small monetary compensation for your purchase.