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It’s widely understood that consistent, quality sleep is essential for optimal health and well-being. Yet, many of us know the frustration of lying awake, watching the minutes pass, sometimes exacerbated by the stress of insomnia itself. Restless nights and prolonged insomnia can significantly diminish our quality of life. Fortunately, there are natural solutions available. Regardless of your current sleep pattern, integrating specific habits, dietary choices, and practices can help ensure a restful night’s sleep.
The Importance of Good Sleep
According to sleep experts, most people really do need to get between 6-9 hours of shut eye a night in order for their bodies to adequately rest and restore. However, the key to a good night’s sleep is not just about the numbers. Restful sleep has more to do with getting quality sleep than anything else.
So, what is quality sleep, exactly? Quality sleep means that you are not waking up in the middle of the night (or every couple of hours). It also means that you are able to get some deep sleep in during the course of the night as well. Deep sleep is when the brain enters theta and delta wave patterns. According to Sanchin Panda, Ph.D., a healthy sleep cycle begins at about 10 pm and goes through distinct phases. Theta is usually the brain state where dreams occur. Delta wave sleep is also known as “deep, dreamless sleep.” It is in delta especially where a lot of the restoration and repair of key organs in the body takes place. Some amount of delta sleep is necessary for the maintenance of the body and the brain.
Restless sleep, chronic sleep disturbances, and insomnia can all be linked directly to some of the most common – and also some of the most serious – medical conditions. For example, studies have shown that sleep apnea is associated with increased cancer mortality. Another study by researchers at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner School of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio found up to a 60% increase in breast cancer risk amongst women who worked the night shift and had irregular sleep patterns.
Other conditions associated with sleep deprivation include diabetes, heart disease, stroke, increased pain and fatigue, depression/anxiety, weight gain, cognitive decline and dementia, DNA telomere shortening, lowering of immune system function, autoimmune conditions, and accelerated aging in general.
Top 10 Tips for Better Sleep
Basically, you need that sleep in order to live your best life! So how do you get it? Here are 10 “sleep hacks” that can help you get enough of the ZZZ’s you need.
1 | Be Mindful of What You Eat and Drink
What you eat (and when you eat it) can have a profound effect on your sleep cycle.
The first basic rule of thumb for getting a good night’s sleep is to avoid food and drinks that contain caffeine in the afternoon and evening. Most people find that simply picking a “cut off time” such as 3pm for these items works well. Examples of foods and drinks to avoid after your “cut off time” include coffee, iced tea, (caffeinated) green tea, energy drinks, colas, and sodas, as well as foods that may contain caffeine, such as chocolate.
It is also a good idea to also limit the consumption of alcohol, sweets and simple carbs at night. While a little glass of wine right before bed may help you fall asleep faster, you may find that a couple of hours later, you are wide awake again because of it!
The reason for this is that alcohol is basically a sugar substance. Alcohol, along with other simple carbs, converts into glucose very rapidly in the body. Fast conversion also causes insulin to spike quicker. In a normal sleep cycle, blood sugar usually spikes naturally between 4-8 am. This is called the “dawn effect” and is the reason why people have instinctually woken up with the sun or shortly before sunrise throughout time. When a person eats or drinks high-sugar substances late at night, it basically throws the whole cycle off and causes you to suddenly be wide awake far before your alarm goes off.
If you are used to eating a little something before bed, make it something light and easy to digest. Heavy meals before sleep can have an influence on both the sleep cycle and digestion, according to a Florida State University study.
Some people with certain conditions or dispositions may actually do better with a little light protein right before bed. Small amounts of protein right before bed can often help to stabilize glucose and avoid insulin spikes in the middle of the night for those with insulin imbalance already, according to anecdotal evidence. The best strategy is to try out different things and see what happens, keeping in mind that less is more when it comes to eating anything right before bed!
2 | Practice Stress Reduction Techniques
Using specific daily modalities for reducing stress in your life can produce accumulative benefits over time as well, especially when it comes to sleep!
There is a definite link between chronic stress and sleep disturbances, especially insomnia. A survey conducted before the pandemic found that close to half of all Americans over 18 were concerned about how emotional stress is affecting their lives. Those who had chronic stress also had more weight issues, hypertension, and insomnia. Considering all that is going on in today’s world, it is safe to assume that this number is much higher today.
This all makes sense chemically, since chronic stress keeps cortisol levels high late into the evening when they should be decreasing so that you can get a good night’s sleep. There is a direct correlation between high cortisol, inflammation, and sleep disturbances. Practicing gentle stress-reducing techniques every day like meditation, mindfulness, spending time in nature, luxurious baths, journaling, and more can work wonders to lower stress and help sleep.
In addition, studies have found that deep-rooted psychological pain and trauma, sometimes going back to childhood, can have ramifications for health patterns later in life. You can address and heal the root causes of stress and trauma with modalities such as EFT/tapping, EMDR, talk therapy, and energy work.
3 | Solfeggio Frequencies and Binaural Beats
One stress reduction modality that deserves a shout-out when it comes to sleep is sound therapy. Solfeggio frequencies and “binaural beats” are both parts of this overall healing modality.
All music has a frequency that can be measured. There are certain frequencies, however, that can create not only certain brain wave patterns for deeper relaxation and better sleep but also profound healing of the body and the emotions.
There are 9 basic solfeggio frequencies that exist in nature. According to popular culture, they were discovered in the 11th century and used for centuries mainly in Gregorian chanting. In the 1970s, they were rediscovered for their health effects by physician and researcher Dr. Joseph Puleo.
Taking the concept of healing frequencies one step further, we find that binaural beats combine two different frequencies (or tones) to create another tone that the brain interprets. Binaural beats must be listened to with headphones in order to reap the benefits in stereo. For example, a track of binaural beat music may have a 440 Hz tone coming into the left ear and a 444 Hz tone coming into the right ear. The tone that the brain will interpret will be 4 Hz, which is the high end of delta.
Studies, including a 2019 Indian investigation, have found that frequency music and binaural beats can have a healing effect on many different health conditions, including fibromyalgia, high blood pressure, pain, and sleep disorders.
Try out Solfeggio frequencies and binaural beats for yourself! Search for frequency and binaural beat music on YouTube by typing in the particular frequency you wish to engage in or just the words “binaural beats.” You will be surprised at how much is out there! Two solfeggio frequencies that are good for sleep are 432 Hz and 528 Hz. Binaural beats that are “tuned” to 1-4 Hz encourage delta brain wave patterns and are designed to help with deep sleep. Atmosphere: Binaural Therapy Meditation is one of the most popular apps for this kind of sound therapy.
4 | Exercise
There is no doubt that getting adequate exercise on a regular basis can help you fall asleep at night and stay asleep until morning. According to John Hopkins University, moderate aerobic exercise increases the length of time that a person will stay in “slow wave” (i.e., delta wave) sleep. Remember, this is the type of sleep that we need every night since it is the most restorative for your body as a whole.
Regular exercise also helps stabilize mood and improve cognition. I heard a high-powered businesswoman say once that exercise is a must-do for her since it helped her get rid of the “mental grit” from her busy days. Science confirms this fact. A 2017 UCLA meta-analysis of over two dozen other studies concluded that “sleep and exercise exert substantial positive effects on one another.”
One questionable factor regarding exercise is what time of day is best for aerobic exercise when it comes to sleep. Because exercise releases endorphins and raises body temperature, some people may find it more difficult to fall asleep if they work out in the late afternoon or evening. Other people don’t notice a difference at all and can exercise at any time of the day or night and still fall right asleep.
If you tend to be sensitive to factors that may affect sleep, opt to exercise before noon, optimally first thing in the morning. Also, keep in mind that, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, adequate exercise is defined as 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity every seven days. This can equate to 30 minutes of brisk walking, biking, or swimming five times a week.
5 | Avoid Blue Light and Wi-Fi Signals
At least an hour before bed, make it a point to turn off your computer and unplug Wi-Fi routers for better sleep. Also, make sure that electronic devices such as clock radios are more than ten feet away from you when you snooze.
These recommendations may seem odd at first. However, just because you can’t see the electromagnetic frequencies that these devices put out doesn’t mean that they are not affecting your health and your sleep patterns.
Many studies show the link between major illnesses such as cancer and close-range cell phone signals. The most relevant research, however, has discovered what these kinds of signals, as well as long-term exposure to Wi-Fi signals, can also do to melatonin levels. A German report published in the journal Bioelectromagnetics found that EMF exposure had a significantly negative effect on melatonin production.
Melatonin, as you probably know, is the key hormone that controls the sleep cycle. It is also a powerful cancer inhibitor. In the study, long-term EMF exposure basically shut melatonin production to such a level that the anti-cancer effects of this powerful sleep hormone were turned off in breast cancer cells.
Blue light is another factor that can hinder sleep. This is the light that inherently comes off most screens, from computers and cell phones to smart TVs. A report published in 2010 found that while long-term exposure to red light did not have any effect on melatonin levels, blue light had a significant effect on both nighttime melatonin and nighttime cortisol levels. Studies have also discovered that blue light exposure can lead to negative effects in the endocrine and autonomic nervous system. Imbalances in these systems can negatively impact sleep patterns as well.
We’ve all been there. Sometimes work, school or other commitments have us burning the midnight oil and staying up late at night in front of the computer. First of all, don’t make it a habit! Secondly, for those times when you must be exposed to blue light at night, try wearing amber-colored glasses or “EMF-blockers” to put a barrier between the harmful rays of the blue light (also known as “junk light”) and your eyes. This may help you get a better night’s sleep and help protect your body as a whole.
6 | Keep Your Bedroom Cool and Dark.
Another little-known “hack” for healthy sleep has to do with the environment in your bedroom. Did you know that your body has an “optimal temperature” that it likes to get cozy with for best sleep? Researchers have found that this temp is much cooler than we may realize, sitting somewhere between 65 and 67 degrees F. According to the National Sleep Foundation, anything warmer than this will make the body restless throughout the night and sleep may be impacted.
In addition, keeping your room dark at night will help kickstart greater melatonin production and help you sleep deeper for longer, according to studies. To block out all light in the bedroom, consider getting light-blocking curtains for your windows. If that is not an option, consider wearing a thick eye mask while you sleep to simulate a totally darkened environment and encourage melatonin production.
7 | Melatonin Supplementation & Other Herbal Supplements
There are a lot of supplements available out there to help with sleep, as any quick search on the internet will prove. One targeted substance that many people use at night is melatonin itself. Helping your melatonin levels stabilize by themselves by using the above modalities is always the best way to increase its production and correct usage in the body. That being said, sometimes the substances that the body intrinsically produces need a little help to get going again. This is especially true if you have been hard on your body for years, have current issues with sleep such as insomnia or sleep apnea, are going through a period of major stress or illness, or are a woman going through change of life (puberty, perimenopause, or menopause).
Melatonin production is directly tied to serotonin production since its production in the night paves the way for serotonin to be produced in the morning. It is also tied to estrogen and other reproductive hormones and to gut health. Did you know that some melatonin is actually produced in the mammary glands as well as in the gut?
Melatonin is such a versatile hormonal substance that it plays a role in not just sleep but also in dozens of healthy functions in the body. Some studies have shown that supplemental melatonin can help with sleep as well as cancer protection for some people. Other recent investigations, however, emphasize that the quality of the melatonin product one takes greatly determines its outcome and benefits.
If you are considering supplementing with melatonin, be sure to consult with a qualified natural health practitioner first. Researchers at John Hopkins University and others state that the timing of melatonin supplementation during the day, as well as the strength of the dose, matters. Your natural health professional may also suggest that you get a hormone panel done prior, which can test for key neurotransmitter levels, hormonal precursor levels, estrogen levels, and more. All of these substances are important cofactors for melatonin production and absorption.
In addition to melatonin, there are dozens of other herbal supplements as well as natural substances out there that can gently and safely calm your body at night, help with stress, and get your sleep cycle on track again. Some go-to’s that have helped many people include:
- Magnesium 24
- B vitamins (taken ideally during the day)
- Valerian root
- Medical cannabis
Not all herbal supplements are alike, nor does one herbal supplement help all people all the time. The effectiveness of a particular natural substance really does depend on your unique constitution and health. I suggest taking a couple of weeks to try out different herbal formulas. When it comes to sleep, the results will be pretty obvious, i.e., you’ll either fall asleep or you won’t. Whatever you choose, make sure that you are an empowered consumer and always go with herbal brands that are of the highest quality and contain no fillers. Also, choose supplements that are non-GMO and organic whenever possible.
8 | Drink Some Calming Herbal Tea
Bedtime teas are a type of herbal tea made with a blend of ingredients to help you relax as you wind down before bed. Unlike other types of tea, these beverages are generally caffeine-free and contain compounds that can ease stress and anxiety or promote feelings of calmness, such as lavender, chamomile, or passionflower.
Enjoying a cup of herbal tea can also be a safe, soothing, and relaxing addition to your bedtime routine.In fact, practicing healthy sleep habits and establishing a regular nightly routine may be beneficial for improving sleep quality and treating issues like insomnia.
The calming effects of a nice hot cup of tea are well documented. When you can’t sleep, make yourself a hot cup of lavender, chamomile, Kava, valerian, or passion flower root tea, then sit back and feel the tension leave your body as you slip into rest.
9 | Read Something
A 2009 investigation at the University of Sussex in the UK found that 6 minutes of reading before bed reduced stress by 68% and helped people cope with insomnia. If you find yourself nodding off after the first few pages, go with the flow and slip under the covers and into sleep! P.S. Don’t read on your kindle, computer, or phone late at night. When you can’t sleep is when you reach for a good, old-fashioned paperback, hardcover, or magazine!
10 | Practice Acceptance (and Deep Breathing)
Sleepless nights are a good opportunity to practice some meditation, visualization, and affirmations. In addition, the mere act of acceptance and surrender helps us to be in the moment with “what is,” which in turn helps to lower stress responses.
Studies have also found that deep breathing exercises help to massage the vagus nerve, which is the main avenue for communication between the brain/nervous system and the rest of the body. When you calm your vagus nerve, you calm your whole body.
Create a “Bedtime Routine” for Best Results
Let’s face it, everyone has sleepless nights every now and then. Even major sleep disturbances are fairly common in our modern world. According to the American Sleep Association, in 2020, a whopping 30 to 40% of all adults suffer regularly from symptoms of insomnia.
All the “hacks” mentioned above have withstood the test of time as well as the rigors of scientific study. In other words: they work!
To ensure that they work for you, experts agree that the very best thing is to put together a nightly bedtime routine that includes at least some of the tips and tricks listed above. Just as you prepare for your day by taking a shower, getting dressed, exercising, reading something inspirational, and so on, it is important to prepare for sleep too.
This could look like turning off your computer and Wi-Fi an hour before bed, taking a calming bath, listening to soothing music, lowering the lights, and having a cup of relaxing tea. Or it could look like some other series of activities that appeal to you. The fun of it is that you get to tailor your evening routine to what works for you!
I hope by now you understand just how important sleep is for your body, mind, and soul. Put together a nighttime routine that prepares you for bed using any (or all!) of the above recommendations and put into place healthy sleep-friendly habits that you can rely on every day.
These are gifts you can give to yourself. Over time, they will reward you with vibrant energy during the day and luxurious, restful, quality sleep at night. You and your body deserve nothing less!
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