How I Got More Sleep…Naturally.

Do you want better sleep than you’re currently getting? Do you want worse sleep than you’re currently getting? If you answered yes to the second question, then don’t read this article.

Sleep makes us smarter, more creative. It makes us stronger, happier, and keeps us looking younger! So why are most Americans not getting enough?

I decided to look into this further and see what the heck we can do to stay on top of the ever so uphill of a battle that is sleep. I personally use several of these tips myself, especially when my mind is racing…which is always. Use this guide if you:

  1. Have trouble calming down/falling asleep
  2. Have trouble staying asleep through the night
  3. Need a few bedtime routine tips
Photo by Julian Jagtenberg on Pexels.com
  1. Sunlight first thing- regulate your circadian rhythm.

Our circadian rhythm is directly related to light and dark. The hormones melatonin and cortisol maintain their levels according to what we are experiencing with our eyes. Cortisol helps us get started in the morning, while melatonin tells our bodies when it’s time for bed. Here’s a little bit about circadian rhythm sleep disorders.

In order for our bodies to be on a “regular” schedule we need to spend 15-20 minutes in bright sunlight as early as possible, so cortisol can be produced in the body in a more natural way. This will immediately cue the cortisol to activate and start getting your body ready to begin your day. In my experience, this practice provides a much more stabilized feeling of awareness and excitement for the day than a cup of coffee or tea.

One study shows that bright morning light keeps you leaner. Participants in this study who had most of their daily exposure to even moderately bright light in the morning had a significantly lower body mass index (BMI) than those who had most of their light exposure later on in the day.

My experience: In the city, we used to sleep with blackout curtains. They help at night big time, but my body rarely experienced a natural sunrise, with light gradually spilling into the room until it’s time to wake up. We have since nixed the curtains and I began sleeping with an eye mask at night to help with light pollution. At some point during the night, the eye mask will come off and waking to a natural light coming into the room is a game changer. Sometimes I even wait until 10 am to drink coffee….

I DON’T HAVE TIME TO BASK IN THE SUNLIGHT FIRST THING IN THE MORNING, WHAT DO I DO?

If your sleep issues are affecting your life and you simply don’t have time to sit near a window for 15 minutes before you begin your day, then I highly suggest using Re-timer glasses. Re-timer glasses aren’t necessarily made to help you in the morning, the real goal is to help you feel tired in the evening. One of my best friends started using these and it was actually a nice inspiration for this post. She has been struggling with sleep problems since way before her son was born and after that, her sleep issues became exaggerated. She could never fall asleep when she wanted to. She suspected it was chemical. After talking about it with her doctor he recommended sleep medication, and that’s just not in the cards for my gal pal. She saw the Re-timer glasses in a blog post and purchased them. She told me that on the second and third night after using the glasses in the morning, she fell asleep faster and slept for a longer period of time.

  • Step away from blue light!

In this day and age, we confuse our bodies on a regular basis. Day and night. We need natural sunlight in the morning and during the day in order to feel more human, more energized, but what we don’t need is sunlight at NIGHT.  Unfortunately, our phones, computers, lightbulbs and tv’s emit blue light, which the body perceives as sunlight. Using these devices after sundown can suppress the production of melatonin, which is exactly what you need at night people! According to Chris Kresser L.Ac , low melatonin levels have been “shown to increase the risk of cancer, impair immune system function, and possibly lead to cardiometabolic consequences like type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity and heart disease.”

I CAN’T SURRENDER MY DEVICES AFTER SUNDOWN, THAT’S CRAZY. WHAT DO I DO?

There are a few options to lower your blue light intake while using screens.

  • Install F.lux. It’s a free software that removes blue hues from your computer screen at night. Download it here.
  • Dim lights in your house around sunset
  • Amber hued glasses- Uvex sells a very inexpensive pair but they just aren’t clear enough to use on a regular basis, just a little foggy. I’ve tried them, and they are just a little more frustrating to use than they are helpful. THESE are the glasses I use every evening. They help with any nighttime headaches that may occur from screen use.
  • Aromatherapy

We often underestimate our sense of smell. It could be because we don’t often think a lot about what we smell throughout our day. Nonetheless, smells can change the way our brains work. Lavender has been shown to increase the quality of sleep in heart disease patients. It has also been shown to accelerate the healing of wounds. Essential oils can heal us in many ways, we just have to be open to their benefits! If you’ve never used essential oils in your home or topically then here’s a GREAT guide to start.

When it comes to sleep, lavender oil in a diffuser is going to be your best bet but don’t overthink it if another smell particularly relaxes you. There’s no reason to stress over something that’s supposed to calm and center your mind! If you don’t have a diffuser but you have some lavender oil lying around, then rub a little on your wrists along with some coconut oil before you go to bed. Make sure you aren’t simply rubbing pure lavender oil on your skin, it will absorb quickly and it’s highly concentrated. It’s best to use a carrier oil along-with. You can also rub a small amount on your pillow case, that’s one of my favorite sleep time tricks!

A few personal notes about oils…

I began my essential oil journey with a diffuser when I was pregnant. There was no amount of meditation that could get me over my nausea at the very beginning. My husband came home with a diffuser and eucalyptus oil and I immediately felt a change. It did not cure me in the sense that I was able to eat a full plate of food, but hey I wasn’t CONSTANTLY thinking of hurling. It worked. Thank you, husband.

Frankincense and eucalyptus are often used as a cold remedy in our home. We simply drop a few drops of each essential oil in boiling water and gently inhale. If I have eucalyptus leaves in my house, I’ll use them, but the oil is a more concentrated option.

  • Get more magnesium, the “miracle mineral”

Magnesium is the facilitator for hundreds of chemical reactions in the body. It helps achy muscles, aids in stress management, and calms the mind with the binding of the neurotransmitter GABA. This study shows that magnesium can aid insomnia by orchestrating the release and inhibition of cortisol and melatonin. Magnesium also regulates blood sugar. We all need a little bit of blood sugar regulating sometimes, am I right?

HOW DO I IMPROVE MY MAGNESIUM LEVELS?

Women that are 31+ should have a magnesium intake of 320mg per day. Men should be taking in 420mg per day. You should always try to get your magnesium through food. Here are the best magnesi-yums:

  1. Whole wheat
  2. Quinoa
  3. Spinach
  4. Black Beans
  5. Almonds
  6. Black beans
  7. Avocado
  8. Edamame-our family favorite!

Also, great news everyone, DARK CHOCOLATE has 64mg of magnesium in a 1oz serving. Whoop whoop. Look for 70% cocoa solids.

Be Aware of Phytic Acid Intake

Phytic acid is the storage form of phosphorus in seeds, nuts and legumes. (source) It can hinder the absorption of magnesium in the gastrointestinal tract and has anti-nutrient effects. To reduce the risk of phytic acid ruining all your magnesium fun, try this:

-Soak, ferment, and cook plant foods

-With a meal high in phytic acid, eat vitamin C rich foods

-Use vinegar daily

  • Set caffeine limits!

What does caffeine do to my body?

This depends on the amount of caffeine you consume. If you consume small amounts daily, it can often help you feel more awake, alert and focused. If you consume too much it can increase your anxiety, disrupt sleep patterns, increase restlessness and make you tired during the day. The threshold is a small one.

In regards to sleep, if you drink a cup of coffee at 3pm, there’s a good chance that there will still be some caffeine in your system at 9pm, hindering your ability to relax and producing more adrenaline. Make sure you know when your cutoff point is. Again, listen to your body. Caffeine can be an addiction that people don’t take seriously. If you feel like you are dependent on coffee or caffeine in general, try to wean yourself off, it isn’t quick and easy. Go slow and gradually decrease your intake. You can do it!

Why We Shouldn’t Be Taking Drugs for Sleep

There is no magic spell. You simply cannot cheat sleep. Yes, OF COURSE we want a fast solution. Usually those fast solutions include medication, whether it be over the counter or prescription. They’re easy, quick, painless, and don’t take much thought. Okay, I’m about to tell you something…there are some serious repercussions to taking sleeping medications.

Any small step you can make towards developing a healthy sleep routine will serve you well. Don’t be hard on yourself if one option doesn’t work for you. This is about finding what works for your body and routine. Start a sleep journal and keep it next to your bed. For each day of the week, pre-plan what techniques you’ll try to better prepare yourself for a restful night of sleep. When you wake up, write down whether you felt like you slept better or worse than the night before.  What you did the night before that served you? What distracted you? What just didn’t work for your routine? Jumping in and understanding more about your sleep routine is a wonderful idea and I suggest you keep going!

If your lack of sleep is seriously affecting your life and mental health, you should call your doctor and/or use these resources:

National Sleep Association Insomnia Treatments Page

Prefer the natural route?

Guided Insomnia Meditation

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