Are you awake at 2am or 3am and can't sleep then this post is for you.
For some of us, sleep is a fickle mistress. We need it, we want it, but for some reason, we just can’t seem to fall asleep at night. We find ourselves staring at our partners at 3 am, their head deeply nestled in the pillow and soft snores escaping from their mouth... Sometimes I fight an uncontrollable urge to wake my husband up so he can share in my pain!
But sleep isn’t meant to be just outside our reach.
The reason why you think that it should be perfectly natural is because that’s exactly how it should be. These days we’re all leading less active, more sedentary lifestyles and when combined with our brain-altering screen time and overly processed diet, you have a recipe for an unhealthy life and a terrible night’s sleep.
Surely at this stage of our journey, I don’t have to keep reminding you of the basics. You know that coffee is going to keep you up at night and that you shouldn’t drink it after lunch. You’re a melatonin master and are well on your way to reducing screen times and naturally helping to boost your body’s products of that sleepy hormone. There’s no point in me continuing to ram these facts down your throat - basically, if you don’t know them by now you haven’t been paying attention.
You probably also have a good idea about the benefits of exercise in relation to sleep. Whether your morning workout is set in stone to help you start the day with a bang and fall asleep at night, or if you occasionally work out after work and experience the joy of immediately curling up in your warm bed, either way, you’re already trying to make sure you’re moving during the day so you can sleep like a stone at night.
Those are sleep solutions for beginners and I’m not going to fluff out a word count reiterating the same old sayings. But what if you’re already following all those tips, but still the sandman skips your house at night and you’re burning holes in your sheets from tossing and turning all the time?
Well then, it’s time we take a closer look at your diet.
DIGESTION AND YOUR SLEEP
Ranging from mild discomfort to full on digestive distress, our body’s ability to properly digest the foods we’re eating can play a big part in our brain’s ability to switch off and let us get a good night’s sleep.
There’s a reason we’re often told not to eat right before going to bed - our body needs our rest periods to set to work repairing itself. It might seem like we’re entirely switched off when we’re asleep, but it is more like the night shift takes control. If you’re cramming up their workload with digestive functions then you’re setting yourself back for the next day, which makes you feel sluggish and tired when your wake up the next day.
So, let’s start by reiterating that you should not be eating a big meal within the hour before your bedtime. Stretch it out longer if you can and give your body some time to really digest your dinner before you head to bed.
Once you have that rule established it’s time to look at what the foods you’re actually eating and how they can be affecting your sleep patterns.
Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night craving ice cream? While it might seem like a wonderful idea to have a big bowl of ice cream for dessert before heading to bed, the dairy might actually be doing more harm than good when it comes to your sleep habits.
We’ve been told for decades that cow’s milk contains tryptophan, which is a sleep-promoting hormone that will help send us off to sleep. This is still true, however, we’re now seeing that dairy products contain casomorphins which have an opioid effect on the body. What does this mean? Much like morphine, they can be highly addictive. It’s what makes you crave it more and more after you consume it, and yes makes you wake up in the middle of the night thanks to those cravings.
If you’re looking for that sweet tryptophan snooze but want to avoid the addictive nature of dairy there are other foods you can try eating before bed such as honey, nuts, seeds and eggs - just be sure not to overdo it.
A varied and balanced diet is always a good thing, but it’s crucial that we keep an eye on the best times to be eating certain foods. Spicy foods that may cause heartburn and indigestion should be consumed at least 4 hours before bed to give your body the best chance to digest it properly. Proteins like red meat are great to eat during the day because they’re harder to digest and as a result give us longer burning energy, while at night time the same slab of meat can keep us up.
While there are some obvious rules that we can all benefit from, it’s important to listen to your body and see how it reacts. The foods that keep us up at night might be different from person to person, so try eliminating them from your diet (one at a time to test your body’s reaction for the best results) and see how you fare.
If you’ve made it this far into the article and are slamming your head against a wall because you are already doing all of these things and still you’re plagued by restless nights, then don’t worry because this is where we get into the little things that can make a huge difference to your sleep habits.
Now it’s time we talked about sleep mistakes. You know? Those teeny, tiny insignificant little habits that you always think are definitely not having an effect on your sleep? It turns out they’re some of the biggest culprits.
The biggest sleep mistake you can make is not having a regimented sleeping pattern. I know, it’s hard to get into a rhythm when you’re starting off with a sleep debt, but creating a proper sleep routine is the best thing you can do to ensure you get more consistently great sleep at night. This means going to bed at the same time each night and getting up at the same time every morning. It doesn’t have to be exact, but going to bed at roughly the same time will help your body to naturally ease itself into rest.
It’s also important to avoid the snooze in the morning. We’re all guilty of hitting the snooze button from time to time, occasionally setting our alarm 10 minutes early just so we can enjoy those 10 minutes of “extra” sleep. Please don’t do this. Rather than giving you extra sleep, it’s actually giving you interrupted sleep, which is what leaves you feeling tired later in the day.
Another big sleep mistake is not taking care of your sleep environment. This means trying to sleep with lights or a TV on in your bedroom, sleeping in uncomfortable clothing or attempting to get to sleep when you can feel that you’re too hot or too cold. To help you get a better night’s sleep it’s important that you set yourself up for success and take care to make your sleep environment as dark, calm and comfortable as possible.
Finally, a big sleep mistake that I've been seeing more often of late is napping. Now I know that there are some of you out there who rely on a daytime nap because you haven’t been able to get any sleep at night, but it’s time to put that theory to bed. Long naps will make you less tired in the long run, which can force your bedtime back later and later. If you’re dead on your feet and desperately need a nap, try to limit it to 20 minutes (any longer and you’ll probably feel groggy, not alert) and try not to nap in the late afternoon.
SUPPLEMENTS FOR SLEEP
When you’re eating right, exercising and taking care of your sleep routine only to be foiled by your brain’s inability to switch off, don’t despair! There are still ways to help lead you into the land of nod. Here are five of my favorite supplements to help you get a better night’s sleep:
This is my favorite supplement, not only for my pain but for sleep, depression and anxiety! It has totally changed my life and have written a longer post here about it. Give it a try and you will thank me later, promise. Oh, but you don't want to take right before bed, probably about an hour before... and during the day as well.
One of the most popular herbs in ayurvedic healing, ashwagandha can help protect the immune system, combat stress, and reduce anxiety and depression. If your difficulty with sleep stems from one of these problems, a regular dose of ashwagandha can help ease those symptoms and allow you to have an undisturbed sleep.
We’ve known about the calming properties of lavender for a while now, with most magazines recommending that you use lavender beauty products in your nightly routine to utilize the scent to help give you a better night’s sleep. Lavender can also be taken in capsule form to help treat anxiety and alleviate insomnia caused by your moods.
Along with B Vitamins, magnesium is essential for your body to properly synthesize and digest melatonin, so if you’re deficient in magnesium that might account for your inability to sleep properly. You can take magnesium supplements orally, or you can dissolve it in water that you either drink or soak in. During particularly stressful times or when you’re struggling to get to sleep a nice warm bath with magnesium can help calm your nerves and might just be your ticket to the land of nod.
This plant-based supplement is generally used as an over-the-counter sedative and is said to improve your overall quality of sleep, rather than your ability to fall asleep faster. You can take passion flower in capsule form or you can drink a passionflower tea before bed.
It might be a tad confusing for some, but Rhodiola is generally used to reduce the effects of exhaustion and fatigue. No, it won’t act as a stimulant and keep you up all night, but it can improve cognitive function and help alleviate feelings of stress, which can be a factor that restricts your ability to sleep.
THESE ARE MY TOP PICKS