Insomnia...Small children...Light sleeper...Simply not enough time in the day. All common explanations I receive from women for why they are not getting enough sleep. And I'm talking about good sleep. Not the scrappy, pulled-together, restless bits that we sometimes substitute for a full night's rest.
I've always been a self-diagnosed light sleeper, but when I got married last year, I practically became a zombie. Adjusting to another person's body heat, movement and noise (albeit all so very slight) was enough to keep my sensitive self on high alert all through the night (cue Cyndi Lauper).
WHAT'S REALLY GOING ON?
I would list the many awful side effects that come alongside a lack of adequate sleep (like brain shrinkage and infertility), but that list is long, and I don't want to depress us tired folk any more than we already are. On the flip side, perfect sleep patterns promote higher immune power and increased brain function.
There are a wealth of causes for poor sleep and/or insomnia. Some are deeply clinical and need to be addressed head-on by a sleep therapist. Some are caused by hormone imbalances or fluctuations in blood sugar. Some causes are brought on temporarily by certain seasons of life (like irregular sleep patterns due to a newborn being added in the family). And finally, some nights of tiredness we bring on ourselves by staying up late under bright lights, using TVs, laptops and phones in bed, and having too much light in the room while we sleep — all of which can disrupt our bodies' natural sleep-wake cycles.
"During sleep, we usually pass through five phases of sleep: stages 1, 2, 3, 4, and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. These stages progress in a cycle from stage 1 to REM sleep, then the cycle starts over again with stage 1 (see figure 1 ). We spend almost 50 percent of our total sleep time in stage 2 sleep, about 20 percent in REM sleep, and the remaining 30 percent in the other stages. Infants, by contrast, spend about half of their sleep time in REM sleep" (SOURCE).
Adjust the small things first
- Eating good amounts of quality fat and protein (pastured meats and eggs, avocado, coconut oil, and my favorite, fermented cod liver oil!) helps with sleep hormone production, so don't skimp here.
- A little night cap may make you feel drowsy at first, but alcohol can actually prevent your body from ever entering the deepest part of your sleep cycle. Cut back on the booze, or enjoy your glass of wine a little earlier in the evening.
- Try...just try!...to go to bed earlier. Our deepest and most regenerative sleeping hours are typically between 10pm and 2am (SOURCE).
- Drop your bedroom's temperature with a fan, an open window or some AC. Cooler temps (no higher than 65ºF) help induce good sleep by mimicking your body's naturally lowered temperature during REM.
- Avoid bright lights, especially from computers or phone screens, right before bed. They will inhibit sleep hormone production. Install F.lux (It's free!) on your laptop to reduce blue light, ergo helping you sleep better.
ADD THESE TO YOUR SHOPPING LIST
These are the takeaways, everybody — the easiest ways to help the zzz's happen fast. Just a FedEx delivery away from feeling refreshed in the morning. Finally! These are all products I back personally.
- Young Living lavender and cedarwood essential oils — These are the real deal, you guys. Massage a drop or two into the bottoms of your feet before bed and you will be dozing in no time. You can also add some drops to a diffuser on your bedside table to create an utterly spa-like atmosphere as you drift off. If you've been wondering what all the talk about oils is, you can read more about my oil community HERE, and email me any questions — I'll tell you how to get 24% off every order.
- Traditional Medicinals chamomile tea — One cup of this pretty flower tea not only soothes the mind, but the digestive system as well! Just be sure and use the bathroom before hopping in bed if you're drinking it as a sleepy-time beverage.
- Tart cherry juice — Just one tablespoon of this fruity elixir before bed (either alone or in tea) has begun to be recognized as a natural sleep promoter. Click HERE for a study connecting tart cherry juice with reducing insomnia.
- Natural Vitality's Natural Calm magnesium supplement — Magnesium is a supplement I feel safe saying that many of us are deficient in, to some degree. It has been called the natural antidote to stress because it has a relaxing effect on the nervous system. I love this CALM drink because it's pure magnesium citrate, easily absorbable by our bodies, and has a slight fizziness to it that I love!
Dr. Mark Hyman on magnesium as a therapeutic supplement: "I remember using magnesium when I worked in the emergency room. It was a critical “medication” on the crash cart. If someone was dying of a life-threatening arrhythmia (or irregular heart beat), we used intravenous magnesium. If someone was constipated or needed to prepare for colonoscopy, we gave them milk of magnesia or a green bottle of liquid magnesium citrate, which emptied their bowels. If pregnant women came in with pre-term labor, or high blood pressure of pregnancy (pre-eclampsia) or seizures, we gave them continuous high doses of intravenous magnesium" (SOURCE).
Next level tricks
4-7-8 Breathing: This trick works wonders on anxiety any time of day as well! Breathe in deeply through your nose to a count of four seconds. Hold that breath for seven seconds. Exhale slowly and controlled through your mouth for eight seconds. When you are stressed and tense, chances are you are holding your breath or "under breathing" (meaning taking short and shallow breaths) without realizing it. Consciously inhaling to a count of four allows for more oxygen intake. When you follow that with some breath holding and then a slow and controlled exhale, your body is forced to slow your heart rate down. More info at Dr. Weil's site HERE.
Cold Water Therapy: When extra cold water comes into contact with your body, it creates several physiological effects, such as bradycardia (decreased heart rate) and peripheral vasoconstriction which allows more oxygen to reach the heart and brain by contracting the blood vessels (SOURCE). Those are a lot of big words for simply feeling better and more relaxed. Try splashing your face with extra cold water before bed, or even jumping in the shower for a quick and icy rinse-off. More habitual cold water bathing is also connected with a wide array of other health benefits alongside better sleep. Check this SOURCE for more info.
Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose, or Viparita Karani: While yoga in general is sited as a path to relaxation and better rest, this one pose in particular has become known as the insomniac's 3am best friend. It's a supported and passive pose that just about anyone can do, no matter their skill level. Simply lie with your sitz bones up against a wall, back on the floor with some cushioned support, legs straight up. Find detailed instructions HERE. Also great for reducing varicose veins!
Don't take melatonin. It's a hormone, not a magic sleeping pill! To read more about why melatonin isn't the best choice for insomnia, click HERE.
Don't stay in bed with your eyes closed tight hoping to fall asleep while the minutes turn into hours. This will only lead to more sleep anxiety. Give yourself the grace to get up, walk around for a minute in your slippers, read a magazine (not the time to bust into any crime novels). Better yet, try some of the 'next level tricks' above! When you've naturally tired yourself out, head back to bed.
Don't reach for the bedtime snack! If you must, try munching on some tryptophan-rich nuts up to an hour before bed, but no simple carbs, please! Those will send your blood sugar levels fluctuating and sleep won't come easy.