27 Apr The Sleep Method: 15 Strategies to Help You Fall Asleep Faster and Stay Asleep Longer Without Prescription Pills
Did you know that if you live to the age of 90, it is estimated that about 32 years of your life will be spent sleeping?
When I heard that statistic from Russell Foster, a circadian neuroscientist, my whole view on sleep changed! I always knew it was important, but to think that many of us will dedicate over 30 years of our life to this single event was just astonishing to me.
So what is it that makes sleep so important?
Well, this is actually a harder question to answer then you might think. There are a number of different theories behind why we sleep, but after doing quite a bit of research on this topic there are two reasons that really stood out to me.
First, it’s the time of day when your body restores itself.
According to Foster, we have a whole sets of genes that get turned on when we sleep and research shows that the majority of those genes are tied to restoration and metabolic pathways. When we sleep our heart rate slows and our blood pressure drops, giving our entire cardiovascular system the much needed break it deserves. Our muscles and tissues have also been shown to repair themselves, the liver dumps toxins and acids are leached from our bones promoting more of an alkaline balance in the body, which in turn promotes more a healing environment.
Secondly, it’s believed we sleep so that our brains can process and memories can be stored.
Adequate sleep has been shown to give us a threefold advantage to being able to solve complex problems. It’s also been shown to enhance our creativity and it allows us to compartmentalize important thoughts while less important thoughts are able to fade away. A another reason why we’re more effective at problem solving after a good night sleep.
How much sleep is needed?
For teens (14-17) it’s believed that about 8-10 hours of sleep a night is required for good health and balance, while for adults (18-64) that number is 7-9 hours. But the reality is, teenagers on average only get about 6.5 hours of sleep a night, while adults are averaging 6.8 hours with some getting as low as 4-5 hours of sleep a night.
What are the dangers of sleep deprivation?
When we become sleep deprived our brains start to force something called “microsleeps”. Microsleeps are a momentary and involuntary pocket of temporary unconsciousness lasting from a fraction of a second up to roughly 10 seconds. While microsleeps can seem relatively unimportant and harmless, the reality is very different. It’s believed that 31% of people will experience a microsleep behind the wheel of a vehicle at least one time in their life and in the United States alone, over 100,000 accidents occur each year due to tiredness and sleeplessness.
Some of the other dangers associated with a lack of sleep are,
- Poor Memory
- Increased Impulsiveness
- Poor Judgment
- Weight Gain
- Increase in Stress
- Increase in Type II Diabetes
- Increase in Heart Diseases
- Increase in Mental Health Problems (particularly with bipolarism and schizophrenia)
How to improve your sleep?
Here is the good news – and I know this first hand after being married to someone who struggled with sleep for nearly 3 years of our marriage – there is so much you can do when it comes to food and lifestyle interventions to help boost and improve your body’s overall experience with sleep.
Below I’ve laid out 15 strategies for lifestyle, diet and even supplement recommendations to help you get more Zzzzz’s as well as improve the quality of your night’s slumber.
5 Lifestyle Recommendation for a Better Night’s Rest
- Set an alarm clock for one hour before you go to bed. When you think about it, we set an alarm clock to wake us up and remind us that it’s time to get ready for the day, so why not set a reminder for when it’s time to shut down at the end of your day? This can help you to stick to a more consistent schedule, which is crucial for developing good sleep hygiene.
- Switch from blue light to red light at night. Typical light bulbs emit high levels of “blue” light that suppresses melatonin. “Red” light on the other hand lets melatonin (your sleep hormone) do its thing and helps to regulate your body’s natural circadian rhythm.
- Take an Epsom salt bath. A hot bath with ½ cup Epsom salt will change your core temperature and make it easier to fall asleep. Magnesium also plays a key role with sleep. Research has shown that even a marginal lack of magnesium can prevent the brain from settling down at night. And if you can’t do a bath, do a foot soak.
- Massage aromatic oil on your feet before bed. Lavender stimulates the olfactory nerve, which in turn slows down the nervous system and cedar wood oil stimulates melatonin production. You can use an aromatherapy blend by combining 3 drops of essential oil with either 1 Tbsp of sesame oil if you run cold when you sleep (sesame oil has a warming effect) and sunflower oil if you run hot (this oil has a cooling effect).
- Use a hot water bottle. If you have trouble staying warm at night, try filling up a hot water bottle 5 minutes before bed and cozy up under the sheets.
5 Dietary Guidelines To Boost Sleep
- Drink Sleepytime or chamomile tea an hour before bed. You must brew it strongly, though, with three tea bags per cup brewed for up to seven minutes.
- Tart cherries are high in melatonin which promotes sleep. Try drinking 8oz of tart cherry juice an hour before bed. Researchers from Louisiana State University found that drinking tart cherry juice twice a day for two weeks helped increase sleep time by nearly 90 minutes among older adults with insomnia.
- Have a small snack before bed. If you wake up between 1-4am night after night for no reason at all, you could be experiencing a dip in blood sugar. Eating a small snack with a protein, carb, and healthy fat can help to stabilize blood sugar a bit longer throughout the night.
- Limit your caffeine intake to before noon. Caffeine is a stimulant no matter how long you’ve been consuming it. If cutting down your consumption in the afternoon isn’t enough, try completely eliminate caffeine for ten days.
- Say “No” to alcohol. Alcohol doesn’t truly give you a good night sleep, it actually sedates you. In fact, it prohibits you from going into stage 3 sleep, which is our most restorative sleep.
5 Supplements to Consider
Valerian Root – Double-blind trials involving valerian root have shown the potential to support the onset of sleep as well as healthy sleep quality. My favorite way to get valerian root in is with the supplement, Best-Rest Formula by Pure Encapsulations This unique blend contains valerian, passionflower, chamomile, lemon balm and hops, which act to calm and relax the central nervous system.
Phosphatidylserine- Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a lipid found in our body’s cell membranes that also helps to reduce cortisol levels in the body. Dr Susanne Bennett, an internationally recognized natural and integrative medicine expert, recommends that her patents take PS supplement before bed to help their body balance out the cortisol levels that may keep them up at night.
Chromium – Chromium helps to stabilize blood sugar levels, which can help you to sleep longer.
Magnesium – Here we are talking about magnesium again because it’s just that important, especially when it comes to sleep! Magnesium is the mineral that relaxes us and an estimated 80 percent of Americans are deficient in it.
B-Complex – B’s can help to give you energy, so this is an exception to the others where you would want to take this one in the morning and afternoon to help reset and rebalance your circadian rhythm.
In the end it’s important to note that when it comes to sleep, what you do every day matters more than what you do every once in a while. Sleep really is a learned behavior and because of that, it can be “unlearned” through bad habits and behaviors. It’s why I recommend when creating a sleep protocol to consider all the aspects that influence your sleep and then make a commitment to staying complaint and consistent for at least 3-4 weeks with healthy habits before making any additional changes. After all it was Thomas Dekker who once said, “Sleep is the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.” so isn’t it worth the commitment?
I hope this information helps and if you have any questions or thoughts, please leave a comment below and I will respond as soon as I can.