Motivated to make healthier choices in the new year? No need to get esoteric. Focus on the fundamentals – especially Sleep. We all know we need it…and more of it, yet so many of us struggle to get enough rest to look and feel our best.
What’s worse, much of the information out there on sleep disorders can wind up causing you more anxiety about your inability to sleep, trapping you in a viscous cycle.
For example, if you’ve ever laid awake at night worrying about how you’re ever going to get 10 hours of sleep, or that a lack of sleep is worse for your heart than smoking, you know what we’re talking about!
At KNEW Health we recognize that sleep is absolutely critical to healing and maintaining your wellness.
Plus, when you’re well rested that energy will motivate you to make other lifestyle changes that will continue to improve your health.
We know how frustrating and defeating it can feel to lie in bed, exhausted but unable to get to sleep, OR fall asleep easily but wake up at 3 AM, OR sleep 12 hours but still feel exhausted.
And while we can’t provide an individual sleep-better plan for you in a general blog post, we can offer these essential sleep hygiene tips to help you identify and eliminate common triggers that disrupt a good night’s sleep, naturally re-set your sleep cycle and calm your busy mind.
Common Reasons for Sleep Issues
While sleep issues used to be a non-issue for most people, times have changed.
Case in point, the CDC reports that up to one-third of Americans suffer from some form of sleep deprivation[note]https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0215-enough-sleep.html[/note]. So “rest assured”, if you’re experiencing a sleep issue, you are not alone.
Some common reasons for sleep problems include:
- Anxiety, excessive stress
- Hormonal imbalances
- Excessive caffeine
- Too much screen time/screen addiction
- Not enough movement/exercise
- Lack of natural light exposure
- Sleep apnea
- Environmental factors
- Food sensitivities
- Digestive problems (or eating too much or too late before bed)
- Thyroid imbalances
- Did we mention Stress?
- Working the night shift
- A new baby…or children in general (let’s be honest, nothing can exhaust you quite like the frequent wake-ups common among young babies and children)
And this is just a short-list of the possible causes behind sleep issues, which vary person to person.
Common Lifestyle Factors Which Trigger Sleep Issues
While some sleep problems are rooted in a physical, mental or emotional issue, many are the result of lifestyle choices which disrupt your sleep cycle.
Some common lifestyle factors that can negatively impact your sleep cycle include:
- Too much caffeine (including chocolate)—this can vary widely person to person
- Lack of bedtime routine
- Too much exercise, not enough exercise or poorly timed exercise
- Too much screen time too close bed
- Eating the wrong foods/food sensitivities
- Eating too close to bed time
- Blood sugar crashes
- Lack of stress management techniques throughout the day
- Lack of natural sunlight throughout the day
- Sub-optimal sleeping temperatures
This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the lifestyle factors which can impact sleep, but these are the ones we see most frequently.
Now, let’s look at some simple ways you can begin adjusting these lifestyle behaviors to get your sleep cycle back on track.
5 Sleep Hygiene Tips Anyone Can Benefit From
#5: Eat foods that promote good sleep
Believe it or not, your digestive health plays a major role in your body’s ability to produce the sleep hormones you need to fall asleep and stay asleep at night.
How does this work?
Put simply, your gut is responsible for housing and manufacturing a variety of the calming neurotransmitters you need to fall asleep and stay asleep at night.
For example, research has shown your gut is responsible for housing up to 95% of your body’s serotonin[note]https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/gut-second-brain/[/note]—the feel good neurotransmitter—which is a precursor to melatonin; your body’s master sleep hormone.
Therefore, if you’re eating foods which irritate your digestive tract there’s a good chance those foods are contributing to your sleep issues. Plus if you are consuming foods that are inflammatory to your unique body (especially in the evening), you will trigger higher levels of stress hormones which can easily impair sleep.
Some common sleep-stealing foods include: gluten, dairy, corn, eggs, soy and sugar.
If you suspect your digestive health may be impacting your sleep, try eliminating these foods for 3-4 weeks and see how you feel.
Then, slowly add them back in—one food every 2-3 days—and pay careful attention to your sleep pattern. If it changes for the worse when you add back a particular food or foods, then you know which foods to keep out of your diet.
Eating a large evening meal, eating too late in the evening before bedtime, or consuming too many refined carbohydrates (e.g. pizza, pasta, desserts) which can cause blood sugar spikes and troughs later on) can also impair sleep.
#4: Re-evaluate your relationship with caffeine
Whether we like it or not, caffeine can be a major problem for those with sleep issues.
But its effects vary.
For example, if you tend towards attention deficit issues caffeine may actually help you calm down; for some people caffeine before noon is fine but anything after noon will cause them problems, and for others caffeine in any form at any time of day will disrupt their sleep.
There’s also the stimulant-containing snack we all know and love: chocolate. And while chocolate does have some proven health benefits, it can also be a real insomnia trigger for some people. Chocolate contains a different stimulant called theobromine which some people are even more sensitive to than caffeine.
The key with caffeine or chocolate is to experiment with the time of day, the type, and the quantity you ingest.
Specifically, try cutting out caffeine (including chocolate…sorry!) after 12PM, and work on getting down to 1 cup of coffee or tea per day.
If you still aren’t having results, consider cutting back that amount further.
#3: Shut off your devices by 6PM and all screens 1-2 hours before bed
Believe it or not, this is a big one! While the research on the impacts of Smart Phones and screen time is in its infancy, screens have been shown to be disruptive to our sleep cycle for 3 main reasons:
#1: They’re stimulating and addictive, which tends to keep us up at night. Especially if we sleep with a device next to our bed.
#2: They signal our bodies to stay awake when we should be sleeping. While it may seem harmless to check Facebook or a few emails before bed, this causes your brain to stay in “active mode” which makes it harder to switch off for sleep.
#3: The blue light emitted from screens has been shown to significantly inhibit the secretion of melatonin, per Harvard researchers[note]https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side[/note].
So consider making it a point to shut off your devices when you get home from work. Or as soon as you can afterward.
Then, all screens should go off 1-2 hours before bed. This will allow your brain to shift into sleep mode, and reduce exposure to those melatonin-disrupting blue lights.
What to do instead?
Read, meditate, talk to your spouse, your kids a friend or loved one, share some intimate time with your partner, take a bath, work on a relaxing hobby, or go to bed early…choose quiet activities that help you wind down.
#2: Experiment with exercise and movement
While exercise and movement are essential to connecting body and mind, reducing stress and promoting a good night’s rest, too much or poorly timed exercise can really disrupt your sleep.
To make exercise and movement work in your favor, try exercising either in the morning, afternoon or before 6PM.
The reason is that vigorous exercise late in the day can be too stimulating for some people, which can keep you up at night.
And while a 20-minute weight workout or 30 minute yoga session probably won’t cause you problems, it’s worth experimenting with timing to see how you uniquely respond.
For even greater sleep benefits, try taking your workout outdoors.
The more natural light and exposure you have to the earth, the more balanced your sleep/wake cycle will be.
As far as how much to exercise, we typically recommend at least 30 minutes of exercise 5 days a week such as interval training, dancing, yoga, weight lifting, pilates, etc.
Contrary to common myth, more is not necessarily better! Too much can be over-taxing to some—especially if you’re working out hard or already undergoing a lot of stress (or healing from an illness), so experiment with your workout times and see how you fare.
#1: Create an enjoyable bedtime routine
A consistent, predictable bedtime routine can do wonders for helping reduce stress hormones while increasing relaxation.
Some helpful bedtime rituals may include:
- Getting grounded—believe it or not, studies have shown the practice of grounding, also known as earthing—where you connect directly with the earth by walking outdoors barefoot or using a grounding device—significantly reduces stress hormones and promotes healthy sleep[note]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3265077/[/note].
- Enjoying a cup of relaxing herbal tea—teas such as chamomile, lavender, holy basil, lemon balm, and skullcap are all celebrated for their calming qualities.
- Journaling or meditating before bed—for those with busy-brains, journaling or using a meditation app can make a huge difference in the time it takes you to fall asleep. Journaling is particularly helpful for those who tend to worry or have racing thoughts.
- Taking a warm (not super hot!) shower or bath—research has shown that going from warmer to colder temperatures, like from a warm bath to a cool room, helps induce sleep and relaxation[note]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28691581[/note].
- Dimming the lights—by turning down the lights, you will help your pineal gland naturally produce more sleep-inducing melatonin.
Sleep troubles can seem like enormous obstacles to overcome, especially if you’ve dealt with them for some time.
However, we’ve seen time and time again that even complex problems often respond very quickly to simple lifestyle changes like those outlined above.
We encourage you try out some of our sleep hygiene tips and see for yourself.
-The Knew Health Team