A good night’s sleep is one of the most satisfying simple pleasures in life.
Unfortunately, it’s a real rarity for so many of us! We toss and turn, our minds racing as we try to fall asleep. Or we wake up in the middle of the night, fully alert while the rest of the world continues to doze on.
I don’t know about you, but when I have nights like that I just feel downright awful the next day. My mind is sluggy, I’m jittery and cranky, and I look just about as terrible as I feel.
A good night’s sleep is also essential for good health.
Sleep keeps us looking and feeling young, and our minds sharp. It is a time of rest and regeneration, when our cells repair and when our liver is most active.
Sleep deprivation has been associated with an increased risk of heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, high blood pressure, stroke, and diabetes. It also dramatically impairs cognitive function and increases the risk of accidents and injuries.
Equally as concerning: when we’re deprived of sleep, our bodies experience higher levels of cortisol and inflammation. Chronically elevated cortisol levels slow healing and cell regeneration, destroy healthy muscle and bone, cause an imbalance of the sex hormones, suppress the immune system, weaken digestion, and slow the metabolism. Systemic inflammation is behind many diseases and chronic health conditions, from cancer and heart disease to Alzherimer’s and arthritis.
Needless to say, it’s very important that we get an adequate amount of sleep. But as I mentioned earlier, this is much easier said than done for many of us. Luckily, there are a number of natural ways to improve sleep quality.
Sleeplessness is something I continually struggle with as part of my anxiety. This past May as my now husband and I planned a wedding and cross-country move (what were we thinking!?), my restless nights turned to insomnia and my health paid the price. A few months later now, I’m back to getting a regular night’s sleep thanks to these tips and am feeling SO much better.
6 Tips to Help You Fall & Stay Asleep Naturally
1. Keep some lavender essential oil by the bed
Two studies on the effects of lavender on sleep have found that inhaling lavender before bed helped participants to fall asleep more easily and enter a deeper state of sleep. This is likely due to the fact that lavender is an adaptogenic herb, and as such helps the body cope with stress.
You can diffuse lavender essential oil or simply put a drop on your pillowcase to help your body rest soundly. You can also apply diluted lavender essential oil on your wrists or the bottoms of your feet. Sounds odd, I know! But the pores are largest on the bottom of your feet and so the oil is most quickly absorbed there. A roller bottle makes applying the oil super easy — combine 25 drops of lavender essential oil in a 10 mL roller bottle filled with a carrier oil of your choice (I like fractioned coconut oil best for roller-bottles since it is more stable than most other oils and so will last longer).
2. Try tart cherry juice to regulate natural sleep patterns
Tart cherries naturally boost the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that naturally regulates the body’s sleep cycle. Melatonin levels are supposed to rise in the evening, stay high throughout most of the night while we sleep, and then drop in the early morning hours. But for some individuals, melatonin production can slow or be thrown off-balance. Tart cherry juice not only helps stimulate melatonin production, making us feel sleepy, but it also increases the availability of tryptophan, an important precursor to the sleep-encouraging neurotransmitter serotonin.
Try drinking 2 ounces of tart cherry juice diluted with 8 oz of water at least 90 minutes before bedtime. Be sure to look for pure tart cherry juice without any added sugar or water.
3. Indulge in some raw honey to keep from waking in the early morning
Your liver is very active while you’re sleeping. Of course, it requires energy to carry out its many tasks. At this time, the liver uses glycogen (glucose stored in the liver) for energy. But the average adult liver has a maximum glycogen storage capacity of about 75 grams and the body consumes glycogen at the rate of 10 grams of per hour. This means that if you eat dinner at 7 PM and do not snack afterwards, your liver’s glycogen store will be depleted by 2:30 AM. At this time, the brain believes the body is starving and activates a stress response. This stress response includes the release of the hormone cortisol, which is supposed to remain low throughout the night and spike in the morning when we are ready to awake.
If you’ve ever felt wide awake in the early morning hours, this may likely be the reason. Having a little extra sugar right before bed keeps your liver fueled and prevents the brain from activating this stress response. Raw honey in particular is said to have the ideal ratio of fructose to glucose to support the liver at its most active time. Just a teaspoon will help to carry you through to the morning.
4. Practice a few restorative yoga poses
Yoga can help ease the mind and relieve stress (check out this awesome study about the calming effects of yoga), which is necessary to get a good night’s sleep. When we’re stressed, the body releases the hormone cortisol, which is supposed to naturally wane at night before bed and spike again in the morning when we’re ready to wake. When cortisol levels are elevated at night due to stress, we experience difficulty falling asleep since our bodies are in sympathetic (“fight or flight”) mode, ready to take on the perceived stress. Practicing a few restorative yoga poses before bed can put us in the right mindset for a great night’s sleep, preventing cortisol levels from spiking at an inappropriate time.
Restorative yoga poses are not about fitness but about relaxation. These poses will not cause an increase in adrenaline or cortisol, as with other forms of exercise. Instead, they push the body into its parasympathetic (“rest and digest” mode) mode. Check out this great 30 Minute Restorative Yoga and Meditation video on YouTube video to learn a few restorative yoga poses. If nothing else, try the “legs up the wall” pose — lie on the floor on your back with your bottom as close to the wall as is comfortable and extend your legs up the wall, with the backs of your legs are resting fully against it. It’s very simple and a wonderful way to destress.
5. Up your magnesium intake to relax
Magnesium is a wonder mineral in which it’s estimated 80% of all adults are deficient. Upping your intake won’t just help protect you from coronary heart disease or osteoporosis, but also promote a more sound sleep.
This is because magnesium reduces the amount of the stress hormone cortisol, moving the body from sympathetic (“fight or flight”) mode to parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) mode. It also helps relax muscles, helping to relieve tension after a long day.
In addition to upping dietary intake of magnesium, supplementing with magnesium will help ensure your body is getting an adequate amount. In addition to pill and powder supplements, using magnesium oil or soaking (either your whole body or your feet) in epsom salts is a great way to boost magnesium levels for overall health as well as sleep.
6. Turn off all electronics and unwind
Our bodies’ natural circadian rhythms are regulated by daylight. It’s what dictates our “internal clock.” But this natural rhythm is thrown off-balance by exposure to light, especially the short-wavelength blue light that is emitted from TVs, computers, and phones. This blue light decreased production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin.
You can opt to use blue-blocking glasses, or simply shut down all electronics a couple of hours before hitting the sack. This is a great time to indulge in stress-reducing activities like playing a game with family members, doing a puzzle, snuggling with your sweetie, or reading a great book. Not only will this promote normal melatonin production by limiting your exposure to blue light, but it will also help decrease the stress hormone cortisol, which as we’ve discussed can also keep you awake at night.
Do you have any tried-and-true tips for a naturally great night’s sleep?
Please share with us!