Top Twenty Proven Sleep Strategies for Better Health and Resilience (Sleep, Part 2)Aug 22, 2021
The one thing you may be missing in your daily routine for greater health and wellness is restful, restorative, resilient SLEEP!
More and more research shows that sleep is the one thing that can help you feel better, get better, and stay better. And the kicker is that it’s something that most people struggle with. Yes, most!
So what can you do? If you’re not getting your recommended amount of sleep (7-9 hours) every night, here are my Top Twenty proven strategies for you to try out!
Start by choosing one or two that resonate most with you and practice them for one week!
1 - My #1 Strategy - Turn the lights off ½ hour earlier than you usually do for 1 week! And even better, turn all screens off 1 hour before “lights out”!
I will admit to enjoying spending some evening hours on Netflix - but if I stay up too late, it interferes with my sleep! Instead, I try to turn ALL screens off by 9 pm (unfortunately not when I have evening webinars), taking the time to “wind down” before bed, practicing some restorative yoga and gratitude meditation, reading a relaxing book and then turning the lights off early!
Did you know that according to eastern medicine, our bodies physiologically repair themselves between 10pm and 2am, before switching over to psychological repair from 2 to 6am? This suggests that our “natural” sleep schedule is between 10 pm and 6 am each day.
2 - So what's your sleep schedule?
Having a consistent sleep schedule is one of the most important things you can do. Our society promotes round-the-clock activity. This can affect anyone, not just shift workers and students. Time dedicated to sleep is often consciously reduced due to work demands and social activities.(1,3,10,11) And yet sleep is one of the most important health practices, one we need to prioritize!
Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including weekends, as much as possible.(12)
3 - Create a calming bedtime routine and practice it regularly.
Whether that includes bedtime yoga, a relaxing bath, warm herbal tea, diffusing an essential oil like lavender, and/or a soothing book, do what works to help you wind down for the night.(3,10,12) And this means no late-night news or TV dramas - they will just excite your nervous system whether you recognize it or not.
4 - Calm your mind.
Along with the growing public interest in mindfulness and meditation, there is a growing body of research as well. A recent review of several studies showed that mindfulness and meditation significantly improved sleep quality.(17) You can also try breathing exercises or progressive muscle relaxation.(18)
Ask me about my Phoenix Rising Yoga and Meditation classes that will teach you how to do this!
5 - Bright light in the day; block the blue at night.
Expose your eyes to bright light during the day, especially in the morning. This also means avoiding bright lights at night wherever possible because it can extend the time it takes you to fall asleep. This includes watching screens before bed.
Why? Because your eyes respond to cues from light. When the light is dimmer and has more red wavelengths (think of a sunset), your brain makes the “sleep hormone” melatonin.(3,12,13)
Melatonin (see also tip #19) is produced in the light-sensitive pineal gland, in the centre of the brain (a.k.a. the “third eye”). Too much light means not enough melatonin, and your sleep will be disturbed. Consider not only wearing an eye mask but also covering your forehead to prevent light from penetrating to your third eye.
6 - Is your bedroom dark and comfortable, and free from electronics?
Your bedroom should be cool and dark so you aren’t woken by being too hot or cold or when the sun gets too bright.(3,12) Your mattress should be comfortable, too. If sounds bother you, consider blocking them out with a fan or white noise machine.(11)
And this is a big one - get all the electronics out of your bedroom!! Aside from the light these items radiate, they also emit electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs) that disrupt the nervous system and impair our ability to sleep. Yes, this means no TVs, no smartphones or smartwatches, and if possible, an old fashioned analog alarm clock - although once you regulate your sleep schedule you may find that you wake up naturally, and rested, without needing an alarm at all! Would that be a relief?
7 - Maintain even blood-sugar levels throughout the day
Eat a whole foods diet (avoid processed foods!) including Fat, Fibre and Protein, plus Low-Glycemic Carbohydrates. Protein is essential for healing and repair and some of us just aren’t getting enough of it. Our brains use a specific amino acid called tryptophan to make serotonin, which in turn makes melatonin for sleep. If we don’t eat enough protein, it’s hard to make the proper brain chemicals for sleep.
See The Sugar-Free Kitchen for more on this!
8 - Stomach issues?
Having a large meal before bed can disrupt sleep. This is especially true if you experience acid reflux.(12) Try eating dinner no later than 7 pm so you have at least 2 - 3 hours to digest your meal before bed. And then say “No!” to nighttime snacking!
9 - Regular exercise.
Exercising 20-30 minutes each day can help you sleep, particularly aerobic exercises like walking, jogging, or swimming (11) plus strength-training and flexibility/mobility (yoga!). Try to finish your exercise a few hours before you plan to go to bed so you have time to relax.(1,3)
10 - Can you handle caffeine at night? Are you sure?
Caffeine works to wake you up by blocking the sleep-promoting effects of the compound adenosine. This also reduces your ability to fall asleep. Caffeine can also increase the need to go to the bathroom, which can wake you up once you are asleep. The effects of caffeine on your body and brain can last several hours.(14)
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine shows that the more caffeine you have before bed, the more it disrupts your sleep. They recommend not having caffeine within 6 hours of going to sleep. So, if you go to sleep at 10 p.m., eliminate energy drinks, coffee, caffeinated soft drinks, tea, etc. by 4 p.m. at the latest. Ideally, you would cut those out even earlier in the day.(3,12,13,16)
DID YOU KNOW? If you have caffeine within 3-6 hours of going to sleep you may not even know that your sleep is being disrupted—even though it might be.(15)
11 - Nix the nightcaps.
You should avoid alcohol before bed because it negatively impacts sleep quality by reducing REM sleep.(14) Having alcohol before bed may seem okay because it can make you feel tired and relaxed, but you don’t actually get quality sleep.(3,12,14)
12 - Avoid tobacco.
Nicotine stimulates your brain and your heart, making it harder to fall asleep.(14) Avoid tobacco products, including regular cigarettes and nicotine-containing e-cigs.(3,12) If you have a very difficult time quitting, avoid it for at least two hours before you want to go to sleep.(14)
13 - Naps: yes or no?
Naps are necessary for small children, but if you have trouble falling asleep, try avoiding them. There is one exception, though. A study in the British Medical Journal suggests that if you’re a college athlete, napping may improve your performance.(12)
That said, you know your body best - if you can wake up after a short nap without feeling groggy, with your body and mind feeling refreshed, and without disturbing your sleep that night then naps may be working for you!
14 - Night time bathroom breaks?
Drinking a lot of liquids before bed can wake you up to go to the bathroom, so try to hydrate (water and herbal-teas!) throughout the day, stopping after dinner, so you’re not thirsty before bed.(12)
15 - Stop multi-purposing your bed.
Your bed should be used for two things only: sleep and sex. If you're in the habit of watching TV from under the covers, or bringing your laptop to bed, this may be affecting your mind's ability to turn off, and your body's ability to fall asleep, so get those electronics out!
If you’re lying in bed awake, try getting out for a short time and trying again. There is strong evidence that this can help prevent insomnia and, over time, can improve the quality of your sleep.(12)
16 - Be social.
Feelings of loneliness can affect your sleep. If you feel isolated and have little social support, you are more likely to suffer from the effects of stress and have more difficulty falling asleep and maintaining sleep. If your partner feels lonely and has poor quality sleep, you’re more likely to be affected, too. Loneliness is associated with many sleep disorders, including insomnia, nightmares, and anxiety.(1) Try things to help you feel more connected like thanking people who help you in day-to-day life, reaching out to someone by email or social media, or signing up to volunteer in your community.
17 - Are you a clock watcher?
Watching your clock when you can’t sleep prevents you from falling asleep. This is because it increases your mental activity (worry), rather than decreasing it. This can make falling back asleep more difficult. If you’re lying in bed awake for 20 minutes, try getting up and reading (with low or red/yellow-tinted light) or listening to soft music until you feel tired.(3,11,12)
18 - Try to sleep along with your natural chronotype.
If you’re an “early bird,” go to bed and wake up early. If you are a “night owl,” then try to create a schedule where you can wake up later in the mornings. (see more about this in Sleep, Part 1)
19 - Sleep supplements?
Melatonin supplements might help you feel sleepy and there is some evidence that it helps with jet lag. But before you try these, note that they’re not recommended for everyone and have many known interactions. Be sure to read the warnings and cautions on the label and check with your healthcare professional to be sure they’re ok for you.(19)
Those of you who get into biochemistry will know that L-tryptophan is an amino acid converted by the body to 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) and then to serotonin and melatonin, which may explain why it’s associated with relaxation and sleepiness. Turkey gets all the credit for putting people to sleep after a holiday dinner (it’s actually often all those carbs - dressing, mashed potatoes, pie, etc. instead!), but L-tryptophan is also present in many high protein foods like eggs, cheese, fish, chicken, and sunflower seeds. Ask your health care professional what supplements in this family might be right for you!
The mineral magnesium is used by the body in more than 300 biochemical reactions, including metabolizing energy and synthesizing neurotransmitters. A study of older adults (about half of whom had insomnia) found that magnesium supplements improved insomnia severity index scores, sleep efficiency, sleep duration, amount of time to fall asleep, and early morning awakening. They also saw improvements in blood levels of cortisol and melatonin.(20)
20 - Taking medications?
Some medications can disturb sleep (e.g., beta-blockers, corticosteroids, analgesics, antidepressants).(2) If you’re taking medications, speak with your doctor or pharmacist to see if yours is one of them and if there may be alternatives to consider.
And remember, if you have a sleep disorder or any health conditions, speak with your healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment strategy.
Bonus Recipe - Sleepytime Tea!
- 6 tablespoons chamomile
- 4 tablespoons lavender
- 2 tablespoons licorice
- 4 tablespoons lemon balm
- 2 tablespoons spearmint
- Place all ingredients (omit any that are ot to your taste) in a glass jar with a secure lid, and toss to combine.
- To make tea/tisane, put 1 teaspoon of herb blend into a tea ball (strainer) for every 1 cup of water.
- Place the tea ball (strainer) in a mug or tea pot, and pour boiling water over the herbs.
- Allow to steep for 5 minutes. Serve with honey if desired.
- Enjoy in a quiet moment before bed!
Magnavita, N., & Garbarino, S. (2017). Sleep, Health and Wellness at Work: A Scoping Review. International journal of environmental research and public health, 14(11), 1347. doi:10.3390/ijerph14111347
Besedovsky, L., Lange, T., & Haack, M. (2019). The Sleep-Immune Crosstalk in Health and Disease. Physiological Reviews, 99(3), 1325-1380. doi: 10.1152/physrev.00010.2018
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2019, August 13). Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep. Retrieved from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Understanding-Sleep
Harvard Health. (2018, May 9). Repaying your sleep debt. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/repaying-your-sleep-debt
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017, March 2). Sleep and sleep disorders. How Much Sleep Do I Need? https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/how_much_sleep.html
Henst, R. H. P., Pienaar, P. R, Roden, L. C., & Rae, D. E. (2019). The effects of sleep extension on cardiometabolic risk factors: A systematic review. Journal of sleep research.
Plante D. T. (2017). Sleep propensity in psychiatric hypersomnolence: A systematic review and meta-analysis of multiple sleep latency test findings. Sleep medicine reviews, 31, 48–57. doi:10.1016/j.smrv.2016.01.004
Pires, G. N., Bezerra, A. G., Tufik, S., & Andersen, M. L. (2016). Effects of acute sleep deprivation on state anxiety levels: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sleep Med, 24, 109-118. doi: 10.1016/j.sleep.2016.07.019.
NIH Research Matters. (2013, October 28). How Sleep Clears the Brain. Retrieved from https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/how-sleep-clears-brain
Harvard Health. (2015, August). Restructure your day to get a better night's sleep. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/sleep/restructure-your-day-to-get-a-better-nights-sleep
Harvard Health. (2016, September). Awake at 3 a.m.? Strategies to help you to get back to sleep. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/sleep/awake-at-3-am-strategies-to-help-you-to-get-back-to-sleep
Kroshus E, Wagner J, Wyrick D, et al. (2019). Wake up call for collegiate athlete sleep: narrative review and consensus recommendations from the NCAA Interassociation Task Force on Sleep and Wellness. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 53, 731-736.
John’s Hopkins Medicine. (n.d.). The Science of Sleep: Understanding What Happens When You Sleep. Retrieved from
Harvard Health. (n.d.). 3 simple ways to get more restful sleep. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/3-ways-to-get-more-restful-sleep
Drake, C., Roehrs, T., Shambroom, J., & Roth, T. (2013). Caffeine effects on sleep taken 0, 3, or 6 hours before going to bed. Journal of clinical sleep medicine : JCSM : official publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 9(11), 1195–1200. doi:10.5664/jcsm.3170
Pickering, C., & Grgic, J. (2019). Caffeine and Exercise: What Next? Sports Med, 49, 1007. LINK: https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-019-01101-0
Rusch, H. L., Rosario, M., Levison, L. M., Olivera, A., Livingston, W. S., Wu, T., & Gill, J. M. (2019). The effect of mindfulness meditation on sleep quality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Annals of the New York Academy of Science, 1445(1), 5-16. doi: 10.1111/nyas.13996
Harvard Health. (n.d.). 4 ways to get better sleep. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/4-ways-to-get-better-sleep
Health Canada. (2019, September 26). Melatonin Natural Health Product Monograph. Retrieved from http://webprod.hc-sc.gc.ca/nhpid-bdipsn/atReq.do?atid=melatonin.sublinguale&lang=eng
- Behnood Abbasi, Masud Kimiagar, Khosro Sadeghniiat, Minoo M. Shirazi, Mehdi Hedayati, and Bahram Rashidkhani (2012). The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly.
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