In the world of health and wellness we have become fixated on “recovery”. This comes in the form of a trendy new stretch and soft tissue product (Theragun, foam-rollers that vibrate), cryotherapy, cold plunges, superfoods, and infra-red saunas. Sure, all these can serve a purpose, but we are missing the forest for the trees if we are omitting the most important form of recovery, which is SLEEP.
1/3 of adults admit to having difficulty sleeping, and 40% admit to falling asleep during the day without meaning to within the last month. And for people who still prioritize 8-9 hours of sleep a night, that doesn’t always mean it is restful and restorative sleep. Just take a look at your Whoop metrics.
For a long time I woke up every morning at 3am, with my mind racing, making it difficult to get back to bed. I was still active and productive during the day but nonetheless was sluggish and my quality of life was suffering. Over the last three years I have prioritized getting my sleep back on track and while I still have my struggles, I can safely say my sleep quality has drastically improved!
So what is causing poor sleep?
We all live in a state of sympathetic dominance, we are in flight or flight response all day long. Stressed about work, money, family, and the world at large. We go, go go, and therefore have a difficult time shutting off and winding down at the end of the day. I would say this describes myself, as well as many of my patients.
What are some things we can do to improve our sleep?
In this blog I will provide tips and tricks I have learned along the way, some have worked for me, some haven’t, but all have potential to improve your overall sleep habits.
Some will be simple recommendations and common knowledge, some will be fringe medical approaches, and some will sound downright crazy (i.e. taping your mouth shut while you sleep).
Please use the info as a way to evaluate your own sleep hygiene as well as other factors of your health as you journey to a more rested healthier you!
Set yourself up for success:
- We spend 1/3 of our life in bed, so we might as well make it as comfortable as possible!
A sleep researcher once told me that “your bed is for two things only, sleep is one of them.” I will let you figure out the other” (hint: intimacy). I tend to add a third which is reading, preferably something mindless and relaxing. Conversely having a TV in your room, scrolling TikTok for hours or eating in bed confuses your brain into thinking it is not time for bed, and makes dozing off much more difficult.
- Temperature matters, the human body likes a colder temp as it slows down our metabolism and tells our body to relax, think of a bear going into hibernation. Studies say 65 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal.
- The right pillows, blankets and sleep positions can help if you are someone where pain can lead to restless nights.
- Weighted blankets are used to help calm babies in their crib and dogs during storms. These can also be used to calm your nervous system as it reminds your body of the comfort of being in the womb.
All living things have an ideal circadian rhythm, and there are tricks to help your body be more regular in your sleep and wake cycle. In the morning cortisol spikes to wake us up, and at night our body makes melatonin to help us fall asleep, so creating the best circumstance to balance these patterns is very helpful.
- Wake up and go to sleep at the same time every day (as best you can), even if your sleep was not restful, still wake up to that alarm at the same time every day.
- To get your circadian rhythm on track, get 10 minutes of sunlight in your eyes without sunglasses right when you wake up and 10 minutes at sunset (even if overcast, UVB rays still impact your brain’s chemistry). This will start to naturally regulate your sleep cycle.
- Avoid blue light (Iphones, computers, etc.) for 2 hours before bed, blue light crashes your melatonin and tricks your brain into thinking it is day time. Most computers and phones have a night time mode that removes the blue light. Blue Light Decreasing App for Computer and Phone
- Blue light blocking glasses for those late nights of work can be helpful. Blue Light Blocking Glasses
- Avoid caffeine after 2pm and alcohol 2 hours before bed.
- I will save you the broken record around exercising being important (as I tend to beat a dead horse on this topic), but expending energy for 30-60 minutes a day in whatever form signals your body’s need for recovery is extremely helpful. Find out when the best time is for you. I prefer to workout in the morning as late night workouts leave me stimulated, but others may find a 6pm workout really helps get them ready to relax. Generally speaking though, the science says avoid vigorous activity 60 minutes before bed.
Calming the busy brain is important:
I am a person that is always thinking about a million things, and one of the main struggles is shutting my brain off before bed. Things that can be helpful:
- Stop looking at IG, TikTok, Facebook etc. it pumps your stress hormones whether it be from envy, FOMO, or just taking in all the negative news we have in the world today.
- Having a notepad near your bed can be helpful if random tasks or thoughts come to mind that you want to write down. But avoid opening your phone to take the note, rather keep the light off, grab the pen, write a quick blurb (even if barely legible) and let the thought leave your brain.
- Having a breath practice before bed can be helpful. I use a specific app that brings you through a simple 5-10 minute inhale-exhale routine which helps stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system (i.e. rest and digest).
Do you or your partner snore?:
Snoring impacts a massive amount of people, this limits our ability to get into deep sleep, whether you are the snorer or the unlucky bed-mate.
- Many snorers, whether they are just heavy breathers or diagnosed with sleep apnea, can improve and even reverse their condition by working on nasal breathing. This will open up your nasal passages, allowing for more efficient breathing.
If you wake up with a dry mouth, you likely are mouth breathing while you sleep and this is something to work on. It seems crazy, but if you tape your mouth shut for a couple weeks, your body will naturally be re-trained to nasal breath.
App for calming breath practice Most common ratio that people find helpful: 4 second inhale, 6 second exhale
- A great book about breathing is James Nestor’s “Breath: The new science of a lost art”
This book speaks to the importance of nasal breathing, the negative impacts of mouth breathing and simple breathing exercises to improve your capacity for nasal breath. My brother-in-law completely reversed his severe sleep apnea much to the delight of my sister using the exercises laid out in this book.
Breath Book and Mouth Tape:
Breath by James Nestor – An amazing book that is digestible even if you aren’t a science nerd. And if you exercise hard you will be surprised on how much this info can impact your performance
Video of James Nestor on breathing practices to improve nasal breathing, which will help with snoring and will improve your sleep… and cardio performance, oh and heart health, and your immune system. Ok, I will stop here.
Mouth Tape and if you wanted the branded more expensive one Hostage Tape and a video on why it helps Why taping your mouth?
Are meds and supplements your crutch?:
Prescriptions like Ambien and Xanax knock you out, but do not necessarily improve the depth of sleep often leaving you feeling groggy and malaised in the morning. Dosing melatonin is often a slippery slope and can create dependency. But some supplements can be helpful. A better sleep cocktail includes Magnesium, Inositol, and Glycine.
- Magnesium Glycinate is the best form of Magnesium for sleep. (Lakeside carries great forms of Magnesium. Ask your provider for more info at your next visit.)
- Inositol dosed 1-3 grams 1-2x a day can also help.
- Glycine dosing: 3 grams an hour before bed.
The trick is to not get overwhelmed but rather start treating this as a fun little experiment. Stick to a few of the habits for a week or two and then evaluate. My recommendation would be to start changing your bedroom situation, avoiding technology, getting natural sunlight in your eyes, and avoiding excess alcohol and caffeine. But again, everyone is different so feel free to play around. Change takes time, but the long term benefits of restful sleep in your life can not be quantified.
Key things to take away from this post:
- Deep restful sleep allows our body to recover from daily hyperstimulation and stress!
- Make your bed and sleeping environment as comfortable as possible! Set yourself up for success.
- Have a routine around sleep and waking up.
- Reduce alcohol, TV, phone, exercise and light at least 30 minutes before bed.
- Supplements can aid in deeper sleep.
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