Can’t sleep? Optimize your night routine. – Dr. Erin Edmonds, BSc., ND

Have you ever had a night where you just could not fall asleep? Maybe your brain just wouldn’t shut off, or you couldn’t stop thinking about what happened that day, or what you have to get done the next day. So you toss and turn and check the clock until you find yourself thinking “okay, if I fall asleep right now, I can still get 5 hours of sleep.. 4 and a half hours.. 4 hours”.

We all know the huge difference that a good night’s sleep can have on our energy levels, mood, focus, motivation, and productivity. But sleep is also critically important for our body’s natural ability to heal. In sleep, our body actually has time to rest and repair our cells, muscle tissue, and connective tissue, while also being able to devote it’s resources to processing and storing information in the brain and regulating hormones.

Although the old “8-hour” rule may work for some, the truth is, the optimal number of hours of sleep varies from person to person. And, it’s not just the quantity of hours of sleep that is important, its the quality. So what is the best way to improve your sleep quality? Here are 18 ways you can improve your sleep tonight!

    1. Set a schedule for when you are going to go to bed each night and stick to it! The hours of sleep you get before midnight are more restful than the hours after; don’t be afraid of going to bed “early”.
    2. Plan to wake up at the same time every day (even on weekends) to help your body fall into a natural rhythm
    3. No screens for 30-60 mins before that set bedtime (ie. no phones, iPads, laptops, tv, etc.), it disrupts melatonin release in the brain and makes it more difficult to fall asleep.
    4. If you have to use an electronic device before bed, set it to “night mode” which dims and yellows the light of the screen making it less harsh and less likely to affect melatonin levels, but still put it away at least 30 mins before bed.
    5. Turn electronic devices on silent, “do not disturb” or airplane mode to avoid unwanted disruptions when falling asleep.
    6. Beds should be used for sleeping and sex only, do not get in the habit of studying or doing work in bed.
    7. Invest in curtains, blinds, or a window shade that sufficiently blocks out light.
    8. Temperature, although usually an individual preference, ideal sleep environments should be between 16C and 22C for sleeping.
    9. Avoid drinking caffeine several hours before your set bedtime and avoid large quantities of liquids in the hour before bedtime to avoid having to wake up during the night to use the bathroom.
    10. Avoid refined carbohydrates and sugar before bed. If you must have a snack before bed, much better to be something protein-based so you don’t get the same blood sugar spike and crash of refined sugars and carbs.
    11. Keep a journal or notebook by your bed, that way if you are having any recurring thoughts, worry, or mental to-do lists keeping you from falling asleep, write it down, and tell yourself that you can come back to it in the morning without fear of forgetting.
    12. Create a nightly pre-bedtime wind-down routine, like a cup of tea, a warm bath, reading a book, drawing, journalling, meditating, or turning on an essential oil diffuser.
    13. Herbal teas of calming herbs like chamomile, lemon balm, passionflower, or valerian can help to relax the nervous system into sleep
    14. Essential Oils like lavender or chamomile are also very calming and can be gently sprayed onto bed linens, pillowcases or used in a diffuser
    15. Avoid mentally stimulating activities or strenuous exercise in the hour before your set bedtime
    16. If you can’t control the noise in your sleep environment (ie. dogs barking, partner snoring, etc.) invest in ear plugs. Disposable earplugs are strong enough to dampen the noise but not too strong that you will sleep through your alarm.
    17. Deep breathing can also be very helpful, as deepening and slowing the breath shifts our primary sympathetic nervous system response to parasympathetic, allowing us to better relax. Try “Square Breathing”: slow inhale for a count of 4, hold inhale for count of 4, slow exhale for count of 4, hold exhale for count of 4, repeat.
    18. Try a meditation app – there are many good guided meditation apps, a few of my favourites are Buddhify, Headspace, Stop Breathe & Think, and Calm.

There are a lot of factors that can contribute to difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep throughout the night, and sometimes it can be related to serious medical conditions or medications, or things like stress, anxiety, depression, pain, hot flashes, or frequent urination. In these cases, it is always best to speak with your Naturopathic Doctor or your Family Doctor so you can truly address the underlying cause of your insomnia. And as always, be sure to check with your ND or health care providers before trying any new herbs, supplements, or natural health supplements.

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