At the health food store where I work, the supplement that people request the most on a daily basis is something to help them sleep better.
As most of us have experienced at some point in our lives, the lack of quality sleep can significantly affect one’s health on all levels—physically, mentally and emotionally.
Naturally, many are looking for that magic pill for better sleep. While a natural supplement such as melatonin can be beneficial for short-term use, it does not resolve the underlying causes.
The following 10 tips are simple solutions to help get better sleep. Each one individually seems insignificant, but when you put them all together they can make a significant difference in sleep quality.
One of the primary reasons for interrupted sleep is the need to go to the bathroom during the night.
Drinking enough water during the day and take less fluids in the evening will help alleviate this problem.
If you find it necessary to drink something after dinner, sip water or herbal tea just after dinner.
Proper hydration can also help regulate hormonal balance, which is a key factor in sleep quality and duration.
Chronic dehydration is also considered to be an underlying cause of snoring, as well as sleep apnea, both of which affect sleep quality.
People occasionally tell me that they can drink caffeine (coffee, tea or sodas) at any time of day and it doesn’t affect their sleep. Well, maybe, but I highly doubt it.
Caffeine may not actually keep you awake at night, but it will most likely affect the quality of sleep you get.
Caffeine is a stimulant and it affects the nervous system for hours. In addition, it is a diuretic and will cause you to have to get up during the night to go to the bathroom.
In general, avoid drinking any form of caffeine after noon.
Your bed and pillow are high priority for a good night’s rest. No matter what, it will be hard to get a good night’s sleep without full comfort and support of your body.
There is not one type of mattress or pillow that is best for everyone since our bodies are different and change over time.
In general, pillows should be replaced every year and mattresses every 7 to 8 years.
Science News, October 1998, reported that even minimal amounts of light in the bedroom at night can not only lead to a chronic lack of sleep but can also diminish the effectiveness of the body's immune system, disrupt our melatonin levels and potentially increase our risk of developing cancer.
Thus, do whatever you can to get your bedroom as dark as possible, such as using room-darkening curtains.
If you use a digital clock, turn it upside down before bed so you can’t see the display light.
If all else fails, try eye shades or a sleep mask. Looks unappealing, I know, but I have used a sleep mask on occasion and found it surprisingly comfortable.
Start preparing for sleep at least an hour before bedtime.
Experts suggest listening to relaxing music, reading a book or taking a hot bath.
Avoid watching violent crime shows or the nightly news right before going to bed. Consider turning the TV off at least an hour before bedtime.
The same goes for the computer. Playing stimulating games, engaging in social media, or researching on the internet right before bed is not going to help.
I know many people like to stay up past midnight and sleep in late, either by preference or because their jobs require it.
However, science has shown that the natural circadian rhythms of the body support sleeping at night rather than during the day.
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the circadian clock within the control center of the brain is “set” primarily by visual cues of light and darkness.
Thus, staying up late and/or sleeping during the day will most likely have a cumulative stress effect on the body.
Most doctors and sleep experts recommend going to bed before 11 pm and sticking with a regular sleeping routine.
Keeping a regular schedule for when you go to bed and when you wake up is one of the best ways to ensure consistent good sleep.
The more erratic your schedule, the more challenging it will be to get deep sleep.
All forms of wired and wireless electronics emit an electromagnetic frequency (EMF), which studies have shown create significant amounts of stress in the body and do affect sleep quality.
This is one of those bits of information that is not well known, but the research is substantial.
Thus, it is wise to minimize the use of electronics in the bedroom, such as TVs, stereos, computers and clock radios.
It is particularly important to keep all electronics away from your bedside, especially those near your pillow.
We highly recommend not having TVs or computers in one’s bedroom, but if you do have them, turn them off and unplug them at night to reduce EMFs.
Based on physiology and body metabolism, we should eat our biggest meal of the day be mid-day, not in the evening.
In addition, animal protein can take twelve hours or more to digest. In fact, red meat takes, on average, from one to three days to be completely digested and eliminated from the body.
During the first six to eight hours after a heavy meal, the body utilizes a lot of energy for digestion, which is not conducive for sleep.
Thus, eating a lighter, plant-based meal in the evening will allow for a deeper and more restful sleep.
However, the meal should be substantial enough that it doesn’t cause you to want to snack excessively after dinner. Eating healthy fats such as olives, olive oil, nuts, nut butters, avocadoes, and deep-sea fish such as salmon will provide satiation at dinner time.
Eating snacks after dinner is an unhealthy habit most of pick up during childhood. This is the time of day when the body is least prepared to digest and assimilate food.
In addition, food ingested at night is usually not fully metabolized (i.e., calories are not burned) and is more likely converted to fat.
The body needs a good four hours to digest most foods before bedtime.
Undigested food or sluggish digestion during the night can cause restless sleep, toxin accumulation in the colon, constipation and potential weight gain.
If you crave something sweet in the evening, try a few pieces of dark chocolate.
One of the most prevalent reasons people cannot get to sleep is because of persistent worrisome thoughts or an overactive mind.
You might want to try this simple breathing meditation to help still the mind before going to sleep.
A few natural ingredients that can help calm mind and emotions include:
Magnesium supplements are effective at relaxing the body and mind, and soothing the nerves.
Magnesium powder (such as Natural Vitality Calm) can be added to warm or hot water and makes a nice evening beverage.
Several herbs such as chamomile, valerian, hops, passion flower and lemon balm are effective for some people. I generally recommend one of the sleep formulas (such as Deep Sleep by Herbs Etc.) that has one or more of these ingredients.
GABA (Source Naturals GABA, 750 mg) is one of the better supplements for calming the mind.
In general, I don’t recommend melatonin, except as needed for high stress situations causing sleep deprivation or from jet lag.
However, if I had to choose between sleeping pills or melatonin, I would choose melatonin.