Nothing is better than a good night's sleep!
And similarly, one bad night of sleep can affect us quite significantly. Optimal sleep is essential for good health but also for supporting us to show up as our best.
Lack of sleep has been shown to disrupt many (if not all) systems of the body leading to significant decrements in cognitive function (1), impaired glucose and insulin function (2), lowered immune function (3) as well as a higher risk for anxiety, depression, metabolic syndrome, hormonal imbalances, and cardiovascular disease (4).
Unfortunately, a good night's sleep has become somewhat of a luxury nowadays with our crazy lifestyle that provides many obstacles to a good night sleep.
But the good news is, we have a lot of control over the quality of our sleep through the choices we make.
What can you do to up your chances of getting optimal sleep?
Ditch the electronics
It can be tempting to bring electronics into bed with you however this exposure to artificial light, especially before bedtime, can interfere with sleep by disrupting the the body's circadian rhythm.
Our circadian rhythm governs our sleep/wake cycles telling us when we should be awake and energized versus sleepy and restful. Artificial light exposure from electronics, also known as light pollution, can delay melatonin production which can make you feel less sleepy at bedtime and more groggy during the day.
We recommend avoiding electronic screens at least one hour before bed!
What could you do instead? Some examples include colouring, going for a walk, spending time with your loved ones, reading, journaling, meditation... the choice is yours!
Adopt a bedtime routine
Our bodies love routine! By establishing a regular bedtime routine this can help to train the body to feel sleepy once it's time to go to bed.
One of the best ways to train your body to a regular circadian rhythm is to get up and go to bed at roughly the same time every night, yes even weekends!
Having consistent changes in your bedtime and wake up time can actually contribute to social jetlag which can impair health but also sleep quality.
Adopting a regular bedtime will help you sleep better and also support optimal energy levels during the day.
What you eat will also impact your sleep!
Including well balanced meals will help to keep your blood sugar stable, important for supporting deep sleep. Blood sugar imbalances can interfere with sleep quality by increasing the risk of waking up during the night.
In addition there are many foods that can particularly support sleep:
- Carbohydrates such as squash or sweet potato can help to curb cravings in the evenings, support the nervous system and stress levels, as well as support serotonin production - a precursor to melatonin (5). Low levels of serotonin have been associated with insomnia (6).
- Almonds are a good source of melatonin and magnesium, both needed for optimal sleep.
- Cherries contain a high dietary melatonin concentration and antioxidant properties that can help to reduce inflammation (7).
- Kiwi fruit may help you to fall asleep faster due to its anti-inflammatory effects and its ability to increase serotonin (8).
- And we all know that turkey also makes us sleepy! This is because turkey contains tryptophan, an amino acid that increases the production of melatonin.
Meal timing will also impact sleep quality as digestion can interfere with many sleep processes. Aim to be done eating 2-3 hours before bedtime to best support your circadian rhythm (9).
If you are used to late night eating and find yourself starving before bed you may need to modify your dinner or include a mini snack which will help curb hunger. A hot cup of herbal tea can also be great to reduce any cravings and fill up your belly!
Note: Your body may be accustomed to eating later at night so it's up to you to instil new habits and behaviours such as eating earlier during the day and adopting alternative activities in the evening that are not food related.
Magnesium: a commonly deficient nutrient in society today, magnesium is a calming mineral that acts as a nervous system relaxant, reducing the effects of stress on the body and supporting sleep.
Magnesium helps to regulate melatonin, GABA, and serotonin production all important chemicals for optimal sleep and relaxation.
Magnesium bisglycinate if you are having trouble sleeping because the mineral is bound to the amino acid glycine, making it better absorbable and also gentle on the stomach. Glycine is an amino acid that has calming effect on the brain which is why this particular form can help with sleep and stress.
Melatonin: known as the sleep hormone, it signals to the body that it is time to go to sleep and regulates our sleep wake cycle.
As mentioned there are many things we can do to naturally increase and improve melatonin production at bedtime, however sometimes it may be necessary to supplement.
Melatonin supplementation can also be useful to combat jetlag while traveling through timezones.
Valerian root: a sleepy-time herb, valerian can reduce the time it takes to fall asleep while improving sleep quality (10).
Valerian is the most widely used herb for sleep disturbances in North America and Europe.
You can take valerian in various ways such as capsule, tea, or tincture.
Stimulants such as coffee should be avoided atleast 6 hours before bed if possible as they have been shown to disrupt sleep patterns and consequently affect daytime function (11)(12).
When and if you choose to have your coffee try to pair it with a meal or a snack to keep your blood sugar stable and avoid significant blood sugar fluctuations, which can negatively impact your daytime energy as well as sleep.
Alcohol is another substance that should be avoided because though it may initially make you feel drowsy it negatively impacts the quality of our sleep, in particular by reducing REM sleep (13).
We got you covered! Alternatives to caffeine drinks may include chicory root tea, herbal teas, and mushroom blends.
A sedentary lifestyle can make it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night. As humans we were made to be active however our 21st century way of living has largely taken us away from being highly active species to dominantly inactive. This of course impacts all areas of health, including sleep.
Regular moderate daytime physical activity has been shown to increase deep sleep, supporting repair and regeneration of the brain and body (14).
Adopt an activity that you enjoy and aim to get up and moving atleast once an hour every day.
About the Author
Laurence Annez is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner and Health Coach, specializing in PCOS and women's hormones. She also holds a degree in Creative Writing and has extensive experience writing on health and wellness topics. Laurence's mission is to inspire and motivate individuals to take control of their own health and reach their ultimate health goals.