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Getting good quality sleep is essential for your body and mind to heal and function at an optimal level. However, within the busyness of your life the quality of your sleep might get over looked. And if you neglect sleep for too long, you will pay the price with poor health. Today, I’m excited to share strategies I have been using to help improve my sleep. In this post, we will explore not just the importance of sleep but delve into actionable insights and practical tips on how to significantly enhance the way you sleep.
The impact of sleep on your health
If you’re reading this, you’re probably already aware that being deprived of sleep is bad for you health. Poor sleep quality is a major stressor on the body. It has been linked with obesity, insulin resistance, heart disease, impaired cognitive function (ability to focus, think, and reason), weak immune system, and many other health problems. (4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10)
It doesn’t matter if you eat really well and get regular exercise; if you don’t sleep well, your health will suffer. (11)
1. Make sleep a priority
I used to be the type who was proud I could get by with five hours of sleep a night. I had no time for sleep as I felt getting my to-do list done was more important. And sleep got in the way of me getting things done. However, I began to realize how I was lying to myself. Lack of sleep was catching up to me. I had less drive, energy, and my focus was off. This behaviour was making me less productive and created a lot of anxiety. When I started to make sleep a priority and started to practice the following tips, I started to get more consistent sleeps and better quality sleeps.
At the time of this writing, my sleep still isn’t perfect. However, it’s way better than it was years ago and it’s something I’m still working on to master. I have gone months at a time with good quality sleeps. This means I was getting 7-8 hours of sleep consistently and feeling well rested and happy when I got up. And I can tell you I feel like a superhero during these times. My focus, energy, and goes way up. As well, my ability to articulate improves dramatically as it feels like the words from my mouth flow out naturally and faster. My whole world is a better place when I sleep well.
2. Eat a high protein breakfast in the morning for a better sleep
Getting good sleep starts when you first get up in the morning. First and foremost, eating food high in protein in the morning will set you up for a better sleep for that evening. Let me explain. Eating a breakfast that is high in protein helps to stabilize your blood sugars and cortisol (stress hormone). In turn, your cortisol levels will continue to drop throughout the day which allows melatonin (your sleep hormone) to kick in to facilitate your sleep. So forget the traditional cereal and toast for breakfast. Switch to bacon and eggs or other animal proteins. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, you will have to rely on legumes, nuts and seeds for protein.
As well, you may want to consider fasting in the morning to help with your sleep. Fasting, in most circumstances, can help stabilize blood sugars. However, there are circumstances where you will want to avoid fasting. You can read about this, as well the benefits of intermittent fasting in a previous post I wrote.
In addition to keeping your blood sugar and cortisol levels in the morning for a better sleep, it’s important you continue this trend through lunch and dinner. So eating a healthy diet and staying away from refined flours and sugars are going to be important to attain this.
3. Expose yourself to natural light in the morning
Getting outside in the morning for 30 minutes or more can help reset your circadian rhythm or “body clock”. Your circadian rhythm tells your body when to sleep, wake up, and eat. Two of the most important environmental factors affecting circadian rhythm is light entering the eye and body temperature. So getting plenty of natural bright light from outside lets the body know it’s daylight. (12) Ordinary indoor light is not strong enough to have a big impact on your circadian rhythm. It only measures 10 to 300 lux compared to outdoor light which measures 10,000 to 30,000 lux. (13)
So what do you do if you live in the Northern hemisphere like me where it is it dark outside early in the morning during the fall and winter months? You can still try to get outside by lunchtime or another option is to buy a light therapy machine. Light machines have been studied extensively for seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and depression. (14, 15) As well, research suggests they can also be effective for resetting your circadian rhythm as well. (16, 17) Buy a light machine that emits 10,000 lux of light and sit in front of it for fifteen to thirty minutes after waking up.
4. Exercise during the day to sleep better
However, when you exercise and how much you exercise has a either a positive or negative impact on your sleep. Overtraining, for example, will increase your levels of a stress hormone in your body called cortisol. (22) Cortisol makes you more alert. So too much cortisol will disrupt your circadian rhythm leading to poor sleep quality. (23) As well, high intensity exercise (tennis, weight lifting, cross fit, etc.) raises cortisol levels which could cause poor sleeps. So vigorous exercise is best done in the morning when we want our cortisol levels higher versus doing it in the evening. Furthermore, if you have had a lot of mental stress for a long period of time, you would probably be best to stick with light intensity exercise (walking, yoga, tai chi, etc.) until you lower your stress levels.
A good time management tip would be to get outside in the morning and combine exercise with light exposure.
5. Lower stress levels throughout the day
Mental stress is inevitable. How you manage it will determine if it interferes with getting good quality sleep or not. If you don’t have stress management techniques, your quality of sleep will be poor.
Many of us are so busy with life with constant demands on us. We have a hard time switching our brains off when we get home from work and when our head hits the pillow. Or we may wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep because we start thinking about “stuff”. Our nervous system is in a constant state of arousal which also causes cortisol to rise. So we have to find ways to manage stress and calm our nervous system down.
Your nervous system is supposed to be in a calm state most of the time. Being in this state of being allows your body and mind to heal well. As well, being in this calm state of being will make falling asleep and staying asleep much easier. So how do you do that? The list is vast but could include creative activities like gardening, art, or carpentry. Reading something easy and light can help ease stress. As well, yoga and meditation have been found to help cure insomnia and improve sleep. (24, 25, 26)
Here is some more ideas on how to manage stress.
6. Restrict artificial light at night to sleep better
Restricting artificial light at night means limiting or not using devices that emit blue light. This mainly includes computers and mobile devices. The blue light from these devices enters the eyes and decreases melatonin. (27, 28, 29) Melatonin is the main hormone in your body that helps you sleep.
There are a few ways to reduce the effect of artificial light at night. Ideally, you would stop using devices that emit blue light 2-3 hours before you go to bed. If you feel this is ‘impossible’ to do, you can change the display on your computers and mobile devices to decrease the amount of blue light they emit. The other option is to buy blue light blocking glasses and wear them at night. These glasses have been shown to be very effective at blocking out blue light, preventing melatonin suppression, and improving sleep quality and mood. (30)
7. Sticking to a consistent bedtime schedule will help you sleep better
Following a regular sleep schedule trains your brain to feel naturally tired at bedtime. As I noted before, your body has a natural clock within it (circadian rhythm) that dictates your sleep and wake cycle. Sticking to a regular sleep schedule will help you sleep better. (31)
8. Stop eating right before bedtime
Eating too close to your bedtime can cause poor sleep. In particular, eating causes your core body temperature to rise. However, in order to initiate sleep and stay asleep your core body temperature needs to drop. So it is recommended by sleep experts to stop eating 2-3 hours before your regular bedtime. (32)
If you feel you must eat close to bed because you are too hungry, avoid simple carbs. Simple carbs like breads, rice, pasta, and candy get converted into energy and therefore heat quite quickly. Instead opt for a smaller snack or meal that is high in protein or fat.
9. Keep your bedroom dark and cool for better sleeps
It is a well known fact that sleeping in a cool, dark environment makes it easier to get a good night’s sleep. As I have noted, your core body temperature naturally cools during sleep onset as the body increases blood flow to the surface of the skin. (32) This allows heat to be released into the environment. When the bedroom is too warm, your core body temperature can not cool down as well. This can lead to a poor sleep. (33) Keep the room at a temperature of around 18℃ (65℉).
I’ve already talked about how artificial light can impair sleep. Even street lights and lights from alarm clocks emit enough light to effect sleep. (34, 35) Installing black-out shades and covering any other lights in your bedroom is one option. Another option is to buy a sleeping mask.
10. Have a hot shower or bath before your bedtime
Having a hot shower or bath will lower your core body temperature which will help initiate sleep. The heat from the water stimulates blood flow to the surface of your skin which will allow heat to escape from the core of your body more quickly.
11. Supplements you can try to get better sleeps
There are many supplements for sleep. Each supplement has a unique way of working, so what works for one person may not work for another. The best way to determine what you might need for sleep supplements, at the time of this writing, is to get a DUTCH Test (Dried Urine Test for Comprehensive Hormones) done. The DUTCH test can determine what your melatonin levels are like or if your cortisol (stress hormone) levels are out of balance. You would have to go to a health practitioner that can order the test for you and knows how to interpret it (usually a functional medicine doctor or a naturopathic doctor). In saying this, here are some natural remedies you can try:
Magnesium is pretty safe to try as most people are deficient in magnesium anyway. It’s one of the essential minerals that is accepted to be depleted from our soil. Magnesium has been shown to be effective in treating insomnia and sleep. (35, 36, 37, 38) The safe dose for magnesium is 200 to 600 mg/day. So you can try a product called Natural Calm (1 to 2 teaspoons before bed) or take chelated forms like magnesium glycinate or magnesium taurate. Taking magnesium may have a laxative effect, so if that’s not desirable for you, take the chelated forms.
GABA and Taurine
L-theanine is a unique substance that is found only in green tea and certain mushrooms. When taken in higher doses as a supplement (200 to 400 mg), it can have a calming and focusing effect. (41) Take an hour before bed if you have trouble falling asleep, or just before bed if you have trouble staying asleep.
5-HTP is a substance that turns into melatonin and has been shown to help people with chronic sleep problems. (Note: do not take 5-HTP if you are taking SSRIs or other antidepressants.) (42)
If 5-HTP doesn’t work you can try taking Melatonin. It is more likely to work if your melatonin levels are low.
What does Dr. Collins take for sleep supplements?
I have experimented with numerous sleep supplements. The following supplements are what I have been taking for years and work well for me:
- Magnesium glycinate (200 mg with my evening meal)
- Somno-pro is blend of L-theanine, 5-HTP, and melatonin (4.5 mg at bedtime)
If you are a patient of mine, you can purchase the above supplements at my office or you can contact the manufacturers to find out where to buy it at a retailer near you. As well, you can go to a health food store or supplement store to find a good quality formula.
12. Buy a good quality mattress for a comfortable sleep
If you’re going to make sleep a priority, invest in a good quality mattress. I don’t think there is too much to explain here. Keeping your body well supported and comfortable is vital to getting good sleep. You can read more about how to choose a good mattress here.
13. Try a weighted blanket to improve your sleep
This is something I tried a few years back. I have always liked the feeling of more heavier blankets on top of me when sleeping. Although, there is limited research on the effect of weighted blankets on sleep, I feel it helps me get a get a better quality sleep. (43)
14. Try a white noise machine
I don’t remember why my wife and I decided to get a white noise machine, but it probably had something to do with background noise lulling me to sleep. I’m notorious for falling asleep in front of the TV. Anyway, we have been using this in our bedroom for awhile now and it seems to help. Like the weighted blanket, there is limited research regarding these machine’s ability to help people sleep. (44, 45)
15. Try getting regular chiropractic adjustments
After two decades of observing my patients, I can say with certainty that some patients sleep better when they receive regular chiropractic adjustments. Let me explain how this might work. Adjustments stimulate the nervous system and brain. If the adjustments are done specific and precise, the body will respond better. So when specific adjustments are done in the neck and pelvic area they help turn on the parasympathetic nervous system. This can help make a patient’s body and mind shift from a stressed state into a more calm state they need for good sleep.
In the quest for optimal health, the significance of quality sleep cannot be underestimated. This comprehensive guide has delved into 15 actionable tips to transform your sleep routine, addressing everything from the importance of making sleep a priority to the finer details of nutrition, daily habits, and sleep environment. Each recommendation contributes to fostering better sleep. So, as you embark on this journey, remember that the pursuit of better sleep is not just about the hours spent in bed; it’s a pathway to unlocking the full potential of your body and mind for a healthier, happier you. Sleep well, thrive, and embrace the transformative power of a good night’s sleep!
To learn more about how chiropractic care can help you and your family read Dr. Dean Collins comprehensive guide to chiropractic care: Chiropractic Care for Everyone.
Contact Edmonton chiropractor Dr. Dean Collins for help today!