Following my article Being Awake to the Problems of Losing Sleep many readers showed a keen interest in what I might have to recommend as remedies for improving sleep. So here’s my take on natural sleep solutions – A useful list of tips we all should know about foods, supplements and lifestyle habits in gaining a better night’s sleep.
1. NATURAL FOODS
Foods high in Tryptophan
(an amino acid) such as turkey, fish, dairy, eggs, bananas, figs, pineapples can make a good and relaxing evening meal. This is because tryptophan is involved in the production of serotonin, a feel good hormone that also helps induce drowsiness. However, try to refrain from eating big meals within 2 hours of your bed time, as this not only hinders growth hormone production but can disrupt the quality of sleep.
Refrain from eating or drinking stimulants
(things that are likely to increase heart rate and dehydrate you) such as caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and foods high in fat or salt close to bedtime. Caffeine from percolated coffee for example, has a half-life of 8 hours, meaning its effects on the adrenal system will last a whole eight hours! So ensure your last cup of coffee for the day is no later than 2:00- 3:00 pm in the afternoon, otherwise you’ll probably be in for a restless night.
are known for calming the adrenal system after a stressful day, though sometimes it may take up to 2 weeks of nightly use for the person’s system to feel and enjoy the tea’s full benefits. The most popular sleep-inducing herb is Valerian (Valeriana officinalis), an ancient remedy for insomnia. Common teas like Tulsi and Chamomile are also known to work a treat by reducing cortisol (a stress hormone). Other herbs include Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) from North America, which acts upon and calms the nervous system, and Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), recognised by European herbalists to aid digestion and induce sleep.
is a cheap yet effective supplement that will help with reducing cortisol, induce calm and improve sleep patterns. For those that find pills hard to swallow, magnesium creams are also highly effective as they get absorb into the skin and can act rapidly to give the same advantages.
is another helpful supplement. The Poliquin products range we stock in Melbourne include a product called Uber inositol. When taken just before bed, this supplement helps induce deep sleep by balancing out all neurotransmitter imbalances, including raising serotonin levels to help with sleep, and decreasing adrenaline levels.
is a powerful antioxidant 20 times more potent than vitamin E. If you are waking up between 1am and 3 am constantly, it can be an indication that your lung meridian (an energy centre of your body) is disrupted due to a lack of antioxidants. Regular doses of grapeseed extract often does the trick to help this sleep bump.
Liver Support Supplements
like the P1P2 balance from Poliquin that we have available in Melbourne, which can help improve the quality of sleep, especially if you find yourself frequently waking between 3am-5am. Often our liver has to work overtime to detoxify numerous toxins from our systems and this strain can affect sleep quality.
Phosphatidyl Serine (PS)
works to reduce stress and high levels of adrenaline within the system, effectively calming a person down. When used before bed, PS is great for inducing deep sleep.
3. PHYSICAL EXERCISES
such as a walking, jogging or working out in the gym produces endorphins – chemicals which help you feel good and improve sleep. However, performing vigorous exercises close to bedtime can overly increase adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormones), and be counterproductive to good sleep. As such, exercises should be done at least two hours before bedtime and not immediately before.
Light and Muscle Relaxing Exercises
like yoga, which can also help release physical and mental tension without overstimulating the body. Here’s a simple relaxation technique to be done in the “Savasana Position” (Lie flat on your back with a pillow under your upper body so that your shoulders are slightly elevated; this makes breathing easier). In this position, mentally focus on relaxing individual muscles in your body, starting from each toe, up your calves and thighs, through your hips, lower back, abs, chest, shoulders and neck. Focus on relaxing the muscles on your face and feel your eyeballs gently relax down into the eye sockets. Relax the temples and forehead, then the bridge of the nose, your cheeks and jaw muscles. Feel the connection between the ear passages and the jaws, and relax them. Allow your tongue to rest on the lower palate and for your relaxed mouth to be slightly parted. The key here is to focus on deep and effortless breathing. You’ll probably find yourself concentrating a little harder on the steps to do this initially, but constant
4. PSYCHOLOGICAL TOOLS
Stay Relaxed and Positive
when you cannot get to sleep. As rhetorical as this might sound, frustration or anger will only agitate you and tense your muscles up. Adopt a positive mindset and know that even if your mind can’t completely shut down, the fact that your body is in a restful position is already aiding muscle and tension recovery. Drowsiness often occurs in 30-45 min waves. If you happen to miss a wave, don’t get restless, simply relax your mind and body in time for the next wave.
Prayer or Journaling
can be an effective method for ‘getting stuff off your chest’. Speaking, thinking or writing out the day’s highs and lows, triumphs and anxieties can be an effective way to release these built up emotions. It may also help organise your thoughts and rationalise away any unnecessary worry or tension. One great technique I’ve learnt from Strength Coach Charles Poliquin recommended to many of our clients in Melbourne is to use a grateful log.
Here’s how it works: Before going to bed, get a pen (not a computer!) and write down at least 10 different things you are grateful for within the day. You could simply begin with: “I am grateful for…”.
As New Age as it might sound, this practice is very calming for the mind and helps you appreciate the world in a positive light before falling asleep. I have found this to ease all my stressed clients, prevent their minds from racing all night, and enrich the quality of their sleep significantly.
5. CREATING A SUITABLE ENVIRONMENT
Try to Rid Your Bedroom of Electronic Distractions
such as televisions, laptops and phones. Apart from the obvious noise and lights disturbances, these devices also emit radiation that has had been scientifically shown to interfere with your sleep patterns.
Needing an Alarm Clock is NO Excuse to Use Your Phone
The best option would be a simple battery operated analogue clock. However for those that insist on having digital bed side clock, ensure that your clock has red numbers, since blue and green colours used on the digital clock stimulates the brain.
Sleep in a Cave!
Closing all curtains and blinds to have complete darkness encourages your body to produce more melatonin and to induce drowsiness. If you’re not able to get complete darkness in the room, use a sleep mask.
6. FORMING THE RIGHT HABITS
Avoid High Adrenaline Activities Before Bed
Adrenaline-fuelled activities are typically thought of as including strenuous exercise and daredevil stunts. However, what we consider relaxing, such as watching television or chatting online will also raise adrenaline and decrease melatonin production, thus disrupting your sleeping patterns. If you do have to watch television, make sure you choose an appropriate genre such as a relaxing comedy and not a thriller or horror flick.
How About SEX?
Is that too high an adrenaline activity to avoid before bed? Research shows that although sexual activity results in increased heart rate and adrenaline, it also helps us release a cocktail of brain chemicals and hormones, including prolactin, norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin, vasopressin and nitric oxide (NO). These chemicals are strongly linked to the sensations of drowsiness and relaxation, as well as a reduction in stress levels – so sex can be a great help when trying to sleep.
Establish a Regular Sleeping Pattern
by going to bed the same time each night. This sets up your “body clock” so that you are more likely to feel tired at the same time every night. Research has found that ideal time for sleep is between 10pm and 6 am in the morning, where the first 4 hours are crucial for the physical recuperation and the next 4 hours, from 2-6am are for mental/psychogenic repair.
Refrain from doing “Daytime” Activities
whilst lying in your bed. (e.g. watching TV, working, studying, etc) Doing so gets your body used to being awake whilst lying down in bed and makes it harder for it to recognise and abide by sleeping patterns.