You aren't alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 3 Americans do not get enough sleep based on a recommended amount of 7 hours of sleep per night.
Sleep is a vital component to optimal health and simply feeling your best. If you are struggling to lose weight, have difficulty handling stress, or reach for carbs and sugar to get through the day, more sleep may actually be the solution!
You may often hear tips related to your nighttime routine, but great sleep habits are impacted by your choices all day long.
Which is why I'm breaking my healthy sleep tips into 4 categories:
Lights and Light Exposure
Nighttime Routine / Sleep Hygiene
Supplements & Herbs
Please note that tips listed below are for an optimal situation… tweak them to make them work for your life!
Tips for better sleep: all day
People generally think that the hour before bed is the “magic hour” for obtaining good sleep, however, a lot rides on what you do during the day as well.
Caffeine is the perfect example: while we all metabolize caffeine differently, if you have trouble sleeping (and specifically trouble falling asleep), a general rule of thumb is to avoid coffee after 12pm and all caffeine (including teas) after 2-3pm.
Another daily tip: choose morning workouts vs evening.
Why exercise in the morning?
When you exercise hard, you spike your cortisol levels which can give you energy and make you feel “stirred up.” Cortisol should be higher in the morning and decrease over the course of the day, but you may disrupt this cycle if you train hard in the evening.
You can certainly move or exercise at a lower intensity at night – like a nice long walk, yoga, or pilates – to keep the cortisol levels low but get the movement in that you want.
Tips for better sleep: lights
Imagine if we did not have electricity… what would you do at night?! While I'm not suggesting you try to live exactly as cavemen did (by fire and moonlight perhaps), you do want to lower or dim or turn off overhead lights after sundown to prep the body for sleep. Small table lamps and even candles are a great alternative here.
It's a good idea to black-out your bedroom light as much as possible – using room darkening shades or anything you can. The darkness will trigger your body to produce melatonin – a counter-regulatory hormone to cortisol that helps to manage your circadian rhythm by inducing calm and sleep.
It's natural for melatonin levels to decrease as we age, so getting a bit less sleep when we're older isn't surprising, but supporting the body as much as possible in its natural production of this critical-for-sleep hormone is ideal.
Of course, a sleep mask can be helpful, but remember that light exposure, in this case, is about what all of your skin is receiving in light, not only your eyes. So, while your eyes may be less interrupted with light with a mask, the mask won't reduce the light exposure to your body overall.
Tips for better sleep: your nighttime routine (sleep hygiene)
What you do to prep yourself for sleep is important and should begin an hour ahead of time, which will allow for a relaxing nighttime experience.
Some basic tips for the hour before bed:
- cut screen time (no more tv or computer screens, and try to limit your phone as much as possible! Make sure you are in a f.lux or night shift mode ahead of that as well.)
- eat your last snack/food of the day
- shower or wash your face
- brush your teeth and take any last supplements (to avoid drinking too much water right before bed)
- prepare bedside reading to as little light as possible for visibility or find something to listen to so you can cut the screen/tv time
Tips for better sleep: supplements & herbs
Supplements and herbs are never my first suggestion but used in the short-term, these supplements can aid in poor sleep quality.
Herbs such as lemon balm, passion flower, valerian root are known to help improve sleep and are often found packaged together in nighttime teas.
Phospharidylserine is a calming nutrient that can be taken with dinner after a late training, although I do not suggest taking this supplement for a long period of time.
5-HTP is the precursor to the hormone, melatonin. This allows your body to convert the 5-HTP to melatonin naturally.
Finally, supplementing with melatonin should be a last resort because it is a hormone and your body may down regulate natural production based on it's supplementation.
Let us know in the comments below if you try any of these tips, or have a few of your own!