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It seems like everyone wants to get better sleep these days. In fact, Statistics Canada reports that 1 in 7 Canadians have some sort of sleep trouble (formally known as insomnia). On average, most adults are only getting 6.5 hours of sleep per night, while most research supports at least 7 hours for optimal health & longevity. So whether it’s difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking unrefreshed, here are 5 ways to ensure you set yourself up for better sleep tonight!
Tip #1: Stick to a Routine
Many of us understand this concept for children but as adults, we tend to think bedtime and wake-up times can be all over the place without consequence. The importance of routine in our sleep & wake patterns can be paramount in our overall quality of sleep.
Now I know you’re probably thinking, “You want me to wake up at 6am on the weekends too???”. Not exactly. What our bodies need is a similar enough routine to know when to start powering down for the evening, and when to naturally raise our cortisol in the morning so we can get out of bed with ease. For most individuals with sleep concerns, I suggest no more than 1-hour difference between weeknight & weekend sleep times. This might mean going to bed 30 minutes later during the week, and an hour earlier on weekends to lessen that gap. In my opinion, this is one of the simplest things you can do to enhance your body’s internal clock, thus improving sleep quality.
Tip #2: Create the Right Environment
I hope this doesn’t come as a surprise, but where you sleep matters. Some people are more sensitive to their external environment than they realize, and a few small tweaks in this area can really improve how quickly you falls asleep.
- Make it dark: Remove all light sources from the bedroom. Turning electronics off or positioning their lights away from the bedside can also help. Outside light can be blocked with blackout shades or an eye mask. Remember, our bodies produce the sleep hormone melatonin in response to a darkened environment so any artificial light can keep us awake.
- Make it cool: The ideal room temperature for sleep is between 18-21 degrees Celsius (65-70 degrees Fahrenheit)—this level supports our bodies’ natural drop in temperature when we fall asleep. If you find you’re too hot or cold at bedtime, layer up your sheets and blankets so that they can be easily added or removed after your body adjusts to the surrounding temperature.
- Invest in your mattress & pillow: Since we spend about 1/3rd of our lives in bed, it only makes sense to give ourselves the most comfortable and supportive place to lay down for 7 hours each night. This is especially important if you have difficulty falling asleep due to pain, or if you wake up in the morning tight and stiff. Many companies have a trial period for their products, so you can literally ‘sleep on it’ to see if it’s the right fit for you.
Tip #3: Try the Right Supplements to Support a Deep Sleep
There are dozens of sleep formulas on the market today. But depending on the specific reason for your sleep disruptions, a different formula or ingredient might be better suited to you. Here’s a rundown of 3 common sleep issues and a natural supplement to support each.
- Irregular schedule/shift work: As mentioned earlier, melatonin is a natural hormone produced in our brains that signals the body to get ready to sleep. It rises in response to a dark environment and can be reduced if you tend to go to sleep at different times each night, work late/overnight shifts, or travel often. I recommend a prolonged release formula that can help you fall and stay asleep equally well when taken 1-2 hours before bed.
- Muscle pain/stiffness: While we could all use extra magnesium in our diet, a specific form of magnesium called bisglycinate can directly work to loosen tense, tight muscles and reduce pain before bed. This form of the mineral does not cause bowel upset so no need to worry about loose stools, even with higher dosing. Bonus: it helps to reduce stress & anxiety levels too!
- Overactive mind: Although it would be nice to simply pop a pill and be able to shut off our busy minds at night, it often takes more to achieve lasting results. That said, a herbal extract of passionflower might help—it’s been used for over 100 years to calm a restless mind and ease us into a deeper sleep without feeling groggy the next day. Plus, it doesn’t lead to tolerance like some prescription sleep medication. You can take it regularly or simply when needed.
Tip #4: Nix the stimulants
The truth of the matter is many of us pack the second half of our day with too many stimulating foods & activities. When we stimulate our nervous system (i.e., with caffeine, an intense workout class, or screen time late into the night), we’re training our bodies to stay awake later. Although we might not have full control over our work schedule, aiming to keep these timelines in effect can make a huge difference:
- Less than 1 hour before bed: no screens
- Less than 3 hours before bed: no snacks or exercise
- Less than 12 hours before bed: no caffeine (including tea, dark chocolate, and sodas, which are hidden sources of stimulating caffeine…some of us are more sensitive than others!)
Tip #5: Clear your mind
To be honest, this is perhaps the greatest obstacle to a good night’s rest that I see in my practice. Our modern lifestyles leave us with mile-long to-do lists and packed schedules that don’t allow for much downtime. Encouraging a practice of ‘mental reset’ each night can not only reduce stress and anxiety, but can help you sleep more soundly too. Here are a few suggestions to consider:
- 5-10 minutes of deep breathing with calming music in a dark room
- Try a meditation app like Headspace, Stop, Breathe & Think or Calm.
- Journal: Write down your to-do list, worries, or reflections on the day to help empty your mind before bed.
There you have it! 5 practical tips to get you well on your way to a better night’s rest tonight! Do you have any tips for better sleep that you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below!
Dr. Laura Belus is a Naturopathic Doctor that focuses on detoxification and hormone balance for weight loss, stress management, and greater energy. She believes in making simple, yet powerful, changes to diet & lifestyle habits that create lasting results. She practices in Mississauga and Toronto.