I’ve been hearing from friends and coworkers lately that even though they’re putting a few golden rules in place for better sleep, such as exercising and avoiding caffeine in the afternoon, they’re still suffering from poor sleep quality, interrupted sleep, or outright insomnia.
So I thought I’d share some tips that have helped me fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep all night, and delve into a few of the factors that might be contributing to your lack of zzzs while we’re at it.
The Obvious Tools for Better Sleep:
Exercise. But make sure you’re doing it at least 3 hours before bed, as exercise increases brain activity and body temperature, which can make it harder to settle down when you hit the pillow. Do a workout that’s going to quiet your mind. Life coach Jairek Robbins recommends hot yoga in a dark room with great music.
Even better, learn how to work out in the morning. And don’t worry about fitting in breakfast before you do. There’s evidence that working out on an empty stomach can help you burn fat more efficiently and combat insulin resistance.
Go easy on the caffeine. Our bodies build up a tolerance to caffeine, so you might be at the point where that fourth cup at 3pm just feels like it’s restoring you to sanity, not giving you a jolt. But caffeine’s half-life is around 5 hours, so that first cup of the day is still going to be in your system when you leave work, let alone the last cup.
Caffeine can also increase cortisol, which a stress hormone that is necessary for human function but might also affect your sleep, especially if you’re already feeling emotional or physical stress, such as from work or an illness.
Try cutting back by one-third of a cup a day until you’re down to your desired daily intake. Once there, substitute your afternoon craving with a caffeine-free tea like rooibus. I like Republic of Tea’s Get Smart, which contains stimulating eleuthero root and gotu kola leaf.
The Not-So-Obvious Tools for Better Sleep:
Take an ice bath an hour before bed. I learned these next two from a Tim Ferriss post and came to appreciate nighttime ice baths a lot last fall when I had a running-related stress fracture. Buy 2-3 bags of ice from your grocery store and dump them in a tub full of cold water. Slowly submerge yourself up to your torso and sit there distracting yourself from the shock by listening to a podcast for at least 10 minutes.
Eat a low-glycemic bedtime snack that includes some protein. This might seem counterintuitive, but as Ferriss explains, eating a little before bed helps counteract the effects of fasting all night, which can lead to headaches and slow-out-of-the-gate feelings first thing the next morning.
Drink liquid magnesium. I’ve been taking magnesium as Natural Calm Magnesium Powder almost every night for a few months now. It works for me, and doesn’t leave me as groggy in the morning as some other products, like Yogi Bedtime Tea or Republic of Tea’s Get Some ZZZ’s, both of which I’ve also experimented with quite a bit. I use 1-2 tsps of the original (unflavored) Natural Calm in a small cup of hot water.
Wear earplugs. I swear by them. They can be found cheaply at most drugstores. These purple ones are the ones I use.
Put your phone in airplane mode or remove it from your bedroom. I’ve noticed a disruption in my sleep quality if I leave my phone on all night, and it’s not just because of so-called blue light (I use the Night Shift function on the iPhone to reduce blue light interference when I’m looking at the phone in the evenings), but because of EMFs from the phone and the Wifi router. Turn those things off, or move them away from your bed.
Let yourself complete at least 4 sleep cycles each night. One human sleep cycle is approximately 90 minutes. Between them, we tend to come out of deep sleep for a few minutes. Set a realistic sleeping and waking time that will allow you to do this (in other words, aim for 6, 7.5, or 9 hours of sleep, or 4.5 if you’re crazy like that).
Use an app like SleepCycle, which, when placed near your bed, will detect your movements in the morning and wake you some time within a 30-minute window, when it senses you have come out of a sleep cycle (yes, SleepCycle works in airplane mode). With the app’s help, you’ll wake up less grumpy and groggy. It includes all kinds of soothing alarm options. I’ve been using it nightly for about six years. And it can track fun things like the effect of exercise and caffeine on your night’s sleep!
A piece of cheese. If you aren’t in for the full snack reco from Tim Ferriss, try a block of cheese an hour or less before bed. I do this a few times a week. It contains the amino acid L-tryptophan (the same thing turkey is so famous for).
Install f.lux on your computers at work and home. It reduces blue light so you can watch Netflix in bed to your heart’s content.
Use lavender. I love me some Aura Cacia Lavender Room & Body Mist, which I spray around my bed and on the pillows before I turn out the light. I have no idea whether it works, I just love the smell.
Sex. It lowers cortisol, and orgasms release the hormone prolactin, which promotes relaxation.
Sleep Tools That Haven’t Worked for Me, But Might for You
Tart cherry. It’s a natural source of the hormone melatonin that’s sold as a concentrated juice and supplement. As delicious as tart cherry juice is, it made me too groggy in the morning, and since I have a history of thyroid disease (melatonin has been shown to affect hypothyroidism), I stopped drinking it after a stint of a couple of weeks.
Ending your shower with a blast of cold water. It supposedly builds character and might have the same effect as the ice bath mentioned above. Direct the water on your head and torso, and see if you can stand it for a minute or so. I prefer the ice bath to this.
Meditation. The slow breathing techniques used in meditation can help relax you and clear your mind. I love meditating with Headspace, but prefer to do it earlier in the day when I need a little cortisol break at work.
A hot bath before bed. I wish I could be the kind of person who did this. It sounds great, especially if you add in a lavender bath bomb. But I prefer the mental challenge of an ice bath.
Bedtime teas. There are a quite a few on the market, including the Republic of Tea and Yogi ones I mentioned above in the magnesium bullet. These are typically robust herbal blends with ingredients like rooibus, chamomile and orange peel. They’ve tended to give me strange dreams and left me feeling tired in the morning. But many people make a nighttime routine out of them.
What did I miss?
Share your sweet slumber tricks in the comments below!