Recovery is essential. Sleep is one of your best tools to help manage stress especially in keeping stress hormones low. Unfortunately, a lot of individuals have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep and waking up refreshed. Of course, there are a lot of individual factors out there that influence our ability to have a restful sleep. Studies have shown that having had deeper sleep has led to:
-Improvements in exercise and athletic performance
-Better cognitive function especially in solidifying new knowledge and memories
-Decreased body fat
-Optimal hormone function (testosterone, growth hormone, ghrelin, lower cortisol etc).
-Improved immune function (people who get less sleep are more susceptible to infections)
Having worked with different populations and different sleep problems some of my clients have faced, I’ve decided to share some of the tips with the rest of the world that I have researched over the last few years and have evidence to support them. Some of them are very obvious while some you may not have heard of.
1. Set a time to sleep and calculate based off sleep cycles. Use this one.
2. Try to fall asleep at the same time each time. Keeping a sleep diary helps with this and monitoring your sleep cycles can help determine this as well.
3. A moderately cold environment is ideal for falling asleep faster. Otherwise just put a bag of ice or a slightly wet towel near your feet and get them cold. 68 degrees Fahrenheit or 20 degrees Celsius to be exact. Please make sure you move the towel or bag of ice before you fall asleep (don’t want you catching a cold).
4. Cut out blue light 30 min before sleep. Use a blue light filter on your devices. Night shift on Apple devices is good. F.LUX on your laptop is helpful. Blue light filters have been shown to help improve quality of sleep significantly. However, if you can simply read a relaxing book before bed, go for it.
5. Wear a sleep mask. Block out as much light as possible. If you could block out noise too, even better.
6. Listen to white noise. Use this at bed-time to help you fall asleep and keep your surrounding neutral. I have personally used something called Binaural Beats which helps tremendously. Binaural beats act on particular wave lengths to help with focus, sleep, relaxation and a bunch of other things.
7. Use a gentle alarm. Nothing crazy sounding. Stick to birds chirping, waves, or anything else soothing.
8. Cut out caffeine at least 5 hours prior to bedtime.
9. Take 26-30 minute naps (use an alarm clock) at least 1-2 times a day. Not more than 2x. Research has shown this is optimal for alertness. Once you go too far with this, you’ll end up getting closer to REM and will end up more groggier when you wake up.
10. Take a zinc and magnesium supplement. Have at least 10mg of zinc (depends on the type) and a dose of magnesium bisglycinate. Most people are deficient in both of these minerals.
11. Exercise daily even if it is a walk for 30 minutes. This helps promote deep sleep. Do not exercise within 2-3hrs of sleeping otherwise you may find yourself more alert.
12. Eat carbs at least 2hrs prior to bed. If you need to have a snack prior to bed, eat a banana or pineapple or cherries or any other sweet fruit. Avoid big meals close to bed, hence the 2hr rule. The biggest meal should be your first to avoid this issue, if possible.
13. Take a minimum of 1mg of melatonin prior to bed. This helps achieve REM much more quickly. It is a good idea to slowly increase the amount up to 5mg. If you have trouble falling asleep, higher doses are recommended. The research on melatonin is strong but each individual’s needs vary.
14. Monitor your sleep cycles. Use a sleep tracker or any fitness wearable to see what time or how long it takes you to enter REM and how many cycles you achieve at night.
15. Avoid foods that cause circadian phase shifts such as: soybeans, cornstarch, peas.
16. Avoid drinking over 200mL of fluid before sleeping and less than 100mL. You may end up waking up in the middle of the night to go relieve yourself. Also be wary of taking certain supplements before bed as they can increase your chances of having to wake up to go to the restroom.
17. Promote rest prior to bed with a warm beverage. Although warm milk has been shown to help with feeling sleepy, my fat loss clients are to avoid this. Alternatively, stick to relaxing herbal teas such as chamomile tea.
18. Use essential oils in a diffuser of some sort to promote a more calming environment. Having the additional humidity helps whereas you may also want to consider dehumidifying your sleeping space.
19. Meditate. Do this for at least 5-10 minutes either when you are in bed or after you get into bed. This will lower cortisol and filter your thoughts so you are not keeping yourself awake. Breathing techniques should also be used here.
20. Avoid alcoholic beverages close to bed. Even having 2 drinks can cause a phase shift and affect sleep by 20%.
21. Some mushrooms have been shown to help with falling asleep. It’s not for everyone, so it is best to talk to someone to guide you on this.
22. And with all that being said, a bed-time ritual including the most practical things from above will help ensure you sleep well every night.
Enjoyed the tips? Hopefully you found them helpful. Click the picture below so we can talk more about your sleep habits and help achieve your goals.