Natural ways to improve sleep

If you’re one of the many individuals who struggle with sleep here are some simple steps to help you hit the hay.

One of the most important things you can do to improve your health is to get a good night sleep. A ‘good sleep’ varies for each individual but the average is 8 hours for optimal benefits. However, the average Canadian sleeps 6.9 hours a night and about 60% of Canadian’s report feeling tired most of the time.

Not only can poor sleep lead to fatigue the next day but it has larger implications like depression, anxiety, weight gain, poor concentration and memory, high blood pressure, poor glucose regulation and decreased immunity.

If you’re one of the many individuals who struggle with sleep here are some simple steps to help you hit the hay.

The most important first step is setting up a bedtime routine. This could be having a shower or relaxing bath, or reading a book 30 mins before bed to allow yourself to unwind. Try to stick to the same routine every night and at the same times. Going to bed and waking up at the same time each night has be proven to have major improvements on sleep cycles. When you stick to the same cycle, your circadian rhythm is more regular and is more effective at producing melatonin. This can also boost energy throughout the day. Therefore, it is important to try and stick to this schedule even on weekends. I know this may not be feasible, but if you can at least make your bed time relatively similar you’re off to a great start!

Secondly you want to try and limit or completely put away electronics 2-3 hours before bed. I know this might not be possible, so if need be turn brightness down, put your device on night mode (iphone), download flux app (mac), or invest in a pair of blue blocker glasses. The exposure to a large amount of light throws off your circadian rhythm and tricks your brain into thinking it is daytime rather than night which limits the amount of melatonin produced

iphone on the left has night mode on

On top of limiting your electronics, try to keep them out of your bedroom in general. Limit the work you do in your room, your brain should associate your bed with sleeping, not work emails and Instagram. Your bedroom should be a quiet relaxing dark place at night. You may want to invest in some dark curtains and some ear plugs in order to block out noise and light.

Of course, one of the most important actions you can take for any health issue: reduce your stress! Cortisol (a stress hormone) peaks around 3am, if your cortisol levels are higher than normal it may wake you up as cortisol increases alertness. If you find yourself constantly waking up around 3am, this may be your problem. Having a relaxing routine like I mentioned above can help with this. Meditating, reading a book or doing some deep breathing before sleep can help relax and steer your mind from racing through all of the day’s events or your ‘to do’ list.

Other helpful tips:

Be physically active throughout the day

  • Exercise tires us out and helps us both fall asleep and stay asleep

Decrease processed foods/sugar

  • These might make us feel sleepy at the end of the day but decrease sleep quality

Decrease caffeine intake in the afternoon, drink herbal tea instead

Bedtime snacks

  • Pumpkin seeds or a banana (high in tryptophan)
  • Chamomile or passion flower tea
  • Both are indicated for insomnia and help you relax overall

Supplements/Herbs that may be helpful in reducing anxiety before bed and help fall asleep

  • Kava
  • Magnesium
  • GABA
  • Lavender essential oil  
  • Bergamot essential oil
  • Both essential oils can be used aromatically, put directly on skin, in a bath, or put in your tea

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