“It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.” ~ John Steinbeck
In my practice, I find some typical, common threads. In this article, I am going to show you everything that I discuss with a client about how to get better sleep.
In this article, the simple, free things that anyone can do are considered first.
Habits That Help You Get Better Sleep
1. Take a 15-30 minute Warm Bath in the evening before bed.
Read the above again – Take a warm bath before bed, not a hot one.
What is a warm bath? In the tradition of the early naturopaths, a bath was considered warm if the water temperature was between 92 and 98 degrees Fahrenheit. To many of you, this will feel like a cool or even cold bath.
In the words of Dr. Kellogg: “Warm Baths Soothe the Nerves – An immediate and very agreeable effect of the warm bath is to soothe a nervously excited condition and promote sleep, which to many people is peculiarly refreshing when procured by this means.”
I use this method regularly (personally) and find that it is surprisingly refreshing and sleep inducing.
You may want to try using this approach at different times, from 1-3 hours before your intended sleep time, to see what works best for you.
2. Make sure the room is pitch black.
Natural melotonin will not be produced in the amounts necessary for good, deep sleep in a room that is not pitch black. Even night lights can easily interfere with proper sleep in very sensitive people.
3. If there are noises, such as hums, street noise, and the like, get earplugs designed to help you sleep better.
A group did a preliminary study on people in good health and good sleep habits. In this preliminary study, they monitored the brainwaves of the individuals to detect when they went into the deep sleep phase. When the subject entered deep sleep, they introduced a loud noise into the room, and shut it off when the subject was no longer in deep sleep. The subject never woke up, in this study, they just never got deep sleep. After 2 weeks, many of them reported symptoms similar to fibromyalgia patients. Further research is needed to see if there is a connection between sleep and fibromyalgia, but we all know the difference in how we feel after a good night’s sleep versus a poor one. Blocking out noise can be very helpful.
4. Exercise 3 hours before intended bedtime.
The reason that this works for many has to do with what happens inside the body over time, after vigorous exercise.
Initially, there is a burst of adrenaline that is released to get the heart pumping and the systems going.
However, over time, the adrenaline fades and is replaced by calming neurotransmitters, like dopamine. Think of dopamine as your own internal chill pill. You can activate it with proper use of exercise.
What is proper use of exercise? It depends. Any movement is better than none. If you haven’t jogged in 5 years, it will be best to consider taking a brisk walk, and working up slowly if need be. If you’re reasonably fit, I encourage you to strongly consider sprints, also know as peak fitness. Recent research has shown that short, all out sprints on a regular or stationary bicycle are much better than long, drawn out cardio workouts.
Personally, I do 200 jumping jacks, which takes about 2 1/2 minutes, and I’m done.
5. No TV, Computers, Electronics, Phones, or other gadgets, anywhere from 1-4 hours before bed.
One to four hours? Yes, but it depends on you. For most people the 1 hour limit will most likey be sufficient. However, if you or a loved one has some sort of sensory integration issue (like ADD, ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome, Autism), recent research suggests that people in this category really need additional time for their brains to process stimulation from electronic media.
6. If you tend to be creative, you may also tend to worry. Keep a worry journal if this describes you.
An unsettled mind will diminish sleep potential. A worry journal is wonderful because it gives you a physical place to put your cares, and literally gets it out of your mind.
If you write something particularly troubling to you, you can even tear that page out and burn it. (Please do it safely if you choose to do this!)
7. Vitamin D and sleep interference
A search on the internet reveals anecdotal evidence that some people are energized when they take Vitamin D. If you take vitamin D, particularly in high doses, and are also having sleep issues, make sure to take your D soon after you wake.
8. Caffeine and sugar
I am not against caffeine by any stretch. However, if it is interfering with your sleep, then it may not be good for you personally. Try replacing caffeinated drinks with water or something decaffeinated. This gets more and more important the closer you get to your bedtime.
9. Hydrate to help you sleep
Many people are chronically dehydrated most, or all of the time. Try replacing what you are drinking with water. Contrary to popular opinion, it won’t rust your pipes, and may help you sleep better.
10. Go to bed when you are truly sleepy
Learn to listen to your body’s cues. We are not machines. Go to bed when you are truly sleepy.
If you’ve tried every habit in the first list and you still do not feel that you are sleeping like you need to, here is a list of things that you can try taking to see if things improve for you.
1. Minerals, minerals, minerals
Magnesium Glycinate or Taurinate.
2. Cataplex G from Standard Process
In some cases, just one tablet before bedtime will do the trick. I have clients who have had this happen in as little as one night. This is one of my favorite products because it is a whole-food, vitamin B subcomplex. It focuses on the B vitamins that promote calmness. In particular, riboflavin is the focus of this product (thus it’s name Cataplex G, referring to “vitamin G”, as riboflavin was once called.)
3. Melatonin-ND from Premier Research Labs
Just about everyone knows about the use of melatonin to aid and assist in better, deeper sleep. However, the product of choice for me is specifically Melatonin-ND from Premier Reserach Labs. I have found this to be very effective for people, not just on the short term, but even on longer terms. It does not appear to “stop working” over time, as other melatonin containing products have had problems with for me and my clients.
4. Chelated Magnesium from Carlson Labs
This product is likely available at your local health food store, provided they carry Carlson Labs products. If not, look for a product containing Magnesium Taurinate or Magnesium Glycinate).
5. Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) May Induce Sleep
Some researches have found that essential fatty acids can induce sleep in certain people. I have two favorite products when it comes to EFAs: Green Pastures Fermented Cod Liver Oil and Premier Reasearch Labs Premium EFAs.
The Bigger Stuff
1. Replace your mattress if it is too old.
This is certainly not an inexpensive thing to help you sleep better. But if you have a bad mattress, the other suggestions in this list may not make much difference at all.
There may be good news: at least for us, most of the mattress manufacturers here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area have wonderful no-risk guarantees on mattresses. What this means is that if you don’t like the one you bought, you can return it and try a different one, many times for up to a year.
If you know that your matress is too old, don’t spend any more time on it. Go out and get a new one.
What If Nothing Has Worked?
If you’ve done everything that seems reasonable and nothing has worked, where do you go from here?
With chronic issues, two heads are definitely better than one. Consider making an appointment for nutritional consultation. I have tools that can help pinpoint other factors that may be involved in your overall health, and possibly show you how to get better sleep.
King, A. C., et al. Moderate-Intensity Exercise and Self-Rated Quality of Sleep in Older Adults. JAMA; 1997277(1):32-37.
Yehuda, S., et al. Essential Fatty Acids and Sleep: Mini-Review and Hypothesis. Med Hypo, 1998;50:139-145