Note: Originally published 05/24/2014. This article has been revised updated for accuracy.
8 Hours of Rest: 10 Ways to Improve Your Sleep Naturally, Tonight
- Up to one third of Americans suffer from some type of sleep disorder, including insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea. In 2015, the CDC declared insufficient sleep a “public health problem.”
- Your body needs sleep to restore and heal. Lack of sleep negatively affects all body systems: digestive, nervous, cardiovascular, endocrine, and more.
- Sleeping pills can have potentially harmful side effects, like uncontrollable shaking, memory impairment, dizziness, and difficulty balancing. They can also be addicting and cause dependency. Some experts even declare nightly sleeping pills to be as health-detrimental as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.
- The two hours immediately prior to hopping in bed are most important for developing a strong sleep hygiene routine. During that time, you should avoid stimulating things, put your electronics away, and empty your mind of your impending to-do list.
- Creating a sleep-friendly environment is vital to your ability to fall asleep quickly. Make sure your room is completely dark (that means no lights from windows or electronics!), play white noise, or diffuse a calming essential oil to help your body relax.
- Rodents exposed to artificial light during sleep cycle hours experienced symptoms of depression and mood disorders, and scientists believe the same effects are likely in human studies. The good news? After two weeks of darkness at bedtime, all negative symptoms appeared to reverse.
- Stay positive. Incorporating gratitude or loving kindness meditation can help you improve your mindset and learn not to fear nighttime.
- If you use electronics at night, invest in a pair of blue-blocking glasses. Blue light from your phone or computer stimulates your cortisol and depresses your melatonin production, making it difficult to fall asleep.
- Identify the source of your sleep issues, whether it be physical, chemical, or emotional. Join my At-Home Program for help getting to the bottom of your sleep issues naturally. While these tips can help, you’re unlikely to completely resolve your insomnia until you identify exactly why it’s happening.
It’s Sunday night. You’ve already packed your lunch for work tomorrow (a beautiful Cobb salad with homemade ranch dressing), put the kids to bed, brushed your teeth, and set your alarm.
You put on your pajamas and hop into bed, pulling the fluffy duvet up to your neck, snuggling in. You expect to be transported to dreamland within minutes, but it just doesn’t happen. Instead, your mind is designing an incredibly intricate to-do list for the next day, and as a result, you’re flipping back and forth for hours from your side, to your back, to your stomach.
You try counting sheep (has that ever really worked?), listening to meditations, getting up to drink some water, but nothing helps.
It’s 3:13 am and every time you look at the clock, you do the math in your head to figure out how much sleep you’ll get if you just fall asleep right NOW.
Less than two hours.
You’re completely exhausted and would do just about anything to get a good night’s rest.
If so, then you’re in good company.
According to the CDC, about 70 million Americans suffer with chronic sleep problems, but some experts claim it’s much higher–as many as one third of Americans have trouble hitting the hay! Sleep deprivation is extremely harmful to your health and linked with a wide variety of diseases and mood disorders.1
Sure, your friends have suggested just taking a sleeping pill, but with all the unwanted side effects (hello, dizziness, daytime drowsiness, balance problems), you’re better off not. Did you know that sleeping pills are classified as sedative hypnotics?
One expert, Arizona State University sleep researcher Shawn Youngstedt, claimed in a recent interview with CNN that taking sleeping pills was just as dangerous, both health-wise and addiction-wise, as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.2
There are better, more natural ways to ensure you get the rest you need each night. After all, every major system of your body depends on it!
Your digestive, respiratory, endocrine, and cardiovascular systems all slow down during sleep, but one stays vigilant: your nervous system. In fact, during REM sleep, the deepest and most restorative cycle, your brain activity is similar to what it is when you’re awake.3 That’s because your nervous system is a beautiful conductor as you sleep, sending signals for your body to secrete hormones, repair tissues, and restore organs.
If you don’t sleep, the body does not have the chance to heal. But instead of reaching for a prescription or pill, try manipulating your mindset, environment, and bedtime routine first to get the shuteye you need. Try these ten tips to start getting better sleep–tonight!
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10 SIMPLE STEPS TO IMPROVE SLEEP NATURALLY
Establish a routine:
Sleep hygiene is vital, and can be established through a structured evening routine. This means climbing in bed at a similar time every night, but every other habit leading up to bedtime is just as important. Your mind craves consistency, so brushing your teeth, washing your face, drinking water, praying (or whatever your routine includes) in the same order in the evening can signal your brain that it’s time to slow down.
Experts agree that establishing a routine is helpful for falling asleep and staying asleep. Associate director of Stanford’s Insomnia and Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program, Dr. Allison Siebern, suggests it’s not only crucial to go to bed at a similar time each night, but you should also wake up at a similar time–yes, even on the weekends. This is because your circadian rhythm likes patterns.4
Have you ever experienced a few days of jet lag after flying to a destination with a time change? Did it leave you tossing and turning for a few evenings in a row? Then you can attest to this firsthand. When your body is used to falling asleep at the same time of night, it will be easier to do so consistently… making you happier in the morning, with greater alertness and mental acuity.
Get to bed early:
Improve sleep naturally by getting ready for bed and lying down before 10 pm at the latest. If you work late hours, feel constantly fatigued, or deal with a chronic illness, your circadian rhythm and cortisol levels can be out of whack. In the evening, your melatonin production should be increasing, while your cortisol levels (a stress hormone!) should be decreasing. If you find yourself getting a second wind around 9 or 10 pm, it could be because your cortisol levels are spiking. You want to make sure to get to bed before that happens, otherwise it will be even harder to fall asleep.
You might have heard before that every hour of sleep you get before midnight actually counts as two, but that’s not exactly true. Sleep experts do agree, however, that your bedtime and length of time sleeping does matter.
Head of the Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab at University of Berkeley, Dr. Matt Walker, explains that REM sleep happens more often the longer you stay asleep.5 This means the earlier you go to bed, the more chances you have at that important restorative sleep. REM sleep is important for all of us, but especially if you’re battling Lyme disease or chronic illnesses, or if your body needs a little extra immune system boosting.
When it comes to sleep, those with a traditional work schedule (ie: 9 am – 5 pm) fare much better, healthwise, than shift workers, according to many studies.6 Lack of sleep, circadian disruption (ie: the inability to go to bed early, and when it’s dark), and extended periods of wakefulness are all risk factors not only for health issues, but for increased accidents at work.
Also, if you’re a night owl and and find yourself dreading the earlier evenings, add something in that you look forward to–something that doesn’t just feel like just another bedtime chore. For example, diffuse your favorite relaxing or sleep-inducing essential oils, like lavender or cedarwood, or brew your favorite (caffeine-free) tea. That way, you’ll look forward to your routine. Positive mindset is important!
Still struggling with the earlier bedtime? Reading before bed can be very helpful, but you want to make sure to read a nonfiction book (like a how-to book or biography). Fiction can stimulate your mind too much.
Although alcohol will make people drowsy, the effect is short-lived and people will often wake up several hours later, unable to fall back asleep. Alcohol will also keep you from falling into the deeper stages of sleep, where the body does most of its healing.
Recently, researchers conducted a review of 27 studies connecting sleep and alcohol, and the findings were the same: avoid that nightcap if you want good sleep. Not only does alcohol prevent you from getting as much REM sleep as your body needs to heal, it can also be a precursor to obstructive sleep disorders like sleep apnea.7 And furthermore, for those dependent on alcohol, issues with insomnia are significantly higher than in the general population. Up to 72 percent of alcoholics, as compared to 10 percent of the general population, have chronic issues sleeping.8
Instead, try some relaxing tea, like chamomile, for your evening drink.
Improve sleep naturally by exercising earlier in the day. This generates more energy during the day and allows for a deeper sleep at night.
In a 2000 study in Sleep Medicine Review, researchers found that people who exercised enjoyed an overall increase in total sleep, as well as increased slow-wave sleep (SWS). SWS is also known as “deep sleep,” and consists of stage 3 and 4 sleep, immediately prior to REM. In these stages, brain and muscle activity decrease, and you process and consolidate your memories from that day. 9
And remember that expert who claimed sleeping pills were like smoking cigarettes for your health? His solution to insomnia: exercise. Ideally, get 2-3 hours of aerobic exercise a week, along with 1-2 days of weight training. Bonus if you can do the exercise outside, as being exposed to natural sunlight helps regulate your circadian rhythm, too.
Exercise has even been proven in studies to help those with specific sleep disorders, like restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea. Start slowly and work your way up to your workout goals, especially if you’re dealing with chronic fatigue. You don’t want to OVER-exercise and burn out your adrenals.
Avoid stimulating things:
You probably know that stimulation can come in food form, so make sure to avoid eating or drinking anything with caffeine after lunch, such as chocolate, coffee, or soda. But it can come from your iPhone, as well.
Are you someone who is scrolling through your Facebook or Instagram up until the moment your head hits the pillow? Any kind of electronic screen (phone, computer, television) emits blue light, which increases your cortisol and decreases melatonin, your sleep hormone. It’s best to avoid screens completely for two hours before hitting the hay, but if you absolutely can’t, invest in some blue-blocking glasses.
The Uvex Skyper glasses are available on Amazon for less than $10. They’re glasses with orange lenses, which use Spectrum Control Technology to block out 98%+ of blue light. Have to answer some emails before bed? No problem. Just pop these glasses on as you do it, and you’ll avoid disturbing your stress and sleep hormones. It’s worth the small investment to buy these for the whole family.
Regarding nighttime technology, it’s best to turn off your WIFI completely before going to bed. Unplug as many electronics and circuit breakers as you can. These devices cause additional burden and interference in the body, as they’re loaded with Electromagnetic Frequencies, or EMFs.
Additionally, ditch the electric toothbrush if you can. We had an EMF expert come into our home and measure the electromagnetic frequencies of devices in our home, and electric toothbrushes were high on the list (along with routers, wireless printers, and air purifiers). And you certainly don’t want stimulating EMFs in your mouth right before you try to sleep.
Reducing EMF exposure is especially important for those battling Lyme disease or any chronic illness. These electronics are constant 24-hour stressors on your body and immune system, much like living in a moldy household is. Your body needs a break!
There are two ways you can proactively protect yourself and your family from the detrimental effects of EMFs. One is a personal Hedron EMF Harmonizer pendant that provides shielding on your person, as well as through Bioshield Support. The second is a Hedron EMF Device Shield sticker you can place on any wifi device (like your phone or computer) that helps protect you from the harmful energies and frequencies. This reduces radiation from a cell phone by 99.95%, and even protects you from heat.
Create a completely dark room:
Creating a dark room is important, especially if you work third shift or live in the city where light pollution from nearby buildings enters your bedroom throughout the night. Purchase blackout shades, blinds, or curtains that block ALL the light out. You’ll likely find you’ll sleep better, but your mood might improve, too.
In 2012, researchers discovered that hamsters that were constantly exposed to artificial light at night showed symptoms of depression–and they suggest the link can be easily transposed to human subjects, as well.10 Luckily, all negative symptoms in the rodents disappeared after just two weeks of a normal light/dark cycle.
You might notice that you have electronics in the room that emit a small around of light: an alarm clock, a TV, a video game console. Remove any electronics from the bedroom that give off light, or at least cover them up at night. Close your bedroom door if light comes through it, and even put a towel along the base to prevent light from seeping in. Avoid night lights of any kind.
Empty the Mind:
Racing thoughts preventing you from “turning off your brain” and getting to sleep at night? You might just need to empty your mind.
Buy a journal and keep it next to your bed with a pen. If you’re finding it’s taking you more than ten minutes to fall asleep (that’s the sweet spot–any less could mean sleep deprivation, and more points to insomnia), simply write your thoughts down.
If you’re constantly worried you’ll forget to do something the following day, take five minutes at night and create a to-do list. Not only will this help you release worry and fear at bedtime, but you’ll actually be much more productive as soon as you wake up. It’s a win-win.
If writing’s not your thing, it’s okay to verbally dump your thoughts, too. Take a few minutes to chat with a friend or spouse about everything you’re thinking, instead of ruminating on it.
Bathe in Positive Thoughts:
Gratitude is an excellent habit to pick up for your mental well-being, and it can help your sleep, too. The most effective times to practice are right when you wake up for the day, and immediately before going to bed. It’s wonderful to open and close your day on a positive note, and this practice will immensely help your mindset, as well. Especially if you’re stuck in a victim loop, feeling discouraged, or feeling like life isn’t fair, then this is a practice you need.
Write a gratitude list or personal affirmations and read them every night before bed. This creates a large pool of positive thoughts into your mind before going to sleep.
An example of an affirmation that would work well before bed is “I’m more relaxed than ever before because I choose peaceful, loving thoughts. I release my fears, my worries, and my anxieties.”
You can also try saying the serenity prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Loving Kindness Meditation is another practice to try for those sleepless nights. Picture someone you love in your head (a family member, friend, or even a pet), and send them as much love and as many good wishes as you can. It’s helpful to pick two mantras or affirmations to repeat over and over, as you picture that person as if they’re right in front of you. For example, “I wish you health, happiness, and safety. I hope you live with abundant joy.” The repetition and positive visualization might just help you fall asleep faster (and hopefully have happier dreams, too).
Get the Temperature Right:
Your body’s heat distribution system is strongly linked to sleep cycles. Even lying down increases sleepiness by redistributing heat in your body from the core to the periphery.
When you sleep, your body’s internal temperature actually drops to its lowest level, generally about four hours after you fall asleep. Scientists believe a cooler bedroom may therefore be most conducive to sleep, since it mimics your body’s natural temperature drop.
Taking a warm bath 90 to 120 minutes before bedtime may also help you sleep, because it initially increases your core body temperature. When that core temperature abruptly drops upon exiting the bath, it’s a signal to your body that you are ready for sleep. Any air temperature above 75 degrees Fahrenheit and below 54 degrees will interfere with your sleep, so try to get the thermostat set between those numbers before bed.
Listen to White Noise:
If you sleep in an area with a lot of background noise during the night hours, this is a must. Using an air filter or fan works great to create a consistent background noise.
Some people have a hard time adjusting to white noise, so in that case, try a sound machine. Usually, you can listen to rain, ocean, forest, or other soothing sounds that might help you drift off. Just cover up the light from the clock if you’re planning to use a sound machine built into an alarm clock.
If white noise doesn’t cut it for you, consider listening to some gentle acoustic music. Anything used for background of meditations is great.
Click the images below to shop any of the sleep support products mentioned in this post:
ADDRESS THE SOURCE OF YOUR SLEEP ISSUES
Most of these steps to improve sleep naturally are easy and inexpensive to try, and have benefitted many people. Please understand, though, that sleep will always be a problem if the source is not addressed. If sleep is a consistent issue for you and it has affected your life, please consider working with someone who can help you get to the root cause, such as an emotional, chemical, or physical stress.
Some common sources of insomnia that I see clinically are Lyme disease, mineral or hormone imbalance, or heavy metal toxicity, specifically mercury. Mercury has an affinity for brain tissue, which is the prime area controlling the body’s sleep cycle and quality.
Be sure to join me in my At-Home program for more tips on detoxing and getting better sleep.
Dr. Jay Davidson
For more on the topic of EMFs and how they affect you and your family, check out these two articles: What Are EMFs and How Do They Impact Chronic Illness and Electromagnetic Radiation: Dangers You Can’t See with EMFs.
- “Insufficient Sleep is a Public Health Problem.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 03 Sept. 2015. Web. 04 Nov. 2017.
- LaMotte, Sandee. “The Healthiest Way to Improve Your Sleep: Exercise.” CNN. Cable News Network, 30 May 2017. Web. 04 Nov. 2017.
- Schocker, Laura. “Your Body Does Incredible Things When You Aren’t Awake.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 07 Mar. 2014. Web. 04 Nov. 2017.
- Heid, Markham. “What’s the Best Time to Sleep? You Asked.” Time. Time, 27 Aug. 2014. Web. 04 Nov. 2017.
- Heid, Markham. “What’s the Best Time to Sleep? You Asked.” Time. Time, 27 Aug. 2014. Web. 04 Nov. 2017.
- Kosmadopoulos, Anastasi, et al. “The Effects of a Split Sleep Wake Schedule on Neurobehavioural Performance and Predictions of Performance under Conditions of Forced Desynchrony.”Chronobiology International 31.10 (2014): 1209-217. Pubmed. Web. 04 Nov. 2017.
- Aldrich, M.S., et al. “Sleep-disordered Breathing in Alcoholics: Association with Age. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 17(6): 1179-1183. Pubmed. Web. 03 Nov. 2017.
- Brower, K.J., et al. “Epidemiology of Insomnia and Alcoholism in the General Population.” Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 24:5 (2000). Pubmed. Web. 03 Nov. 2017.
- Driver, Helen S., and Sheila R. Taylor. “Exercise and Sleep.” Sleep Medicine Reviews 4.4 (2000): 387-402. Pubmed. Web. 02 Nov. 2017.
- Ohio State University. “Rodents seem depressed from dim light at night, but it can be reversed.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 (2012). Web. 02 Nov. 2017.