Sleep; our flighty friend who eludes us at 3 am but won’t stop nagging us at 3 pm. And it’s not like insomnia is a niche issue–John Hopkins reports that more than 60 million Americans suffer from a lack of restful sleep.
This isn’t a tiny thing. Without proper rest, the body breaks down. Emotionally, mentally, and physically. Over time, this minor inconvenience starts to have very real consequences. Your mood and concentration wane as your risk for obesity and heart disease rises.
So many factors can affect our sleep quality. Stress, diet, environment, work, family, the song that’s been in your head all day, et cetera. With so many potential roadblocks, it’s no wonder that we are all silently suffering.
But there’s good news. There are natural, science-backed methods that may improve your sleep quality. Small changes throughout your day could yield great results later when you finally rest your head. As anyone who’s gone without sleep would tell you–it’s worth a try.
Consistency is Key
People underestimate the beauty of a solid routine. There’s comfort in consistency. And in that comfort, your brain learns to adapt. Practice a little routine in your sleep schedule. Try going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning, aiming for 6-8 hours of sleep. You’ll notice that as your brain gets comfortable with this new routine, it will start calling the shots. Your body’s natural circadian rhythm will reset. Think of it as a tune-up.
By giving your mind and body some kind of consistency that it can rely on, you’ll find that sleep comes much easier to you at night. Your brain knows it’s time to sleep (cause that’s always the time to sleep), and it will let the rest of your body know.
This is essentially what we do for babies, and when it comes to sleep, babies and adults really aren’t all that different.
Move Your Body
Even though we may try to ignore it, research shows that regular physical activity encourages a peaceful night’s sleep. No one can say exactly why this is, but our theory is just that the body knows how to help you if you help it. You need exercise, and you also need sleep. Doing one will naturally help you to do the other. It’s romanticized science.
What it simply comes down to is that moving your body and increasing your heart rate will help you to feel more tired at the end of the day. It’s that exhausted, but productive feeling that allows you to sleep in peace.
While you sleep, your muscles and bones get a much-needed reset as well, allowing you to resume physical activity the next day. It’s a beautiful win-win.
Swap the Alcohol
Ahh, the nightcap. Even Audrey Hepburn rarely missed a night without 2 fingers of scotch before bed. It’s a nostalgic, relaxing treat that we all truly believe we deserve. And you probably aren’t wrong. However.
The effects of alcohol take hours to wear off, often waking you up in the wee hours of the morning, demanding you toss and turn for a few hours. Even if the initial buzz of your evening glass (or 2) of wine makes you feel sleepy, it’s usually short-lived.
Herbal teas like chamomile or other sleep-focused teas (look out for R.Y.’s Sleep Tight tea, coming soon!) are much better alternatives if sleep is really what you’re after. These teas don’t have caffeine in them, and they usually have flavonoids that interact with the brain receptors responsible for the sleep-wake transition.
Not to mention, they are super cozy. Add in some warm milk and you’ll feel like Bing Crosby’s singing you to sleep.
Follow the Sun’s Lead
We find it amazing that so much of this advice is just a return to simplicity. Like this tip: take in the sunshine. When you wake in the morning, follow the advice of Natasha Bedingfield and “open up the dirty window, let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find”… you get it.
The sun’s light works hand in hand with your circadian rhythm. It signals to your body that it’s time to move. Andrew Huberman (Huberman Lab Podcast) says that light from the sun inhibits the release of melatonin. Without it, your body is fighting against you to stay in a groggy state.
What does waking up in the morning have to do with falling asleep at night? Everything! We are made to be cyclical in this way; we must rise and move, we must lay down and rest. When we become unbalanced, the pendulum gets confused. If you aren’t sleeping well at night, you should evaluate how you’re starting your days.
And, on that note, avoid blue light in the evenings! Light from our phones, computers, and televisions is doing exactly what we use the sun for in the mornings. The light is literally telling your brain that these are wakeful hours.
Put your devices away an hour or two before bedtime. If you can’t, at the very least wear your blue blocker glasses. Try to engage in less light-filled, over-stimulating activities and think of slower, calmer ways to spend those hours. Read an actual book (not a tablet!), take a bath, or listen to soothing music while journaling. Bask in a sleepy haven of your own creation.
Create a Cozy Vibe
Speaking of a sleepy haven, take some time to evaluate the space where you lay your head every night. How are your pillows? Do you get too hot in that down comforter? Do you often wake up too cold? Are your blankets itchy? Is the air stale? Too dry?
Get picky with your surroundings. As we get older, we become more and more prone to light sleeping. Take precautions to avoid these issues. If you often wake up with a dry throat, invest in a humidifier. Buy yourself some pajamas that feel good to sleep in. Set your lighting on a dimmer. Diffuse some lavender oil. Grab a fan or a sound machine. Whatever you need to create a calm, sleep-inducing vibe, do it. Let your bedroom be your sanctuary, where stress is left at the door, to be dealt with tomorrow.
Some environmental non-negotiables for better sleep:
- Sleep in total darkness
- Shut out the noise
- Keep temps cool (layer up if you must)
Intentionally Deal with Anxiety
It’s all about anxiety, isn’t it? That’s really what it comes down to. Anxiety-induced sleep suppression. The monster.
Although we may not be able to avoid stress altogether, we can work on ways to deal with it before bedtime, so that it doesn’t come for us at 3 am. Think about what calms you and do that. Some people swear by meditation. Some prefer a gentle yoga flow. Some people get by with a few deep breaths.
Journaling is a helpful tool as well. Write out the things on your mind simply to get them out of your head. The simple act of writing them down will signal to your brain that you are working on the issue and it doesn’t have to remind you every five minutes.
Don’t Rely on Melatonin Alone
Now, don’t get us wrong, melatonin is great. We love melatonin. It makes us feel all cozy and sleepy. But, the truth is that while melatonin helps you fall asleep, it doesn’t necessarily help you sleep through the night. That anxiety-induced sleep suppression? Yeah, you need something else for that.
Double-blind placebo studies found passionflower and valerian root to be just as effective as Ambien when it comes to aiding in restful sleep. These powerful nutrients, combined with melatonin, allow your brain to fully settle into a calm, restful state. Not only will you fall asleep, but you will be much more likely to sleep through the night.
When you search for sleep supplements, look for more than mere melatonin. R.Y.’s Sleep Tight formula contains all these nutrients, plus more. Patented neuroprotectants from hemp allow the body and mind to fully relax, while Vitamin D strengthens your muscles and bones while you sleep.
Sleep is so vital to our overall well-being. Without it, we literally cannot function. But so much of what happens during the night is directly related to what we do during the day. By making our health a priority during our waking hours, we can help our body truly rest when it needs it.
Get out in the sun (wear your sunscreen!), move your body, deal with your stress, eat your greens, and be gentle with yourself. We are all doing the best we can, but without proper sleep, you can’t do much of anything.