When we think of the word “wellness,” our minds usually go straight to diet and exercise; how can I eat and exercise in a way that best supports my well-being? While these are two important tenets of a balanced and healthy lifestyle, it is actually the way we sleep that is the single most important factor in how we feel, function, and perform on a daily basis. If getting better sleep isn’t your biggest wellness goal already, it should be!
Getting good sleep is fundamental for a bill of good health. Sleep is not only what allows our body to restore and recharge itself, but it is also responsible for boosting your immune system, fighting off disease and chronic illness, and keeping your brain healthy. Sleep is an essential bodily function that protects our mental and physical health–when we get quality sleep on a regular basis, we enhance our overall quality of life.
While we know getting better sleep is crucial to our well-being, figuring out how to get better sleep isn’t so straightforward. As human beings, we are bio-individual–what works for me, might not work for you. We all have different lifestyles, genetics, and environments that make one-size-fits-all solutions impossible. However, our shared humanity also means that we all share the innate human desire to feel better, and feeling better means getting better sleep!
Why You Might Not Be Sleeping
In the fast-paced world, we operate in, figuring out how to get better sleep can be a challenge. In the last decade, we have experienced a technological revolution. From smartphones to social media, we now are faced with more distractions than ever before. Their use has become almost ubiquitous, allowing our work and social life to follow us anywhere we go, including into our bedrooms.
Stress–on any level–is detrimental to our ability to get better sleep. When we experience stress, our cortisol levels spike, and glucose is released into the body to give us enough energy to deal with the threat (otherwise known as fight or flight mode). In this way, stress is a necessary component to our survival. If you come face-to-face with life-threatening danger, your adrenaline works overtime to get you to safety.
But what happens when our stress response becomes overactive? When, say, our cortisol levels spike from something as seemingly harmless as checking our email or reading a comment on social media?
As you could imagine, when our body is in constant fight or flight mode falling asleep can be nearly impossible. When considering how to get better sleep, rather than being in fight or flight, we want to instead be in what’s known as rest and digest mode. When our nervous system is regulated, our body stops pumping out glucose and is able to engage in its other bodily functions. Without rest, the body is never physically able to get to the regenerative processes that make you feel your best.
Foods to Help Support Sleep
Considering glucose is what our body produces to give us additional energy, it is important to avoid sugary foods close to bedtime. Consuming too much sugar or alcohol before going to sleep causes your blood sugars to spike while your body is trying to rest and digest, resulting in restlessness or waking up periodically throughout the night.
Avoiding sugar, booze, and caffeine seems simple enough for learning how to get better sleep. But what about foods that will actually support your sleep habits?
There is a reason why a glass of warm milk has traditionally been known to support sleep. Dairy products contain high amounts of tryptophan. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that increases the production of melatonin, the hormone responsible for regulating your internal clock and signaling to your body it is time for sleep. The foods listed below are great sources of tryptophan, along with many other supportive properties. Also, remember to keep your meal or snack small before bed to avoid overtaxing your digestive system!
- Almonds – almonds are also an excellent source of magnesium. Magnesium’s contribution to better quality sleep is attributed to its ability to reduce inflammation in the body as well as balance out cortisol levels.
- Dairy – dairy products naturally contain melatonin and are known to reduce sleep interruptions. Try a warm glass of milk with a dash of nutmeg and honey for additional benefits.
- Turkey – turkey is well-known for inducing sleepiness due to its high content of tryptophan. There is also evidence that the protein content in turkey can aid in better sleep. Consuming moderate amounts of protein before bed can help you stay asleep longer.
Quiet a Racing Mind
One of the biggest obstacles to calming your mind before bedtime is the swirling thoughts about the things on your to-do list. It is inevitable that we spend time thinking about what we have going on the next day before bedtime. However, these thoughts can quickly turn into stress and anxiety if they are left to ruminate. If we don’t take the time to acknowledge and address what’s on our minds, it will continue to keep us up.
To quiet your mind before bed, it is important to fully empty it. While it is impossible to cease all thoughts in your head, it is possible to minimize their scope and impact. Rather than cycling through all of the things you have to do the next morning, try writing them down instead. Make a list of all the things you have to do tomorrow so they are no longer taking up space in your mind. By transferring these thoughts onto paper, they are not only out of your head but you also have clear direction to address them the next day.
In addition to creating tomorrow’s to-do list, prepping as much as possible for the next day is another way to mitigate racing thoughts. By intentionally thinking through the day ahead, you can better anticipate your own needs, saving you precious time as well as minimizing the number of unknowns taking up space in your head. Even thoughts as innocuous as what you are going to wear or have for lunch tomorrow can prevent you from catching those much-needed zzz’s. Doing small things for yourself to prepare for the day ahead like laying out your clothes or prepping your coffee maker the night before will help reduce stressful thoughts before bed by providing you with a sense of accomplishment and ease.
Daily Routine For Better Sleep
Consistent good sleep comes with a consistent routine. What matters more than what you do is that you do it regularly so your body learns that your ritual is a cue for sleep. Your ritual should be unique to you and the things that you feel are the most helpful and enjoyable but should include the element of slowing down and giving yourself full permission to transition from the active, bright energy of the daytime to the calm and cool energy of the evening.
Here are some ideas for your evening ritual for how to get better sleep:
- Dedicate the time before bed to screen-free, relaxing activities. Turn off all your electronics, namely your cell phone and television, at least one hour before you want to be asleep. If it’s possible, dim the lights throughout your home and light a candle to create a nighttime atmosphere.
- Take a shower or bath – allow yourself to feel a sense of release as you imagine the water wiping away the energy of the day along with everything you’ve had to carry with you throughout it off of your body.
- Meditate! Sit in bed for 5-10 minutes, breathing deeply as you tell yourself that it’s time for bed. If you are still struggling with a racing mind, deepen the lengths of your inhales and exhales and consider telling yourself an affirmation such as “you’ve done enough today” so your mind and body can transition into sleep mode.
- Is there anything yoga can’t do?! Doing a few restorative yoga poses can help your body slow down and your mind surrender. Use props or pillows to support your body however you need so you are completely supported and comfortable.
- Make a cup of non-caffeinated herbal tea such as chamomile to sip while you read a book or listen to calming music.