I’ve always considered myself to be a “light sleeper.” At the slightest noise, creak, or bump- I awake instantly.
I think that to some extent, women are naturally wired to be lighter sleepers, (you know- we’re historically the ones that wake up in the middle of the night to feed the babies and whatnot…)
However, as soon as I turned 25, the real sleep issues started rearing their ugly heads. It would take me hours of tossing and turning to get comfortable and feel “tired” and then when I would finally fall asleep, I’d wake up shortly after.
This cycle has continued for years, and let’s just say: there are way too many negative health effects of not getting enough sleep.
Sleep affects almost every type of tissue and system in the body- from your brain, heart, and lungs to metabolism, immune function, mood, and disease resistance. Research shows that a chronic lack of sleep (or getting poor quality sleep) increases the risk of disorders including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, and obesity.
SO. I talked to a highly-respected holistic doctor, and there are a few things I learned (that have changed my life) which I’m sharing below.
If you’re tired of not getting enough rest, below are 3 ways to naturally improve your sleep, so you can reap all the benefits of a good night of zzzzz’s and get back to feeling like your perky self again.
Avoid Getting Your “Second Wind”
Here’s the thing: apparently most people usually start yawning and feeling tired around 9:00pm/10:00pm, every night.
At this point the sun has set, it’s been dark for a few hours, and our bodies are preparing to wind-down. I can honestly say this happens to me, but I always, ALWAYS push right past that phase and keep working, reading or watching Netflix.
Here’s a brief overview of cortisol/melatonin: In the morning, when you need to wake up, your body starts naturally producing a hormone called cortisol. Your cortisol levels continue to rise slowly throughout the day, helping you stay energized and alert. Then, in the evening, your cortisol levels start to decline as your body starts to produce melatonin. This signals to your body that it’s time to start thinking about bed.
The problem is this: when you start to feel tired, but ignore that feeling and decide to stay up, your body processes this as an alarm (“hey we need to stay awake because there’s a clear and present danger!”) and sends signals to your brain that you need to stay awake/alert, which produces high amounts of cortisol, significantly lowering melatonin levels.
And Viola! You’re no longer tired….
This is called “getting your second wind”- and after you’ve reached this point, it will take several more hours for your body to stop producing cortisol and switch to making melatonin instead.
Sleep experts recommended that as soon as you feel the first yawn coming on, listen to what your body is saying, and begin the process of going to bed.
Make some tea, put on some chill music and most importantly: stay away from blue-light (hello phones and computers)!
Respect your body’s natural process, and go to bed when you feel start feeling tired- even if this means you’re going to bed at 9:00pm 🙂
Develop a Nightly Routine for Better Sleep
It might seem tempting, but sleeping until 2:00pm on Saturdays will only disrupt your biological clock, and may be causing even more sleep issues.
When it comes to naturally falling asleep (and staying asleep)- nightly routines matter.
Staying consistent with sleeping habits also means that your quality of sleep will be better. You can tailor your own bedtime routine to fit your lifestyle, but here are a few ideas from sleep.org to help you choose your own routine:
Maintain a Nightly Schedule. Going to bed at the same time every night, even on weekends and holidays, will help establish your internal sleep/wake clock, and reduce the amount of tossing and turning and sleeplessness.
Be Mindful of What you Eat and Drink, and When. Both nicotine and caffeine are stimulants, and can take several hours to fully wear off. Try to cut out any food/drinks that contain caffeine (coffee, tea, soft drinks, chocolate) by mid-afternoon. Also, pay attention to when you eat; going to bed hungry can keep you up, and going to bed on a too-full stomach can be super uncomfortable, as well as being hard on your digestion.
Make Your Bedroom Cozy. Make your room a peaceful safe haven that you love sleeping in. Invest in special sheets in your favorite color, and pillows that make you want to sleep forever. Rock salt lamps are also a lovely, soft, source of light in the evenings; try to use a more warm light source before you go to bed, so you don’t stifle melatonin production.
Don’t Stare at the Clock. Staring at the clock when you can’t sleep can stress you out, and make it even harder to sleep. Keep your bedroom clock turned away from you so that you won’t be tempted to watch the time slowly creep by. If 20 minutes have passed and you still can’t fall asleep, get out of bed and do something peaceful until you feel sleepy again.
Try Falling Asleep Like They Do in the Army
For those in the military, sleep can mean the difference between life and death. But shut-eye can be very hard to come by, especially during active conflict.
An old sleep hack, used by the U.S. army, has become a popular trick for naturally falling asleep. This method is used to help soldiers fall asleep in under two minutes, in imperfect conditions (battlefields) and get enough sleep to be able to function properly and avoid mistakes made from exhaustion.
Apparently, it works for 96% of people who try it, for six weeks. If pilots could use this technique to fall asleep during war, you should be able to use it to easily fall asleep in the comfort of your bedroom.
So- I tried it.
It basically involves muscle relaxation (great), breathing (really great), and visualization tricks (anyone can do: really really great).
Here’s how it works:
Sit down on the edge of your bed. Make sure all the lights are off, your phone is on silent, and your alarm is set.
Relax your facial muscles. Tighten up your face muscles in a wincing motion, and then slowly relax your face. Let your tongue fall naturally where it wants to inside your mouth.
Relax your body. Once your facial muscles feel relaxed, let your shoulders naturally slump towards the ground. Let your arms hang loose as well.
Breathe in and out. With each deep breath, let your chest relax further, and pay attention to the sound of your breathing.
Clear your mind. If your mind starts to wander, gently steer your thoughts back to what you’re doing, and keep your body loose and limp. After a few more seconds you should feel more focused.
Picture yourself in a calm situation. Imagine one of these scenarios:
- Lying in a canoe on a lake with nothing but a clear sky above you
- Lying in a black velvet hammock, in a dark room
- Saying “Don’t think” to yourself over and over
At the end of these steps (which should take about two minutes) lie down and try to go to sleep. Ideally, you’ll drift off within a few minutes.
Goodnight, Sleeping Beauty
There’s a reason so many beauty bloggers tout getting enough sleep- it makes you feel better from the inside out.
By incorporating the above methods of naturally improving sleep- you’ll greatly increase your chances of getting better sleep, so why not give it a shot?
Have you tried any new sleeping hacks that you think we’d like to hear about? Tell us in the comments below!!