Did you know that 68% of people in Western industrial countries have trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep? And one of the most common sleep-related complaints people have is that they don’t feel refreshed when they wake up. They report that they lack clarity and energy and end up dragging through the day. In fact, this is such a common complaint that the medical community has developed a formal name for it: EDS, which stands for excessive daytime sleepiness.
It’s no secret that sleep is an essential function that allows our bodies and our minds to recharge, leaving us refreshed and alert. High-quality sleep also helps the body remain healthy and stave off disease.
Sleep affects almost every type of tissue and system in the body including the brain, the heart, and the lungs. Quality sleep also promotes a healthy metabolism and a happier mood. Research shows that both a chronic lack of sleep and poor-quality sleep increase the risk of wide-ranging disorders including high blood pressure, stroke, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, obesity, and even early death.
Without enough high-quality sleep, your brain simply cannot function properly. Lack of sleep impairs your ability to concentrate, think clearly, process and store information, and learn. It’s been proven that without adequate sleep, you can’t form or maintain the pathways in your brain that let you remember things—even things you heard five minutes before!
Poor sleep not only puts you at increased risk for disease, but research also shows that those who sleep poorly have twice the possibility for developing dementia and Alzheimer’s.
The problem of sleeplessness has reached unprecedented heights, but here are ten tips you can implement right now to increase the odds of a blissful night’s sleep with energy and clarity throughout the day.
1. Lights out by 10:00 p.m. WHEN you sleep makes a difference! Some sleep experts say that it’s even more important than how long you sleep. During sleep you produce a hormone that affects brain function and mood as well as physical endurance and immunity. This anti-aging hormone also increases skin elasticity, stimulates fat burning, and increases muscle mass and bone density.
The really good news is that you can increase your production of this hormone by a factor of fivefold depending on when you go to sleep.
Peak hours for producing this hormone are between 10:00 p.m. and midnight. So if you want to optimize production of the hormone that enhances your immunity and strengthens your mind, body, and youthful radiance, whenever possible, go to bed by 10:00 p.m.
2. Pull the shades and sleep in a dark bedroom. Darkness triggers the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone released by the pineal gland. It helps your body know when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to wake up.
Your body makes more melatonin at night when the sun sets. Melatonin levels drop in the morning when the sun rises.
If there’s too much light in your room while you’re sleeping, it suppresses your production of melatonin. For the greatest melatonin production, blackout curtains or shades are ideal.
3. Turn off your computer at least ninety minutes before your head hits the pillow. The light emitted from LED screens (think TVs, computers, smartphones, and video games) produce what’s called blue light. Blue light is interpreted by the brain as daylight. Exposure to high levels of blue light close to bedtime can suppress the production of melatonin, so it’s a good habit to turn these devices off at least ninety minutes before your head hits the pillow.
4. Feel the sunshine whenever possible during the day! Sunlight exposure helps set the circadian rhythms and counteracts the negative influence of indoor artificial lighting. A circadian rhythm isan internal clock that runs constantly, cycling between alertness and sleepiness. You may have heard of it as the sleep-wake cycle because it helps regulate sleep patterns.
One way you can reset your circadian rhythms is by getting thirty minutes of outdoor sun exposure. It would be great if you could do this upon waking, but if not, as early in the day as possible. Some ideas for extra time in the sun include doing your morning yoga, breath practice, or meditation in the sun. You also can eat breakfast on your patio if you have one, or take a morning walk.
The more sun exposure you get during the day, the greater the melatonin you’ll produce at night.
NOTE: We do recommend using a broad spectrum UVA/UVB product with a minimum of SPF 30 to protect your skin.
5. Take a warm bath right before bed. Believe it or not, taking a warm bath actually cools your core body temperature once you’re out of the tub, which allows you to get a deeper night’s sleep. We recommend adding magnesium (aka Epsom salts) to your bath to help relax your muscles.
You can also add soothing bath oils for relaxation-inducing aromatherapy. Lavender is always at the top of our list, but other calming oils include chamomile, frankincense, ylang ylang, and citrus (lemon, grapefruit, or wild orange).
6. Sip a cup of warm milk before bed. This ancient Ayurvedic remedy is very effective for combatting insomnia. Warm milk has certain peptides that help lower cortisol (the stress hormone) and support sound sleep. A little saffron, nutmeg, or a few poppy seeds are known to be calming additions.
7. Take short naps. Research at the Harvard School of Public Health found that people who took at least three naps a week reduced their risk of death from heart disease by 37 percent. And according to the Institute for Functional Medicine, napping can boost your immunity and increase your alertness, productivity, and cognitive performance. However, don’t nap for more than twenty minutes and don’t take your nap later than mid-afternoon, or this may interfere with your ability to fall asleep at night.
8. Sleep with your head to the east or south. Michael Mastro, the leading expert on Vastu in the West (think “Indian feng shui”), says, “We never sleep with our head to the north, because positive magnetic energy comes from the north pole, and our body is a magnet with positive polarity in our head, so this is like bringing two positive ends of magnets together. Hence, they repel each other and disturb blood flow, circulation, and digestion, which does not give restful sleep. Sleeping with the top of the head facing in the southern direction, especially if you have health issues, is very beneficial. These recommendations don’t change in the Southern Hemisphere.”
Michael adds that having the top of your head facing east is equally beneficial as south.
According to Vastu, sleeping with one’s head to the west can lead to restless and disturbed sleep, nightmares, and even increase one’s tendency toward anger or violence.
9. Avoid sleeping pills! Sleeping pills may reduce sleep-onset time and increase hours slept, but they don’t produce deep sleep. That’s why so many people report having a “hangover” or feeling like a “zombie” the next day. Sleeping pills can also be habit-forming and can have long-term health risks. Most sleeping pills are classified as “sedative hypnotics” and include benzodiazepines, barbiturates, and various other hypnotics.
Thus, if you must use them, it is recommended that you use them for the shortest duration possible and instead find and fix the root cause for your sleep issues. (Please consult your physician in regard to your own personal medical needs.)
Natural Sleep Aids
There are many natural sleep aids available today that are effective with very few side effects. In the following list of natural sleep aids, side effects were only reported anecdotally or in a handful of studies, or they were only observed in people who received very high doses. Please consult with your physician for any possible negative side effects from any of our recommendations.
- Valerian root – an herb usually taken in pill form
- Passion Flower – a perennial climbing vine usually taken in pill form that is also effective for anxiety
- Glycine – an amino acid found in protein-rich foods like meat and fish. Taken as an oral supplement, it not only helps you to get a good night’s sleep but also strengthens collagen and elastin in your muscles and skin and contributes to a healthy metabolism.
- Ginkgo biloba – According to studies, consuming around 240 mg of this natural herb thirty to sixty minutes before bed may help reduce stress, enhance relaxation, and promote sleep.
- L-theanine – An amino acid found in tea leaves, most often taken in supplement form; it is known to help with relaxation, concentration, and sleep.
- Chamomile – the most common tea to help you sleep. One cup before bedtime acts as a mild sedative.
We hope you’ve found these tips helpful and that they lead to your enjoyment of blissful, rejuvenating, age-defying sleep . . .
And if you still need a boost in the sleep department, we have one more important tip for you!
10. Give thanks for all the great things that happened that day. No kidding! Instead of counting sheep, try counting your blessings. Thank source/spirit/the God of your understanding for that sweet interaction you had with your brother, the great haircut you got, the opportunity you had to volunteer at the local food pantry, the funny email you received from your friend from high school, the commercial saying Bridgerton will be back next month, and the fabulous salad you had for dinner . . . and . . . zzzzzzzz . . .
Ronnie Newman is an award-winning Harvard-trained mind/body researcher with decades of experience lecturing and teaching around the world. She has been published in numerous peer-reviewed journals on the power of meditation, the breath, and other modalities to decrease stress and increase happiness, clarity, and longevity and slow down—and even reverse—mental and physical decline.
Debra Poneman has been teaching her Yes to Success around the world for the public and in corporations for more than forty years. Tens of thousands have benefitted from her knowledge and techniques on how to live a high-performance, optimally successful, and happy life. Her courses always include how to create the basis to success: vibrant good health.