More people than ever are walking around exhausted and sleep deprived. Why is everyone so reluctant to take the simple steps necessary to get the sleep they need?
Whether it’s the faulty belief that you’re more productive when you sleep less, or a racing mind that keeps you awake, it’s time to overcome your inertia and get a good night’s rest! Here’s a list of suggestions to help you get better sleep—why not give them a try?
#1: PICK A REGULAR BEDTIME
Sure, it’s fun to stay up until all hours. You can get so much done—or waste those midnight hours streaming Netflix and haunting Facebook. The reality is that a set bedtime allows you to take advantage of your natural circadian rhythm: Going to bed every night between 9:30 and 11 pm results in your body releasing the sleep hormone melatonin, which gets your brain and body ready for sleep.
#2: AVOID CAFFEINE AFTER 1 P.M.
We won’t go so far as to tell you to quit caffeine entirely. You can have your morning cup, but cutting yourself off by lunchtime is a key. Besides activating brain receptors that keep you awake, caffeine raises the stress hormone cortisol, which can contribute to a racing mind, reducing your ability to go to sleep hours later.
#3: EAT PROTEIN DURING THE DAY
Protein is a mild simulant for the brain because the amino acids block brain neurons—called the orexin pathway —that make us sleepy. This doesn’t mean high-protein diets cause trouble sleeping. They actually improve sleep when people eat their protein during the day and save carbs for the evening meal.
#4: BUT EAT CARBS AT DINNER
Contrary to the myth that carbohydrates at night are stored as fat, research shows they can improve sleep quality and quantity if you eat them at dinner. Carbs have the added benefit of being enjoyable and helping to reduce the stress hormone cortisol by triggering a prolonged insulin release.
#5: Expose Yourself To Light At The Right Times
Light serves as the major regulator of your “master clock,” which controls your circadian rhythm. To “anchor” your master clock, you want to get bright outdoor light exposure for at least 30 to 60 minutes a day, preferably in the morning right after waking up. At the other end of the day, it’s important to sleep in darkness and avoid bright blue light exposure (most commonly from phone or computer screens) in the hour before bed.
#6: BE ACTIVE DURING THE DAY
If your job involves sitting at a desk all day, chances are that even if you work out frequently, you’re still leading a sedentary life. This can have a negative effect on sleep.
Good news is that the solution doesn’t require more gym time. All you need is to be generally active throughout the day—walking, standing, stretching, breathing deeply at least every hour—and lifting weights or doing some form of vigorous exercise for an hour a few days a week.
#7: GET MORE MAGNESIUM
When you sleep poorly, the body produces extra catecholamine hormones to help you get through the day. This causes the excretion of magnesium via the kidneys, resulting in low magnesium levels, which inhibits restful sleep. Shoot for at least 500 mg a day of elemental magnesium, either in your diet or by taking a magnesium that is bound with glycinate or some other form that is easily absorbed by the body.
#8: TAKE MELATONIN
Melatonin can directly influence your body’s core temperature as well as the sleep-wake cycle, making optimal levels at nighttime critical for sleep. Supplementing with melatonin will also work. Between 0.5 and 5 grams has been found to help people go to sleep, sleep longer, and improve sleep quality according to an analysis of 19 studies.
#9: DO DEEP BREATHING BEFORE BED
Deep breathing, a relaxation practice, or meditation before bed can calm mental chatter, allowing for better, deeper sleep. As little as five minutes may make a difference.
#10: TRY VALERIAN
Medicinal plants have been shown to help people with insomnia go to sleep and stay asleep due to their sedative and anxiolytic properties. Individual efficacy is hit or miss with each herb—some people have good results while others don’t. Valerian takes a while to kick in, typically 2 to 3 weeks before people experience better sleep, but as one researcher writes, it does have “profound beneficial effects on sleep architecture.”
People often try herbal teas for valerian, but the dose of phytochemicals is so small, you may want to try a concentrated liquid extract for a more potent dose. Inhaling the aroma of herbs may also improve sleep, so try aromatherapy if you don’t want to take an extract.