10 Steps to Deeper Sleep
Good sleep is finally getting the attention it deserves! We’ve long referred to it as ‘beauty sleep,’ for good reason! Seven to nine hours of quality sleep each night helps brighten our skin as well as regenerate more collagen for less wrinkles; it also gives hair more body and strength and reduces the likelihood of puffy or dark circles under the eyes.
Looking great is just one result of good sleep. Did you know that sufficient sleep each night can also lead to:
More productive days
Balanced blood sugar and weight loss
Proper hormone balancing
Reversal or avoidance of chronic disease
Reduced stress and anxiety
Improved detox pathways
10 Steps to Deeper Sleep
There are many ways to improve your sleep, and in this article we’ll dive into the top 10 things you can do in terms of your habits and your environment to ensure that you’re getting the best sleep possible each and every night for brighter, happier and more productive days.
1. Have the same sleep/wake schedule 7 days a week
No staying up super late and sleeping in on weekends. Try setting a recurring alarm to go off 45 minutes before your desired bedtime to encourage you to get your nighttime routines done on time. For example if you want to be in bed and lights out at 10pm, set your alarm for 9:15pm to remind you to start your evening routine. That may include shower, bath, stretching, reading… whatever you like to wind down in the evening.
Probably THE most important thing you can do to ensure healthy sleep is to establish a bedtime and wake time that is the same time each night, even on weekends. Staying up late and sleeping in on the weekend seems like an indulgence, but it can negatively impact the quality of your sleep for up to five days later! This concept is known as social jet lag and impacts the body just as intensely as real jet lag. For each hour you stay up later than your typical bedtime, it takes your body an additional day to recover. Schedule evening outings with friends on the earlier side in order to keep your rhythm the same every day of the week.
Melatonin is a master hormone produced by our bodies that allows for deep healing sleep, and getting to sleep on a regular schedule respects the body’s circadian clock, which not only contributes to better sleep but melatonin is also a powerful antioxidant with anti-cancer benefits. In healthy individuals, in the evening, melatonin levels should be rising and cortisol levels should be decreasing, with these shifts triggered by decreasing light and temperature shifts. Getting to bed later than normal leads to general stress on the body, which can result in weight gain, premature aging of organs and skin, hair loss, hormone imbalances, infertility, and lowered immune function. Skip the extra cocktail or late night dinner and enjoy those early bird specials and happy hour options.
As a whole, I see the majority of my clients thriving when they shift their sleep schedule to roughly a 10pm lights out and 6am wake up rhythm. There may be some variance in that by an hour earlier or later, but I’ve come to believe that those working well into the evening are trading longevity of life for productivity in the short term. If you want to start shifting your bedtime earlier, do so gradually at about 15 minutes to half hour earlier each night until you reach your desired bedtime. The body typically wakes at the same time each morning, so modifying the bed time is usually more of an indicator of how much total sleep and sleep quality one will get.
2. Optimize your Sleeping Quarters
There are many steps you can take to ensure that you are set up for sleep success, including optimizing your room for proper temperature (aim for anywhere between 60-72ºF). An environmental drop in temperature at nighttime signals to our body that it’s time to sleep. If your room stays too warm, the body is unable to sleep as peacefully due to the inability to cool down (ideally about 1 degree) and this sometimes triggers vivid dreams or nightmares in people. If air conditioning isn’t an option or you’d like to save on energy, there is a product, which I personally use, called Chili Pad - check out the Chili Pad Website. This product is essentially a mattress pad that runs cooled water underneath your fitted sheet. It keeps your bed and body nice and cool without having to air condition the whole bedroom or house. Use coupon code: BLAIR for 25% off your chili pad and let me know how you like it! It’s helped me sleep more soundly and comfortably on these hot summer nights and no more nightmares from being too hot!
Another key factor other than temperature to ensure deeper, more restful sleep, is to eradicate ambient light in your room at night. A good rule of thumb for the ideal level of darkness is to not be able to see your hand in front of your face when all the shades have been drawn and lights are turned off. Deal with light pollution from city lights, head lights, street lights etc. To eliminate this you can use blackout curtains. I have a full blog post on this topic, which goes into deeper detail: Blacking Out Your Bedroom For Health: The Dark Side of Light. The gist is that Target and other big box stores sell these now! Make sure the curtains are rod pocket and not grommet top and that they are 100% black out and not just light filtering or light reducing. Install these black out curtains with a wrap around curtain rod with the rod at least 8” above the window frame to reduce light pollution from the top and extend the track pole 10” on either side of the window frame to even further prevent light pollution from the sides . Make sure to get enough curtains so that they can overlap gratuitously in the middle. This means you usually will need more than one panel. You will be surprised just how much deeper you will sleep with blocking even very mild ambient street lights or lights from the neighbors house.
If you can’t or don’t want to hang curtains, an organic cotton eye mask is helpful but not nearly as effective as the blackout curtains. Some people will use both. Blackout shades are more ideal. Take the plunge. You won’t be disappointed.
3. Eliminate Sounds for Deeper Sleep
While you might think you are 'accustomed' to the sounds of your neighborhood or city block at night, you may be experiencing disruption of sleep without knowing it. Disruptive sound can be just as disruptive as light to a good night’s sleep.
My favorite solution is EarPeace brand earplugs - these silicone reusable earplugs are high quality and are comfortable enough (at least to me) to be able to sleep all night every night in them. Road noise, housemates, neighbors, a snoring partner, barking dogs, car doors, morning birds, and dripping faucets can all subtly (or not so subtly) interrupt sleep patterns and reduce the amount of restful sleep you experience each night. You can find these here: EarPeace Earplugs
As an aside, I also keep a pair of these earplugs in my purse for loud bars, concerts or workout classes as I am very protective of my hearing. I want to avoid hearing loss or tinnitus later in life and find having ear plugs with me anytime is a simple and great insurance policy.
There is also an app called Sonic Sleep that has gotten good reviews from people I trust in the field. I have not tried this app yet (its $50 a year) but if I lived in a loud city environment or traveled frequently, I would likely invest, as a little over $4 a month for better sleep is worth it.
4. Increase your Magnesium
As the ‘master mineral,’ magnesium is a cofactor for a lot of other cellular function, and plays a huge role in our general relaxation and of course, sleep habits. Magnesium is needed to properly assimilate vitamin D in the body, one of the most health protective tools we have. Aside from being cancer protective, magnesium is very important for the nervous system to be able to relax, promotes deep sleep, and aides in 300 other bodily functions!
Unfortunately, magnesium deficiency is increasingly common. We have less magnesium in our diet than ever, due to depleted soils, modern, processed diets, and other stressors.
You can add more magnesium into your life in various ways. Supplementation with magnesium can be helpful, such as taking Magnesium Citrate capsules in the evening.
You can also absorb it transdermally (through the skin). Adding magnesium flakes or Epsom salts into your nightly bath can help restore your body’s magnesium level. If you don’t have time or don’t enjoy baths, a magnesium oil spray can be applied to your skin.
You can apply magnesium spray to arms, legs, feet and torso. It’s recommended to start with a low amount, like 5 sprays each day and work up to 20 or so, since magnesium can have a laxative effect. Magnesium oil may feel itchy when applied, but this is a normal effect; you may wash it off after 20 minutes if it feels sticky or continues to be itchy. Choose one method as using multiple methods of delivery may increase your chances of loose bowels.
5. Reduce Overall Anxiety for Better, more Relaxed Sleep
Anxiety affects a lot of us, and often we feel it both day and night. At night it can definitely affect our sleep habits, so it’s important to address root causes of anxiety.
Anxiety or anxious thoughts (brain chatter) can inhibit falling asleep, encourage waking in the middle of the night, or both. Working on the root causes with a therapist can help with some of the issues, but consider there may be physiological reasons for your anxiety and working with herbs and lifestyle can be incredibly beneficial, too. Some of my tips for combatting anxiety can be found in my article called Natural Relief For Anxiety
Nervines are a class of herbs that are especially helpful to reduce anxious thoughts. These herbs nourish and rebuild the nervous system, and keep us calm and nourished throughout the day. These can be enjoyed as tea during the day and in tincture form, too. Herbs in this class include catnip, chamomile, linden, milky oats, skullcap and lemon balm. More potent nervine herbs act as sedatives too, like passionflower and kava.
Another tactic to reduce nighttime anxiety is to use a weighted blanket. Weighted blankets are heavy but not hot, and calm our nervous system. This can increase the number of hours we sleep without a disturbance. There are organic and glass bead options that are good for chemical sensitive individuals and can be found at Sensory Goods.
6. Reduce EMF Exposure while Sleeping
In our daily life we are exposed to increasing amounts of electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs). These come from cell phones, wifi routers, smart home devices, smart meters, and other electronics. Many anecdotal reports show better sleep when EMF’s are reduced or eradicated in the sleeping area. I have seen this first hand over and over in my own practice and continue to recommend turning off all signals at night due to the successes Ive witnessed.
The current theory is that EMF exposure can easily scramble our body’s ability to internally communicate. Our mitochondria (found in every cell in our bodies), function using electrical signaling. The understanding is when we expose our bodies to electromagnetic fields, this can create interference and an inability of those systems to function properly. If this is true, this could potentially disrupt many systems in the body, including the pineal gland’s production of melatonin and serotonin as well as potentially causing farther reaching negative effects.
To reduce your exposure to EMFs at night, you can make some simple changes. As much as possible, keep electronics outside of the bedroom (this includes phones, computers, TVs, and others). If you need your phone for an alarm or other notifications, keep it on airplane mode, and keep it as far away from the bed as possible. Buy an old school battery operated clock to keep in the bedroom so you don't need your phone next to the bed at all.
Many people find a “screen free” bedroom policy is very good for their mental health and sleep patterns and can help rekindle connection with their partners. Reading an actual book (not on a device) or magazine before bed, or connecting with your partner or pet instead of being distracted by the phone, can be a great bedtime ritual that can help you reduce worry, relax deeply, and set you up for deeper sleep. When possible, turn off your wifi router at night, and disconnect and turn off completely any smart home devices that use bluetooth like Alexa or Echo. If you use a health tracker like Apple Watch, Oura ring or FitBit, switch it to airplane mode at night, it still gathers data.
If you suspect that you are really sensitive to EMFs, you can turn off the circuit breaker to your house or at least your bedroom at night for a larger reduction; in fact, some insomniacs have found this is the only thing that works to get them to sleep.
You can reduce your EMF exposure during the day by using an EMF blocking case for your phone, and a lap pad that shields your legs from EMFs if you use a laptop. A trusted brand and pioneer in the space is Defender Shield, designed by an engineer that used to work for prestigious Bell labs. Many are choosing to forgo wifi at home altogether and use hardwired internet through ethernet cabling.
7. Choose Healthy Home Goods
If you’re looking to really clean up your life for better sleep, organic home goods might just be the most important place to start.
Most pillows and mattresses are made with fossil-fuel based petrochemicals, which can leak (or off-gas) chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air. And assuming you sleep on these mattresses for hours each night, you are directly exposed to these chemicals.
VOCs are found in the adhesives and foams, and other chemicals, such as formaldehyde, are used in the adhesives. Almost all commercial mattresses are made with fire retardants known as PBDEs. These are known to be toxic to the liver, thyroid and nervous system.
Memory foam, which is used in many beds currently, is no better. An Atlanta-based lab recently found a memory foam model emitted 61 chemicals, including the carcinogenic benzene and naphthalene. In fact, memory foam consistently tops lists of one of the most toxic sleeping surfaces you can choose.
Older mattresses don't fare much better. Off gassing does not subside with the age of the mattress. In fact, it increases as the materials begin to break down.
All mattresses are a big investment – this is especially true of natural and organic mattresses. But this one change could be really beneficial to your overall health. Natural mattresses are usually made of 100% natural latex, organic wool, organic cotton, or bamboo. My favorite organic mattress brand I like and use in my own home is called Avocado. They ship free to Hawaii (a small miracle) and the beds are firm and fairly priced compared to some other organic mattress options! Don’t get me wrong, they are more expensive than your standard Costco mattress, but well worth the avoidance of toxic off gassing for years to come. Get $150 using my link: Avocado Mattress
If a new mattress isn’t in your budget, another alternative is a mattress wrap. These wraps, while still being made of 5.5 mm food grade polyethylene are less toxic, and create a barrier between the conventional mattress and your body and lungs. One brand to check out is called No-Chem Bed Solutions. You can then place a mattress pad and sheets on top of these wraps.
Pillows are a less-expensive upgrade. Find pillows made from sustainable down, natural wool, latex, or kapok (sometimes called ‘tree wool’) and wrapped in cotton. Choosing organic sheets and pajamas made from 100% natural fibers such as cotton, wool, or silk can help ensure that your whole body is nurtured naturally during your sleep. Make sure your pajamas are very loose (including undergarments). Tight clothing can prevent melatonin from releasing at night!
8. Lighting, Lighting, Lighting
This step cannot be ignored. If the light bulbs in your home are bright white and even worse, are also fluorescent or LED, you are doing a huge disservice to yourself. These lights are highly disruptive to your circadian rhythm as they stimulate a protein in your retina called melanopsin, which essentially signals your body that it is midday and to not release any melatonin anytime soon! Oops!
Swap out your LED’s and fluorescents for good old incandescent bulbs you probably trashed a few years back with the idea of saving some watts. Sorry to say that for our health, these new energy efficient bulbs are destructive, to say the elast. Not just to our hormone balance (which is bad enough) but also can destroy our eyesight. I have a whole different blog post on this topic called Lighting Your Home + Office For Health. Bottom line: choose the warmest and dimmest incandescent bulbs you can stand and use those exclusively in the evening, especially in areas like your bedside lamp and bathroom. Avoid bright overhead lighting at all costs; choose floor and table lamps and even better, go with candlelight or firelight, if available. Candlelight has no disruption on sleep hormones! For lightbulbs, my favorite are 40W or 60W Edison bulbs. I also use salt lamps and amber 11W bulbs in low light areas.
In addition to swapping out your lightbulbs for sleep friendly ones, you should also consider purchasing some blue blocking glasses to use whenever you are exposed to any screens, anytime, but especially at night or in less than ideal lighting situations such as the grocery store or drugstore where they use impossibly bright over fluorescent lighting. Try to avoid these types of environments in the evening, if you have sleep issues, as they are incredibly disruptive to your bodies natural desire for very low warm light and then eventually complete darkness.
9. Avoid Stimulants like Coffee, Tea, and Tobacco
If you have sleep issues, one of the quickest (but hardest!) fixes is to reduce or eliminate your intake of caffeine from coffee, tea, soda, chocolate, and energy drinks. Another beverage that can deeply affect your sleep is alcohol. While it seems like a few glasses of wine might ‘knock you out,’ it actually has negative consequences for your overall sleep. When you go to sleep after even one or two drinks, your body doesn’t actually enter the deeper stages of sleep where most healing occurs. Instead it stays in the lighter stages of sleep, leaving you easily awakened. In the morning you will feel unrested, cranky and dehydrated.
Tobacco can also negatively affect sleep: heavy smokers also often experience reduced amounts of REM sleep and lighter sleep. Tobacco is a stimulant so smoking or chewing tobacco before bed is not recommended, but it can also lead to withdrawal symptoms in the middle of the night and awaken the body.
10. 3 Hour Eat Sleep Gap
Eating dinner too close to bedtime can cause a host of issues. Elevated body temperature (due to the blood staying in the core organs in order to digest the food), elevated heart rate (especially if sugar or carbs were involved), decreased deep sleep and things like acid reflux are telltale signs of eating too late. Give yourself at least a three hour window between your last food or drink and lights out. For example, if lights out is at 10pm, then have your last bite or sip other than plain water by 7pm. A 6/6:30pm dinner time would be ideal. There is also evidence of higher rates of fat burn, healthier BMI’s and blood sugar levels in addition to lower inflammatory conditions like IBS, Crohn’s and other autoimmune patterning since the gut lining regenerates only at night. But this happens only when digestion has finished for the day. If you’d like to check out more about this science, please read the Circadian Code by Satchin Panda. This is one of the most influential literary works in my practice and has transformed my own life.
Bonus Tip: Sleep Quality and Medications
Other chemicals that might lower your quality of sleep include antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs and sleep medications (ironic) which often suppress the overall amount of deep sleep your experience each night due to the interactions with various neurotransmitters including serotonin, norepinephrine, GABA and dopamine.
This is not a reason to stop taking your medication, just an opportunity for awareness that some drugs may be inhibiting your full sleep and healing potential. Do not stop or reduce your medications without talking with your doctor first. If interested, there are herbal solutions that may be a good fit for you. Talk with an experienced clinical herbalist about your options and ways to nourish your body as you work with your doctor to reduce and remove your medications slowly. This will help limit or eliminate withdrawal symptoms.