Deep Clean your Body and Brain with Better 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 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:
- Better digestion
- Improved moods
- More productive days
- Proper hormone balancing
- Reduced stress and anxiety
- Improved detox pathways
10 Steps to Improve your Sleep
There are many ways to improve your sleep, and in this article we’ll dive into some of the best things you can do with 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. Sleep on a regular schedule
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. The key is getting into bed early enough for the proper amount of sleep. One of the most important things 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 the next five days.
Melatonin is a master hormone produced by our bodies that encourages healthy sleep, and getting to sleep on a regular schedule respects the body’s melatonin hormonal cascade, which not only contributes to sleep but 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 light and temperature changes. Getting to bed late 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.
Keeping a regular routine, getting full spectrum sunlight mid-day along with dimmed, warm lighting in the evening can encourage your brain to produce the proper levels of melatonin and ensure deeper, more healing sleep.
2. Optimize your Room Ambiance
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 60-70ºF). A drop in temperature at nighttime signals to our body that it’s time to sleep.
Another key factor to ensure deeper, more restful sleep is to reduce ambient light in your room. 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. It’s also important to deal with light pollution from outside (city lights or street lights), and to eliminate this you can use blackout curtains. Target and other big box stores sell these now!
If you can’t or don’t want to hang curtains, an organic cotton eye mask is helpful. These are great for travel too. However, blackout shades are ideal because even our skin is sensitive to ambient light. Our skin contains photoreceptors, and studies show our REM sleep decreases if our skin detects any light, even a minimal amount from something as small as a nightlight or LED on the alarm clock, can disrupt sleep and hormonal cascades.
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. Ambient sound can be just as disruptive as light to a good night’s sleep.
Solutions include earplugs, although some find them uncomfortable to wear at night. Neutral ambient sound from a white noise machine can reduce your experience of environmental noise that wakes you from sleep cycles during the night. Road noise, housemates, a snoring partner, barking dogs, car doors, early 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.
A good quality sound machine such as the Marpac Dohm-DS, the brand and model recommended by the National Sleep Foundation, can exponentially improve sleep quality. Marpac makes a travel version of the Dohm for those that travel often, called the Rohm.
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 , but 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 walking 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.
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, and other electronics. Many anecdotal reports show better sleep when EMF’s are reduced or eradicated in their sleeping area.
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 theories are 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 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 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 cables.
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.
If a new mattress isn’t in your budget, you could purchase an organic futon mattress made of the same materials, which run a more palatable $1000 for a Queen size. 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).
8. Create (and Maintain) a Bedtime Routine
We are all born with a genetic predisposition for a certain sleep pattern, and a typical routine of 10p bedtime and 6am wake up is not for everyone. For some, a healthy bedtime routine may look like someone is in bed by 2am and up at 10am. Night owls should have no shame about their schedule but should also find work that they can start later in the day and ideally dig into late at night. The key is to maintain whatever pattern feels best for you. Do not change your sleep patterns on weekends, keep the same sleep wake time throughout the week.
If you want to learn more about your ‘chronotype’ that can help explain individual sleep patterns, you can take the sleep quiz here. Knowing your genetically determined chronotype can be a huge help to anyone wanting to make the most of their waking hours. This knowledge can help you learn how to plan your day around your sleep-wake patterns instead of planning your sleep-wake patterns around your day.
Once you know your proper bedtime, the key is maintenance. If you are someone that needs to be in bed by 10pm or 11pm, try scheduling social events and dinners to start a bit earlier, making sure to arrive home with time to prep for bed, reducing or eliminating screen time at least 45 minutes before bed , and setting timers to ensure you are following your own schedule.
It can also be helpful to create a set of bedtime rituals: dimmed lights, herbal teas, a bath or shower, some light reading, journaling, meditation, or prayer. It can also be helpful to make your bedroom into an oasis of relaxation: no work papers, bills, or clutter that might distract from peaceful sleep.
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. 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.