Do you feel tired, stressed, and exhausted, but still can’t seem to fall asleep at night?
It’s a double whammy all too common for the average stressed-out, hormonally imbalanced, run-ragged woman. You feel like you’ve run a marathon at the end of each day, but a good night’s rest still eludes you – you’re tired but wired. Or worse, you may clock a solid eight hours and wake up still feeling tired.
What’s the deal with that?
Poor sleep quality is an epidemic that so many people simply take for granted as part of a busy lifestyle. Yet not having healthy sleep patterns can contribute to a host of health problems: accelerated aging, high cortisol, weight gain and depression, just to name a few.
Trouble with sleeping is so common that there were 60 million prescriptions for sleeping pills given in 2010 – most of them for women! Yet in addition to being potentially addictive and causing brain fog, sleeping pills have been linked in several studies to higher mortality rates and cancer – even in people only taking them less than 20 times a year.
Given the data, it’s easy to see why getting better shuteye without the help of drugs is such a crucial part of overall health and well-being. By implementing some diet and lifestyle changes that will balance your hormones and change unhealthy patterns, you can be well on your way to a calm, restorative night’s sleep.
Here are seven tips to get you started:
1. Turn off electronics.
Shut down your smartphone, laptop or television at least an hour before you head to bed. Technology can affect your sleep by keeping you cognitively stimulated – and even the small amount of light from the screen delays production of the sleep hormone melatonin. So instead of winding down and preparing your body for sleep, your brain increases electrical activity and keeps you wired. If you can, leave electronics, including phones, out of the bedroom. If you must have your phone next to your bed, turn it upside-down to keep the light on the screen from disturbing your sleep.
2. Add some supplements to your routine.
For my patients, I sometimes recommend supplements to help improve sleep quality: either 300-600 mg of valerian root extract before bed (2-3 g soaked in hot water if dried) or 0.5-3.0 mg of melatonin. If taking melatonin, be sure to check the dosage carefully.
3. Shift your mindset.
As you work on improving your sleep quality, it’s important that you change your approach. Instead of telling yourself, “My sleep is not good; I’m just a bad sleeper and I always will be,” shift your mindset. For example: “There are lots of ways of improving my sleep and I’m going to figure out which ones work best for me.” It may take a while, but you’ll eventually adopt a routine that works for you. Remember that you didn’t develop a poor sleep pattern overnight, so developing a healthy one won’t happen in a day, either.
4. Keep a sleep journal.
In order to see what might be affecting your sleep quality, both positively and negatively, keep track of how you’re sleeping. Each day, write down what time you went to bed the night before, approximately how long it took you to fall asleep, whether you woke up during the night, and what time you woke up in the morning. Then, rate your quality of sleep on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being terrible and 10 being totally restorative. Write down anything else you added to your sleep routine, and you’ll begin to see what is working for you and what isn’t.
5. Cut the caffeine.
Caffeine locks you into a vicious cycle: You sleep poorly so you crave caffeine in the morning, then you feel tired in the afternoon and crave more caffeine. And then you can’t sleep again because you’re keyed up. Over time, this cycle leads to greater fatigue, loss of organ reserve and even disease. Remember, caffeine at any time of the day can cause sleep problems. Work on gradually decreasing your caffeine intake and cut out all caffeine after 3 p.m.
6. Treat sleep with loving care and ritual.
Sleeping is a precious, sacred end to your day. It allows your body to recharge, reboot, repair, restore and revive. Get specific and intentional about filling your sleep routine with self-love and ritual. Whether or not you’re religious or spiritual, some sort of mindful practice can be very helpful for sleep. Try a warm bath before bed, writing down what you’re grateful for, or a series of yoga poses for relaxation. The important thing is to allow some space for yourself to change your sleep patterns for the better.
7. Make your bedroom a sanctuary.
Along the same lines, the state of your bedroom matters when it comes to getting a great night’s sleep. I believe the bedroom should only be used for sleep and sex – offering you a place that looks, smells, feels and sounds relaxing. Get rid of clutter, the television, lights that shine at night (including bright alarm clocks or windows that need darker curtains) and piles of paperwork that remind you of deadlines, bills or work. Light some candles, bring in a soothing piece of artwork or paint your walls a calming color like pale blue or green. When you retreat to your bedroom and you love being there, you’re more likely to nod off happily and peacefully.
If you need more help improving your sleep quality, you can also check out “The Sleep Cure,” my six-step, drug-free remedy to help you wake up refreshed and vitalized every morning.