As I write this I am sleep deprived. I stayed up too late last night, I was awakened several times, once by my daughter, twice by low blood sugar, several times by an alarm set unreasonably early, which I then proceeded to ‘snooze’ too many times before I actually roused myself for the day. I tell you these things, not to be a complainer, but to point out that these are common issues we ALL face on a regular basis and to provide an opportunity to discuss the importance of sleep hygiene. While we will all inevitably have a night like this once in a while, there are SO MANY things you can try to make sure this isn’t your regular routine. Last night, there were several things I could have done differently to ensure I wouldn’t be a total grouch today…alas, live and learn. ;) As I’m sure you already know, sleep is SUPER important. Not only does it regulate your hormones, your appetite, and your metabolism, but it keeps your brain sharp, supports your immune system, allows your digestive system to reset, improves your mood, and of course, keeps you looking beautiful! Getting quality sleep is important, not just for managing your weight and keeping those dark circles away, it affects every single system of your body and your overall health.
Here’s where I went wrong:STRIKE 1: Staying Up Too Late! This is one where most of our sleep problems begin. We are busy and we’ve got to get stuff done! For a lot of us, it needs to happen after the kiddos are in bed for the night (which, if you have little ones, you know might be the SOLE reason you are up too late), and the dishes are done, the dog is fed, lunches are packed, laundry is folded, the list goes on… In our attempts to live a healthy, balanced life, we might actually be trying to do TOO MUCH. Something has got to give, and you get to decide what that thing is, because if you want to be healthy, it CANNOT be your sleep that gives. My vote is laundry ;) Here’s what you can do: Make a time budget. Look at all the things you need to get done when you get home from work. Write them down. ALL of them. This needs to include your Facebook time, reading our blogs, and watching your favorite shows! Now, decide what time you need to be up in the morning, subtract 8 hours from that time (7 MINIMUM). This is what time you need to be in bed. Let’s use me for an example. I need to be up by 6:30am, so if I subtract 8 hours, that puts me in bed by 10:30pm. If I get home at 7pm, I have 3.5 hours to get everything done. Go back to your to-do list and give each task a reasonable timeframe. For me, it’s cook, eat, and clean up dinner (45-60mins), bathe kiddo and get her ready for bed (30 mins), bedtime shenanigans (reading/snuggling/“I need a drink of water”, “I have to go potty” etc.) (30-45 mins), etc. This leaves me with about an hour or so to check email, unwind, catch up on work, shower, or do whatever I want. This is usually where things go wrong. Often times, one show leads to another, Facebook time, or work catch-up time can get away from you and before you know it, it’s 11pm. Here is where you need to set some limits with yourself: schedule bedtime in your calendar, have an alarm alert you 10 minutes before it’s lights out so you turn off your devices and go brush your teeth. (Tip: if you are using an Apple device, you can set an alarm to turn off your device after a specified amount of time (alarm tone: stop play)). If you are currently staying up well past midnight, you will probably not be tired at 10:30, so move your bedtime up by 15-30 minutes every couple night until you are in bed at a reasonable hour. Do what you’ve gotta do, but make this a priority. The rest of your life will be SO MUCH easier if you can get yourself in bed at a decent time. STRIKE 2: No Bedtime Snack. Those of you who have been following us for a while know the importance of the bedtime snack. Contrary to the many myths surrounding no eating after 6 (7, 8, __ o’clock), the truth is that having a little something before you go to bed actually improves your sleep! It’s what you choose that matters. Better sleep leads to better eating and better eating leads to better sleep. For example, if you’ve ever had a bowl of popcorn before bed, you might have found it hard to get to sleep, probably missed your scheduled bedtime and once you finally crashed, you likely found yourself wide awake at 2 or 3am, unable to fall back asleep. OR: you listened to that conventional wisdom and stopped eating after 5 or 6pm. You might have fallen asleep just fine but still find yourself awake in the middle of the night. Here’s what’s happening: when you have that high-sugar snack of popcorn (you might not think of popcorn as high-sugar, but that’s exactly what that bowl of pure carbohydrates turns into in your blood stream!), a bowl of cereal, or a glass of wine (even though you might think wine HELPS you sleep…it doesn’t), and your blood sugar spikes, which sends you on a sugar high (think kiddos after a birthday party…it happens to grownups too!). It’s very hard to fall asleep when blood sugar is high, and as you know, what goes up must come down. The crash usually happens shortly after you fall asleep. This is when you wake up suddenly, probably have to pee, and are unable to fall back asleep quickly. You might have racing thoughts, anxiety, or find yourself thinking or worrying about the day ahead. This is LOW blood sugar! (tip: if you find yourself up in the middle of the night with low blood sugar, run to the fridge and grab a spoonful of peanut butter. This healthy fat will help you fall back asleep quickly and sleep soundly til morning. Also note: we consider PB a fat, however in the middle of the night, we don’t expect you to be whipping up a fancy snack—PB has enough carbohydrate in it to get your blood sugar up and enough fat to keep it there.) In the future, make sure you have a bedtime snack so you don’t find yourself in this position! If you skipped your bedtime snack (like I did last night) you will most likely find yourself awake at 2 or 3am. The best way to prevent all of this waking up nonsense is to make sure you have that bedtime snack! It doesn’t have to be big, sometimes just a few bites, but having some healthy fat and a little bit of carb (FC) before bed gets your blood sugar up and lets it burn steadily while you sleep, allowing you to sleep soundly ALL NIGHT LONG! So tonight have a handful of grapes and handful of almonds, or pour some coconut milk or heavy cream over frozen berries, or have slices of apple with peanut butter. Check out our bedtime snack post and TV segment for more ideas. STRIKE 3: Skipping Supplements: While I’m always a food-first kind of girl, I certainly recognize the importance of targeted supplementation. I’ve got a few favorites that have worked wonders for myself and my clients and can make or break your sleeping patterns.
- Magnesium: this is our go-to, first supplement for sleep. Magnesium is an important mineral, it’s involved in over 300 different enzymatic processes in the body and most of us (60-80% of Americans) are deficient in it! Due to deterioration of soil minerals from terrible farming practices over the years, our food has less and less magnesium to offer us (yet another reason food quality counts!). One of the many things magnesium does for us is allow our muscles to relax—this helps us fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly since so many of us tend to clench up while we sleep. Try taking 400mg before bed with your bedtime snack for better sleep. You might also find it reduces your leg or muscle cramps, headaches, chocolate cravings, eye twitches, and helps your elimination (take magnesium citrate if you tend to be more constipated).
- MyoCalm PM: This is my new favorite supplement for people who need a little more help than magnesium alone has to offer. It’s especially good for after a workout to help soothe sore muscles or if you struggle with any kind of chronic muscle tension or pain, including TMJ and other night-clenching behavior. Try taking 2-4 of them before bed. They can also be taken at a lower dose (1 cap at a time) throughout the day to ease tension without knocking you out (even though it says PM, it won’t cause you to get drowsy during the day).
- 5 HTP: This one is great for people who wake up in the middle of the night with racing thoughts even after having a bedtime snack. Some people have a really hard time making enough serotonin from the protein they are eating (especially if your gut isn’t in good shape!) and need a little extra boost. 5-HTP is an amino acid precursor to serotonin. It can help improve your body’s ability to make enough to keep you feeling calm, happy, and sleepy. Start by taking 50-100mg before bed and if you don't notice improvement after a few weeks, bump it up a little.
- Melatonin: I don’t recommend this one for use on a regular basis, but it may be an important tool in your sleep arsenal. Melatonin will get you to sleep very quickly, but it doesn’t necessarily help you stay asleep, and it may leave you feeling a bit groggy. It’s great for people who have to switch from night shift to day shift in a relatively short period of time, or to help you adjust from jet lag after traveling. You can also use it if you have a big test in the morning and you know you need to get to sleep but will probably stay up worrying about it all night. Dosage can range a lot with this one, so I’d start small (1mg) and see how you feel. 1-3mg seems to do the trick for most people. Leave yourself at least 8 hours to sleep so you can see how your body reacts and so you aren’t groggy at an important meeting the next morning.
- Estrovera: if you are waking up with hot flashes, this might be a great product to try. Again, I’ll stress the importance of a bedtime snack, because most hot flashes are happening when your blood sugar is low, but if you’ve had your bedtime snack and are still struggling, this is a product that works wonders for many of our female clients. Take one before bed each night.
- How much caffeine are you drinking? How late in the day are you consuming it?
- Is your bedroom dark enough? Even tiny amounts of light can affect your circadian rhythm. Pick up some blackout curtains and put electrical tape over any flashing lights in your room.
- Do you have too much screen time too close to bedtime? The particular blue light from technology dramatically reduces your natural melatonin production which is why you can stay up all night watching netflix without feeling tired. Set a limit with yourself about when to turn it off, switch to analog media like a paper book or magazine, or, if you must indulge in technology, pick up some super sexy amber goggles, which help to cancel out the effects of the blue light.
- Is your bedroom too hot? Being from Minnesota, I understand that it’s not very cozy to crawl into a chilly bed, however, if you keep your house too warm, you might actually be making sleep harder for you. Try kicking your thermostat down a few degrees about an hour before bed (65-67º) and see if that helps you sleep a little better.
- Are you using wine or alcohol to help you fall asleep? Even though you think it’s relaxing you, try a few nights without it to see if you sleep better, it might actually be causing those middle-of-the-night wake ups.
- Are you going to bed with a full brain? Are you worrying about tomorrow’s events? Take a few minutes each night to preview tomorrow’s schedule, write down all the things you hope to get done, and make note of anything you’ve been mulling over or thinking about too much. The act of getting these things out of your head and down on paper will allow you to pause thinking about it while you sleep and pick it back up in the morning if necessary.
Did I forget anything? What helps you sleep? Leave your suggestions in the comments below!