How to get better sleep?
Updated: Feb 10, 2022
In the below article, I am covering the following:
How what we are consuming during the day affects our sleep
The importance of letting go before going to sleep
How are eating and sleeping connected
The importance of rest
What happens to the body if you don't sleep
Sleeping pills and other stimulants
What foods help with sleep
What things disrupt our sleep
Creating a good bedtime routine
A good sleep is not just something that happens at night. A preparation for good night's rest starts already in the morning- with the choices you make throughout the day. Two questions to ask yourself are:
1. Are you nourishing yourself mentally and physically during the day? Are you providing yourself good quality food; are you doing regular physical movements (not only cardio, weight exercise, yoga, but simple walking and not sitting all the time); and how about the thoughts, news, emotions you have allowed into your body during the day- have they served you or have they depleted you?
2. Are you able to let go of the unnecessary before you wind down in the evening? We are consuming a lot of different forms of energy during the day- food, oxygen, light, information- this all heats our body temperature up during the day. Consuming excessive energy is linked to hyperarousal and chronic inflammation. We need to be able to cool down at night to be able to have a good night's rest.
How are eating and sleeping connected?
What you eat and drink, directly influences your sleep and other way around, how well you sleep influences your food choices. We often see sleepiness as a need for fuel, not a need for rest. After a not so good night's rest we tend to drink too many coffees or other caffeinated drinks the next day, or we tend to eat more especially high-glycemic, foods that give us the quick burst of energy. Or we turn to other stimulants. When we are not getting enough sleep, our hunger and satiety hormones- ghrelin (gets elevated) and leptin (gets decreased) will not work as they should- as a result we tend to overeat and eat the wrong kinds of foods.
All major sleeping disorders have some element of nutritional factor associated with them. When you have insomnia, you are high-likely not absorbing enough tryptophan, which is a precursor for melatonin, your sleep hormone in your body.
Sleep apnea and snoring are linked to long-term chronic inflammatory conditions in the body. It's very important for people with sleep apnea and snoring to make life-style changes- improve their diet, physical movement.
Acid reflux (GERD) can be caused by disrupted circadian rhythm. Low carbohydrate diet as well as supplementing with a small dose of melatonin could help with this and getting people off from proton pump inhibitors or other acid reflux drugs.
What about rest?
Due to the overload of information around us, high expectations on ourselves, our belief is that we should do more, we should reach higher and higher. And we don't consider evenings, weekends and holidays as times for rest, but we pack them full of activities. Instead of taking time to rest, we create more stimulation within us, turning us into rest-less human beings. Think how can you incorporate more rest into your daily or weekly schedule, which allows you to sleep also better at night. I have been using an Oura ring for couple of years now to track my sleep. It allows me to see how quickly I fall asleep in the evening as well. And falling asleep too quickly is also not a good sign as it indicates that you are over-exhausting yourself and are maybe not getting enough sleep for the activity level you have during the day. Read more about my experience and the benefits of Oura ring for sleep tracking, activity tracking, heart rate tracking here.
What happens to your body if you don't sleep well?
The constant stimulation of our mind and our body leads to hyperarousal, which leads to insomnia. People who experience insomnia have elevated heart rate, increased body and brain metabolic rates, elevated body temperatures, elevates nighttime cortisol, decreased melatonin among the other symptoms.
When we don't get enough sleep, it will have an impact on our mind and our bodies, including the risk for:
reduced immune function
higher probability to get infections
Don't devalue and numb your sleep
We need to understand what happens when we sleep in order to understand the value of sleep. Our body and brain detoxify at night, get rid of all the old cells so that we can make new cells. Our tissues repair, muscle growth and protein synthesis happen while we sleep. Hormones that regulate our growth, metabolism, stress, appetite control, get released at night. But what we consider sleep loss in our society is actually dream loss. Dreaming is as important as sleep. Dreaming and REM sleep function together to consolidate memory. If we are having problems with dreaming, we are also having problems with our memory. Dreams are essential for emotional healing- what we do is we process information and emotions at night, which are essential for learning.
Unfortunately, sleeping pills, anti-depressants, alcohol suppress dreaming. Alcohol is called a double-agent, where it initially serves as a stimulant and then it flips and serves as a central nervous system depressant. So alcohol may put you to sleep, but it does disrupt our first REM sleep cycle at night. Any drug that either speeds you up or slows you down (affecting your circadian rhythm) has an impact on your sleep.
So instead of numbing our sleep and creating artificial sleep with sleeping tablets, we should rather get to the root cause of what's affecting our poor night's rest.
What foods help with sleep?
It's important to note here, that it's best to have your dinner around 6 or 7pm, 3-4 hours before going to sleep. Eating too close to bedtime increases your body temperature and metabolic rate. Your metabolism slows down at night, as your melatonin increases and you do not want your body spend time digesting food at night while it should spend time cleaning the body, what it's supposed to do at night. Same goes for midnight snacking- try and restrict yourself from it- make yourself rather a half a cup of calming tea.
Below are a list of nutrients and botanicals that reduce anxiety, promote sleep and also which foods contain those nutrients. It's good to incorporate them in your dinner.
Choline- whole eggs, organ meat, caviar, fish (salmon, cod, tuna), shiitake mushrooms, beef, chicken, turkey, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, almonds, lima beans, red potatoes, quinoa, kidney beans etc
Glycine- red meat, turkey, chicken, pork, fish, eggs, dairy, canned salmon, carob seeds, watercress, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, pistachio, spinach, sunflower seeds, lentils, legumes, sweet potato etc
Magnesium- check my post on magnesium rich foods and supplements
Potassium- bananas, oranges, apricots, grapefruit, honeydew melon, dates, raisins, prunes, cooked swiss chard, cooked spinach, cooked broccoli, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, cucumbers, avocado, bok choy, potato, beetroot, white beans
Tryptophan- chicken breast, pork chops, tofu, salmon, turkey breast, canned tuna, milk, greek yoghurt, pumpkin seeds, oatmeal, eggs, peanut butter, cashew nuts, pineapple, almonds, pistachio nuts, seaweed
5-HTP- can't be found from food, but your body used tryptophan to make 5-HTP
DMAE- found from salmon, sardine, anchovies
L-theanine- green tea (like Matcha), white tea, black tea)- drink all teas in the morning due to caffeine in them
Calcium- sardines, yoghurt, kefir, raw milk, cheese, kale, okra, bok choy, almonds, broccoli, watercress
B-vitamins- organ meats, grass-fed meat, salmon, mackerel, sardines, eggs, chicken, turkey, lamb, raw milk, yoghurt, kefir, cheese, green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, spirulina, legumes, nutritional yeast
Omega-3 fatty acids- salmon, mackerel, walnuts, cod liver oil, chia seeds, herring, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, sardines, anchovies, egg yolks, natto etc)
Phosphotidylserine- soy lecithin, bovine brain, mackerel, chicken heart, herring, tuna, chicken leg, chicken liver, white peans, chicken breast, mullet veal, beef, turkey leg, cod, sardine, trout etc)
Melatonin- tart cherries, asparagus, pomegranate, tomatoes, olives, broccoli, cucumber, rolled oats, grapes, walnuts, sunflower seeds, peanuts, flaxseeds etc
Lemon balm tea
Valerian root- (in a tea, capsule, tincture or liquid extract)
Kava-kava (as a tea, tablet, tincture)
Skullcap (as tea, tincture, capsule, extract)
Hops (as tea, extract and supplement)
St. John's wort (as tea, tincture, capsule, tablet, oil-based skin lotion)
Passion flower (in tea, tincture, extract)
Linden tea- reduces anxiety in the body, dialetes blood vessels and lowers blood pressure
CBD- can help to calm the central nervous system. Take it in the morning after breakfast for anxiety and in the evening after dinner for insomnia
Lavender essential oil- rub 1-2 drops with carrier oil underneath your feet and/or pulsing points in your body (wrists, behind the ears, behind your knees or defuse lavender oil in your bedroom
Roman chamomile essential oil- use the same way as lavender essential oil. Chamomile tea is also good, but be mindful not to drink a lot as it's minor diuretic.
Melissa essential oil- use the same way as lavender essential oil
Jasmine essential oil- use the same way as lavender essential oil
Some ideas for dinner or a snack around 6-7 pm to induce sleep:
Small glass of tart cherry juice
Half a banana with a few almonds or walnuts
Linseed crackers with almond butter
Gluten-free oatmeal with a little bit of honey, dark cherries, hemp seeds
Small glass of warm goat’s milk kefir with turmeric and a dash of cinnamon
Passion flower, lemon balm or valerian tea
What disrupts sleep?
Below are a list of common things that causes disruptive sleep:
High levels of stress
Effects of certain stimulants and medications
Eating too close to bed time
Alcohol- as said alcohol does have an impact on our body's ability to dream, but it also puts burden on our liver (liver detoxifies at night)
Gluten- if you have celiac disease or gluten-sensitivity, consuming gluten impacts your health, inflammation in the body and can disrupt your sleep
Caffeine- though some people are able to drink coffee after dinner and still be able to fall asleep, their sleep quality does get affected. Aim to reduce your caffeine intake and consume it before 12pm for it to have minimum effect on your sleep
A healthy microbiome in our gut also has a positive influence on our sleep.
What can you do for a good night's sleep?
Same as the sun goes down, air cools down in the evening and at night, we should allow our bodies to slow down and cool down for the bedtime and sleep. Good quality sleep and dreaming is driven by melatonin and also by our core body temperature. When we over-consume different types of energy highlighted above during the day and in the evening, we can't cool down at night. Melatonin dilates distal blood vessels, peripheral blood vessels allowing the heat to rise to the surface of the body, where it gets dispelled.
To aid with digestion, it's good to sleep at the beginning of the night on your left side to get more blood into your liver and small intestine. If you do wake up in the middle of the night, turn over to the right side to get more blood into your stomach and heart which help you to prepare for the day ahead.
Develop yourself a a good night-time routine, incorporating activities from below:
Manage stress through meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, pilates or other calming physical activities involving slow movements and breathing
Read calming books
Keep a gratitude journal, where you write every evening before going to sleep three things you are grateful for
Connect with your loves ones
Reduce or avoid the exposure to artificial light in the evenings (phones, TV, tablets, LED lights). It's good to wear blue-blocker glasses that blocks the blue light coming into your eyes and affecting melatonin production in the body
Use blackout curtains in your bedroom if possible to avoid any light disrupting the sleep
Make sure you get enough natural light during the day
Exercise for 30-60 minutes a day to promote better sleep
Don't eat 3-4 hours before going to sleep to allow your digestion to finish it's work
You can drink a cup of calming tea (see above for options)
Try and go to bed at the same time every day, best around 10pm and wake up at the same time every day.
Keep your bedroom temperature cool as it promotes sleepiness
Use essential oils- diffuse them in your bedroom and/or put them underneath your feet
You can also supplement with Magnesium Glycinate within one hour from going to bed
If you use your mobile phone as an alarm, remember to put it in an airplane mode to avoid unnecessary radio waves and disturbing notifications at night
Many people with sleep disorders have lost their faith in their capacity to sleep. Try and create positive thoughts around sleep, try different recommendations from above and try to let go of the issues, thoughts, feelings before falling asleep.