Natural Remedies to Sleep Better
No herbs or voodoo magic here. To me, natural remedies to sleep better is not necessarily taking herbs or supplements. Instead, it’s making small changes to improve your sleep hygiene and set you up for a successful night of sleep.
“How can I sleep better?” is a common question for us. Lack of sleep, going to bed too late, sleeping poorly, getting up too early, and waking up in the middle of the night are all forms of sleep deprivation. As you know, lack of sleep feels terrible. What you may not know is that lack of sleep affects health.
How does lack of sleep affect health?
Not only is a good night’s sleep crucial for a healthy body and mind, but recent research reveals that inadequate sleep may lead to increased risk for serious problems including:
- heart disease (high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack)
- diabetes (and other metabolic conditions)
- mood disorders
- cognition deterioration (poor memory, slowed thinking)
- increased appetite
Sleep better to improve your blood glucose
A lack of sleep decreases your body’s ability to use insulin and decreases glucose tolerance. Both the length of time that you sleep and the quality of your sleep is essential for good health. It is recommended to get seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep each night to help prevent diabetes.
Sleep better to improve your immune system
Have you noticed that you are more likely to get sick with a cold virus when you have not been getting enough sleep? During sleep, your body produces cytokines which help fight infection. So remember that getting in enough zzzz’s helps you avoid common illnesses too.
Sleep better to avoid weight gain
When trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle, it’s very important to look at all aspects of life. While nutrition does play a huge role in weight maintenance, other factors are also key, including stress, self-care and sleep, which happens to be one of my favorite activities ;). But, I understand that not everyone has an easy time sleeping and many times I will talk to my clients about their sleep schedule and pattern and how it can be improved. There is some research out there that talks about how sleep can affect our eating patterns. Many of us actually crave more food when we are not getting quality sleep.
A study done by Colorado University-Boulder found when people get 5 or less hours of sleep, they tend to overeat later in the day. Interestingly, the individuals with less sleep, ate a smaller breakfast, and ate the majority of their calories after dinner. Sometimes, they ate more after dinner than they did throughout the rest of the day. Our bodies like to have a balance of nutrition throughout the day, so getting most of your calories in at one time, may not support your nutrition goals.
How does lack of sleep lead to overeating?
Although the reasons for the overeating due to lack of sleep are unclear, there are some theories. One theory is when we lack sleep, we are also awake for a longer period of time. Staying awake longer demands more energy from us. We tend to overcompensate the amount of energy we actually need and consume more than what our bodies may require. It is also possible that sleep affects our body’s regulation of hunger hormones, leptin and ghrelin. This means that our body is either sending us signals that we are hungry or not sending us signals that we are satisfied. This causes us to overeat throughout the day.
You may be reading this and thinking “wow this relates to me. I am definitely not sleeping enough and may be overeating because of it.” So then, how can we begin to make sleep a priority?
It can definitely take time and practice in order to get on a regular sleep schedule. Here are some tips to get you started, but I also encourage you to speak with a healthcare professional about your sleep schedule. Definitely talk to your physician if you have any of these common sleep problems including: insomnia, restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy, or obstructive sleep apnea.
Now hopefully we’ve convinced you that sleep is important. But what if you don’t sleep well? What can be done? Before searching for supplements or sleep aids, first make sure you’re setting yourself up for better sleep. We’ve compiled 8 natural remedies to turn to first for a good night’s sleep.
8 Natural Remedies To Help You Sleep Better
1. Changing your sleep schedule might take time.
If you are used to going to bed extremely late, you might not actually feel tired earlier in the night. However, you should still try to relax. Even if you do not feel like sleeping yet, it might be helpful to do a relaxing activity, like knitting, journalling, meditating or reading a book.
2. Set a timer.
If you have a hard time remembering that it’s time to go to sleep, set a timer or alarm 30 minutes before “bedtime.” This reminder will allow you to finish up whatever you were doing and then head off to bed. It is also helpful to create a bedtime ritual – a regular soothing habit that will clue your body into relaxing (warm bath, sipping warm milk, or gratitude journal)
Only take a nap if you are REALLY tired. And try to keep it between 20-30 minutes. If you can’t fall asleep during that time, it means you don’t need a nap. I like to think of these as power naps to help you recharge your energy without wrecking you nighttime sleep.
4. Turn off electronics 20-30 minutes before bed.
Many people find they actually sleep better when they don’t look at a computer screen or cell phone right before bed. Give it a try! If you think about this, our bodies can get confused with bright lights before bedtime and this includes computers and TV screens.
5. Get on a regular sleep schedule.
As best you can, try to go to bed and get up at the same time each day. This will help to regulate hormones. Ideally, keep regular sleep times (even on weekends) and try not to exceed a two hour difference from day to day.
6. Darken the room.
Make your sleep environment as comfortable, dark and as pleasant as possible. Block out all light from outside if possible. Get black out curtains or simply an eye mask to do the trick!
7. Turn up the noise.
Try a white noise machine or peaceful sounds to help you fall asleep.
8. Keep Your Bed A Sacred Place.
Your bed is made for sleeping and sex. Do not use your bed for business, homework, eating or other activities.
Wonder which nutrients important for sleep?
We can do individual testing to see which nutrients are associated with sleep that you may be lacking.
Food, Nutrition and Sleep:
Most importantly in terms of food, nutrition and sleep, make sure to avoid nicotine, caffeine and alcohol prior to bedtime. Also, there is research that recommends the best diet for good sleep is high in fiber (plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains) and minimizing saturated fat (using vegetable oil instead). For individualized recommendations, it is best to see a Registered Dietitian to help you make changes in your diet.
Some sleep issues can be more serious than others. If you are having extreme difficulties with sleeping and falling asleep and are concerned, we recommend that you talk to your doctor to rule out certain diagnoses, like sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy or insomnia.
Have more questions about how sleep can affect nutrition? Give us a call at 301-474-2499 or click here to make an appointment with one of our nutrition professionals today.
Blog reviewed and updated March 2020.
Rebecca Bitzer loves to empower Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) and their clients. Co-author of Welcome to the Rebelution: Seven steps to the nutrition counseling practice of your dreams and Taste the Sweet Rebellion: Rebel against dieting.