While eating balanced meals and exercising regularly will help you feel more energized, there is nothing like a good night sleep to keep you feeling great all day long! However, don’t fall into the trap of getting those zzz’s by taking man-made chemicals or something that the doctor prescribed. When it comes to getting just the right amount of rest for recovering your body and preparing for the next day’s activities, the natural way is most often the best! Check out these quick tips below to see if you are squeezing the most out of your nighttime hours.
Create a sleeping environment for yourself that induces sleep by simulating nature settings. Think of animals such as bears and bats that hibernate for a whole season – you will find most peaceful sleep in an environment that is like their caves – cool, dark, and quiet. The best comfortably cool temperature for sleep is between 60 – 75 degrees F. Keep your sleep area dark and quiet by moving technology out of the room, hang dark shades to keep out sunlight or bright neon street lights. When it is time to go bed, turn off the television or other noisy technology. If necessary, keep noise from the street or outside from interrupting your sleep environment with earplugs or “white noise” appliances.
In addition to simulating different nature settings, following nature’s patterns will also help improve sleep. Keeping your body’s internal clock set consistently is key, and aligning with the rise and set of the sun can be helpful. Without any outside influences such as an alarm clock to wake you or sleep medicines to help you sleep, your internal clock determines when your body will rise and fall asleep. You can “set” your body’s internal clock by consistently waking up and going to bed at the same time – wake up when the sun rises and it is bright outside (such as when the rooster crows) and rest and sleep in the dark hours of night. While setting your internal clock to a regular schedule, you should avoid napping. And even though it might be dark outside, you should especially avoid napping in the evening. However, if you must nap, keep them consistent in your daily schedule as not to throw off the settings of your internal clock – keep them short (no longer than 20 minutes) and keep them before late afternoon.
Ease yourself into a sound slumber by letting sleep come naturally. It seems a bit obvious but it is true – when you are tired, you will find it easier to sleep! Do not force yourself to sleep when you are not tired – watching the minutes pass or counting time will just leave you feeling wide-eyed and frustrated. If you want to improve sleep to wake up the next day feeling wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, transition to sleepy time by doing relaxing activities an hour or so before bed to help “wind down.”
A warm bath or jacuzzi at night actually does promote drowsiness by creating a rise and fall in body temperature (simulating the cool environment of nature settings). Reading a book or relaxation exercises like yoga and meditation will help to get calm the mind and body and improve sleep. You will definitely want to avoid using a cell phone and other hi-tech devices as well as work and stressful, stimulating activities. Definitely do not reserve time before you hit the sack for any “late-night talks” or discussing emotional issues; physically and psychologically stressful activities lead the body to secrete the stress hormone cortisol, a hormone associated with increasing alertness. Being alert is the last thing you need to improve sleep!
In addition to maintaining a consistent internal clock and sleeping schedule, following consistent eating patterns will also help to improve sleep. A diet based on healthy well-balanced meals helps maintain more balanced energy levels throughout the day, making you less dependent on stimulants such as caffeine or high-sugar energy drinks and snacks. Caffeine is a stimulant that can keep you awake and too much sugar close to bedtime will keep you tossing and turning. So avoid caffeine (found in coffee, tea, and soda) and sugary snacks for four to six hours before bedtime. Foods that are difficult to digest, cause indigestion or other stomach/intestine problems will keep you up as well. For fewer sleep interruptions, try to include more bedtime-healthy foods in those later snacks or meals of the evening.
In particular, foods that contain tryptophan (an amino acid that turns into relaxing brain chemicals like serotonin and melatonin), whole-grain carbs (which boost serotonin production), certain minerals (like calming calcium and magnesium), as well as various herbs that have a relaxing effect will get you ready for sleepy-time. A glass of milk would be an ideal pre-bedtime snack since it includes tryptophan, calcium and magnesium, but it can cause digestive problems for most. Instead, select a snack that contains such key ingredients without the dairy – like a Superfood Protein smoothie! Try various recipes using a few complex carbs from whole grains, wheat, low sugar oatmeal, dark chocolate for serotonin, honey for tryptofan, oatmeal and cranberries for melatonin, and bananas for potassium and magnesium.
Perhaps one of the most important tips, is to make sure to give your changes a chance to work. Results might not occur in a day, but they might over the course of several nights!