Remember back in the day when bedtime was something you tried to avoid? As kids, staying awake was always more fun than sleeping. As we get older, however, sleep becomes less of a chore and more of a luxury—an elusive one for many of us.
Whether it’s staying up all night with a fussy baby, stressing over an upcoming presentation at work, or downing an extra cup of coffee too close to bedtime, sleepless nights happen to everyone.
For some people, however, the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep may seem unattainable; approximately one third of all Americans report getting less than 6 hours of sleep every night.
Sleep and Your Health
Poor sleep quality is more than just not getting enough sleep. It also includes insomnia (the inability to fall and stay asleep), waking up multiple times throughout the night, or not feeling rested when you wake up.
According to a study by the National Sleep Foundation, sleep quality has a major impact on your overall health. Of the participants who reported fair or poor sleep, 67% also reported having poor health overall. Multiple studies have also linked sleep deprivation with a weakened immune system, weight gain, and decreased brain function.
On the flip side, adequate sleep has tons of benefits. Not only does it help prevent the sluggishness and inability to stay focused that comes after a restless night, but it keeps hormone levels in check, helps your body fight off infections, helps you feel alert, and improves your mood.
Natural Ways to Improve Sleep
If a good night’s sleep seems like a distant memory, don’t worry—there are plenty of things you can do to start sleeping better. Here are 10 things you can start today:
1) Exercise regularly.
Regular exercise does more than keep your weight in check and heart functioning properly—it helps you get a restful sleep, too. In this study by researchers from Oregon State University, adults who got 150 minutes of exercise each week reported a 65% improvement in sleep quality. Exercise releases excess energy, so you’re more likely to fall and stay asleep.
Just make sure exercise 3-4 hours before bed; exercise increases your body temperature and leaves you energized for several hours before sleepiness actually kicks in.
2) Get on a sleep schedule.
Establish a routine of going to bed and waking up at the same time each morning. (Yes, this includes the weekends!) Your body will get used to the routine, making it easier to fall asleep and wake up. Consider leaving the curtains open when you go to bed, too. This allows natural sunlight into your room, which can cue your internal clock that it’s time to wake up.
3) Watch what you drink at night.
If your evening routine includes a cup of coffee or other caffeinated beverage, that could be the culprit behind a restless night. Caffeine is a stimulant, increasing adrenaline and blocking sleep chemicals. Experts recommend limiting caffeine intake to about 250 milligrams each day, or roughly the equivalent of three 8-ounce cups of coffee. Another study found that caffeine can affect sleep up to 6 hours after consuming it, so avoid it before bed.
The same goes for alcohol. While a glass of wine before bed may make you feel drowsy, regularly drinking before bed can disrupt sleep patterns.
4) Establish a calming bedtime routine.
Have you ever gone to bed with your mind racing about things you forgot to do that day or need to do tomorrow? This could be keeping you up. Make it a habit to de-stress before bed with a calming bedtime ritual. This could be taking a bath, reading, journaling, meditating, or going for a walk.
5) Drink calming beverages.
Certain drinks are wonderful, all-natural sleep aids and the perfect complement to any bedtime routine. Caffeine-free herbal teas like chamomile, valerian, and lavender have also been shown in some studies to have sedative effects.
But if teas aren’t your thing, you should try Growing Naturals’ P.M. Restore which is dark chocolate flavored and contains a blend of natural sleep aid ingredients (like chamomile, lemon balm and melatonin) to help promote a more restful sleep and designed to be taken hot or cold. (Hello hot chocolate!) Plus you can help ward off those nighttime cravings with the added 15g of plant protein and 5g of fiber per serving.
6) Get more magnesium in your diet.
Magnesium-rich foods like pumpkin, sunflower, and sesame seeds; spinach, chards, and other dark leafy greens; black beans and soybeans; and many others are not only healthy, but they’ve also been shown to help improve insomnia. In this study of adults suffering from insomnia, those who took magnesium supplements reported significantly better sleep and sleep quality than those taking a placebo.
If you’re in the habit of checking your emails in bed or playing a game or two before you fall asleep, stop right now. The effect of smartphones on sleep in people of all ages has been studied extensively, with some pretty fascinating results. Smartphones and tablets emit what’s known as “blue light,” which signals to the brain that it’s morning, suppressing melatonin and leading to poor sleep quality as your body attempts to stay awake. Put your phone out of reach, and silence it so it doesn’t wake you up with ringing or buzzing in the middle of the night.
8) Eat foods with melatonin.
Melatonin, also known as the sleep hormone, is responsible for helping regulate the body’s circadian rhythm (the body’s internal clock that operates your sleep/wake cycle). Certain melatonin-rich foods—such as tart cherry juice, orange bell peppers, flaxseeds and mustard seeds, tomatoes, and goji berries, to name a few—have been shown to elevate melatonin production and improve sleep duration. So grab your favorite smoothie recipe, add in some tart cherry juice or flaxseeds, and enjoy a more restful sleep!
9) Don’t smoke.
Improving your sleep is yet another reason to quit smoking. Nicotine is classified as a stimulant, speeding up your heart rate and other body systems and making it difficult to fall asleep.
10) Make your room sleep-friendly.
Bright lights, the glow of appliances, traffic, and even noisy neighbors can all make it difficult to fall and stay asleep. Make your room a sleep haven by eliminating sources of bright light. Blackout curtains, eye masks, and even tossing a t-shirt over your digital alarm clock can all help keep your room darker.
If noise is keeping you up, listening to calming music or restful nature sounds like crashing waves or rain can help you feel calmer while drowning out unwanted noise. Just be sure to put it on a sleep timer or make sure it’s not on a loop so it doesn’t wake you up once you fall asleep.
Sleep is essential for good health, productivity, and a better, more alert mood. If you struggle with sleep, these ten tips will have you getting more z’s in no time.
Written By: Jill Overmyer
Reviewed and Edited By: Scarlett Full, in-house Registered Dietitian