After many years of doing things the same old way, many of us tend to develop and grow accustomed to poor sleep habits. As with any bad habit, we must break the cycle by literally retraining our body and mind to sleep again. Whether you have problems falling asleep, wake up frequently throughout the night, wake too early or simply experience poor quality sleep overall, implement as many of these lifestyle modifications as possible. In return, you will find yourself more productive and better balanced during the day.
Avoid stimulating activities before bed. Computer use in the evening raises dopamine and noradrenalin, our brain-stimulating hormones that should naturally be higher during the daytime. In the evening, engage in calming activities such as reading or meditation, which make you more serotonin-dominant. Choose relaxing reading materials that have nothing to do with your work or career. Stop all your work-related activities at least two hours before bed. Allow yourself some downtime. Watching television can also be too stimulating for some people; if you suspect this is true for you, break your bedtime TV habit!
Develop a calming bedtime routine. Breaking bad habits often requires cultivating good ones. Reading something spiritual or listening to soft music can become cues that help train your body and mind to relax. Choose your nighttime reading carefully – if it’s too enticing, you may stay up too late reading; if it’s upsetting or emotional, you may find falling asleep more difficult. Select books, music or other soothing stimuli that make you feel good and help take your mind off the stresses of daily life. If you find you often lie awake in bed with endless thoughts of what you must do or things you have done churning through your head, get out of bed and write down your feelings. You’ll be surprised by how much relief this process can provide.
Exercise at the right time. Exercising less than three hours before bedtime may be too stimulating and can impede your ability to fall asleep. Yoga and strength training are exceptions, as these activities are often less stimulating than cardiovascular exercise. Working out three to six hours before bed, on the other hand, will help you maximize the benefits of exercise on sleep, since the body actually increases deep sleep to compensate for the physical stress of your workout. Exercise also promotes healthy sleep patterns because of its positive effect on body temperature. After a workout, our body gradually cools down, which naturally makes us sleepy. To relax your muscles and trigger the sleep response after exercise, try a hot bath with Epsom salts. Soak in water as hot as you can stand with 1—2 cups of Epsom salts for at least 20 minutes.
Take a hot bath, shower or sauna. As with exercise, your body will naturally cool down after a hot bath or shower, making you feel sleepier. Take a hot bath about two hours before bedtime, keeping the water hot for at least 25 minutes to stimulate the drop in body temperature that makes us tired. Again, add Epsom salts to detoxify your body and relax your muscles. An infrared sauna is also a great option for detox, weight loss, and aiding sleep.
Avoid caffeine at any time of the day. Caffeine may be metabolized at different rates in different people. A dose of caffeine usually takes 15 to 30 minutes to take effect and lasts for four to five hours. In some people, it may last much longer, making caffeine use in the afternoon a bad idea. If you must have caffeine, limit it to small amounts in the morning only. Caffeine may also negatively affect the natural release cycle of cortisol, which is generally highest in the morning and lowest in the evening. Cortisol release rises slightly at 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. and then hits its peak around 6 a.m. If this pattern is disrupted, you may awaken at these times and find you are unable to fall back asleep.
Avoid bedtime snacks that are high in sugar or simple carbohydrates. Carbohydrate-rich snacks such as breads, cereals, muffins, cookies or other baked goods prompt a short-term spike in blood sugar, followed by a sugar crash later on. When blood sugar drops, adrenalin, glucagon, cortisol and growth hormone are released to regulate blood glucose levels. These hormones can stimulate the brain, causing you to awaken and possibly stay awake. Try to avoid eating for at least two hours before going to bed. If you do need to eat something, reach for a protein-rich, high-fiber snack such as a few almonds and half an apple. Protein provides a source of the amino acid tryptophan. The body converts tryptophan to serotonin and melatonin, hormones that are important for sleep.
Last but not least, you can try my new hormonal health prescription for improving sleep. Take 3 mg melatonin (sublingual – i.e. dissolved under your tongue, which is better absorbed) alternating nightly with 2 caps 5 HTP Plus (from Douglas Laboratories). Take this mixture of products with 200 to 400 mg of magnesium nightly for a perfect slumber.