Ah, sleep. Most of us spent years protesting our bedtimes and crying at naptime, and now would “kill” for a mid-day nap or a great night of uninterrupted, restful sleep. We’re all busy, and our schedules are full. Our minds are racing, the kids are crying, our phones are vibrating … those are reasons why you may not be sleeping enough, but they’re not excuses to settle for low-quality sleep. In fact, if you’re not able to get a solid 8 hours per night, sleep quality becomes even more important. So today, I’ll tell you how to improve sleep naturally, so that you can maximize the sleep that you are getting.
Is sleep really important?
Before we get into the tips, I want to make sure you know how important sleep is. Not only does it feel amazing, but it is critical for your physical health: your body repairs muscle tissue that has been damaged (in a good way!) from your workouts, and tissue in other parts of your body that is damaged just by going through the day. It is important for maintaining an optimal weight, and studies show that obesity is increased in those who are chronically sleep deprived. It is important for your memory, clear thinking, ability to learn, and stress management, and also for maintaining an appropriate hormone balance. Lack of sleep causes cravings for sugar and impacts how your body handles insulin (the hormone that controls your blood sugar). Being chronically sleep deprived has been linked to increased risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, heart disease, kidney disease, and more.
So now that we know how important good quality sleep is, here are my top 7 tips to improve sleep naturally.
- Exercise in the morning. Research shows that exercising in the morning helps your body adjust to its normal circadiam rhythms, making you better able to fall asleep at bedtime. Plus, you’ll feel more productive, improve your overall health, and start the day focusing on you rather than jumping right into work. Want more tips? Check out this post on my morning routine. Still not a morning person? Try to provide as much time as possible between exercise and sleep, ideally finishing your workout 3 hours before you go to bed.
- Limit caffeine 6 hours before bedtime. I know, I know. I love my coffee, too (when I’m not doing a 10-Day Reset, at least!), but it’s not the best for high-quality sleep. Consuming caffeine 6 or fewer hours before bedtime not only makes falling asleep harder, but also impairs your quality of sleep throughout the night. So don’t worry about your morning cup o’ joe, but establish a strict cut-off time for yourself.
- Limit sugar as much as possible, especially 3 hours before bedtime. I have a major sweet tooth (chocolate is a food group, right?), so I struggle right alongside you to limit sugar, especially before bedtime. I enjoy dessert every single night (after all, I’m all about *balance*!), but I try to stick to lower-sugar treats, such as a square or two of no-sugar-added dark chocolate, a warm mug of Organifi Gold, or my “chocolate milkshake,” which is chocolate Skinny Gut protein mixed with almond milk, ice, and unsweetened cocoa powder.
- Limit blue light an hour before bedtime. This post gives a full debrief on blue light, but here’s the short version: Numerous studies show that blue light (which comes from our phones, computers, TVs, and other devices) affects levels of melatonin, which is a hormone that helps regulate sleep quality. I really recommend putting away all devices an hour before bed, because in addition to the blue light, the mental stimulation can get you thinking about something that will keep you awake or cause negative emotions (hello, Instagram comparison trap!), but if it’s impossible to put the devices away, I suggest at least wearing some blue-light blocking glasses like these an hour before bed.
- Take magnesium 20 minutes before bedtime. I have taken magnesium before bed for years, and I swear by it for helping my “monkey mind” calm down before bed and throughout sleep. Without it, I often wake myself up going through my to-list or getting caught on an incessant and repetitive thought. Many studies confirm the helpful effects of magnesium on sleep quality, and it also helps with digestion, cramping, and premenstrual syndrome and cravings. I personally take this brand, but this one is more widely available. See 5:25 in this video for more on magnesium.
- Create an optimal sleep environment. Sleeping in a dark, cool, quiet place is optimal, so those blackout curtains that make you sleep like a baby in a hotel room are not just placebos. Do your best to eliminate any sources of light, including from alarm clocks, moonlight, TVs, or lamps. As chilly as it makes me feel to even think about it, the optimal sleep temperature is between 60 and 67 degrees, so keep it cool, and don’t wear excessive clothing. Trying to drown out background noise with a white noise machine (I have this one in my office), and removing radios, TVs, and pets are all helpful. (Full disclosure: my dogs sleep in my room … but my quality of sleep is definitely poorer with them there.)
- Try a relaxation practice before falling asleep. Trying to go from working directly to sleeping with only a 5 minute break to brush my teeth and wash my face worked for years when I was consulting and in business school, but just doesn’t work any more, and I’m not the exception. Our brains need some time to wind down from the stress of the day (even if you love your job, like I do!). I highly recommend trying meditation (I like the Calm app for sleep), a stretching or foam rolling routine, reading a book, or taking a bath as you wind down for the evening. It doesn’t have to be long, but giving yourself at least 10 minutes to wind down will do wonders for your sleep quality.
Now it’s your turn … Do you struggle with sleep quality? What is your best tip to improve it?