I’m really excited to share my best sleep tips because sleeping well is a topic I’m SO passionate about. For years I had terrible sleeping habits and for a while I didn’t realize how much of an affect it had on the entirety of my well-being. I have no idea why but for a while I knew my sleep habits were poor and unhealthy, yet it took me SO long change them! I really do see why my clients struggle greatly with sleep issues, and I relate to how difficult it can be to address it. In fact, most of my clients do have sleep issues, as this is incredibly common living in this day and age. Many factors are external, some are internal and have to do with diet, and others seem so out of your control that it can make you feel like you’ll never have hope. I’m going to thoroughly walk through my struggles and all of my best sleep tips that have helped me over the years to regain my energy and my life back!
My Sleep Story
My poor sleep habits began when I was in high school. I started getting really into reading novels and I would be so into the stories that I would stay up until around 2 or 3am every night. Over time this took a toll on my body, but I didn’t notice it affecting me at first. I didn’t have the best energy levels, but I didn’t mind staying up late and sleeping in late so it didn’t bother me. I definitely never considered myself a morning person at that stage in my life. When I was 17 I started my first full-time job. I had to start work every morning at 7:30am. Luckily my job was so close to my home I was probably waking up at 6:30am the earliest. At first I was fine, but not too long into working this schedule, I started becoming incredibly exhausted. The work itself was both physically and mentally exhausting. The combination of both stress and poor sleep habits resulted in adrenal fatigue (explained thoroughly down below). I got to such a low in my life to the point where there were days that my alarm would wake me up and I would be so unbearably tired that I literally cried because I just couldn’t keep sleeping. My body desperately craved rest and I wasn’t giving it what it needed. There was even a point where the sound of my alarm clock would terrify me because I dreaded waking up and I had anxiety about not having enough rest.
My health quickly became the worst that it had ever been. There were a few other factors in my life (I was detoxing from a few years of taking the birth control pill) that made my health deteriorate, but during this time due to my adrenal fatigue and hormonal imbalances, I gained 40lbs in around 2 years or less. My skin was terrible, my body was inflamed, I lacked vitality, I was depressed and overly stressed at the same time. I remember feeling so depressed when that summer of working my full-time job had come and gone because I felt that I let the whole summer pass by. I stayed inside most of the week working, I was too tired to do anything after work, and on the weekends I would catch up on my sleep. I ended up switching positions at my job because I was so miserable and I needed to focus on my health and happiness. For other reasons, it honestly took me a few more years to really get my sleep schedule regular and healthy, but it has been regular for a few years now and it has been one of the biggest catalysts to improve my health and well being.
The circadian rhythm is the body’s 24 hour internal clock that regulates sleep and wake cycles as well as alertness and energy levels. The below image represents a normal circadian rhythm. Our bodies naturally move through this cycle daily. It’s normal to go through periods of feeling more and less alert, and more and less tired.
The circadian rhythm is a very important cycle that is most often overlooked. Do you ever feel a dip in energy around lunch time? This is completely normal and part of the cycle! Essentially, each hour the body goes through different processes as a part of the rhythm. It’s important to follow the circadian rhythm in order to maintain the body’s natural flow of energy. In a perfect world, this would be our optimal sleep and wake schedule. However there are a multitude of factors that can throw off the body’s natural circadian rhythm.
Improper Sleep Schedule
First and foremost, if you aren’t sleeping at the right times during the night, the circadian rhythm can become severely imbalanced. I can’t stress enough that the time of the night in which you sleep is critical for overall well-being. You can sleep 8 hours every night, but if you aren’t sleeping during the right time, there could be serious health consequences. I always feel that if I go to sleep sometime past 1am, even if I sleep a full 9 hours, I never feel properly rested. I wake up feeling groggy and demotivated. If I go to sleep at 11pm and wake at 8am, I feel like a completely different person! It’s safe to say that most people feel a significant overall increase in mood when they can naturally wake up early. If I wake up past 9am I always seem to feel a little less motivated, and subconsciously I feel like I’ve already wasted some of my day. On some days this is totally fine, but overall I feel so much motivation and energy when I wake up anytime before 9am.
This has a lot to do with the fact that, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, every 2 hours or so a different organ system is in action either repairing and healing or actively working. It’s incredibly important to be resting during specific hours in order for our organs to carry out their proper functions. Furthermore, at certain hours of the day and night, specific hormones such as cortisol are released, along with other neurotransmitters. This cycle of hormones also gets severely imbalanced with improper sleep, which affects the body’s overall well-being and can result in adrenal fatigue. Research shows that it’s important to sleep during the hours of 10pm and 2am in order for the body to properly rest and repair, as this is the most regenerative sleep phase.
Stress & Adrenal Fatigue
Adrenal fatigue is both a cause and effect of an imbalanced circadian rhythm. Adrenal fatigue as well as chronic fatigue syndrome occur when the body has undergone long periods of stress. Your adrenal glands are there for you to support the body in times of stress. For example, if you walk onto the street and suddenly a car is approaching you, your adrenals instantly send hormones and messages to the body and brain to jump out of the way of the car. This is a healthy and normal stress response. However, in today’s world, where there is stress around every corner, our adrenals can become severely burdened. Every time stress occurs, the adrenals release cortisol. These days, many of us are stressed the second we wake up.
Our harsh, blaring alarms wake us up, causing an instant surge in stress hormones.
Then it’s time to get ready for work. Perhaps the thought of the day ahead gives you anxiety. Whether it involves meetings, deadlines, angry bosses, etc…
Traffic to and from your daily destination causes a constant surge in cortisol, always keeping you on high alert.
Many of us even have stress when we get home. Whether it’s family, kids, or too many commitments.
We turn on the news and get a rush of negativity that’s going on in the world. More stress.
It’s the end of the day and all of your worries start to collect in your brain. Bills to pay, messy home, drama in relationships… the list literally goes on and on.
Simplifying life is a whole other topic. The point is that today’s society creates a very demanding lifestyle and it absolutely takes a massive toll on our daily lives. The natural stress response is meant for extreme cases, such as getting away from an approaching threat. The daily routines of our lifestyles create constant strain on the adrenals and the body. Our adrenals can only handle so much.
With adrenal fatigue, the normal pattern of cortisol becomes severely imbalanced. At night, cortisol levels are supposed to be naturally low. This is a part of the normal circadian rhythm. After a stressful day of well… constant stress, cortisol becomes high in the evening, when it normally shouldn’t be. Is your mind ever racing at night, preventing you from sleeping? How easy is it for you to sleep when you are stressed? For most people, it’s pretty difficult to sleep during stress, and this is because cortisol is meant to keep you awake and alert. When we wake up in the morning, cortisol should be nice and elevated in order for us to feel energy and spring out of bed. High cortisol at night often results in low cortisol in the morning, which is why sometimes it can be so hard to peel yourself off of your bed in the morning.
Our adrenals have our backs and work to keep us healthy. It can be difficult to minimize external stresses that are out of our control, but we owe it to our bodies to minimize stress whenever possible in order to live a healthy life. Sometimes this involves making significant lifestyle changes, but if you suffer from adrenal fatigue, you’ll benefit significantly from minimizing the stress in your life.
If you feel the classic symptoms of adrenal fatigue such as stress, anxiety, feeling burnt out, not feeling rested no matter how much you sleep, muscle weakness, poor cognitive function, and feeling wired but tired, I encourage you to get some testing done and to address this issue with a holistic health practitioner.
Serotonin & Melatonin
Serotonin and melatonin are two hormones that directly affect sleep. Serotonin is one of your happy hormones. While this might not sound too important for sleep, sufficient serotonin levels throughout the day are critical in order for the body to produce sufficient melatonin naturally at night. Melatonin is a hormone that is naturally released in the evening. It sends the signal to your body that it’s time to go to sleep.
Sunlight and daylight are one of the biggest regulators of serotonin. Do you naturally feel happier when the sun comes out? I sure do. The human eye contains photosensitive cells in the retina. When they are exposed to UV light, it sends a signal to the brain to produce serotonin. Certain foods that contain tryptophan such as bananas, some nuts and seeds, and other foods, can convert to serotonin. Realistically, anything that makes you happy will create serotonin!
That being said, exposure to sunlight is one of the most integral ways to regulate the body’s natural sleep and wake cycles. It’s easy to fall into the habit of staying inside all day. We wake up, go to work, then come home exhausted, not wanting to spend any time outside. In a more natural and less industrial world, humans would spend far more time outside in nature.
At night, the body starts to produce melatonin naturally around 9pm. When the sun goes down and there is less stimulation, the body should be going into a relaxed state in order to be calm before bed and prepare for sleep. One of the biggest factors that hinder melatonin production is the exposure to light sources at night time, especially blue light from screens such as our cell phones, tvs, laptops, and tablets. Staring at these unnatural sources of light before bed send a signal to the brain that it isn’t time for sleep, and melatonin production is significantly impaired.
I wanted to mention that whenever I go camping, I can feel my circadian rhythm balance right out! When I go camping I’m outside the entire day and exposed to a sufficient amount of daylight. Furthermore, I’m physically active which helps to make me tired at night. When the sun sets I immediately start to feel tired and I’m almost always in bed by around 10pm. Then the natural lighting coming through my tent in the morning has me awake around 6:30am! I typically never feel tired enough to sleep at 10pm (although this is my goal) when I’m sleeping at home.
How Lack of Sleep Affects the Body
So why is any of this important? There are many different physical, mental, and emotional health issues that can result from chronic sleep deprivation. Some of these include:
- lack of energy, vitality, and overall wellness
- lack of mental clarity and decreased cognitive function
- adrenal fatigue
- weight gain
- mood changes and tendency for mood swings
- decreased immunity
- hormonal imbalances
- increased cortisol levels and weakened ability for your body’s resistance to stress
- imbalanced hormones
- less productivity
- possible weight gain
- insulin resistance
- and more
Determine Why You Can’t Sleep
There could be a number of reasons why you struggle with sleep. It’s important to get down to the bottom of it in order to know how to address the issue. It might helped to journal about your sleep and also journal about your day to see what factors might be causing you issues. Some common reasons for not sleeping well include:
- stress and anxiety
- adrenal fatigue
- over stimulation in the evening
- excessive use of technology before bed
- melatonin deficiency
- external factors such as excessive noise and light
- medications that might be interfering with sleep
My Best Sleep Tips
Calming Activities Before Bed & A Good Bedtime Routine
Taking 1 hour before bed to wind down from the day is very helpful to get into a relaxed state and prepare for a good sleep. I suggest a combination of the following calming activities that you enjoy from this list. There may be others as well so you find what works best for you and what you enjoy the most!
- yoga or stretching (focus on restorative and yin yoga for relaxation rather than something too stimulating)
- reading (try and refrain from reading anything too exciting or stressful that might end up keeping you awake)
- take a bath (with epsom salts and/or essential oils would be a bonus)
- listen to calming music
- reduce lights in the bedroom and set the mood for sleep
- run an essential oil diffuser with oils that are good for calm or sleep (some great ones are lavender, cedarwood, holy basil, sweet marjoram, ylang ylang, chamomile, neroli, and sandalwood)
- journaling (writing in a journal can be very therapeutic for people who experience stress and overthinking, as it can be a great way to temporarily express your thoughts and get them out of your head)
- practice gratitude (write down 5-10 things you’re grateful for at the end of every day, you’ll be amazed at how it puts you in a positive and relaxed state of mind)
- practice deep breathing and breath work
- avoid using your cell phone and other technology that can be overstimulating
Make Your Bedroom A Sleep Sanctuary
This touches on the last topic of creating a calm environment for sleep. Clear clutter from your bedroom! A messy room often equals a messy mind. A clean room with fresh sheets and minimal clutter is so important for promoting a good sleep.
Invest in a comfy mattress and pillows. I have a really sensitive back and a bad mattress prevents me from sleeping well and feeling rested since I’m tossing and turning at night to get comfy.
Another thing to note is to avoid hanging out on your bed during the day so that you associate your bed with being sleepy. If you do a lot of activities hanging out on your bed, you may find it harder to relax and think of your bed as a place to sleep.
Sleep In Complete Darkness
Even the smallest amount of light can significantly reduce melatonin production. Some people enjoy night lights but they can actually be very disruptive for sleep. If you’re somebody who falls a sleep with the bedroom tv on, re-think this habit as it hinders melatonin production. I suggest sleeping in a room that is as dark as possible. Some ways to achieve this are to:
- wear an eye mask
- use blackout curtains
- cover up little lights from electronic devices (you can even cover up your alarm clock, and I recommend doing this especially if watching your clock at night gives you anxiety)
- close your bedroom door to reduce external light
From my personal experience, sleeping with an eye mask actually makes it difficult to wake up in the morning. I like when natural sunlight comes in my room and wakes me up. Sometimes sleeping with an eye mask keeps me in a deep sleep for too long and makes me feel groggy when I wake. This is just my experience so play around to see what works for you!
Avoid Blue Light Before Bed
The blue light emitted by cell phones, tablets, tv, and computer screens significantly impairs the body’s ability to produce melatonin. We’re all guilty of late night tv watching or cell phone scrolling. But this harmful habit is too stimulating and can make it very difficult for some people to sleep. Here are a few tips to avoid the negative effects from blue light:
- avoid looking at screens for at least 1 hour before bed or longer
- use apps on your devices to eliminate the blue light (I like the app called Night Shift for my phone, and some apps are programmed to automatically shift lighting at the same time each night or when the sun sets)
- wear blue light blocking glasses in the evening
- if you work from home and on your own time, avoiding working at night on the computer
Shut Off Your Phone!
If you’re somebody who leaves your cell phone on day and night, you might want to rethink how this habit might be affecting your ability to sleep. I suggest shutting off your phone completely before bed in order to have an uninterrupted sleep. Remember that unless it’s an emergency, most texts and social media notifications can wait until the morning! As a side note, a lot of people experience a more restful sleep when technology is off at night to do reduced electromagnetic frequencies. Here are some tips to avoid looking at your phone at night:
- the first is obvious – completely shut off your phone and use a real alarm clock
- put your phone in a droor to reduce temptation even more – out of sight, out of mind!
- if you do need your phone on in order to use it for an alarm, turn off the sound for notifications in order to avoid being woken up and using your phone at night (however I do highly recommend using an actual alarm clock and shutting off your phone to reduce all temptation)
- if you feel the need to keep your volume on in case of emergency then keep it on a low/medium volume
Don’t Let Your Alarm Clock Stress You Out
I will never forget the ancient alarm clock that my dad had for around 20 years. The alarm was so loud and the tone sounded like it was intended as an alarm for emergency evacuation. I never understood how he used it everyday! Waking up to a blaring alarm clock puts the body in fight or flight mode, meaning before your eyes even open up for the day, your body is already on edge, pumping stress hormones. All of us love waking up naturally on the weekends (or whenever you don’t need an alarm). This is the most natural way to wake up and start your day after all! But with modern society’s demands, this isn’t possible for most people. To avoid the shock from waking to a blaring alarm and putting the body in stress mode:
- use an alarm clock that has a softer sound, or wake up to the radio with low volume
- if you have an alarm clock with the ability to doc your phone or an mp3 device, you can program the clock to wake you up to relaxing music of your choice
- if you really want to you can try to set up your sleep schedule in order to naturally wake up early enough everyday and then set your alarm clock as a backup (ex if you need to be awake at 8, aim to be asleep by 10pm and you’ll get a solid 9 hours of sleep by 7am!)
- I have no experience with this product, but there are alarm clocks that use a gradual increase of light to wake you up
- if being aware of the time stresses you out at night, cover up your alarm not only to reduce light exposure but to reduce anxiety from staring at a ticking clock
Try To Keep Your Sleep Schedule The Same Everyday
You can try really hard to have a good sleep schedule during the week but you might be sabotaging yourself if you stay up very late every weekend. Of course you should still have a life and enjoy friends and events, but try to minimize staying up very late every single weekend as it can make it difficult to get your schedule back on track. It’s easiest if the body has a regular schedule that isn’t thrown off regularly. If you do stay out late occasionally, instead of waking up early, I suggest allowing your body to sleep sufficiently as I believe this to be more important than keeping your sleep schedule that regular (in my opinion and experience, this is better than sleep deprivation).
Have A Good Morning Routine
A good morning routine is just as helpful for sleeping as a good night routine. We’ve all felt that amazing feeling of waking up early, having tons of energy, and feeling super motivated! I find when I sleep in late, I instantly wake up feeling less motivated. After a good night’s sleep, starting the day with a good morning routine will help to balance the circadian rhythm. Furthermore, if you experience chronic stress, these habits will help you to start your day off on a good foot to promote more balanced cortisol levels during the day. Some of my favourite habits to incorporate into my morning routine are to:
- start off the day with positivity, gratitude, and good intentions in order to get motivated and start the day feeling good
- have a good breakfast
- practice mindfulness and living in the moment
If you find it hard to sleep at night, you may not have burned enough energy during the day. Exercise produces serotonin (as mentioned earlier this is later converted to melatonin in the evening). Furthermore it’s important to work physically during the day for at least some amount of time in order to feel physically and mentally tired in the evening.
Of course exercise is important for overall health and well being anyways. Exercise at least a few times each week for around 45 minutes or more. Note that exercising in the evening can be too stimulating and can keep you awake. If you struggle with fitting exercise into your schedule, try to exercise before work/school. You can even take advantage of going for a walk or doing light exercise doing your lunch break if that’s appealing to you. Everybody is different though and a lot of people find they have no problems sleeping when exercising in the evening.
Note that relaxing and restorative yoga is an exception and can be really beneficial to help promote sleep.
Spend Time In Nature
Remember when you were a kid and you spent all afternoon outside, then you came home and felt absolutely exhausted? Or when you spent all day at the beach and felt tired from the sun? Spending time in nature is so important for your overall well being, but it’s also a factor in promoting good sleep as well. Being outside improves your overall mood and reduces stress and anxiety. If you’re physically active when you’re out in nature, this is a bonus because you can tire out the body. Furthermore, exposure to sunlight naturally regulates the circadian rhythm, producing serotonin which will later convert to melatonin.
Winter can be a difficult time of the year for many. Do you feel an increase in stress and overall exhausting during the winter? If you suffer from the winter blues like I do, it can be a lot trickier to get UV exposure since we feel less motivated to go outside and also there is less sunlight overall. I encourage you to read my blog on seasonal affective disorder for tips on how to address this issue.
Light Therapy Lamp
In parts of the world that don’t get a lot of sun, or during the winter time when the sun tends to disappear for a while, the circadian rhythm can get a bit imbalanced due to lack of UV light exposure. Those who suffer from the winter blues feel this especially. Some people find that their sleep is improved when using a light therapy lamp. Light therapy lamps are meant for cloudy days and they are used with the intention to mimic the positive benefits from UV light exposure on sleep, mood, and more as mentioned above. I currently use this one. In my honest experience I haven’t tested it out enough to feel it’s full benefits, but I do notice it makes me feel more alert on dark, dreary days. However many people swear by them and I just need to use mine more to find out for myself!
It’s way to easy to fall into the caffeine trap. Tired? Drink some coffee and it will make you feel alert! Unfortunately every time you drink coffee, the adrenal glands release cortisol and other stress hormones, which in the long run depletes you adrenal glans, which therefore interferes with your natural sleep schedule. It’s a viscous cycle and coffee only masks the symptoms of feeling tired. If you do need a boost after a non-restful sleep, I highly recommend drinking matcha tea. I adore matcha because it’s a serious superfood, it has a healthy balance of caffeine along with other ingredients to promote a slow and steady release of energy, rather than a spike and a crash, and it tastes fantastic! There are many other wonderful health benefits from matcha including antioxidants, mood enhancing effects, and much more. If you do drink coffee, do your very best to not drink it too late in the afternoon or evening. You may be surprised that your afternoon coffee is affecting your sleep!
Avoid Eating Too Close To Bed Time
Every time you eat any food, the body begins many processes. Digestion kicks in, hormones are released, the pancreas is ready to bring sugar from the blood to the cells, and more. Eating too close to bed makes the body work just a little bit harder than in needs to. In the evening time it’s better to be in a rest and repair state. It takes a surprising amount of energy to digest food, and many people find they sleep better when they stop eating a few hours before bed.
As a side note, if you have a smaller bladder and find you get up to go the washroom at night frequently, avoid drinking anything too close to bedtime so you can try and have an uninterrupted sleep.
A few more quick points…
- If you have sleep apnea, losing weight is one of the best ways to address this condition.
- If you have a schedule that varies greatly, plan ahead to literally schedule in a good night’s sleep.
- If you work shift work and work nights, I recognize that it can be really really difficult to get a good night’s sleep and I highly suggest using melatonin daily to fall asleep.
- If you suffer from hot flashes and menopausal symptoms and you also have sleep issues, balancing hormones will help your symptoms greatly.
- If your partner snores, try to address the issue.
- If pets are interfering with your sleep, address the issue.
- Ask the people in your life to respect your needs (keep noise down, don’t pressure you to stay out too late, etc…).
- Wear ear plugs if you must sleep through excessive noise.
- Take natural supplements to help promote a restful sleep.
Natural and organic supplements are always a fantastic way to address health issues, and there are various herbs and remedies that are wonderful for sleep. It’s important to find out the reason for your lack of sleep in order to determine which remedy suits you best.
- Melatonin is usually the first supplement I suggest taking, especially if you’re unsure why you aren’t sleeping. Lack of sleep is most commonly a cause of melatonin deficiency. Melatonin is also very inexpensive.
- If you suffer from depression, L-Theanine or 5HTP are wonderful options to increase serotonin levels, and therefore increase melatonin. Herbal options include St. John’s Wort or Rhodiola.
- Supplement with adequate levels of vitamin D every single day, especially if you suffer from seasonal affective disorder.
- If you suffer from anxiety and this is a known cause of your lack of sleep, try Holy Basil (my absolute favourite stress remedy) to balance cortisol levels before bed, or anytime you feel anxious. Valerian is also wonderful to take before bed if you suffer from anxiety and stress.
- Many people have a magnesium deficiency. Taking magnesium in the evening is a great remedy to promote calm, relaxation, and sleep.
- If you’re unsure what remedy is best, a product with multiple herbs could be very beneficial.
If you think your lack of good quality sleep is affecting your health and your life and you want to make a change, sometimes it takes making changes to your lifestyle, which might mean making changes to your work schedule, habits and more. While I understand some of these factors are not feasible for everyone, if you really want to address your sleep issues then you need to prioritize your health over other things. If your lack of sleep is causing you that much misery (like it did for me) remember that you are not a slave to your job or this world, and there is a solution for any insomniac!!!
Lot’s of love, and sleep well ❤🌙