The Secrets of Restful Sleep
We all know that sleep is essential for our health.
We all know that we aren’t getting enough or deep enough of sleep.
We keep reaching for that cup of coffee or tea in the morning, always needing that little pick me up.
So what do we do when we can’t find a way to quiet the mind at night and find deep relaxation in our body?
A lot of us will reach for over the counter drugs at our local pharmacy or try a flashy herbal extract supplement that claims to be the end all be all for getting the right type of sleep.
The problem is, drugs, supplements, and herbs affect every individual in a unique way, based on their health status and function, so what works for one person may or may not work for the next.
Here are some common pitfalls with current sleep products out in the market:
Great for falling asleep, but not for staying asleep. It has a short half life which means that it only sticks around for a few hours, so people can still wake up in the middle of the night.
A potent GABA receptor that can cause a number of side effects from vomiting & nausea, dizziness, insomnia, aggression, confusion, and loss of coordination. Again long term use will decrease its effects and interfere with normal central nervous system function.
A sedating antihistamine that acts on the central nervous system that can cause blurred vision, dry mouth, urinary retention, and daytime drowsiness.
The root of the issue is that most sleeping supplements may help you get to sleep, but do not help you get deeper sleep, only keeping you in a lighter state of sleep which is why so many people still end up groggy when they wake up in the mornings.
In a perfect world, all of us would be able to tap into the natural biological systems that we already have in place. Well, good thing this is a perfect world, because all our built in tools for falling asleep can easily be tapped in too with a bit of guidance!
Here are 5 proven changes you can make in your daily and nightly routine to help you fall asleep like the biologically tuned in and well rested human being you desire to be!
Ditch that blue light!
Now this might be a common one a lot of people have heard of, but it can’t be iterated enough. As we develop more as a society, the more we rely on gadgets and technology throughout the day, because, well…….. they make life easier.
I got bad news for ya, they make getting good sleep much much harder!
Blue light is the most strenuous and stimulating frequency of light for the human eye, this might make a lot of sense to you if you’ve ever gotten a mean headache and a tight scalp from a day of working on the computer screen (1). Blue light literally increases the oxidative stress and metabolite accumulation in our eyes, which is why they end up bloodshot and strained at the end of the day (2)
Blue light exposure accumulates over the day, so the more time we spend on our tech everyday the more activated our sympathetic state gets (fight or flight!). This is especially concerning in younger populations how have been raised in an intimate relationship with technology. Being mindful throughout the day of our screen time will help us find more rest in the long run. (3)
Melatonin is most strongly affected by blue light, as opposed to other lights, and directly suppresses our circadian rhythm (4).
Make sure to avoid bright screens for 2-3 hours before bed, use dim or red toned lights at night to help increase melatonin production, wear blue light blockers if it’s essential that you use technology at night, and make sure to get outside into the natural sunlight as much as possible throughout the day!
Protect your sleep environment
Most of us love our beds, and I mean REALLY love our beds. We think about them throughout the day and can’t wait to get back to them after a long or even short holiday. It’s our safe pace and cozy haven that always makes us feel better.
What if we told you that spending too much time in bed is actually very counteractive to a healthy and deep night of sleep!?
Our brain, which is sometimes much more active than we may notice, will pickup on how much time we spend in bed and what we are doing while in bed.
If you are hanging out, texting, watching movies/shows, or stressing in our bed then our brain begins to associate wakefulness and activities with laying in bed. This makes it even harder for us to clear our head at night. (6)
Keep your room quiet and clutter free. Try reducing ambient light and shut off as many electronic devices as possible, including your WiFi routers. Those EMF’s are more powerful than we realize and will interfere with any good rhythms or vibrations happening! Clear space = clear mind! (5)
If you often find yourself with racing thoughts or a busy mind at night, then this may be one of the main culprits. After laying in bed for 15-20 minutes without finding sleep, get out of bed. Do something mundane and relaxing until you feel sleepy, then go back to bed. If you still can’t fall asleep, repeat this until you find sweet peace.
In short: Your bed should only be used for sleep or sex!
Meditate & Breathe
You know you’re supposed to do it, you know it’s good for you, you know everyone else is struggling with it too.
So maybe meditation isn’t something any of us really want to do, even though we know how good it is for us. We’ve found that thinking of it as taking deep breaths on focusing on just that, it makes it much easier and more relaxing than sitting in silence trying not to think of anything (which is thinking in itself!)
Recent studies, and many in the past, have shown that paced breathing helps insomniacs increase vagal tone (our parasympathetic tone = rest & digest!) and results in greater sleep quality. Deep paced breaths can decrease heart rate, blood pressure, and neuronal activity by a significant amount over a just a few minutes. This means you can let your body find deep relaxation with just some simple slow belly breaths! (7)
We really urge you to give this one a try if the first two tips haven’t caused a noticeable shift in your sleep patterns. Remember…. It takes up to 3 months for new rhythms and patterns to set into our body and allowed to remodulate the system.
Here is a super easy breathing technique to get started with:
Nice and easy: take long and slow deep breaths. Focus on nothing but the breath, and count them as long as you can. If you lose count or your thoughts trail off, start over at 1 and count your way up. You’ll usually find yourself waking up the next morning every time. Option to envision a golden light filling your lungs with every breath and releasing the dark stagnation with every exhale.
Journaling or Drawing
Creativity in any sense or form is one of the best ways to help release thoughts, patterns, and reconnect with our inner selves when things get a bit hectic in the world. Often it can be a simple reflection about your day or week.
Writing can often relinquish those circular thoughts that have been spiraling in our heads like a group of vultures. Getting all your thoughts out onto paper, whatever way they come out, will clear the skies and help you see more clearly. It’s like a safe place to keep those thoughts until you are in a place where you can revisit them with clarity!
It has been shown that medical students who journaled had less anxiety and thought more highly of themselves (9). Another study examined gratefulness journaling as a technique for students to elevate their meaningfulness and engagement in their courses. So it seems that if we want to get rid of some stress and feel more engaged with our daily lives, it’s pretty clear we should be journaling a bit. (8)
Here are a few great writing prompts we really enjoy, if you don’t know where to start!
Make a list of everything you want to say no to and let go
Make a list of all the things you want to say yes to and how to bring them into your life
Write about a time when you felt really happy with as many details as possible
If my body could talk, this is what it would say?
What have you learned from your biggest mistakes?
The meat of it, is that these creative outlets help to release any lingering thoughts or energies that aren’t helpful for sleep. When utilized in a daily evening routine, they can help to promote additional signals to your brain that you are getting ready for sleep.
You can start with just a word, or a quick scribble, but I can almost guarantee you’ll be tempted to keep the juices flowing as soon as your pen hits the paper.
Whole Plant Herbal Medicine
Although herbs affect every individual differently, they are still a potent and reliable way to enhance our bodies built in systems.
Herbs and humans go back to when we first developed, but the first written uses of herbs in medicine happen in 5,000 B.C. in China, and the relationship has only grown closer since.
You may hear of snake oil remedies and the dangers of taking herbs, maybe is their lack of scientific evidence. Yet what most people don’t know that many of the drugs that we rely on today were discovered and synthesized from herbs.
A quick example includes aspirin. Not everyone knows that aspirin is derived from salicin which is found in willow bark. Now the problem with aspirin is the terrible amount of damage it causes your stomach lining and kidneys as well as the microvascular bleeding that takes place throughout the body when aspiring is ingested. When taken as a whole plant remedy, these side effects are significantly decreased and widespread microvascular bleeding does not take place.
Keeping this in mind, it is essential that we begin to redevelop our relationship with natural sleep remedies that grow throughout the world and have been used for thousands of years. This gives us a and effective first line of action before reaching for any over the counter drugs.
Now we have provided a lot of information here, only because we truly care about sleep and how altered sleep patterns are affecting all of us in the world.
If you don’t feel called to any of the or feel overwhelmed with the options we always recommend a nice soothing cup of tea to help you digest some of what we have provided here. Once theses practices start to settle in and vibe with you a bit, you can save those cozy cups of tea for the extra hectic days and nights that may keep you up.
We hope you get the best night of sleep soon!
- Chellappa, S. L., Steiner, R., Oelhafen, P., Lang, D., Götz, T., Krebs, J., & Cajochen, C. (2013). Acute exposure to evening blue‐enriched light impacts on human sleep. Journal of sleep research, 22(5), 573-580.
- Kernt, M., Walch, A., Neubauer, A. S., Hirneiss, C., Haritoglou MD, C., Ulbig, M. W., & Kampik, A. (2012). Filtering blue light reduces light‐induced oxidative stress, senescence and accumulation of extracellular matrix proteins in human retinal pigment epithelium cells. Clinical & experimental ophthalmology, 40(1), e87-e97.
- Van der Maren, S., Moderie, C., Duclos, C., Paquet, J., Daneault, V., & Dumont, M. (2018). Daily profiles of light exposure and evening use of light-emitting devices in young adults complaining of a delayed sleep schedule. Journal of biological rhythms, 33(2), 192-202.
- Hanifin, J. P., Lockley, S. W., Cecil, K., West, K., Jablonski, M., Warfield, B., ... & Pineda, C. (2019). Randomized trial of polychromatic blue-enriched light for circadian phase shifting, melatonin suppression, and alerting responses. Physiology & behavior, 198, 57-66.
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- Mazzer, K., Bauducco, S., Linton, S. J., & Boersma, K. (2018). Longitudinal associations between time spent using technology and sleep duration among adolescents. Journal of adolescence, 66, 112-119.
- Laborde, S., Hosang, T., Mosley, E., & Dosseville, F. (2019). Influence of a 30-Day Slow-Paced Breathing Intervention Compared to Social Media Use on Subjective Sleep Quality and Cardiac Vagal Activity. Journal of clinical medicine, 8(2), 193.
- Hines, S. N., & Scherer, L. L. (2018). Effect of Mindful Meditation and Gratitude Journaling on College Student Stress and Well-being Overtime.
- Mercer, A., Warson, E., & Zhao, J. (2010). Visual journaling: An intervention to influence stress, anxiety and affect levels in medical students. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 37(2), 143-148.
- Saxena, R. C., Singh, R., Kumar, P., Negi, M. P. S., Saxena, V. S., Geetharani, P., ... & Venkateshwarlu, K. (2012). Efficacy of an extract of ocimum tenuiflorum (OciBest) in the management of general stress: A double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2012.
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- Schmitz, M., & Jäckel, M. (1998). Comparative study for assessing quality of life of patients with exogenous sleep disorders (temporary sleep onset and sleep interruption disorders) treated with a hops-valarian preparation and a benzodiazepine drug. Wiener medizinische Wochenschrift (1946), 148(13), 291-298.
- Lytle, J., Mwatha, C., & Davis, K. K. (2014). Effect of lavender aromatherapy on vital signs and perceived quality of sleep in the intermediate care unit: a pilot study. American journal of critical care, 23(1), 24-29.