Getting a good night’s sleep is just as important as a healthy diet and regular exercise. Unfortunately, around 30% of us suffer from insomnia, the ability to stay asleep, or to achieve good, quality sleep. Research now shows that poor sleep quality, especially on a chronic basis, has negative effects on our hormones, brain function, and can lead to weight gain and decreased cognitive function. In contrast, good sleep quality and quantity helps us eat less, improve our ability and motivation to exercise, and strengthen our immune system. If we want to optimize our health and wellness, then getting good quality ZZZ’s is crucial.
Our bodies rely on our internal time clock known as our circadian rhythm. Getting natural light first thing in the morning and during the day can not only improve our daytime energy, but assist with better sleep, as this helps to keep our hormones (Cortisol and Melatonin) in balance. Exposure to nighttime light, like the blue light from our electronics especially 1-2 hours before bed, can dramatically affect our ability to fall asleep. Blue light prevents the natural rise in Melatonin, which allows us to relax and fall asleep. And no, scrolling through your phone right up ‘til you go to bed and then popping a Melatonin supplement is NOT the same!
Here are some great tips for improved sleep quality:
• Try to have similar wake/sleep times each day as this creates a routine for your body.
• Get natural light first thing in the morning and during the day. This helps to regulate our hormones like Cortisol and Melatonin.
• Routine exercise is recommended but note that cardio late in the day or evening can cause a spike in Cortisol when it should be declining. A spike will make it more difficult to fall asleep.
• Skip that cup of Joe late in the day! Everyone metabolizes caffeine differently, but on average it can stay elevated in your blood for 6- 8 hours. Sorry to say, but that 4pm help-get-me-through-the afternoon latte may be contributing to your insomnia.
• Eating a late dinner can also affect your sleep. Our digestion starts to slow in the evening. The later we eat the more difficult to digest our meal leading to symptoms of fullness and reflux.
• Alcohol. More than 1-2 drinks can have a negative effect on our hormones. It can decrease our Melatonin production and human growth hormone, which plays a role in in our circadian rhythm. It can also contribute to disrupted sleep patterns such as snoring and sleep apnea.
• Bedroom Environment. Make sure to eliminate external noises and keep it cool and dark to achieve a best-sleep scenario.
• Decrease screen time before bed. Try blue light blocking glasses or screen protectors. There are also apps that help to decrease blue light exposure such as Night Shift, Twilight, or F.Lux software.
Some of the supplements & teas I recommend to help improve sleep quality:
• Magnesium. Responsible for hundreds of reactions within our bodies but can definitely help with relaxation and improved sleep quality. This can be taken nightly. There are several kinds but I like magnesium glycinate 400mg.
• Melatonin. Our bodies naturally produce this hormone which is secreted from the pineal gland in the brain. It helps us relax and fall asleep. Most find 1-3mg an hour before bed is helpful. It works well for most on a short-term basis, but I would not recommend this nightly. If you consistently take this supplement, then your brain secretes less hormone which will be an issue if you take this long-term and then suddenly stop.
• Valerian Root. A popular herb that has been used for centuries to treat problems like insomnia and anxiety. Studies suggest that Valerian can help you fall asleep and improve sleep quality. Take 500mg nightly.
• Teas. Drinking hot tea like chamomile, lavender, and passion flower have also been found to be calming and improve sleep.
• L-Theanine. An amino acid, L-Theanine can improve relaxation and sleep. Take 100-200mg before bed.
The bottom line: Sleep plays a crucial role in our health and well-being. If you really want optimal health and wellness, you have to prioritize your sleep. Incorporating the above suggestions can help improve your quality of sleep. I recommend that if you think you might have a disrupted sleep pattern such as snoring or sleep apnea, you should seek a proper medical evaluation. The tips, supplements, and advice here are merely suggestions, not medical advice. So, as always, please consult your physician before starting any new health-related routines or taking any new supplements.
Meghan Punda is a Nurse Practitioner and Functional Nutritionist. She works with women on lifestyle and dietary issues. Meghan is passionate about educating her clients so they can reach their full wellness potential.
Sleepfoundation.org: Insomnia, what it is, how it affects you, and how to help you get back your restful nights. September 4, 2020.
Jivome.com: The best apps to reduce blue light exposure by Janice Leung.