Day 1—Set Your Internal Clock, And Leave It Alone!
Ever wonder why you can hardly pull yourself out of bed each Monday morning after sleeping in on the weekends? Readjusting your nightly sleeping and waking time makes it harder to sleep soundly and makes you more tired over the long run. Create a habit of going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, even on the weekends!
Day 2—Eat For Sleep
What you eat really does affect how you sleep. Food is the most potent drug you put in your body every day. Adjusting what you eat prior to bedtime will help you settle down and prevent revving you up. The goal is to keep your blood sugar stable and boost brain chemicals like tryptophan to slow down brain traffic.
Guidelines for food intake before bed
Avoid big meals and high-fat foods. Make dinnertime as early in the evening as possible and avoid rich, heavy foods close to bedtime. Heavy and high-fat foods are hard to digest and may interfere with sleep. This goes for all you late-night ice cream eaters! Also avoid eating spicy or acidic foods right before bedtime as they can cause heartburn, which may also disrupt your sleep.
Avoid sugar. Sugar prompts the brain to release cortisol (a stress hormone that causes blood sugar fluctuations), which can wake you up at night.
Incorporate good foods. Include slow-burning carbohydrates, such as sweet potatoes, berries, and high-fiber crackers with cheese for dinner or as a snack a couple of hours before bed. Try foods that directly boost serotonin, such as turkey, chicken, seafood, soybeans, and yogurt.
- If you toss and turn before going to sleep, you may need a boost in your serotonin or melatonin levels. Consider adding BalanceDocs Sleep, a natural supplement geared towards enhancing the sleep brain chemicals for a night of naturally deep and restful sleep that doesn’t leave you feeling hungover and exhausted.
- If you go to sleep easily but wake up a few hours later, you most likely are experiencing blood sugar fluctuations. Try a high-protein snack to maintain your blood sugar throughout the night. Good options include a cube of cheese, a spoonful of peanut butter, or a handful of walnuts.
- If you can’t seem to settle down and need to relax before bedtime, you may benefit from a boost of magnesium. Try half of an apple with almond butter or spinach, kale, or other green leafy veggies topped with feta cheese and pine nuts. Other options include a handful of nuts, a small bowl of beans with cheese, bell peppers or celery with hummus, or a banana with peanut butter.
Day 3–Drink For Sleep
Avoid alcohol three to four hours before bedtime. Contrary to popular belief, alcohol interrupts the depth of sleep and makes you restless. While you may fall asleep easier, you most likely will not sleep well. Drinking also leads to snoring, which restricts airflow to the lungs and reduces oxygen in the bloodstream. Reduced oxygen will prolong the effects of alcohol and further disrupt your sleep.
Cut down on caffeine. As you get older, your liver loses its ability to rapidly eliminate caffeine from the body. This means that while you might not feel the effects of caffeine, it can still affect your sleep. Caffeine also acts as a diuretic, creating the need for more frequent nighttime trips to the bathroom. Consider avoiding any caffeinated food or beverages after noontime each day.
Drink in bulk and you will pee in bulk. By drinking your liquids earlier in the evening and drinking more at one time, you will eliminate them sooner. Instead of drinking liquids throughout the evening, drink plenty early on and taper off within an hour or two before bed. You’ll reduce or eliminate the need to wake up and go to the bathroom during the night.
Drinking calming teas like chamomile and lavender after dinner may also help with many types of sleep troubles.
Day 4—Make Your Room A Sanctuary
Keep it cool. A cool, dark bedroom with good ventilation is best for promoting deep sleep. Keep the temperature at around 65 degrees F, so that your feet are warm and your head is cool. Even the smallest amount of light in the room—from a nightlight or alarm clock—can increase cortisol levels and interrupt sleep. Block out all light, using an eye mask if needed. If you need to get up during the night, avoid turning on the lights if possible, to keep from stimulating the brain and alerting the “awake hormones” that tell your brain it’s time to wake up.
Love your bed. Make sure your bed is inviting and comfortable for you. Experiment with different sheets, covers, pillows, and mattresses if needed. Get comfy! You should look forward to getting in bed.
Reduce the noise. While people differ in their sensitivity to noise, most will sleep much better in a very quiet room with the least amount of disturbance (including pets). If barking dogs, traffic outside, loud neighbors, or other people in your home plague you, consider earplugs or a white-noise machine to block out the excess noise.
Clean it up. This is a place for you to rest, recover, and renew. If your room is filled with clutter, you will not feel as calm as you should. Clean up the stacks of papers, put away the clothes, and make sure your room feels tidy, safe, and comfortable. The last thing you need before going to sleep is to worry about how much you have to do and what a mess your life is.
Day 5—Shut It Down
Do you find that you are unable to sleep after a stressful day because your brain won’t turn off? This is because your body is producing excess stress hormones that are telling your brain it’s time to wake up! One of the worst habits you can get into is working yourself into bed. This means running around like a chicken with its head cut off, trying to get it all done before bed, throwing yourself into bed, and expecting to sleep. You wouldn’t think of running your children around the house, winding them up before bedtime, and expecting them to go to sleep. The same goes for you. To prevent the frenzy before bed, develop a ritual that will help your nervous system downshift and convince your brain that it is time to go to sleep. Consider breaking a poor sleep cycle as quickly as possible by giving your brain what it needs now. Incorporate the BalanceDocs Sleep supplement to help get to sleep quickly and stay asleep, correcting the poor sleep pattern quickly!
Ideas For a Positive Sleep Ritual
- Take a bath with lavender oil
- Drink chamomile tea
- Read a light and entertaining book
- Do some easy stretches or yoga poses
- Wind down with a favorite hobby
- Listen to books on tape
- Make simple preparations for the next day
- Listen to soft music
- Rub lavender massage oil on your body
- Take 1-2 BalanceDocs Sleep supplements to naturally get to sleep and stay asleep
- Keep a journal on your nightstand and write down things you need to remember
- Listen to a relaxing meditation before bed
- Focus on the feelings in your body, rather than the thoughts in your head. Focus on your breath. By making relaxation your intent rather than sleep, you will take the pressure off. Try relaxing every part of your body, starting with your toes and going all the way up to the top of your head. Really relax, stay calm, and sleep will follow.
Day 6—Take A Nap
Responsible napping can help you get through a particularly stressful day or help you recover over the weekend. Incorporate a nap ritual into your day to help you cope with your hurried lifestyle. Just make sure you keep your naps short and sweet, fifteen to twenty minutes at the most. Set an alarm clock for good measure.
Get your naps in before 4:00 pm. Napping too late may interfere with your nighttime sleep and upset your rhythms. If you have chronic issues with getting to sleep, napping may make the problem worse. Naps can help you recover, but they can also rob you of your “sleep drive,” so take them only when necessary and early in the day. Avoid unintentional napping, such as falling asleep on the couch or in front of the TV.
Day 7—Move Your Body
Daily exercise and body movement are crucial for optimal sleep, energy, and relaxation. Numerous studies have pointed to the positive effects of exercise for stress reduction, relaxation, and maintaining a balance between your overworked head and your under-worked body.
According to the Mayo Clinic, most people with insomnia have increased levels of stress hormones in their blood caused by over-arousal and over-stimulation, which throws their nervous systems into hyper-drive. The higher your stress hormone levels, the more susceptible you are to insomnia.
Exercise and body movement work to calm the stress response. Exercise works to keep your body in balance with your brain and your stress glands (adrenals). It has hundreds of benefits, which you can experience with even a simple exercise, such as a ten or twenty-minute walk daily.
The timing of your exercise is important for alleviating sleep problems. The initial effect of exercise is to rev up your system, followed several hours later by a calming and relaxing effect. If you exercise too close to bedtime, you may become over-stimulated and too awake to sleep.
Yoga is one of the best forms of exercise you can do when you’re feeling too busy, toxic, stressed, and half out-of-your-mind. Practicing yoga has many positive benefits for your mind and body and can help you:
- Achieve true relaxation
- Restore a burned-out nervous system
- Give you a new perspective on your life
- Bring you back into your body, giving you a more internal and less external focus
- Keep your stress response tamed and under perfect control
- Stay younger as you age
Consider practicing yoga a few times a week. Get a book on yoga poses or follow a guided session on YouTube and practice them prior to bedtime to keep you limber, calm, and relaxed.
Day 8—Breathe Your Way Into Dreamland
Just as exercise is necessary to maintain the connection and balance between the body and the brain, breathing is necessary to maintain the connection and balance between your body and your soul.
Breathing is something that most of us take for granted. Deep breathing is something we rarely think to do, going days, weeks, or even months without a deep cleansing breath. Seldom do we think about breathing as a tool to restore calmness, get our minds, bodies, and souls connected, and help us sleep.
Focused, cleansing breaths allow you time to visualize. With each inhalation; think about taking in love, light, calmness, and happiness. With each exhalation; visualize letting go of anxiousness, anger, irritability, and sadness.
Work on your breath during the day. Just four periods of breathing can make the difference in moderating your stress response and getting you out of hyper-drive. It can also help quiet your mind, relax your body, and renew your soul. It can take you quickly out of the external and into yourself. In today’s hectic world, something as simple as breathing can provide much-needed relief.
Practice Deep Breathing.
Take four cleansing breaths. Breathe in slowly to a count of four to six. Hold for six to eight counts. Exhale slowly to a count of six to eight, blowing all of your air out.
Try using the Lion’s Breath technique. When you exhale, open your mouth, stick out your tongue, and blow out your breath with a loud “ahhhh” sound, letting it all out. Lion’s Breath is very effective at lowering stress hormones, and it has a very calming effect. Try it if you find yourself awake in the middle of the night, but it is most beneficial if practiced regularly.
Breathe in bed before sleep. Breathe in and out deeply and slowly, counting backward from fifty. Make your inhalations odd numbers and your exhalations even numbers. To begin, take a deep breath in, and exhale saying to yourself “fifty.” Inhale and say to yourself “forty-nine.” And so on. Stay with it, counting backward to zero without taking your focus off your breathing. If you lose count, start over (this will keep you focused on your breathing). Most likely you will be fast asleep or nearly so by the time you reach zero.
Day 9—Beware Of Sleep-Robbing Medications That Can Create Sleep Problems
Due to their stimulating effects, many medications and supplements should not be taken prior to bedtime. Many patients with sleep-related problems are unknowingly taking medications or supplements that actually cause sleeplessness. It is imperative that you find out if any of your medications or supplements are contributing to your sleep problems, even when taken during the day. Be aware that caffeine is a drug that can stay in your system for up to ten hours and interfere with sleep. This includes the caffeine in chocolate.
If you take any of the following medications and are having sleep disruptions, talk to your medical provider or pharmacist about taking them at a different time of day and find out what other options might be available. Do not stop any medications without consulting your medical practitioner first.
- Oral contraceptives
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), including antidepressants such as Prozac and Zoloft
- Dopamine agonists, including some medications for Parkinson’s disease
- Psychostimulants and amphetamines
- Cold medicines
- Ephedrine and pseudoephedrine
- Cortisone and Adrenocorticotropin
- Medications to lower blood pressure (alpha agonists, beta-blockers)
- Lipid and cholesterol-lowering agents (statins)
- Appetite suppressants
Day 10—Blame It On Your Hormones
Hormone imbalance can cause insomnia and wakefulness. It can cause your mind to race at night and make you feel exhausted during the day.
Consider getting a full hormone panel, whether you’re male or female, regardless of your age. Insist on seeing a certified hormone specialist who knows what to look for and who won’t dismiss your concerns in spite of your appearing to be “normal.” Ideal hormone ranges vary widely from person to person, and it is vital that your practitioner works with you to determine the optimal range. This will often be in the mid to upper end of the normal range for most levels.
Hormones should be tested after fasting, with no medication or supplements taken the day of testing. For women who are cycling, blood should be drawn at least 16 days after the first day of your last period, no matter how long ago it was.
Hormonal conditions most often associated with sleeplessness
- Low thyroid—or hypothyroidism. Even if you are told that your thyroid levels are normal, they may not be normal for you. Your levels could be on the low end of the standard normal range but still be too low for you. It is imperative that you are tested for a full thyroid panel, not just for TSH (the signaling hormone) as this level constantly fluctuates. If you are taking thyroid medication or iodine, as a precursor to thyroid hormone, do not take it on the day you are tested. Because TSH is manufactured during sleep, you should be tested in the morning after fasting for the most reliable results.
- Low estrogen or estradiol. Because of the numerous receptors in the brain, low estrogen levels can cause sleep disturbances and rob you of energy during the day.
- Low progesterone. This hormone has a calming effect and is linked to brain neurotransmitters that affect sleep.
- Low testosterone. Affecting men and women, low levels of testosterone can kill your sense of vigor and dampen your zest for life. Testosterone is important for regulating your energy cycle, in which the energy/awake phase is followed by the all-important tired/sleep phase.
- Balanced neurotransmitters. The proper balance of neurotransmitters, serotonin, melatonin, GABA, and norepinephrine is vital to restoring the wake/sleep cycle. It is important to have these levels evaluated along with hormone levels.
Mastering the steps outlined in this ten-day plan will take some time. You may already be incorporating some of them into your daily routine. Others will be easy to get the hang of, and some may require more deliberate focus on your part.
Be patient with yourself. Sleep improvement does not happen overnight and will involve some trial and error. Today’s frenzied lifestyle does not promote healthy sleep. It requires a conscious decision to make the necessary changes that will work for you.
Once you begin implementing these changes, you will likely find that your energy is enhanced, your ability to handle stress is improved, and you wake up feeling rested and rejuvenated. You should also experience a lighter mood, less pain, and clearer thinking. Not only will you feel better, but you will also look brighter and appear full of life.
The sooner you start, and the faster you progress with your new routines, the more improvement you will see—even on a daily basis.
If you find your sleep problems do not improve, consult your sleep specialist or physician for further testing and treatment.
More than anything else, you must respect the gift of sleep. It is a powerful tool that can prevent and reverse many types of physical, mental, and emotional damage. It can rebuild your brain, rejuvenate your body, enhance your memory, balance your hormones, and protect you from harm, injury, and disease.
Yes, all of that… just to sleep like a baby!
Nisha Jackson is a nationally recognized hormone and functional medicine expert, renowned lecturer, motivational speaker, radio host, columnist, author of the bestseller “Brilliant Burnout,” and founder of OnePeak Medical Clinics in Oregon. For 30 years, her approach to medicine has successfully reversed chronic problems such as fatigue, brain fog, depression, insomnia, and lack of stamina.
This story was originally published in the OnePeak Medical Center’s Blog.