I’ve never in my life had much trouble falling asleep, possibly because sleep deprivation has been something I’ve erroneously worn as a badge of honor for a few decades now.
Now suddenly in the last few months, I find myself lying awake at night occasionally. Worse yet, sometimes my eyes will pop open at 3 in the morning for an hour or two. This is so frustrating, and it’s developed a great degree of empathy in me for those who do struggle with insomnia in many ways.
For a couple of years now, I’ve prioritized getting quality sleep, and I know a bunch of little sleep hacks to improve my rest at night. I definitely don’t spend enough time in bed, but at least I’m maximizing those hours!
But now I’m feeling like it’s time to increase the amount and intensity of what I’m doing to improve my circadian rhythm and deepen my restful sleep.
Why is Sleep so Important?
We know that sleep is vital for cell regeneration, memory organization, physical growth, and rebuilding emotional capacity. I think we all can say that after a night of poor sleep, we don’t feel as well physically or emotionally, and generally, I don’t focus as well at work either.
Actually, I’m a “second-day” problem person, meaning that if I have a night of short sleep, I’m often “fine” the following day, but the second day after short sleep, I’m grumpy, unfocused, and emotionally unhinged.
Besides that, I’m wondering if my life of constant short sleep is catching up to me physically, with my lymphatic system not happy with me, crazy skin rashes, hair falling out and more.
You could spend thousands of dollars on naturopaths and MDs and supplements and testing to fix a few health problems, or just get more sleep…for free.
Turns out sleep is really quite key to our health.
And it’s better than kale. For real.
Just think, what will kale get you?
A few minerals, some vitamin K, and some detox capacity.
Sleep can right hormone imbalances, improve your mood, get rid of the brain fog, and boost energy, plus you heal anything that’s awry in your body while you sleep.
It’s not sexy. It’s not patented. No one can yell about Big Ag, Big Pharma, or Big Government messing it up, and the FDA or FCC can’t even tell me not to say that it CURES stuff – because no one is selling it.
In fact, I wrote a whole series about healthy sleep a few years back and no one really wanted to read it.
But I’m going to do my best to “sell” this thing to you today, for real.
Improving the quality of your sleep cycle and deepening that sleep may be the most important healthy habit to adopt, both for your physical and mental health.
Why Am I Waking Up at Night?
There are so many theories on sleep.
I heard a friend say recently that she discovered that whenever her estrogens are too high (she’s naturally estrogen dominant), she doesn’t sleep well. She thought she was simply becoming a lighter sleeper as she reached middle age, but now that her estrogen numbers are back to normal she sleeps soundly and is more rested. I’m sure this may be a factor for many of us reaching perimenopause, and I’m terrified.
Sleep is so precious!
A health coach told me that waking up at 3 in the morning in particular means that my liver is dumping toxins and they are waking me up. I’ve been doing some liver support supplements and lifestyle changes which may come up in a future post, but for today, let’s talk about leveling up your sleep cycle game and really caring for your circadian rhythm.
What Is a Circadian Rhythm?
Humans are designed to oscillate through cycles of being asleep and awake.
The Sleep Foundation1 defines circadian rhythm as:
Basically a 24-hour internal clock that is running in the background of your brain and cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. It’s also known as your sleep/wake cycle.
Your circadian rhythm is deeply connected to the sun, since it’s the light hitting your eyes (whether they’re open or closed) coupled with the workings of the hypothalamus that regulate the sleep/wake cycle.
Your circadian rhythm can be disrupted by many factors:
- Staying up too late
- Having irregular sleeping and waking times
- Too much blue light at night before bed
- Light in your bedroom as you’re trying to sleep
- The temperature of your sleeping room
Something as simple as light exposure during the day, particularly making sure that you get natural light early in the morning, can improve your circadian rhythm, so it’s not all gloom and doom!
Let’s dig deeper into ways we can HELP our circadian rhythm remain regulated and healthy and deepen our sleep, no matter how many hours we get in bed.
1. Decrease Your Anxiety to Fall Asleep Faster
In this video with Dr. Lauren Jeffries of SteadyMD, a mom asks a question about her child whose brain is running too high when he lays down to sleep because of anxiety. (It’s around the 35-minute mark.) I think we all can relate to that.
So let’s start with a really great practice to decrease your anxiety. In our family, we have a device called Inner Balance by HeartMath that helps record your brain and heart waves until they are in coherence. This little device teaches children and adults alike to breathe in the best pattern for their own bodily rhythms. And getting your breathing ready to go before bed can massively reduce anxiety.
RELATED: I share a relaxing breathing technique here.
I would also recommend having some rules for all ages about screen time, especially doing things like social media or reading the news within an hour or two of bedtime. Try to clear those things out of your mind.
I even recently read about a mindset shift for sleep. So many adults worry as they are lying awake at night, specifically about the fact that they’re not getting good sleep. This is such a vicious cycle.
Nir Eyal, the author of the book Indistractible, said that once he could convince himself that if you committed to a certain number of hours in bed, it was then up to his body to do what it needed to do with those hours, and he just had to stop worrying about whether he was awake or asleep. This simple mindset shift allowed him to fall asleep much easier.
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2. Watch What You Eat at Night to Improve Sleep
In the video above, Dr. Lauren also talks about how high sugar foods or chocolate late at night can ramp up your system. I’ve heard many people say that we want to focus on fat and protein for any sort of bedtime or late-night snacking because that will keep our blood sugar more consistent throughout the night; as opposed to carbohydrates, which are used for quick energy, the last thing we want before we climb into bed.
RELATED: These mudballs are a yummy bedtime snack! Perfectly portions for kids, with protein and fat!
Advocates of intermittent fasting would agree with that macronutrient balance as well as the fact that we really shouldn’t be eating anything after dinner and that a fasting state is best for sleep.
3. Magnesium Lotion Improves Sleep Quality for Many
As you’ll learn in our upcoming post on how parents can use magnesium to help their kids, there are many forms of magnesium that can reduce anxiety and be calming for sleep.
Many moms in our Kitchen Stewardship audience have found great relief from the mag lotion at Magnesium Lotion Shop. Just apply it to your kid’s legs and/or belly before bed and watch the magic happen.
I even heard from a mom who blindly too tested it on her anxious preteen under the guise of just helping her dry legs, and the preteen reported after only three days that she realized she was falling asleep more easily. For such a simple habit, it seems worth a try.
You can also soak in a magnesium salt bath , but the lotion is definitely a lot lower time commitment.
4. Can the Right Music Help You Get Better Sleep?
I’m fascinated by the research behind Wholetones and the science of music for sleep. We’ve been using the Wholetones to Sleep program with our two little boys at night, and they really love turning it on.
It’s hard for me to gauge if they’re getting deeper, more restful sleep, but it’s something that we’ve really enjoyed.
Wholetones uses specific frequencies to calm brain waves, and it’s actually been clinically studied at Jacksonville University.
I will say that this is a very individual solution as I tried playing the Wholetones to Sleep music on my phone (on airplane mode, of course) in our bedroom and after five minutes on an incredibly low volume, my husband cried out, “What is that noise? That has to go!”
So some people definitely need complete silence to sleep and the music might not be a good addition to the bedroom.
5. Therapeutic Mushrooms May Deepen Sleep
Four Sigmatic is a thought leader in developing products with therapeutic mushrooms that have been used for years. These aren’t psychedelic mushrooms, of course, just nutritional. They make warm drinks and coffee substitutes out of them.
One mushroom in particular, reishi, is supposed to be sleep supportive, so I will often have a warm cup at night. I shared it with a stressed-out family member who said it definitely helped him fall asleep deeply, although he still had some trouble waking up in the middle of the night.
By the way, if you do wake up in the middle of the night, don’t turn on lights or screens, because that will really interrupt your circadian rhythm. Keep everything low and gentle even if you need to get up and make a cup of tea.
My oldest son really likes the reishi hot cocoa, but as Becca explained in this post about functional mushrooms, it might not be for everyone. There are some medications reishi can interact with.
6. Can Aromatherapy Help Improve Sleep?
For many years, essential oil advocates have lauded the relaxing effects of essential oils like lavender, chamomile, orange, cedarwood, vetiver, and others. One of my kids relies on these two kid-safe sleep blends from Plant Therapy nightly to help calm anxiety and get to sleep.2 (Nighty, Night and Sweet Slumber)
Putting two drops in a diffuser is all it takes, and this is a very inexpensive solution to get your mind to slow down and allow your body to get deeper, restorative rest.
Practically, if you don’t have a diffuser, you can put one drop on a cotton ball or tissue and tuck it inside your pillowcase as well or dilute a little essential oil in a carrier and roll it on your neck or chest so that you have personal aromatherapy all night long.
7. Temperature Matters When It Comes to Sleep Quality
If you think about the natural cycles of our environment, in almost every place in the world it gets colder at night. So it makes sense that the human body is created to fall asleep better when it’s a little chilly.
I’ve read that the optimal temperature for sleeping is in the mid-60s, which can feel pretty cold when you have to get out of bed in the morning. I’m always grateful for automatic thermostats.
Some people like it even colder, and there are plenty of products to help your bed feel cold.
So as much as you might want to feel warm and cozy, the recommendation from sleep experts like Matthew Walker, author of Why We Sleep, is to have a nice cold room and warm blankets if that makes you feel better. You can always thrust a bare foot out into the chilly air to help get your system more ready for sleep. This is simple and free.
Wellness Mama talks about the benefits of cold therapy after her trip to Finland, and I’ve heard her say that splashing cold water on your face at night improves sleep as well. I always thought that seemed counterintuitive, because cold water feels like it would wake you up. But apparently there’s some research behind it preparing your body for a restful sleep.
8. Keep Your Mouth Closed for Better Sleep
Yes, you want to do some nice, slow, meditative breaths before you sleep, and if you find yourself in a moment of insomnia or wishing that your circadian rhythm was behaving better, you can use that time in bed to do some box breathing or some 2x breaths. In other words, exhaling twice as long as you inhale.
However, there’s something else about breath that really affects our sleep and that’s where we’re breathing in.
Humans are designed to breathe through our noses, but too many of us are breathing through our mouths at night, which causes snoring, reduces human growth hormone, changes the shape of our palate, and can even cause cavities because of unhealthy bacteria enjoying the environment created in the mouth with all that air flowing around.
I have definitely found that if I can avoid mouth breathing at night, I do feel more rested in the morning. So some of my kids and I have been taping our mouths closed to make sure that we can break this bad habit! Read more about the benefits of mouth taping and stopping mouth breathing here, and check out Mary’s incredible story of all the benefits of nasal breathing once she got that figured out for her daughter.
Better Quality Sleep is Possible
The bottom line: you can get better sleep.
I love that knowledge is power and learning about our circadian rhythm, how to deepen our sleep, how to fall asleep better and how to stay asleep all night is really possible, both with a range of inexpensive and more pricey products and with free solutions, like cold water on your face or breathing in the right way.
If you have a goal of improving your sleep, really focus on your bedroom environment. What are you hearing? What are you smelling? What’s on your skin? How are you breathing? What is the temperature? And what are you consuming before you get into bed?
With little improvements in all of these areas, you can improve your sleep, which most definitely will help you feel like you’re more in control of your life, physically, mentally and emotionally. Have a good night’s rest!
- National Sleep Foundation. What is Circadian Rhythm? Retrieved from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/what-circadian-rhythm
- Lillehei A.S. & Halcon L.L. (2014, June) A systematic review of the effect of inhaled essential oils on sleep. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 20(6), 441-51. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24720812