|In the mid-1990’s I was helping a Neurologist input his patient handouts into the electronic medical record. I remember one pamphlet, in particular, that was called “Sleep Hygiene”. The name caught my attention as I had never thought of sleep in relation to hygiene, but after reading the handout (while typing it), everything hit a chord. It made sense, and now, twenty-five years later – I am talking with clients nearly daily about their sleep hygiene. Thank you, Dr. Mertens, for your early teachings.
I’m sure you know that sleep is important, but did you know that sleep is therapeutic? Proper rest is as essential to our health as eating, drinking, and breathing1. In this article, we will discuss four tips for better sleep, but let’s begin with what makes sleep therapeutic.
When you sleep, your body undergoes a series of changes that enable the rest that is vital to your overall health. Sleep allows the brain and body to slow down and engage in processes of recovery, promoting better physical and mental performance the next day and over the long term2.
When you don’t get enough (or proper) sleep, these fundamental processes are short-circuited, affecting thinking, concentration, energy levels, and mood. As a result, getting the sleep you need — seven to nine hours for adults and even more for children and teens — is crucial3.
While each person will differ in the exact amount of sleep needed for replenishment, eight hours being average, it is crucial to get a sufficient amount and adequate quality of sleep on a regular schedule. Sleep heals the body, clears the mind, and restores the soul4.
Now that you understand how vital sleep is for overall health and well-being let’s explore the four tips to improve your ability to rest, repair, and restore.
Tip #1 Limit caffeine.
If you’re struggling to sleep, removing caffeine entirely from your diet may be the “hack” needed to allow your body to relax and settle into slumber. For others who enjoy caffeine without feeling jittery or “off”, simply limit caffeine to mornings or avoid anything caffeinated after 3 pm (including coffee, green and black tea, soda, energy drinks, and chocolate).
Tip # 2 Avoid blue light 1 hour before bed.
Don’t shoot the messenger, but tip number two for improving sleep is to avoid all electronic screens 1 hour before bedtime (think TV, computer, tablet, and phone). Here’s why: blue-wavelength light stimulates sensors in your eyes to send signals to your brain’s internal clock, which inhibits the production of melatonin. So essentially, the blue light from your electronic screens is making your body think it’s wake time, not sleep time. Thus, avoiding all screens at least 1 hour before bedtime will help your body fall into a deeper sleep faster.
Tip #3 Take a calcium and magnesium supplement before you hit the pillow.
From a nutritional perspective, the minerals calcium and magnesium can help you fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. James F. Balch, MD and author of Prescription for Nutritional Healing, writes, “A lack of the nutrients calcium and magnesium will cause you to wake up after a few hours and not be able to return to sleep.” And there’s been an array of studies that explain why. In one such study, published by the Journal of Sleep Research5, researchers found that insufficient calcium is related not only to trouble falling asleep but also to trouble getting truly restful sleep.
Meanwhile, low magnesium has been correlated with insomnia, poor sleep quality, and even depression and anxiety. Magnesium helps your body and your brain relax, preparing you for a good night’s rest. Note: Calcium and magnesium are best taken together, as a balanced ratio is vital to overall health.
Tip #4 Set your bedroom up for sleep.
This category includes both quick fixes and longer-term investments. Quick fixes that will set your bedroom up for restorative sleep include diffusing lavender essential oil (or dabbing the oil lightly on your pillow), ensuring your bedroom is clean and clutter-free and getting fresh air when the weather permits. Additionally, turning your cell phone on airplane mode, or removing your phone entirely from the bedroom, will protect your brain and body from EMFs that may hinder deep, therapeutic sleep.
Lastly, some longer-term investments include purchasing high-quality, non-toxic bedding like a mattress, pillows, sheets, blankets, and so on. For obvious reasons, you should be comfortable for your nightly slumber, but also, avoiding the toxic off-gassing of chemicals in conventional bedding is incredibly important.
Times of high stress require deep restorative sleep that provides our bodies with the opportunity to repair and rebuild. Support your physical and mental health by getting 8 hours of sleep or more per night. If you’re a parent who cannot achieve eight consecutive hours of sleep at the moment, nap or rest when you can and be sure to nourish your body in other ways that feel good.
As always, reach out if you have any questions.
1. “Sleep Matters: The Impact Of Sleep On Health And Wellbeing.” Mental Health Foundation, 11 Feb. 2020, www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/sleep-report.
2. “What Happens When You Sleep: The Science of Sleep.” Sleep Foundation, 30 Oct. 2020, www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/what-happens-when-you-sleep.
4. “The Therapeutic Power of Sleep.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evil-deeds/200811/the-therapeutic-power-sleep.
5. “Sleep Symptoms Associated with Intake of Specific Dietary Nutrients.” Journal of Sleep Research, 2 Sep 2013, https://www.ncbi.nlm