You’re probably sleep-deficient.
It’s nothing personal. But as 63% of Americans aren’t getting enough sleep (7-9 hours for most people), there’s a good chance you’re one of them.
Maybe you’re really busy and find yourself constantly cutting into your sleep time in an effort to catch up on life. Maybe you’re desperately trying to get better sleep, but are having trouble falling asleep at a decent hour.
Or maybe you honestly don’t think sleep is all that important.
If you’re struggling with either the first or second issue (or both), the list of tips below should help you get back on track. But if you fall into the third category of doubting or denying the importance of sleep altogether, please watch this TED Talk by Dr. Kirk Parsley. Actually, you should probably watch it no matter what your current stance on sleep is. Seriously. Just do it.
And if you reeeally don’t have time to watch it, know that lack of sleep….
- Increases risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and depression
- Raises likelihood of getting in an automobile or workplace accident
- Can cause weight gain
- Contributes to learning and memory problems
- Increases overall likelihood of mortality
Clearly, sleep matters — more than just about anything else. With all of that in mind, here are 6 ways to naturally get better sleep.
- SLEEP TIP #1: Limit blue light exposure at night. This is a tough one to avoid — and I’m just as guilty as the next person of parking up in front of the computer, watching late-night TV, or staring at my phone long after the sun has set (sometimes all at once —eeek)!
Using these types of blue-light devices after dark can throw the body’s natural sleep/wake cycle for a loop, as it is primarily controlled by light entering the eye. According to Chris Kresser,
Research has demonstrated that nighttime light exposure suppresses the production of melatonin, the major hormone secreted by the pineal gland that controls sleep and wake cycles. Therefore, a reduction in melatonin at night is associated with subjective levels of sleeplessness. But melatonin suppression has far worse consequences than simply poor sleep outcomes: it has also been shown to increase the risk of cancer, impair immune system function, and possibly lead to cardiometabolic consequences such as type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity, and heart disease. With serious consequences like these, preventing melatonin suppression should be a top priority in anyone’s healthy lifestyle.
Way back in the day, it was pretty difficult for folks to throw off their circadian rhythm (sleep/wake cycle). Once the sun set, there wasn’t really much to do other than hang out and wind down around the campfire with family and friends — and then go to sleep.
Today is a different story. And there are plenty of modern distractions to keep us wired and awake for unnatural amounts of time. So how do we get around this? We can try our best to dim, limit, or completely avoid using electronic devices after dark. And if that isn’t an option, pick up a pair of these bad boys.
Since blue light is primarily responsible for disrupting circadian rhythm, these amber-lensed glasses significantly cut down on blue light exposure for the user. They also limit most blue light wavelengths from household lighting (which can also be problematic).
- SLEEP TIP #2: Get more sunlight. A recent study of 49 day-shift office workers (27 in windowless workplaces and 22 in workplaces with windows) compared sleep/activity levels within the two groups.
The results showed that the workers with windows received 173% more natural white light exposure during work hours and slept an average of 46 minutes more per night (they also tended to be more physically active and happy).
These results aren’t surprising.
Just as too much artificial light can be problematic, inadequate levels of natural sunlight can be equally destructive. And considering how much we’re cooped up indoors these days, it’s no wonder we as a nation are so sleep-deprived! Without enough sun exposure to naturally regulate our bodies’ circadian rhythms, falling asleep (and staying asleep) can be challenging.
I’ve noticed this to be true in my own experience as well. On chicken processing days or other occasions when I find myself working long hours outside, I sleep like a baby. Every time.
Now, that doesn’t mean that you need to quit your day job and become a farmer. Even small lifestyle adjustments can result in big improvements. Things like taking a short walk outside during your lunch break, taking up an outdoor hobby like gardening, or simply choosing to eat your lunch outside every day are all examples of how to capitalize on getting enough sleep-promoting sunlight. Just 30 minutes of exposure to natural sunlight per day is enough to make a huge difference for most people!
- SLEEP TIP #3: Save stimulating tasks for the morning. Once I get started on a task that I find to be engaging or interesting, it’s difficult to abruptly get my brain to stop. So in order to prevent it from ever getting to that point, I try to refrain from engaging in mentally stimulating tasks after sundown.
For the sake of sleep quality, it’s usually better to work hard during the day and save more relaxing activities for the night time. Spending time with family, doing easy household chores, or taking an Epsom salt bath with candles (my favorite) are all good ways to wind down before bed time.
- SLEEP TIP #4: Exercise (but not too close to bedtime). We as humans were designed to MOVE (and that doesn’t mean moving from your bed to the car, the car to the office, the office back to the car, followed by the couch, and then back to the bed).
Without engaging in some level of movement throughout the day (the more the better, but don’t go overboard), your sleep will suffer.
This doesn’t need to mean running 10 miles or doing 100 pull-ups. It simply means that you shouldn’t sit down all day long — or even most of the day. And if you’re able to fit a workout, run, yoga session, or walk into your routine, that’s even better!
But exercising too close to bedtime can be problematic. Cooler body temperatures are associated with sleep onset and it can take the body up to 6 hours to come back down to a normal body temperature after exercise.
- SLEEP TIP #5: Eat/drink the right foods. Food and drink choice can also have a huge impact on quality of sleep. Caffeine, in particular, can make a big difference for some people…and I’m definitely one of them!
I didn’t start drinking coffee until about 2 years ago. But once I started, I couldn’t imagine facing the day without my cup of buttery smooth coffee (even though it was wreaking havoc on my sleep). I finally decided that the joy and happiness that came from coffee wasn’t worth sacrificing my sleep over — so I gave it up. Now, that’s not to say that I’m never, ever going to drink coffee again — it’s just not going to be an every day thing for me anymore (sad face).
Other caffeinated beverages can have similar effects on people. So can caffeinated foods like chocolate (sad-er face). This article by Laura Schoenfeld speaks to other important nutrition/sleep components such as eating more protein early in the day and more carbs later on, having a cup of bone broth before bed, and not eating too much too late.
*Bonus Sleep Tip – Magnesium (an important mineral that promotes restful sleep) supplementation can also be helpful in improving sleep quality. I spray this stuff on my feet and forearms most nights in order to absorb adequate levels of this important nutrient that most Americans are deficient in!
- SLEEP TIP #6: Prioritize Sleep. None of these tips matter if you’re not willing to make sleep a priority. And even if you are insanely busy, I’m willing to bet that there’s something you can cut out of that crazy schedule of yours and replace it with more sleep.
Because whatever you’re cutting into your sleep time for won’t be nearly as enjoyable if you’re sleep-deprived (even if you think you feel fine).
Many of the tips listed above have been huge factors in getting my sleep cycle back on track, but it’s something I still struggle with from time to time. I’m sure there are loads of other helpful sleep tips that aren’t on this list, so be sure to tell me about what’s worked for you with a comment!
Other Helpful Resources
- Eating Better for Sleep: 5 Tips to Fall Asleep and Stay Asleep by Laura Schoenfeld
- Turn Down the Lights, Turn Up Your Metabolism by Diane Sanfilippo
- Lots of great articles on sleep from Chris Kresser
Disclaimer: Bethany McDaniel/From the Pasture is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. I may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog. Please know that I ONLY recommend products that I wholeheartedly support and believe to be of value to my readers.