How to Sleep Better at Night Naturally
Sleeping well naturally at night sounds like a dream come true made all the more precious by the Covid19 pandemic. Feelings of isolation, anxiety, and depression have deeply impacted our sleep habits and wellbeing over the past few months. Like many, my sleep problems got worse with the Covid19 crisis but I didn’t want to take any medications to help. I was afraid of the infamous addictive effects of sleeping aids. Prompted by a #WorldSleepDay campaign with Lush Cosmetics, I turned to natural remedies and habits to rest better naturally at night.
The fact is, we need to sleep well to function. Sleep is crucial for maintaining immune systems and contributes deeply to physical and psychological health. The following natural remedies and techniques all rely on easy steps that you can implement cheaply and quickly at home without the support of chemicals or expensive accessories.
#1 Zen your Bedtime Routine
A soothing bedtime routine can help your body wind down and kickstart the sleep cycle, telling your body that it’s time to get into recuperation mode.
Lush Sleep Range
Without a doubt this year’s World Sleep Day has a different meaning. “Coronasomnia” has had a huge impact on many of our lives and disruptions to daily routines – including changes to sleep patterns and bedtime schedules. So if you’re in need of some relaxation, Lush has got you covered for some pampering with the Sleep range whilst listening to the Tales of Bath soundtrack inspired by the Lush Spa treatment. Lush has a very strong environmental ethos as a company and I love that they actively campaigns on the issues of Animal Rights, Human Rights and Environmental Protection.
I tested the Lush Sleepy Body Lotion at home and it is fantastic. With a smooth and dense texture (a little goes a long way), this lotion is closer to a scented body cream that wraps you in lavender, oat milk and tonka goodness. Both my teenage girls tested it too and we all agreed that the sweet flowery scent was dreamy. I use this lotion after an evening shower right before going to bed and the fragrance is really lovely, helping me to relax before going to sleep.
Get in Sleep Mode
- Take a warm shower or bath and get into your sleepwear.
- Listen to guided meditation (check this list) or ASMR (here are examples of ASMR videos) before bedtime.
- Use aromatherapy to fall asleep, a pillow spray or an essential oil diffuser containing lavender, clary sage, camomile or neroli essential oils.
Take the Screens Away
Unless you are listening to sleep meditation, sounds or music, completely unplug for one hour before bedtime. The blue light in phones and screens interferes with your body’s melatonin production. Melatonin is a chemical your brain produces that regulates sleep.
If your smartphone sleeps in the same as you, set it to night mode or do not disturb mode as soon as you are in your bedroom. Set the alarm for the next morning and resist the urge to browse social media or read one last email.
I tend to grab a book (I like paper books) and make reading my book the very last thing I do before turning off the lights.
Optimize your Bedroom for Sleep
- Studies show that excess light in the bedroom can affect sleep quality, disrupting the body’s natural circadian rhythm. Artificial light, such as that emitted by smartphones, e-readers, and televisions, cues the brain to wake up, thus suppressing the production of melatonin. To sleep better, close your blinds or curtains to make your bedroom as dark as possible. If you need light to sleep, there are beautiful low intensity night lights nowadays.
- The best sleeping temperature for most adults is 60 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit (15 to 22 degrees Celsius). Sleeping in a cooler room can help you fall asleep faster, regulating our hormone system and metabolism. A cooler room can also affect the quality of REM (rapid eye movement), the stage of sleep where you dream, process learning and restore your body. Conversely, hot environments can cause you to spend less time in deep sleep, which can result in sleepiness during the day due to a lower overall quality of sleep.
#2 Go Out for a Daily Walk
Being stuck at home, especially if it has low levels of natural light or during times of the year with shorter days, may reduce light-based cues for wakefulness and sleep that are crucial to our circadian rhythm. Seeing the light of day plays an important role on telling our brains “Hey, this is daytime, time to be awake” versus bedtime when we turn off the lights and signal to our brain that now is the time to sleep. Here are some ideas to spice up your daily walk.
Look for wildlife along the way
If you are lucky, you may spot birds or insects with your eyes during daytime but quite a few species are nocturnal. In that case, look for wildlife cues such as shiny snail trails on the pavement, bird nests high up in trees, or bark stripped off tree branches (squirrels). Even scat can be a very useful indicator of wildlife — this poo guide can help you ID which animal it comes from.
Listen to a Nature Podcast
Most podcasts last 20 to 40 minutes, a perfect length of time to go out for a daily walk. Some of my favorite nature podcasts include:
- Unearthed: Mysteries from an unseen world: first podcast series by Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.
- The Overstory: this podcast from Sierra Club brings listeners some of the most surprising, heartfelt, and provocative stories from across the American landscape.
- Scotland Outdoors: a BBC-produced guide to life in the Scottish outdoors.
#3 Work Out
Working out is great for the body and the mind, but there’s also scientific evidence that physical activity benefits better sleep. How it works is still unclear but the facts speak for themselves.
“We have solid evidence that exercise does, in fact, help you fall asleep more quickly and improves sleep quality, but there’s still some debate as to what time of day you should exercise. I encourage people to listen to their bodies to see how well they sleep in response to when they work out,” she adds.Charlene Gamaldo, M.D. , medical director of Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep at Howard County General Hospital
Timing for Exercise
The best timing for working out is very personal. Personally, I tend to avoid working closer to bedtime as it puts my body in hyperdrive and makes it really difficult for me to go to sleep.
I used to join an intense 90-minute swimming class on Wednesday evenings and each Wednesday, I knew that I would have trouble sleeping which really sucked as I had to get up at 6am on Thursdays for a 6.30am swim class. That meant a sleep-deprived Thursday despite plenty of exercise.
On the other hand, getting up at 6am twice a week to complete a good swim session before breakfast or swimming before work always set me up in great spirits for the day. Hence for me, exercise timing really mattered to get a good night’s sleep.
Regularity = Quality
A regular workout schedule is important for improving sleep quality. Running, cycling or playing a sport for 30 minutes three times a week is better for sleep quality than working out once a week for an hour and a half.
Some types of physical activities are better than others in helping you to achieve a better night’s sleep. Gentle exercise such as yoga in the evening can be very conducive to sleep as breathing exercises can help lower the body core temperature and prepare your body for sleep.
Endurance or high intensity workouts?
Research published in the September 2014 issue of the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that high-intensity exercise could delay sleep onset, probably because of the resulting increased heart rate after workout. If you have trouble falling asleep, getting your heart rate up too close to bedtime may be contributing to that, but for others, breaking a sweat at the end of the day may not affect sleep.
Endurance-based workouts (running, walking, swimming, cycling) at a moderate intensity with a steady pace are the most optimal forms of physical activity.
#4 Use Nutrition Tips to a Healthy Diet
A healthy diet can promote good sleep. To sleep better, here are some nutrition tips.
- Caffeine. It’s no surprise that an evening cup of tea or coffee might disrupt your sleep, but other drinks such as chocolate, coca cola, energy drinks, and tea (even decaf drinks to a smaller extent) contain caffeine too. For better sleep, cut all caffeine from your diet 4 to 6 hours before bedtime.
- Alcohol. Alcohol may make you drowsy fast after ingestion but later in the night, it is likely to wake you up with headaches, night sweats and nightmares. As for caffeine, it is best to avoid alcohol 4 to 6 hours before bedtime.
- Sleep-friendly Foods. Certain foods can promote a good night’s sleep: kiwis, sour cherries, malted milk, fatty fish, nuts, rice.
- Small evening meals. Avoid heavy rich evening meals and prefer smaller and lighter meals high in vegetables and legumes.
- Golden Milk. Drink golden milk (also called turmeric latte) before bedtime. This delicious warm drink doubles as an ancient sleep aid, is easy to make and yummy to drink. In a small pan, combine 1 1/2 cups plant milk with 1 1/2 tsp ground turmeric, 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, 2 tsp honey and a pinch ground black pepper. Bring to a gentle simmer, pour into a mug, drink warm.
#5 Tips to Beat Insomnia
For me, insomnia strikes between 1.30 and 3.24am. I know because I’ve checked my digital clock very often in the dark of night. Insomnia manifests itself with the following symptoms:
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Inability to stay asleep
- Waking up in the early morning
- Experiencing non-restorative sleep
What if you Wake Up during the Night?
Waking up at random wee hours was (and still is) my main sleep issue. Not knowing any better, I used to switch on the light and read a book for an hour or so until I was sufficiently tired to go to sleep again. Reading a book at night can be a double-edged sword as shown by the night I picked up a real page-turner. I couldn’t stop reading and found myself reading the last lines of the book half an hour before waking up. Needless to say, getting up that morning was extra tough.
I mentioned my sleep patterns to a psychiatrist who recommended that I resist switching on an artificial light to read. Instead, she said, I should keep my eyes closed and focus on getting back to sleep.
At first, it was hard to resist reading a book at night. My body was completely used to being up at 3am and I had created an interrupted sleep habit. Bad move. Progressively, I forced myself to keep my eyes shut. I didn’t reach for the light switch. I didn’t toss and turn. Since I’ve started doing that, my sleep hygiene has much improved and if I feel that I need to catch up on sleep, it’s better that I go to sleep earlier the following night rather than wake up later in the morning.
By keeping to a regular morning routine, I manage to squeeze in more “me time” before the day starts, which I really need to keep energy levels high.
Note: If you have teens and access to nature, read my post on how nature can help teens sleep better.
What about you, how do you manage to sleep better at night? Do you write down your dreams the next day?