What you will learn in this article:
- Increase low magnesium level
- Increase low progesterone level
- Add sleep-promoting foods, herbs or blends
- Lower stress and cortisol, the stress hormone
- Block out the artificial light before bed
- Reduce alcohol before bed
- Stop caffeine at noon
- Skip the sugary late-night snacks
- What is the last thing you watch, do or think before bed?
- How to make a Sleep-Promoting Pillow
I’ve been updating this article for years. Every time I find new research or a new tool worth trying, I would test it on myself and a select group of followers. Lately, I’ve also been using my Oura ring to document my experiments; sleep with or without alcohol, with or without a hot bath, with and without exercise, without and without caffeine after noon. I’m sharing what I’ve discovered over the years.
I don’t think I need to convince you that sleep matter. You know how good it feels to have a full night’s, restful, deep sleep, yes?
Maybe you have forgotten what good sleep even feels like?
Maybe you need sleeping aids to get any sleep but you know that they aren’t great for you and the quality of your sleep is far from what it could be.
Let me assure you that you are NOT alone – millions of Americans don’t sleep well and many are dependent on sleeping aids.
Insomnia is not the problem.
Insomnia (as in both trouble falling and staying asleep) is just a symptom of something else going on in your body. Uncover what it is and many of your health issues may improve, not just sleep.
Before you say “But, I’ve tried it all”
When I went to get a sonogram it was early in the morning. The technician who performed the scan, excused herself saying that she needs to get some coffee first or else she won’t be able to function. When I asked her if she had a bad night’s sleep, she shared that she had not slept for years and assured me that she’s “tried it all.” Her doctor diagnosed her with a complex sounding condition and prescribed sleeping medications with doses “that would put out a horse,” in her words. When I asked her if she had tried taking magnesium or progesterone (she looks like someone headed for menopause hence dropping progesterone), she looked at me, puzzled, and said “No.” I asked her if her doctor has ever suggested it and she again replied in negative. These are the moment I want to scream at Western medicine.
Back to the technician. She told herself that “she’s tried it all” and surrendered to a miserable life of sleeping aids that will never give her a truly deep, restful sleep. Saying “I know it all” or “I’ve tried it all” puts us in a limiting belief system which makes a person stop searching and staying open to options. At Hormones Balance, we encourage you to stay open, curious, and unlimited.
We’ve prepared the below sleep checklist so you can tick off ALL the strategies before giving up or surrendering to sleeping pills. Be realistic and non-selective. I’ve met women addicted to caffeine who would refuse to stop drinking it by noon. Same with a glass of wine at night – which can be the very culprit of your poor sleep and night waking.
Let’s dive into the most common causes of insomnia and strategies that might help you.
Before we talk about the strategies, let me quickly cover why sleep is that important. Sleep is the foundation of good health and well-being.
Here are some of the reasons:
- Your body repairs and renews cells during sleep.
- Your liver does most of the detoxification during sleep; between 1 am and 3 am. Being awake compromises this function.
- Hormone and neurotransmitter regulation happens during sleep.
- Poor sleep can cause 15% less leptin (which makes you feel full and not hungry) and 20% more ghrelin (which makes you hungrier) – this means it’s easier to lose weight when you sleep more.
- We attain stable blood sugar balance after a good night’s sleep. When we do not – we crave sugar, carbohydrates, and coffee in the morning. After only four to six hours of sleep, your body finds it harder to stabilize blood sugars, shows research from the University of Chicago. Meanwhile, the fatty acids in the blood go up. The end result? Increased risk of elevated blood sugars, weight gain and diabetes type 2.
- Adrenals repair during sleep – overactive adrenals overproduce cortisol which can cause an array of health issues – see the article on adrenal health here.
If sleep and the science behind it fascinates you, I recommend reading Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep.
Top Sleep Strategies
1. Increase magnesium levels
Most women I work with suffer from low magnesium levels and don’t even realize it. This is probably because it’s not on most doctors’ radar and no common tests are available to confirm this deficiency. Common symptoms of low magnesium include poor sleep, leg cramps, shoulder tension, constipation, anxiety and edginess, depression and headaches. I have written a comprehensive article on the causation and how to fix this deficiency and another one on which form of magnesium is best to pick for your situation.
- Top up your magnesium levels: Having researched many forms of magnesium, I recommend (and personally take as well) glycinate form. I like it for its high bioavailability, high absorption rate, and non-laxative effect. Start with 250 to 300 mg per day and dose up until you get loose stool. Then, back off and continue at this dose.
- Try topical magnesium: If you suffer from many digestive problems and your absorption is compromised, you can replenish your magnesium reserves with topical magnesium that gets absorbed through the skin. I love using Quick Magnesium, in a gel form.
- Reduce stress: Stress and cortisol rob you of magnesium – replenish magnesium levels but also work on reducing stress.
2. Increase low progesterone
I have written extensively about progesterone’s role, reasons for it being low and how to fix it in this article.
In short: If you are suffering from symptoms such as irregular periods, PMS, mid-cycle spotting, infertility, anxiety, depression, and problems falling and staying asleep, low progesterone levels could be the culprit. Do not rely on blood tests to rule out low progesterone because serum-based labs are useless in showing you the true levels of steroid hormones (progesterone is a steroid hormone as well).
- Replenish progesterone levels: add the right nutrients, herbs, and supplements: article here. In short: nutrients such as zinc, vitamin E, vitamin B6 can help a ton in boosting natural progesterone production.
- Learn how to use seed rotation: It can help rebalance estrogen and progesterone levels. This surprisingly simple method has helped hundreds of women in our community.
- Try a topical progesterone cream: In times of stress (like during my book launch), I resort to topical progesterone because it helps me relax and sleep deeper. The one I use, love and recommend is ProgestPure.
- Reduce stress: Stress and cortisol rob you of progesterone (it happens through a phenomenon called “pregnenolone steal”). Easier said than done, but well, needs to be done.
3. Add sleep-promoting foods, herbs or blends
There are foods and herbs that can help with falling and staying asleep. In my experience, they are most often a good aid, not a solution. I see more often people resolving sleep issues by fixing their low magnesium, progesterone levels or stopping caffeine. But, the below recipes can help a great deal too:
- Ashwagandha Latte: This simple recipe is a favorite with people who get a sedative effect from this root. There is a chance it will do nothing for you. But, try and let us know in the comments!
- Kudzu root: Can help to fall asleep, try my Sleepy Lime Pudding. Kudzu is a root and the powder form is easily available in most health stores, in the Asian section.
- Herbal sleep blend: If you want to try an herbal blend synergistically crafted with vitamin B6, valerian, passion flower, lemon balm, chamomile, l-theanine, GABA and a tiny amount of melatonin, try Sleep Restore.
You can learn more about how to use herbs to restore good sleep and balance your hormones with our program Herbs for Balance. Try it out here.
4. Lower stress and cortisol, learn to breath
When you’re always rushing and stressing, your body pumps out more adrenaline and cortisol. If these stress hormones are still circulating when you hit the sack, they keep your body in ‘fight or flight’ mode so your brain won’t allow you to fall into a deep sleep.
When my own partner was in a toxic work situation, his high cortisol prevented him from sleeping well and we tried every sleep remedy we knew. But once we moved away, his stress reduced. To our great relief, he has since been sleeping like a baby – because his ongoing stress is clearly no longer trying to keep him awake.
I have seen many of my clients with unresolved past traumas and PTSD experiencing the same issue. For many, the sleep problems went away when they sought proper treatment.
This might be a long-term solution and you may want more immediate results. A number of apps offer sleep hypnosis tracks, meditative music and gongs. I’ve personally found that if I’m upset at night, doing the 4-7-8 breathing technique calms me down immediately.
- Remove yourself from the stressor: If your job, relationship or living situation is a constant source of distress or conflict, seek support and change it.
- Talk about your feelings: With an empathetic partner, friend or relative. If you’re experiencing trauma, depression or anxiety, see a counselor.
- Keep a worry diary: Jot down your problems and a few solutions to debrief and get troubles off your mind before bed. Writing and journaling are highly cathartic.
- Try an adaptogenic blend: It will support your adrenals.
- Download an app: Try mobile apps such as Calm or Headspace.
- Breath: Learn the easy 4-7-8 breathing technique.
5. Block out the artificial light before bed
Artificial light interferes with your circadian rhythm and melatonin production. Blue, yellow and green light emitted by electronic bright light screen devices such as lamps, smartphones, computer screen, TVs, radio clocks or even outside street lamps, can interfere with melatonin production. The pineal gland needs total darkness in order to produce melatonin. Research from Harvard University shows that exposure to blue light suppresses melatonin for twice as long as other colors and can shift your body clock by as much as three hours. Even just eight lux of light can have an effect.
- Banish electrical devices: That means no clock radios, TVs, computers or their standby lights in your room 2 to 4 hours before and while you sleep. They can truly interfere with melatonin production in these vital night hours.
- Get light blocking glasses: If you have no choice and have to be exposed to light in the evening hours, get Blue Blocker glasses. People sensitive to lights experience a profound difference with these glasses. You won’t know until you try them, or make it a point to avoid all artificial light one evening and see how it helps your sleep.
- Computer app: Install an app called f.lux. This reduces the blue wavelength coming from your screen, in favor of warmer and more sleep-friendly tones. It, however, does not block out the yellow and green lights which some people are sensitive to. I personally have found it to be only partially helpful.
- Enjoy a soft glow: At night, use candles or lamps instead of bright overhead electric lights. Need a toilet visit? Use a low-wattage flashlight or dim hall and bathroom globes with an amber glow.
- Open curtains on waking: This helps suppress melatonin levels, which should lower in the morning and rise at night.
- Breakfast al fresco: Go without your sunglasses for at least 10 minutes to ensure you get direct light exposure to your eyes.
- Set a sleep routine: Rise and retire at the same time every day to synchronize your body clock with light and dark.
6. Reduce alcohol before bed
Are you sure you want that chardonnay or shiraz? Alcohol might be a sedative and a relaxer, but many women observe that it triggers shallow sleep. This is partly because alcohol delays and shortens the slow wave and REM dreaming phases of the sleep cycle. And a few glasses of wine, beer or spirits, may also suppress your natural breathing pattern. Alcohol may also make you wake later from dehydration and thirst. And because it’s a bladder irritant and diuretic, you may also need to get up to pee!
Red wine can be a particular problem. It is high in natural chemicals called salicylates and amines, chemicals which can cause blocked nose and headaches in some people, waking them overnight.
- Well, quit booze before bedtime. Alternatively, drink earlier in the evening but not after 8 pm and always after food, not before.
- Savor an herbal tea: Choose valerian or chamomile for their calmative benefits.
7. Stop caffeine at noon
Love a good macchiato or strong cup of matcha tea? Don’t overdo it. Caffeine triggers the release of adrenaline and cortisol, which can keep your body on high alert for hours. Research at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine shows that caffeine can significantly disrupt your sleep six hours after your last hit. This is even more true for people who are slow caffeine metabolizers – even a decaf coffee will keep them awake! The point is: Try removing caffeine for 3 to 5 days and observe how has it changed your sleep.
- Set a caffeine curfew: That means no caffeinated tea or coffee after 12 midday.
- Try a coffee alternative: If you crave a milky hot drink, try this fabulous Chicory Latte. If you are sensitive to caffeine, quit it for 3 to 5 days altogether.
8. Skip the sugary late-night snacks
The worse choice of snacks before bed are:
- Ice cream
- Dessert yogurt
- Sweet wine
Ironically, that’s what many people end their dinner with. Have it on occasion as a special treat and not a daily habit. Try these instead.
- For healthy sleep-boosting snack options, check out my high protein snack recipes.
- Have an herbal tea such as chamomile, peppermint, rooibos or rose tea.
- If you have no choice and must drink alcohol, pick a bitter herbal digestif such as Amaro (in Italy), Jagermeister (in Germany) or Cognac (in France), over a sweet dessert wine.
9. What is the last thing you watch, do or think before bed?
I once attended a medical conference at which a neurologist shared that most of his child patients stopped urinating in bed when they stopped watching scary movies before bed. Why? Because what you read or watch before bed is what your brain continues processing during sleep.
- Pick carefully what you read or watch: Pass up on political debates, thrillers, and horror movies and opt for something soothing.
- Listen to sleep self-hypnosis tracks: I got some of mine here.
- Try EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) aka tapping for better sleep: This blog post and video explains how to do it. Many people have life-transformative results with EFT.
10. Try This Herb Blend
Sleep Restore is a blend of herbs with GABA, L-theanine, 5 HTP, and melatonin that prepares the mind and body for bed. The herbs in this formula have anti-anxiety and relaxing properties that wind down the body for sleep with the additional nutrients that quiet a chatty mind. This sleep formula is a good fit for those with adrenal stress, are perimenopausal or menopausal, or anyone that just wants a good night’s sleep.
It contains 3mg of melatonin which, research shows, is a dose that won’t inhibit your own production of melatonin. The common issue and worry (for the right reasons!) with using melatonin is that your pineal gland will stop producing its own. The 3mg dose is safe though.
Sleep Restore is made with non-GMO ingredients. Free of gluten, dairy, soy, yeast, sugar, and colors.
To learn more about how to balance your hormones with supplements (and which to take), you can download our FREE Supplement Guide here.
11. Take a Hot Bath
Hope bath relaxes the nervous system and improves blood flow to the brain which can be helpful in falling asleep. I further recommend using Epson salt (magnesium sulfate), magnesium salts (magnesium chloride) and baking soda. I’ve tested using my Oura ring and I do get more deep and REM sleep with hot salt baths. If you have an IR sauna, the heat would achieve the heat objective as well.
12. Tape Your Mouth
Yes, you read that right. For years, I resisted trying this method until one day I did and won’t be going back. As I entered perimenopause, my sleep has not been as consistent as before. I wake up at night, have trouble going back to sleep, I don’t feel as rested as in my 30-ties. Progesterone seems to be helping but not entirely. Ever since I started taping my mouth, Oura rings shows that not only my overall sleep pattern improved (none or one night waking versus multiple in the past) but I’m now also getting more Deep and REM sleep. I certainly feel it – getting up sharp, enthusiastic and deeply rested is most delightful and healing. To learn more about how it works, you can watch this interview.
13. Make a Sleep-Promoting Dream Pillow
If you have trouble falling into a restful sleep, you can try making your own sleep-promoting pillow using mugwort and lavender. Mugwort is used to o help people who have trouble dreaming, often due to stress, while lavender is used for its calming properties and to help relax the central nervous system. Learn how to make your own DIY Sleep-Promoting Pillow here.