Remember how in college days you could have 3 or 4 (or more) tequilas on a Tuesday night, fall asleep right away, sleep through the night and still show up for classes sharp as a tack? Try doing it now.
As we age, we become much more sensitive to substances that our bodies used to be able to detox and expel much more effectively and efficiently. My theory is that the liver and blood sugar levels play a big part here.
The moment I turned 45, my sleep has not been the same. I would wake up tired between 1am and 3am and won’t be able to get back to sleep for hours at the time. Yet, I would sleep through other nights, although these started happening less and less often.
I’m 48 years old at the time of writing this article which means that for the past 3 years, my sleep has not been the best and I feel the consequences of this deprivation. What are they?
I most certainly crave more caffeine, especially in the afternoons, to get me through the day (which later impacts my sleep, more on that further in this article). I am reluctant to exercise, so I stopped most of it apart from walking my dogs each day for 1.5 hours which is not the same as doing a good cardio bike ride or lifting weights. My mood tanks and I get impatient much more often than I would want to. My brain is far from optimal so I’m not as efficient with my time and productivity; a task that should have taken 30 minutes now takes me 3 hours. I’ve put on weight which could be the result of either less exercise or less sleep, or both.
For the past 9 months, I’ve been tinkering with various aspects of my diet and lifestyle choices to determine what exactly is causing my sleep to ebb and flow. Two key resources were critical to writing this article. One is the Oura ring which shows me the quality of my sleep each night. By adding tags, I was able to track what the contributing factors might be. Two, Matthew Walker, PhD’s book Why We Sleep confirmed and contextualized the sleep experiment into a larger picture of why I sleep badly, or have a great night’s sleep.
You do not need to invest in an Oura ring (it’s $300) or spend time reading Matthew’s dense book (although do so if you have the time) to figure out your sleep. I’ve compiled the below list to help you create your own sleep checklist and start experimenting with your sleep. Neither Oura or Matthew Walker covers all the issues (for example, Walker doesn’t make any mention of the role of hormones in women’s sleep, or how magnesium deficiency can contribute to insomnia).
I largely conducted the experiments for myself but like with most of my other experiments with food, herbs or supplements, most are rooted in research.
The purpose of this article is to share with you a long laundry list of factors that can help or kill your sleep. Some may impact you in a significant way (without you even realizing it) and others may have had an impact on me but not you. The idea is for you to keep a journal and try one thing at the time to determine what promotes or destroys your sleep.
Many of you email us or post on our social platforms stating that you “tried everything” and you still can’t sleep. The truth is: you tried what you know about which most likely isn’t “everything.” I would therefore encourage you to stay open and curious.
And, don’t cherry pick the few things that are easy to do. We often choose to ignore or be in denial about the things that might be the biggest culprit. I once met a woman who drank 4 to 5 cups of coffee until 6pm and was adamant that it had nothing to do with her chronic insomnia. As you will read further in this article, caffeine can have an inconspicuous effect on your sleep – what you do at 12pm might not feel correlated with your night, but it is.
One of the most fascinating and empowering aspects of writing this article has been the fact that sleep is one thing you CAN control and eventually change in your life.
The importance and difference between REM and Deep Sleep
REM and deep sleep are often used as interchangeable terms, thrown around even in the medical space, but they are very different and both have a distinct impact on your health and brain function. Bottom line is: we need various forms of sleep (light, REM, deep) to get or remain healthy. I will focus on two forms in this article: REM and deep. These two types of sleep compete with each other, winning and losing every 90 minutes, comprising a sleep cycle that occurs an average of 4-6 times per night.
REM (Rapid Eye Movement, when dreams happen)
- Happens in the second half of the night, in the 90-minute cycles
- Boosts creativity and problem solving skills
- Emotional “first-aid” in resolving problems, trauma, and adversity
- Stitches information together so we wake up with solutions to earlier problems
Deep (also referred to as Deep Non-REM or deep NREM sleep stage 3 and 4)
- Happens predominantly early in the night
- Weeds out and removed unnecessary neural connections
- The brain shrinks to make space for the lymphatic system to “flash out” toxins from the brain
- Helps retain memories and learning (so they don’t fade away)
- Recharges the immune system
- Overhauls the cardiovascular system
The importance of sleep
This article is focused on the “what” of sleep rather than the “why.” I will therefore keep this section really short. You probably already know intuitively that your whole day is different when you sleep well – from mental alertness, mood, energy, and cravings. If you want to dive deeper into the “why,” read my previous article on sleep and/or get Matthew Walker’s book Why We Sleep.
I will briefly mention the benefits of quality sleep here that may not be as obvious. They include:
- Sleep helps with memory; to learn something new immediately and then to store it for later use.
- Affects cardiovascular health; blood pressure, degradation of arteries and blood vessels, plaque build-up.
- Sleep and metabolism have an intimate relationship and can impact weight gain, blood sugar levels, insulin resistance, and diabetes.
- Sleep deprivation can result in food cravings, especially sugar, processed carbohydrates, and coffee.
- Good sleep can boost your immune system, or compromise it.
- Chronic sleep deprivation can alter and damage the DNA.
Best Sleep Protocol Checklist
How to Use the Checklist
We are all different and therefore what has worked for me might have no impact on you, and vice versa. If you are experiencing serious sleep problems, I highly recommend downloading The Best Sleep Protocol Checklist (click the link to open the PDF in a new window and print) and implement each change, one at the time. Implementing a few changes on the same night (which is understandable as we get excited and what to fix our sleeping problems pronto), won’t help you narrow down what your culprits are.
- Make one change at the time.
- Journal what you have done and how you feel.
- Gauge the quality of your sleep by how rested you wake up, total hours slept, continuity of sleep and the amount of cravings you experience in the day, especially sugar and caffeine. If you have an Oura ring or other sleep-tracking devices, use them. I hear mixed reviews on reporting sleep by Apple’s Health app.
- Try all the things on this checklist (with the exception of recommendations that you know won’t work like perhaps CBD or valerian). Try not to cherry-pick. We tend to pick things that are easier to do but the real solution may be in what we resist the most (like a glass of red wine before bed).
Food and drinks
This section might feel somewhat counterintuitive, especially the food part but it will amaze you how much better you will sleep after a diet change. One wise woman in our community once shared: “To change my nights, I had to change my breakfast.”
Anti-inflammatory diet, reduce overall inflammation
Eliminating highly inflammatory foods such as gluten, dairy, processed foods (and whatever other foods that “don’t agree” with you) and reduction of sugar may not only improve your sleep but also bring much relief to a long list of other symptoms that can vary from headaches, skin issues, GI problems, pain, cravings, depression, and hormonal problems.
Food sensitivities (different from allergies) are a big and underestimated contributor to inflammation in the body which can, as a result, a grave imbalance in the body; hormonal, nutritional and nervous – contributing to sleep problems.
Recommendation: I recommend to start with the Elimination Diet – it’s the foundational diet in my books Overcoming Estrogen Dominance and Cooking for Hormone Balance.
Balanced blood sugar levels
Fluctuating blood sugar levels cause cortisol spikes. Cortisol, known as the “stress hormone” also has other functions, including regulation of blood sugar levels. How do you know if your blood sugar levels need some balancing (other than elevated fasting glucose and/or HA1C)? Most common symptoms include feeling dizzy, shaky, anxious, and irritable when hungry; craving sugar and processed carbohydrates, and feeling hungry after a full meal.
Recommendation: One of the most effective ways to balance your blood sugar levels is to start your day with a savory breakfast such as eating dinner or lunch leftovers. Both my books, Overcoming Estrogen Dominance and Cooking for Hormone Balance.are packed with savory recipes. Be very aware of how much sugar you consume throughout the day; it can add up quickly from juices, smoothies, bars, treats, desserts but also store-bought dressings, ketchups, and soups. As support to your diet, you may want to add supplements containing chromium, berberine, cinnamon, or fenugreek. Women in our community have good results in managing blood sugar levels with Wellena’s Gluco Maximus.
Resolving pre- and diabetes
This is connected to the above point. Ongoing hypo- and hyper-glycemia eventually lead to pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes. One of the symptoms is frequent urination which can be the reason you need to use the bathroom several times at night – disrupting your sleep.
Recommendation: see the above paragraph under “Balanced blood sugar levels.”
Less liquids before bed
Drinking a quart of water or more before bedtime might be contributing to waking which disrupts your sleep. Some people easily get back to sleep and others do not.
Recommendation: Drink no more than 12 ounces of liquids before bedtime (1-2 hours), or less. Avoid diuretic herbs and teas such as nettles, dandelion, or hawthorn.
Eating early and light
One of the earliest connections I’ve made about my sleep was the quantity and the time of my dinners. I find that I sleep best when I eat dinner 2 to 3 hours before bedtime. I also noticed that I sleep fabulously after eating complex carbohydrates (such as sweet potatoes, grains, yes, even oatmeal) but not after a large serving of protein and fats. A big steak, mashed white potatoes with lots of butter, and a glass of red wine (more on that next) kills my sleep – I would wake up at 1am, feeling heavy, unsettled, wired but unable to fall back asleep. You know that frustration.
Eating early can be key. Your digestive system makes a significant effort to chomp the food, extract the nutrients, move and eventually excrete your evening’s provisions. The body’s vital energy is used for digestion; not resting, calming, and preparing your body to sleep.
Recommendations: Eat a light dinner 2 to 3 hours before bedtime. If you must eat late, eat a smaller portion, stop when feeling half-full, and perhaps add some digestive bitters (our community loves the Wellena Digestive Bitters) or digestive enzymes. Avoid eating rich meals full of protein and fats; instead, give complex carbohydrates a chance.
Alcohol reduction or elimination
I feel like this is a big one for two reasons. Alcohol is such a prevalent custom in our Western culture; we drink to celebrate as much as to grieve or address anger, disappointment, boredom (like during Covid). There is social pressure, or “norm” to drink which normalizes drinking, including daily consumption. Secondly, many women feel like “this is my only and last vice and I’ve given up everything else.” That was my mantra, too. We can create many reasons, excuses and stories in our heads to convince ourselves that it’s OK to drink. The truth is: alcohol impacts your liver, inhibits estrogen metabolism increasing your risk of estrogen dominance and breast cancer. And, in the context of this article, it impacts your sleep in ways bigger than you probably realize.
Using Oura, I monitored how alcohol impacts my sleep. This is what I’ve learned:
- Regular, store-bought wines (even organic), impact my sleep the most. I tolerate the biodynamic wines from Dry Farm Wines (probably because they contain no sugar and are lower in histamine) but they still shorten my deep sleep.
- I tried the Wine Wand that lowers histamine and sulfite levels. The product has great reviews and I believe it works. However, in spite of lowering the histamine and sulfite levels, my sleep was still highly compromised, especially deep sleep.
- I also tried having a drink in the afternoon, the idea being that I would largely metabolize the alcohol before hitting the sack. That didn’t quite work either – although I didn’t wake up as much, my deep sleep was reduced to 15 to 20 minutes at best (from the regular 1 hour plus).
- I tested the impact of wines as well as high quality liquors such as rum, whiskey, mezcal, tequila, and vodka; and found that they all impact my sleep the same way.
- For context, my alcohol consumption varied from 1 to 2 glasses of wine or a cocktail, so not a whole lot.
- What helped the waking in the middle of the night and the inability to go back to sleep (when drinking), was taking 300-500mg of GABA and 450mg of magnesium glycinate (I take Magnesium Replenish). However, these supplements didn’t help my deep sleep. I figured they might be a good occasional aid but not something I would do daily.
This is a screenshot of my sleep after 2 afternoon glasses of biodynamic wine (from Dry Farm Wines), using the Wine Wand in both glasses. If I drank poor quality wine, I would have woken up and stayed awake for 2-3 hours. Drinking quality wine as well as GABA and magnesium taken at bedtime, helped me stay asleep but my deep sleep was only 17 minutes. On an alcohol-free night, my deep sleep could be as long as 1 hr 56 min.
Alcohol metabolism can vary from person to person and can depend on your genetic make-up (the availability of an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) which degrades alcohol) and the health and efficiency of your liver. Think about it: most of us could drink in college and sleep like a log – this is most likely because our liver was far more efficient when younger.
In the Oura ring Facebook support groups, alcohol and caffeine reduction or total elimination is consistently cited as the best way to improve sleep—especially deep sleep.
Recommendation: To figure out how alcohol impacts your sleep, keep a log and note how your day is after a sleep with and without alcohol. Note your mood, cravings, energy level, alertness and overall well being. If you can have an occasional drink, pick a top-shelf tequila, mezcal, or vodka. Avoid beer and cheap “conventional” wines, especially whites – they are the highest in yeast, histamine, and sulfites.
Caffeine reduction or elimination
I once met a woman who insisted that her 6pm cup of coffee had nothing to do with her chronic insomnia. Similarly to alcohol, caffeine can impact each person differently. The enzyme that breaks down caffeine in the liver is the P450 enzymes and it’s coded by the gene CYP1A2. So here again, your genetics and liver health/efficiency can determine how quickly you break down caffeine and evacuate it from the body. Some people can drink coffee at night and go right back to sleep. I’ve also met others who don’t sleep even after having a decaf at 10am. The general recommendation is to stop drinking caffeine at 12pm. Note that chocolate, many sodas, white and green tea (including matcha) also contain caffeine.
Recommendation: It’s best if you experiment and see what your cut-off time is. For me, it’s 3pm if I want to go to sleep at 9pm.
Light in the morning and no lights before bed
Blue lights reduction or elimination 2 hours before sleep
After alcohol, the second factor that can make or break my sleep is blue light. Blue light is emitted by devices containing LED lights such as computers, smartphones, tablets, TVs, and LED bulbs. This kind of light interferes with your pineal gland’s ability to produce melatonin.
You may now think: “OK, so if I stare at my laptop until late at night, I will just take melatonin and have a good night’s sleep.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t work this way. One of the most common reasons we wake up in the middle of the night (and can’t fall back to sleep) is because of melatonin insufficiency to carry us through the night. I’ve also tried the time-releasing melatonin and it didn’t help me sleep, or stay asleep.
Recommendation: Your best bet is to cut down the amount of blue light that gets in your eyes. The recommendation is 2 hours before bed. In reality, many people unwind with a movie or reading an ebook. If you can, switch your reading lamp bulb to a blue-light blocking one and read the old-fashioned paper book. If you must watch TV, get the blue-light blocking glasses. If using a computer, tablet or smartphone, get the physical blue-light blocking screen. I’ve found that the much-talked-about app called f.lux doesn’t deliver the level of blockage that would save my sleep. If not using a physical screen on your computer, try Iris and their “Sleep” setting – it will turn the screen red but help you sleep. Lastly, think about replacing the bulbs in lamps that you use before bedtime, to blue-light blocking bulbs. These are simple changes that can make profound changes. Chances are that your evening fatigue, tension headaches and eye ache will alleviate as well.
Here are links to the products I’ve used and found them helpful:
- Blue light-blocking glasses
- Iris app
- iPad, iPhone and Mac screens that block blue light
- Blue light-blocking bulb
Clear lenses block a maximum of 40% of blue light; yellow lenses block a maximum of 75% of blue light; and red lenses block up to 100% of blue, green and violet light.
Total darkness in the room
Similarly, you may feel like your sleep is deeper and uninterrupted when you sleep in total darkness so the melatonin production isn’t interfered. When I lived in Iceland for a few months in summer (when the sun never sets), there was no way to fall asleep without heavy curtains or a sleep mask.
Recommendation: If any devices found in your bedroom (such as TV monitor, air conditioner, air purifier, humidifier, etc.) emit even a small amount of light, cover the LED light with a black tape. Consider investing in heavy, light-blocking curtains. If you live near street lamps and are unable to block off the light, get a sleep mask.
Morning sun exposure
Getting outside and getting sunshine before 8am will help calibrate your circadian rhythm and help produce cortisol – which should be highest in the mornings. All you need is a 20-minute walk or just being outside, wearing no sunglasses, if possible. Getting morning sun exposure and avoiding too much light at night (especially artificial light) will help you reset your circadian cycle and set you up for sleep success.
Hormonal and neurotransmitter balance
Low progesterone in women
You may have noticed that ever since you turned 45, your sleep hasn’t been the same. One possibility is a decrease in progesterone levels which typically starts to decline after age 35. Progesterone in women is responsible for fertility and healthy pregnancy during the reproductive years (hence the name progesterone = pro-gestation). In post-reproductive years, progesterone helps us fall and stay asleep, keeps us calm, helps healthy bones, cardiovascular health, and lots more. I’ve written about the role of progesterone here.
Recommendation: Due to the mild and benign nature of progesterone, you can get it as an OTC hormone. Quality can vary so do your homework. The progesterone I personally use and recommend is ProgestPure Cream.
Optimal estrogen levels
Fluctuations in estrogen can impact your sleep, too, which may explain why women tend to have more sleep problems than men. Estrogen changes can impact both women who are still menstruating as well those in perimenopause and menopause. When cycling, it is common for women in the follicular phase (the first half of their menstrual cycle) to experience insomnia because of rising estrogen levels. With progesterone rising in the luteal phase, which starts after ovulation, women tend to feel sleepy and want to go to bed earlier but also wake up earlier.
It’s well reported that estrogen decline can cause hot flashes which can destroy a woman’s sleep. I would argue that this is true in combination with fluctuating blood sugar levels and elevated body inflammation but let’s stay on estrogen here for a moment. A body of research shows a correlation between declining estrogen levels and sleep problems.
Recommendation: for women who are still menstruating, regulating and stabilizing your period (so that all other symptoms diminish as well) will also help your sleep. Several chapters cover the various period problems in Overcoming Estrogen Dominance. For women in perimenopause and menopause, consider using natural ways to optimize your estrogen levels starting with two tablespoons of freshly ground flaxseed (contains phytoestrogens), and estrogen-building herbs such as red clover, black cohosh, and alfalfa. Reducing inflammation and balancing your blood sugar levels in tandem with optimizing your estrogen levels, might be an effective sleep protocol. If your symptoms don’t improve, work with a skilled hormone practitioner to consider a bioidentical estrogen replacement therapy.
Histamine is a stimulatory neurotransmitter that can be highly problematic when in excess. More and more people struggle with histamine intolerance when they consume food or drinks high in histamine. They could include cheese, alcohol, fermented vegetables (such as kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles), long-cooked foods (such as bone broth), and cured meats (such as salami, sausages, ham). A good resource to understand more about histamine (and if you suspect that might be your problem), is MastCell360.
Symptoms of HIT (histamine intolerance) can be many but some of the most common ones are heart palpitations, sleeplessness, hives, red and itchy skin, stuffy nose and ears (especially after consuming a high-histamine food or drink). I have genetic SNPs that make me a slow histamine metabolizer and if I drink a store-bought wine (the worst ones are on airline flights!), my sleep is significantly disturbed.
Recommendation: If you suspect that histamine might be your issue, avoid high-histamine foods and drinks before bed (alcohol is extremely high in histamine). The long-term strategy is to address the root causes of HIT – this way you would be able to have high-histamine foods without reacting and gain food freedom.
GABA is also a neurotransmitter but an inhibitory one because it blocks, or inhibits, certain brain signals and decreases activity in your nervous system. For most people, it has a highly calming effect and can help fall and stay asleep.
Recommendation: Try 300 to 500 mg of GABA at bedtime. I personally use and recommend this GABA.
Herbs, Minerals, and Supplements
Herbs: calming and sedative
A smart herbal formulation strategy supports sleep not only through the use of sedative herbs (such as valerian, hops, California poppy, or passion flower) but also through an addition of calming herbs to quiet down the mind and the nervous system. Some of my favorite calming herbs are lemon balm, chamomile, lavender, and kava.
There is an interesting development in the world of kava. A calming/sedative herb that originates from the Pacific islands, it’s been bastardized in their varietal constituents to the point of being potentially harmful to the liver. True kava obtained from Vanuatu (an island country, east of Australia) gives hope – the company TruKava has brought it to the forefront of sustainably harvested kava and a safety profile to make it a daily drink. People struggling with anxiety before bedtime can benefit from kava’s calming effects. A friend of mine used a glass of wine to wind down and has substituted it with the TruKava drink, making her sleep stellar (she also uses the Oura ring to track these changes).
Recommendation: Firstly, recognize that each herb can impact each person in different ways. For example, some people (believed to be the “hot types” in TCM) get stimulated by valerian. For me, kava makes little difference and a higher dose makes me drowsy but it doesn’t help my sleep. Use the above list of herbs to figure out what works for you. An herbal formula I use and recommend as an occasional aid (not a daily supplement) is Sleep Restore.
And to set the expectations right: if you drank alcohol and/or were staring at your laptop before bed, using herbs to get better sleep may not work. Even if you use heavy sedatives, your sleep won’t be restful and you won’t get much REM and deep sleep.
Supplements: magnesium and melatonin
Magnesium deficiency is rampant and it’s likely that you experience it, too. If you crave chocolate, get constipated, sleep poorly, and experience frequent cramps, you might be magnesium deficient. (Let me just say that it’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to magnesium deficiency, I’ve written about it here). Magnesium is a calming mineral but one that’s also involved in over 500 metabolic processes that ease the way your body operates.
Recommendation: Correcting magnesium deficiency is easy. Start with 200 to 300mg of magnesium glycinate (avoid oxide or citrate, the latter only if constipated) in the evening and again at bedtime. Keep dosing up until you get a loose bowel movement – then, back off to the previous dose and continue taking it. It’s one of the minerals that is perpetually low in food and supplementing it for life is just the way it might need to be. I personally take and recommend Magnesium Replenish in the afternoons and at bedtime. In the mornings, for energy and electrolyte balance, I take Mag Energy (magnesium malate).
From first-hand experience and literature research, I’ve found that melatonin won’t offer a restful and uninterrupted sleep (even the time-released types) in the long term. It might be a good and quick fix when needed (like resetting your circadian rhythm with a jetlag) but over time, your pineal gland may stop producing melatonin and the supplemental doses need to increase. Many melatonin users have also found that melatonin helps them to fall asleep but not stay asleep.
Recommendation: I highly recommend focusing on discovering what interferes with your melatonin production. See the above section “Blue lights reduction or elimination 2 hours before sleep” to learn about reducing blue light emission.
Heat and humidity
Many women in our community (and also in the online Oura ring communities) report improved sleep after a sauna session, especially before bedtime. There are many benefits to saunas, especially IR (infrared) saunas. I’ve written about them here.
Recommendation: The sauna I use and recommend is Sunlighten. If you don’t have the funds or place for a sauna, there are portable options (Sunlighten has them, too). If you choose another brand, be mindful of the plastic and off-gassing that happens, especially when the plastic cover gets hot. Many health centers offer walk-in sauna sessions at a fee.
Red light therapy
Most red light units come with two light frequencies, red light, and near-infrared. The main difference with an IR sauna is the saunas only have two meaningful frequencies: far and medium (even though most claim to have all three frequencies: far, medium, and near). This is where red light units with near IR frequencies come in. I’ve written about this technology here. The article cites many studies showing the many benefits of this technology (which include pain management, skin improvement, liver detoxification, decrease in Hashimoto’s antibodies), and one is sleep improvement by increase of native melatonin production.
Recommendation: The red light and near IR unit I use is from Red Rush (it’s much more powerful and less expensive than Joovv). Be sure to use light-blocking glasses if using the unit before bedtime.
If you live in dry places and/or high elevations, or you run a heating system in winter, the dryness in your bedroom could be drying your nasal passages causing you to wake up in the middle of the night. Many people cite improvement of their immune system as well.
Recommendation: Get a humidifier and run it at night, it might be highly transformative.
Cooler room temp or bed-cooling system
One of the many things I’ve learned from Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep is the importance of lowering the core body temperature to experience better sleep. That also explains why women with hot flashes and night sweats experience troubled sleep.
Recommendation: the easiest way to lower your body temperature is to open up the windows in the room and keep the room in the 60° to 67°F (15.5° to 19.4°C) range. If this is not an option for you (you live in a hot place with no A/C, don’t like using A/C or have a partner who wants it hot), consider getting the bed cooling pad – many people rave about the Ooler Sleep System (from Chilisleep).
Hot bath before bed
It might sound counterintuitive but a hot bath causes the body’s core temperature to drop. The heat travels to extremities (hands, feet, neck, etc) and this way the core body temperature drops. This is the reason why many people sleep better after taking a hot bath or after the use of a hot tub before bed (that’s been my experience as well). There are also those who feel stimulated by it, so honor your own body’s responses to these recommendations.
Recommendation: If a hot bath (this includes hot tubs) helps your sleep, consider also adding magnesium in the form of sulfur (aka Epsom Salts) or chloride (I use Life-Flo). Some people like to add 1⁄4 cup of baking soda to their hot bath, citing its detoxification support.
Breathable mattress and bedding
I have written extensively about quality non-toxic mattresses in this article. If you are hot at night, changing your mattress and/or bedding might help you lower your core body temperature. Unfortunately, many organic latex mattresses aren’t very breathable – something to be mindful of.
Recommendation: Read the above article and decide if upgrading your mattress and bedding is the way to go. I use and love the bamboo bedding from Sunday Citizen; it’s cooling in summer and warming in winter.
Calming your thoughts and body
Re-think what you read or watch before bed
I once attended a conference where a neuroscientist showed how the last thing we watch or read before bed is what the brain will process at night. You may have noticed that wherever you read or watch something upsetting or scary such as a crime story, horror movie, or political debate, your sleep may be compromised.
Recommendation: It’s pretty simple – switch to more neutral content, such as comedies or light and uplifting content.
Some people get anxious when in bed from recollecting the day or worrying about tomorrow. Deep abdominal breathing engages the vagus nerve – a nerve that runs from the brain all the way to the anus. It connects many organs and it also activates the parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) nervous system which is crucial to falling and staying asleep.
Recommendation: My favorite deep abdominal breathing is the 4-7-8 technique. In only six rounds of doing it, you may feel much calmer and ready to sleep. A round of six only takes a few minutes.
Vigorous exercise 2 to 3 hours before bed isn’t recommended and it could include certain types of yoga. Gentle yoga can have the same effect as deep abdominal breathing.
Recommendation: Try yin, restorative, or Kaiut yoga. These forms of yoga are slower and focus on breathing, not speed of movement. There are many online apps including Peloton that offer these types of yoga. I personally often do Kaiut before bed (from a mobile app) as it has become my favorite form of yoga that has also eliminated my lower back issues, shoulder and neck pain.
Many people feel that meditation is their sleep savior. Focusing your thoughts on a set of gentle instructions can be helpful.
Recommendation: Pick a meditation style and app that works for you. There are so many of them now! My personal favorite is Headspace (I love Andy’s voice). Peloton also offers many meditation classes now, too.
Elimination of disturbances
This sounds so simple and obvious but the reality is: sometimes we need to be reminded of the most obvious of things to implement and see the results.
Snoring partner and/or dogs
Partners who sleep separately happens more often than you think – the official number is 25%. It’s a poorly-serving belief that all coupled-up people need to sleep together, especially if it affects one’s sleep (or both). As mentioned above, women are more affected by room heat than men. Men also tend to snore more than women. There is no reason for you to suffer through it.
As a dog mama, I will admit I have found myself (many times) in strange and uncomfortable positions in bed just to not disturb my dogs. I’ve gotten over this one pretty quickly.
Recommendation: Consider sleeping in another bedroom to get sound sleep. It will be well worth it and it won’t reflect on your relationship or intimacy. As for dogs – move them or crate them if they are big or move around too much. They will go back to sleep in seconds and won’t love you any less. Crating takes time for a dog to learn but it’s easy going once the dog is trained.
EMF reduction or elimination
Some people report being affected by high EMF exposure. The most common sources are smartphones, tablets, internet routers, and smart readers.
Recommendation: Beware of many devices in the market promising EMF reduction – most of them do not. If you feel like EMFs are bothering you, the easiest and least expensive way to avoid them is to just turn off these devices when going to sleep.
This is an area I’m less familiar with but given the success rate reported by many people, I’m including these solutions.
This might seem like an extreme measure but many people swear by it – you simply tape your mouth before going to bed. The idea got popularized by James Nestor’s Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art and years of his research and experiments of breathing through the nose (essential) versus the mouth (problematic and unhealthy). Given that many people are mouth breathers during sleep (which may result in sleep apnea and snoring), mouth taping seems to solve the issue for many – increasing the quality and depth of sleep.
This is still an under-researched area but I’m also a believer that just because there are no studies of something (yet), there is no reason to dismiss it (unless it’s potentially dangerous). Meditation also didn’t have much research two decades ago (and was laughed at) and is now the darling remedy in the medical world.
Recommendation: You can either purchase X-shaped mouth tapes online or simply use a surgical tape from your first aid kit. Tape your mouth just before going to sleep. It may feel slightly uncomfortable at first, even anxiety-provoking, but on the second or third try, you may get used to it and love your sleep. I’ve tried mouth taping but, since I mostly sleep on my stomach and tend to breathe through my nose, I didn’t experience much improvement in my sleep from mouth taping. But, you could!
Correcting mouth structure
In my research to better sleep, some people have reported significant improvement of their sleep by correcting their mouth structure and eliminating obstructions in the mouth. The idea is based on the fact that our jaws, mouths, and airways have become more narrow because of less chewing of food and the consumption of processed food.
Recommendation: Consider getting the book Six-Foot Tiger, Three Foot Cage and potentially work with a dentist specializing in this area to restore and remodel airways without surgery.
Mold is a complex topic and I recommend working with a skilled functional practitioner to figure out your plan of action. For the purpose of this article, it’s worth mentioning that people with mold exposure have reported sleeping problems as one of the many symptoms.
Recommendation: The only way you will fix it is to completely eliminate mold from your life. If that’s not immediately possible, supporting your elimination and detoxification pathways may be sound tentative help. If you haven’t started researching yet, this is a good place to start. Dr. Jill Carnahan had a personal journey with mold and is one of the top experts on it.
People with anxiety, ADHD, and psychiatric disorders may find weighted blankets to be calming and help their sleep. Although a small study, many people report loving to sleep under a weighted blanket. I don’t find that a weighted blanket alone is a fix-all sleep solution, but perhaps combined with other recommendations in this article, it might be a wonderful add-on.
Recommendation: I personally use and love the crystal-filled weighted blanket from Sunday Citizen. Some people feel the calming effects of crystals; if that’s you, it’s a wonderful blanket to keep for a cold winter evening or night.
I hope this article will help you find your best sleep toolkit. Remember that we are all different and one solution may work for me but not for you. I highly recommend that you print out the Best Sleep Protocol Checklist we created for you and go down this list, trying one thing at a time to eventually create your own Best Sleep protocol.
Your article is a much appreciated gift to have all this information on how to improve your sleep in one short article. As always you’ve shared your experience, research, and knowledge in a succinct, informative and understanding manner. Thank you!
Two years ago I started focusing on improving my health and sleep at 52 and begun with your Cooking for Balance program and I’m still on step one Digestion. I’ve learned so much along the way. I keep peeling layers back to find root causes. It’s a long insightful and empowering journey.
This is an excellent article!! Thank you!
Excellent !!! so thorough!
the funny thing is, if I read before bed, i tend to have trouble sleeping because I think about the book a lot
Just excellent! I am so empowered by this information. I am not having problems sleeping, and fortified with this information, I will not, but I can support people in my life who may be dealing with these issues. Thank you so much for all the work you have done to provide this for us. Love and Light.
Thank you for this healthful information. I
Thank you Magdalena! I took several screenshots to have on hand as a reference since so many people struggle with sleep. I also have both of your books and reference them regularly. You are my favorite person to learn from right now! I’ve made a lot of beneficial changes because of you including NO COFFEE!!❤
Congratulations, Rakhel! It’s so great to hear that you were able to make this change. Thank you for sharing these kind words with us. We’re grateful to have you apart of our community. ~HB Support.
This is one of the most comprehensive articles I have seen on ‘sleep’. Thank you kindly!
Such a great article! Thank you. I was curious about why you did not include Mag Taurate. After trying so many kinds of standard available magnesium and having no affect, I tried Mag Taurate after studying your magnesium chart. It’s been amazing! One or two pills didn’t work but when I got up to three, it completely changed my sleep!
This article really helped me realize why coffee is not the best option for me when I’m feeling tired in the middle of the day, because I spend the night staring at the ceiling and when I finally get to sleep, I would have slept 3 hours at the most, I am tired of feeling tired! goodbye coffee
Hi Janet, we have discussed exploring Magnesium Taurate in the future. This is a great form of Magnesium with a wonderful range of benefits. ~HB Support.
Hi Lisa, it’s great to hear that you are tuning into your bodies needs and making changes accordingly! Here is another article with some ideas that could help you during this transition, https://hormonesbalance.com/articles/how-to-quit-coffee/ ~HB Support.
This is powerful information here thank you so much Magdalena!
In health & love
Hi Svetlana, thank you for sharing your appreciation! ~HB Support
I need and wish I could take more magnesium but anything over about 250 grams a day, magnesium glycinate, gives me
loose bowels. I wonder if there are other solutions as I know my levsls are very low.
Hi Evelyn, you could also try working with topical magnesium to help your levels. Sometimes this in addition to oral can be helpful. ~HB Support
Love this article! I’ve been doing the same thing lately, trying everything under the sun to improve sleep. My favorite combination of nervine/sedative herbs are: passionflower, motherwort, valerian, and hops. The hops cool down the valerian, which can be too heating for me. I also love blue vervain, which is cooling and excellent for tension. And red clover and black cohosh are making a positive difference with my hormones. Here’s a tip for when you end up having a few drinks – Nux Vomica (homeopathic) taken before bed and the morning after (just need one pellet) will eradicate a hangover. It doesn’t help with sleep, though.