Do you have trouble sleeping? Tossing and turning all night, rising each morning exhausted and irritable, sleep problems can make us a little crazy. Lack of sleep can have devastating consequences on our health, our relationships, and the quality of our lives. I know, because I suffered for years. But I recovered and now enjoy peaceful, restful sleep. Let me share how to sleep better and the simple strategies for better sleep that can help you sleep so you can enjoy life again.
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There are simple but often overlooked steps you can take for improving your sleep. But sometimes these changes are not enough. Herbal remedies are a wonderfully natural way to create restful sleep. Visit my post: Five Herbs for Better Sleep for more information on useful herbs for supporting your health and addressing some of the common causes for insomnia. And read here to learn how to make your own herbal sleep tincture – tinctures are easy to make and effective.
So exhausted I am near tears, I roll over in the bed, smashing my fist into the pillow. No matter what I do, I can’t seem to find a comfortable position and more importantly, I can’t seem to quiet my mind. I have to get up in a few more hours, get the kids ready for their day, and I have a class to teach at work. But I can’t sleep.
This scenario continually repeats itself until I feel myself moving through my days in a brain-fog; weary, overly sensitive, and quick to anger. I feel ashamed at the way I speak to my children and spouse, and I find myself forgetful and making unnecessary mistakes at work. I have no motivation and zero self-discipline, and daily I prop myself up with caffeine and comfort foods. I’m gaining weight, my hair is falling out, and I wonder how I will drag myself through another day.
Causes of Poor Sleep
If this sounds familiar, please know that you are not alone.
I never realized just how common, and how serious sleeping problems were until two things happened. One, I started having significant sleep problems that went on for years, and two, I started health coaching and learned through my conversations with hundreds of people that many of them were suffering significant health and personal problems because of chronic sleep difficulties.
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Perimenopause and Menopause
One of the things I learned is that insomnia is much more common in women and is often related to hormones, especially declining levels of estrogen and progesterone that begin in perimenopause and continue through menopause.
Chronic stress can wreak havoc on our bodies, including alterations in cortisol. Stress and hormone levels are linked, and this combination can create the perfect storm for significant insomnia.
There are simple things we can do to help reset our body’s biorhythms, and there is research to support these strategies.
Simple Strategies for Better Sleep
How to sleep better – These simple strategies address three areas – your environment, your routines, and your lifestyle. Small changes in each area can get you sleeping better. Some changes will improve your sleep right away, others will take a little time.
Step One – Change the Environment
Plan to reduce your exposure to bright lights 1-2 hours before bedtime. Yes, I know that means reducing your screen time – television, computer, phone, but all this artificial light affects our production of melatonin, which our body needs to achieve a long restful sleep.
Reduce the amount of light in the bedroom from sources like outside street lights (use dark curtains to block), clock radios (turn away from the bed to cut glare), computer and other electronic lights (turn off or cover the lights).
Try “pink noise” to reduce outside sounds from disturbing your sleep. You have probably heard of white noise before, which is similar to what scientists describe as pink noise, but pink noise is a consistent frequency (think rain falling on pavement). Research has shown pink noise synchronizes brain waves for a deeper, more restful sleep. If you don’t have a noise machine, a fan works too.
And please, keep the cell phone alerts turned off or in another room to avoid distractions of incoming messages during the night.
Step Two – Change Your Routine
- Caffeine –One place to start (that we often forget) is avoiding caffeine later in the day. “Later in the day” will mean something different to each of us, depending on our schedules and our ability to metabolize caffeine. Find a cut-off time that works for you. Reducing overall caffeine intake, while uncomfortable at first, is crucial for enjoying better sleep (which means you will need less caffeine anyway right?!).
- Evening Meal– Avoid heavy meals close to bedtime. “Heavy meals” are ones with a lot of fat, or too large portions. (You know what I’m talking about.) Keep evening meals balanced and light. At the same time, don’t skip dinner. Going to bed on an empty stomach can lead to low blood sugar levels during the night, interfering with restful sleep. Susannah at Healthy Green Savvy has a great article on foods that can help you sleep.
- Consistent sleep and wake times– I know you have heard it before, but consistency in bed times and waking times helps your body’s biological rhythms. These biological rhythms regulate the ebb and flow of chemicals that cause alertness and sleepiness. Don’t underestimate how important consistency is.
- Bedtime Routine– Having a sleep routine can help you “switch on” the chemicals that promote sleep. Try to establish a bedtime routine you can do consistently each night, even if it is a short 15 minutes before bed.
One pleasant way to incorporate a relaxing routine, while reducing light exposure, is to give yourself 10 minutes with candlelight. Just before bed, light a candle (lavender-scented would be great!), turn off all the lights, and lie on your bed in a comfortable position.
Spend 5 to 10 minutes on a relaxing visualization, or simply focusing on your breath.
For a simple visualization exercise, imagine all the stress, anger, and worry of the day leaving your body in a gray cloud of energy. Move from head to toe imagining all the pent-up negativity leaving you.
Then imagine a calming, peaceful light filling your body, from head to toe. Breathe deeply and feel yourself relax. Imagine yourself extinguishing the candle and falling into a deep, restful sleep. When you are ready, extinguish the candle and fall into that deep, restful sleep!
For a simple focus on breath, smile (research shows the simple act of smiling increases endorphins), inhale to a slow count of four, then exhale to a slow count of four. Repeat three times (and keep smiling!)
Step Three – Lifestyle
- Exercise– Consistent exercise, or at least some form of physical activity daily can promote restful sleep. As humans our bodies were meant to move, and we often forget this simple truth. Walking, yoga, gardening, and biking are all great ways to move the large muscle groups of the body. This helps stimulate the flow of our lymph system, promotes the production of endorphins, reduces our stress, and improves our overall self-confidence.
- Time in Nature– Time outside is another lifestyle change that can make a tremendous impact on our health, and specifically help us to sleep better. Exposure to sunlight daily helps regulate our circadian rhythms, which often become out of tune with too much time spent indoors and under artificial lighting. Spending time in nature is another way to slow down, enjoy mindfulness, and relieve stress. All of which can improve our sleep.
There are so many things that can negatively impact the quality of our sleep, including lifestyle, stress levels, and hormones. Not everyone shares the same causes, or experiences the same type of insomnia. Knowing that, we need to understand there is no single solution.
I no longer punch my pillow in frustration as I struggle to sleep at night. My health, sanity, and life have improved with my sleep, and I try to stay on track with the strategies for better sleep.
In the next post, we will go a little deeper and talk about the common herbal remedies for supporting good sleep, and how each of them works. Using herbal remedies changed my life in so many ways, and I believe if used wisely, herbs can change yours too. Visit my post: Five Herbs for Better Sleep for more information.
Wishing you peace and restfulness,
Do you experience difficulty sleeping?
Take action now – what changes can you make to enjoy better sleep?