More than 60 million Americans experience difficulty sleeping every year, according to statistics from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. 40 million of these people suffer from long-term chronic sleep disorders such as insomnia. (1)
This number is astounding, especially considering that sleep deprivation has been shown to hinder performance as drastically as alcohol intoxication. (2) This means 40 million Americans are going about their daily lives in a state similar to drunkenness!
That is not good.
Sleep is incredibly important to living a healthy and happy life. A good night’s rest leads to better brain function, more balanced hormones, increased insulin sensitivity, and a stronger immune system.
Therefore, it is crucial that we take steps to ensure we get the most out of our sleep.
Here are 7 easy ways you can improve your sleep tonight:
Most people have a metabolism that is dependent on sugar for energy. Sugar is a quick and inefficient burning fuel that leads to a burst of energy followed by a crash. Some people are so dependent on sugar that they actually wake up multiple times throughout the night to eat because their body thinks it is going to starve without sugar.
The best way to remedy this situation is to develop a fat burning metabolism that will allow you to tap into body fat stores while you sleep. This is why I recommend a high-fat low-carb diet like the Keto Zone Diet to my patients for better sleep.
Focus on eating healthy fats for dinner including olive oil, avocado, coconut oil, and grass-fed butter or ghee. These are all great choices, however, the best fat to consume with dinner is medium chain triglyceride (MCT). MCTs are a form of saturated fat that is derived from coconut and palm oil. These fats do not have to be digested by the liver and are easily converted to energy. Take one serving of MCT oil before bed for steady and sustained cellular energy throughout the night.
There are many different herbs that are known to promote relaxation and sleep. Some of the most notable are chamomile, valerian root, lemon balm, and lavender. These herbs are all safe and effective without the myriad of unwanted side effects associated with sleep aid medications.
You can consume whole herbs or herbal extracts as a supplement in pill form, or as a tincture. The herbs can also be consumed as tea. Many different brands of organic herbal tea can be found at your local healthfood store (click here for a comprehensive guide to herbal teas for sleep). Alternatively, you can buy organic whole herbs and make loose leaf tea at home.
Experiment with different herbs in different forms to find out what works for you. They are generally taken within 1-2 hours of falling asleep.
Amino acids are critical for building neurotransmitters and repairing damaged tissue among many other things. When you are sleeping is when your body handles the majority of repair and regeneration. We want to make sure the body has adequate protein to provide the raw materials for these healing processes.
The problem is that many protein sources are hard to digest. This includes meat, grains, legumes, and nuts. These protein require a lot of metabolic energy to break down which means less energy is available for repairing and detoxing the body during sleep.
When these hard to digest proteins are consumed before bed it can lead to gas, bloating, and digestive discomfort. To avoid these symptoms, it is important to consume a highly bioavailable protein – such as hydrolyzed collagen protein – before bed.
Hydrolyzation is a process in which the collagen protein is predigested so that it is easily absorbed. Take 1-2 teaspoons with a glass of water before bed. It can also be combined with MCT powder and one of the herbal teas listed above.
One of the primary reasons many people have trouble sleeping is an over active mind. Our modern lives are so busy that we rarely get the chance to slow down and take a breath.
It turns out that taking a controlled and intentional breath is exactly what we need. Breathing is the quickest and easiest way to ease the effects of anxiety. Controlled breathing activates the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve then in turn regulates the autonomic nervous system.
The autonomic nervous system has two branches: Sympathetic (fight, flight, freeze) and parasympathetic (rest and digest). Many modern people are stuck in fight or flight mode all day long, and when they lay down to go to sleep they can’t get their mind to calm down. Intentional breathing can bring the nervous system into rest and digest mode which will help the mind calm down and promote sleep.
Try this exercise, it is called box breathing: as you are laying in bed begin to breathe through your nose. Breathe in the nose for a count of four. Hold for another count of four. Exhale a count of four, and then hold the breath out for another count of 4. Do 5-10 rounds and next thing you know it’s morning!
Believe it or not, better sleep actually starts in the morning! In fact, one of the best ways to improve your sleep is by getting out in the sun as soon as you wake up. As the morning sunlight enters the eyes, a part of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus receives a signal that the day has begun.
The suprachiasmatic nucleus regulates the body’s circadian rhythm and will tell the body to produce daytime hormones such as cortisol to cause a state of wakeful and alert consciousness. This sets a biochemical cascade into motion that eventually leads to the body producing more melatonin at night leading to easier, deeper, and more restful sleep.
Although morning sun is most effective, any sun exposure throughout the day will be helpful. Watching the sunset is also useful because the body is alerted that the day is coming to an end.
For at least 1 hour before bed, avoid looking at a computer, tablet, or phone. There are many reasons this can help with sleep. First is that these devices are very mentally stimulating and can make it harder to calm down and relax for sleep.
The other primary reason is that the screens of these devices produce large of amounts of blue spectrum light which are naturally only present at noon during the day. When you look at your phone at 10 pm your body is being told that it is noon so it suppressed melatonin production making it harder to fall asleep.
If you have an iPhone you can enable “Night Shift” which changes the color spectrum to more orange as the sun goes down. For computers and Android devices you can download a program called f.lux which does the same thing.
Excess light coming in through the windows or from led lights on devices can interfere with a restful night’s sleep. Make sure your windows are covered by curtains that block out as much light as possible. Turn off any devices that are generating light in your bedroom.
The goal is to not be able to even see your hand in front of your face! If you can’t get it that dark, it is ok, just get it as dark as you can.
Chronic sleep deprivation is rampant in modern day America. Many people are functioning zombies due to their inability to sleep deeply. Improved sleep can lead to more energy, better focus, and overall improved health. Sleep allows the body to detox, regenerate, and heal.
To improve your sleep you can eat healthy fat like MCT oil, take herbs, eat collagen protein, breathe intentionally, get morning sun, turn off your devices, and blackout your room.
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Let us know your sleep strategy in the comments below. Sweet dreams!