Optimize Slumber – Enhance Sleep Naturally
How you sleep or don't sleep can set the tone for your entire day. Oversleep and your body gets thrown off course, and it can feel like you're scrambling to catch up on lost time. Don't get enough shuteye and you'll likely be running on empty, off kilter and not as sharp as usual.
Like air, water, and sustenance, sleep is essential to survival and strengthens immunity. When your sleep is compromised, your mind and body suffer the consequences. In the extreme, sleep deprivation can cause weakened memory and lower immunity; research shows it may also accelerate Alzheimer's disease, as well as other illnesses. At the bare minimum, when sleep patterns are interrupted, or lacking in quality, effects can be subtle yet significantly impact your daily functioning. The why behind sleep problems isn't an easy answer. It may be physiological (consider getting tested to see if you have a magnesium deficiency or changes in hormone levels) or perhaps it's situational and your mattress or sleep environment is not comfortable enough. Habit also plays a major role in sleep health. Reasons may be one of the above, or a combination of different factors.
Depending on your needs, there are a constellation of ways ways to enhance sleep.
Turn off Your Mind
Sometimes it's difficult to let go and slip into the night. Turning off the day can be tricky. Similar to when you first meditate, your mind may be flooded with thoughts. According to Educational Psychologist, Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge, Integrative and Pediatric Mental Health Expert, “one of the most common issues preventing people from sleeping is looping, worrisome thoughts.” When you lie awake, thinking, unable to fall asleep, it creates a vicious spiral. Dr. Roseanne explains that, “worry causes the nervous system to stay in a revved state, thereby making it hard to relax.”
So practice self-awareness and reflect on your evening habits. Notice where you place your attention. Dr. Roseann says, “You may think that you can stay on your phone or device before bed and it won't affect you, but you are wrong.” Why not? Blue light is helpful during the day. It helps with focus and mental clarity. But come nighttime, your brain reacts differently. According to Dr. Roseann,“Blue light from devices suppresses melatonin production more than twice as long as other lightwaves, such as from television. Blue light also alters circadian rhythms (internal clock), which can not only interfere with your sleep but interfere with your health.”
Do your best to create a tranquil environment that encourages drifting off. Dr. Roseanne says, “avoiding blue light at least 30 minutes before bedtime is a simple way you can support healthy melatonin levels and keep your natural circadian rhythm for sleep.”
Once you've managed to fall asleep, how can you enhance sleep quality? Dr. Roseann advocates, “Exercise, especially weight bearing exercise, is a great way to tire out your body so you stay asleep. Ideally, you want to exercise 30 minutes or more minutes a day. Avoid cardio exercise at night if you do have any sleep difficulties, as it might be too stimulating for you. Opt for lifting weights and yoga, which build muscle and can be calming.”
When it comes to falling asleep, embrace routine. Dr. Roseann says, “One of the best ways to enhance sleep quality is to go to sleep in the same 30 minute window. When you go to sleep at random times, you confuse the body and it can't find its own circadian rhythm.”
Food & Supplements
Monitor your caffeine consumption; and if you have trouble falling asleep, consider quitting entirely. You may not realize it, but your sleeplessness may be caffeine related. Why does it matter if you drink a cup several hours before bed? Consider that the half-life of caffeine is roughly 5-6 hours. So if you drink a cup at 5:00pm that means at 11:00 pm only half the caffeine is out of your system. Adenosine is a chemical in the body that builds up throughout the day and helps you feel sleepy. Caffeine acts like a wall that blocks the signal of Adenosine in the brain. With even 50% of caffeine still lingering in your system, falling asleep and staying that way can become a challenge.
As for supplements, Dr. Roseann says, “Magnesium is the most used nutrient in the body and when you are stressed, you just can't get enough of it. By supplementing with magnesium, you not only calm the nervous system, you help your body combat stress and give it what it needs to work at an optimal level.” In addition to taking a supplement, “You can take a magnesium salt bath.” Read more about foods high in magnesium on Healthline.
Other supplements Dr. Roseann suggests include, “B6 helps you sleep by converting the amino acid tryptophan into serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate levels of the sleep hormone melatonin.” Additionally, “amino acids, such as GABA and L-Theanine that can support your sleep too,” says Dr. Roseann.
Try eating a banana after dinner to help your body prepare for sleep. Bananas are a triple dose of sleep wellness, since they contain magnesium, potassium, and L-tryptophan.
Marry shiatsu with the healing properties of aromatherapy for a dreamy holistic sleep remedy. Add a few drops of valerian, lavender, rose, or neroli essential oil, to a base such as almond or grapeseed oil: massage into sleep-triggered pressure points, for a slumber-inducing healing touch.
Surface & Sound
If your body isn't aligned naturally, it can make falling asleep a struggle. And when you finally do doze off, you may toss and turn, attempting to get comfortable. In addition to the surface of your bed, it’s important to reduce exposure to toxins while sleeping; since your body is especially vulnerable to chemical absorption; opt for a holistic mattress and natural bedding, whenever possible, such as our vegan Crystal Cove Mattress.
Additionally, consider white, pink, brown, or blue noise machines, and apps. To determine which color noise is right for you, read the Atlantic's story about the Many Colors Of Sound.
Neurofeedback & Mindfulness Practices
Another way to calm the mind Dr. Roseanne advocates is neurofeedback, performed through computer technology. According to Dr. Roseanne,“Insomnia can alter brainwave patterning and functioning and the brain can become stuck in a hyper state, which means you can’t settle your brain for sleep. Neurofeedback can directly change these areas and get your brain to regulate.” How does it work? The program targets your subconscious. “Through a process of reinforcement of healthy brainwave activity, your brain gets into a rhythm and symptoms such as stress and insomnia are reduced,” says Dr. Roseanne.
Just as yoga helps ready the mind for meditation, research shows it can also help prepare you for sleep. So balance your nervous system with the Yogic 3 part breath. How do you do it? Breathe deeply through your nose. Feel the air move from your lungs, expanding them, until it reaches your belly and puffs it out. Then, slowly, exhale... Allow the breath to trace out through stomach, lungs, and eventually the nose. Practice breathing in this manner, and exhale as slowly as possible.
Decompress in Yoga Nidra, aka the Yogic Sleep, which removes physical tension by tensing and releasing each part of the body, and mental tension through visualization. Other Yoga asanas that holistically calm the body before sleep include Cat Cow and Child's Pose.