If you’re like me and the other one in three Americans who have trouble sleeping at night, then this post is for you. I’ve spent countless hours lying awake at night, seething with jealousy while my husband snoozes soundly beside me, having entered a deep sleep the minute his head hit the pillow.
For the first time in my life, however, I’m finally finding myself able to fall to sleep quickly and completely, staying asleep for up to six- and seven-hour stretches at a time. I’ve been so amazed by my turnaround that I wanted to share the lifestyle changes and healthcare practices I’ve implemented that I believe have made the difference.
Here are some of the adjustments I’ve made over the past few months that have contributed to my newfound ability to fall to sleep and stay asleep:
- Eliminated technology (computers, cell phones, television) in the hour before bedtime and unplugged my router at night;
- Dimmed the lights in the house in the hour before bedtime;
- Eliminated meals and snacks in the two hours before bedtime;
- Used magnesium lotion after showering;
- Practiced oil pulling 3-4 mornings per week.
The way I spend my time and the atmosphere of my house in the hours before bedtime seems to make a huge difference in my ability to fall to sleep. I used to lie awake for an hour or more mulling over to-do lists and other concerns after lying down at night, but since implementing the first three changes above I’ve found it much easier to quiet my mind and drift off to sleep. I’ve also found that reading a book–even just a few pages–before bed helps to take my mind off of any personal concerns I may be pondering, thereby clearing space for sleep to take hold.
Since we don’t have dimmer switches on the lights in my house, after the sun goes down I only turn on lamps rather than overhead lights. I do this to mimic nature’s day/night cycle, which is intimately connected to our own circadian rhythms. Bright lights after dark can disrupt those rhythms and contribute to sleep problems. When I floss and brush my teeth before bed, I turn on a cheap, low-wattage reading lamp I’ve placed in the bathroom rather than the blinding vanity lights above the mirror.
For those of you who simply can’t give up your computer or cell phone during the final hour of the evening, there’s an app you can download that causes your screen to emit the wavelengths of light appropriate for the time of day that you’re using it (specifically, it eliminates the blue wavelengths in the later hours of the evening). You can download the app, called f.lux, here. Given the rising concerns about EMF radiation in our homes, unplugging your wifi router at night is a good idea as well. The more like nature you can make your sleeping environment, the better.
According to this article by Dr. Mercola, eliminating food during the hours before bed not only facilitates falling to sleep but also reduces the number of free radicals (damage-causing electrons) in your body. Mercola writes,
If you consume more calories than your body can immediately use, there will be an excess of free electrons, which back up inside your mitochondria … These excess electrons leak out and wind up prematurely killing the mitochondria, and then wreak further havoc by damaging your cell membranes and contributing to DNA mutations.
This information was compelling enough to convince me to finally quit snacking before bedtime, a bad habit I had maintained even though I knew it was likely making it more difficult for me to fall to sleep at night.
Magnesium supplementation has been another important piece to my sleep puzzle. I actually started applying magnesium gel to my legs during pregnancy, when I’d get restless leg syndrome. Magnesium has long been known to help sore muscles, but many don’t realize that it is also essential for restful sleep. According to Marek Doyle,
Magnesium is vital for the function of GABA receptors, which exist across all areas of the brain and nervous system. GABA is a calming neurotransmitter that the brain requires to switch off; without it, we remain tense, our thoughts race and we lie in bed staring at the ceiling.
Exactly what would happen with me! You can find magnesium sprays, gels, oils, and lotions at most health food stores as well as online. You can also take a warm bath in a cup or two of epsom salts (magnesium sulfate),which you can find pretty much anywhere, to increase your intake of magnesium. Oral supplements are also available, but the beauty of dermal applications is that your body will absorb only what it needs so you won’t need to worry about overdosing (not to mention the fact that numerous studies have shown multivitamins to be virtually ineffective). Since magnesium deficiency is fairly common across the board due to the ever-depleting soils of industrial agriculture (meaning it isn’t present in sufficient quantities in our food), I add epsom salts to my daughters’ bath once a week as well.
So what about oil pulling? What is it even? Oil pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic practice from India in which one swishes a teaspoonful of oil around in the mouth first thing in the morning (before any food is ingested but following a small glass of water) for 10-20 minutes. Virgin sesame, olive, or coconut oils can be used (I use coconut). The practice supposedly draws toxins out of the body and can also reduce plaque and gingivitis according to this article from the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine. I started the practice after my mom reported that it did wonders for her ability to sleep at night. She does it every morning but with little kids that can be difficult, so I shoot for 3-4 mornings a week and I believe it does make a difference; if I forget to do it for too many days in a row, I’ll start waking more in the middle of the night and having trouble falling back to sleep.
So there you have it: a handful of helpful practices to make your nights more restful so that you, too, can enjoy the peaceful sort of deep sleep we associate with “sleeping like a baby” (the mangy munchkin models this greatly, doesn’t she?). Sweet dreams, everyone…