We all know restful sleep is important, but why? During sleep your body performs essential clean-up processes like restoring and repairing your brain tissue, detoxifying your liver, and facilitating recalibration and healthy function of biological systems.
Sleep is SO significant to our wellbeing. It is a foundation of health, and lack of sleep can be felt in many areas of the body. One major area of dysfunction that is interdependent on sleep is our blood sugar regulation system.
Stress has a massive impact on blood sugar balance. Dysregulation can throw off the balance between cortisol (your awake hormone) and melatonin (your sleep hormone). This causes an imbalance in your sleep-wake cycle. If cortisol is high at night, you will have trouble falling asleep, and if it returns too early in the morning you will wake in the wee hours before you’re ready. If melatonin is high during the day, you will be fatigued.
But guess what? If your sleep is poor, it stresses your body and that in turn can throw off your blood sugar. Lack of sleep can also cause elevated levels of ghrelin, our hunger hormone, which can lead to cravings for carbohydrates and sugar. Restful sleep and healthy blood sugar go hand in hand.
Adequate sleep allows the opportunity for rest and repair of the digestive system and is the optimal time for digestion of fatty acids. It allows our body to clean up and restore so that it can function properly when we’re awake.
Aside from imbalances with blood sugar, less than 7 hours per night of restful sleep can cause issues like immune and hormone dysfunctions, obesity, and mood disorders. It can results in poor physical activity and performance, and food choices may become less desirable.
But there is a lot you can do to fix your sleep! Below are lots of tips to help you find that perfect night of restful sleep.
To-Do’s During the Day
Mitigate stress throughout the day by any means comfortable to you. Stress is the biggest factor when it comes to blood sugar imbalance and that rollercoaster ride can seriously mess up sleep. You may have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep when your body is dealing with a drop in blood sugar at night.
To reduce stress, try anything you like that helps you relax. Some ideas include light stretching, hatha yoga, breathing exercises, practicing mindfulness, prayer, meditation, reading, and walking in nature. What calls to you?
Never drink coffee on an empty stomach. This is one of the best ways to keep your blood sugar balanced every day. Drinking coffee fasted is incredibly stressful to the body, causing a huge spike in insulin and stress hormones, then a crash that pulls us under. This is why we often see that 2pm dip in energy that has us reaching for more coffee or a sugary snack. Because blood sugar and restful sleep are so intimately tied, this is one tip I don’t recommend skipping over. Make sure you have a hearty savory breakfast before your first cup of coffee.
Stop drinking coffee after noon. Caffeine can be very stimulating and stressful for some people, causing issues with blood sugar regulation that can throw off the sleep cycle. If you love coffee, make sure your last cup of the day is gone before 12pm to avoid a spike that messes with your sleep.
Get a bit of movement in. This doesn’t have to look like two hours on the treadmill. The best movement you can get is actually light and free-range, meaning your body moves in natural ways. This can look like cleaning the house, gardening, yoga, walking, active play with your kids, getting a standing or walking desk for work, and there are many other options as well. Of course exercise is also great, so if you like the gym feel free!
Eat a diet rich in whole foods with sleep-supporting nutrients. Melatonin is converted from 5-HTP and serotonin, and eating a diet rich in supportive foods can improve this process for optimal production. Healthy fats, tryptophan, B6, B12, folate, zinc, and magnesium are essential here. Keep in mind that the B vitamins can be stimulating for some people, so if taking in supplement form you may want to consider having them with breakfast.
To-Do’s 1-2 Hours Before Bed
Put your house “to bed”. Close blinds and curtains, turn off most lights, get your bedroom ready for a good night of sleep. Turn off the TV and instead play some relaxing music. Turn down the thermostat to around 68ºF and make sure you have a warm blanket. If you use a sound-dampening machine at night, turn it on to set the tone for rest.
Use blue-blocking glasses. Blue light is detrimental to our melatonin production and can offset our circadian rhythm. Wearing blue-blocking glasses starting 1-2 hours before bed can help your body calm down and prepare for sleep. Some of my favorite brands are RA Optics, BLUblox, and VivaRays. Make sure you choose the “night” glasses for optimal protection.
Unplug all electronic devices. Blue light from our phones, tablets, and TV can suppress our melatonin production, which throws off our sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin is produced during the dark hours of the day to prepare our body for sleep, so getting rid of things that suppress it, like our electronics, is beneficial.
Reduce EMF exposure by unplugging your WiFi router. EMFs can stunt melatonin production because our brain’s pineal gland interprets them in the same way it interprets blue light. We are subjected to so much EMF radiation during the day with computers, cell phones, tablets, and smart home products, but our bodies need a break. Overnight is the perfect time to shut everything down.
Get your body primed for sleep. Form an evening habit that helps restore your body and mind in a peaceful way. Some ideas: take a warm shower or bath, drink chamomile tea or a sleepy tea blend, meditate or pray, calmly stretch your body, practice light yoga, journal, read a novel, do a jigsaw puzzle, talk to a loved one or pet. Pick one to start, then add another when that one becomes habit.
Consider using no-flicker red light bulbs at night. Red light does not suppress melatonin production in the same way that artificial blue light does, such as the lights in our other bulbs. If you can’t use red light, candlelight works great as well, as do full-spectrum bulbs. Flickering bulbs can stress your brain and cause anxiety, so make sure you’re choosing a guaranteed no-flicker light bulb.
To-Do’s Just Before Bed
Put your phone on airplane mode or turn it off. Not only do our forever-connected mobile phones emit EMFs, but they also disturb us through constant notifications from text messages, Instagram, and many other apps. Give yourself a break for great rest and turn it off. This may also deter you from grabbing your phone in the middle of the night if you wake.
Sleep in soft, natural fiber pajamas. Natural fabrics help to wick moisture away from your body while you sleep, allowing your natural sleep cycle to run it’s course without waking you up due to discomfort. It is a normal part of sleep to sweat during deep sleep stages.
Get in bed and do a deep breathing exercise. Focusing on your breath with an exercise like box breathing, alternate nostril breathing, or 4-7-9 breathing can help your body and mind to deeply relax, allowing sleep to come much easier. These are also great during the day for a quick rest along with reduced tension and anxiety.
What You Should Do If You Wake Too Early
Keep the lights off to avoid the blue light that signals to your body it’s time to get up. For this same reason, do not grab your phone or tablet. Try to keep your eyes closed and focus on your breathing.
Left-nostril breathing can be really beneficial here, as it helps to stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system and help your body calm down. To do this, close your right nostril with a finger, then breathe in deeply through your left nostril and let the breath out slowly through your nose or mouth. If your left nostril is plugged, propping your upper body up slightly may help.
Stress causes shallow breathing, so the best thing you can do is focus on your breath and try to think calming thoughts. Don’t worry about your lack of sleep; just be. If you enjoy prayer or meditation, that can help to take your mind off it as well.
More on Restful Sleep
The ideal timeframe for sleep is during dark hours, and we need somewhere between 7-9 hours during a 24-hour period. If you prefer 6 hours overnight and a 2-hour nap at noon, that’s fine! Many ancient cultures segment sleep in different ways, but still achieve a restful sleep cycle.
The restorative deep sleep stages are more prevalent at the onset of sleep and slowly shorten into the morning when the REM dream-state sleep stages are longest. This is why we often wake up from a dream when our alarm goes off. Try to get as much restorative sleep as you can by preserving the first half of your sleep time.
One of the most important things to remember though is that poor sleep is a symptom, not a cause. If you are doing all these things and your sleep is still suffering, I highly recommend scheduling time with a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner. (That’s me!) Together we can find the root cause of your health issues to improve your sleep over time. If you want to work together, join my 1:1 client waitlist!
You deserve restful sleep. I hope this article can help you find some! Sending love.