Your body needs good quality sleep just as much as it needs clean water and nutritious food. Without it, you can’t concentrate, your skin looks aged, you’re more at risk for heart disease and diabetes, and it gets really hard to lose extra weight (1).
Sound familiar? You’re certainly not alone. And it’s not just over-busy lifestyles that are to blame, either. Aches and pains, bad evening habits, and digestion issues can all interrupt your much-needed sleep. Thankfully, there are several tricks you can use to make every night a restful one.
Effects of Sleep Deprivation and Lack of Sleep on Your Body
Regular and consistent sleep is not just important for your body, but your brain, and emotional wellbeing as well. Humans are complex organisms with an abundance of processes going on at once. We need sleep to rest from these so we can continue another day. Some of the health risks if you don’t sleep include: (1)
Risk of heart disease
Weight Gain / Obesity
Poor blood sugar regulation
Delayed growth in children and young adults
Lowered immune system function and sickness as a result
During sleep, your body needs to focus on repairing tissue and cellular damage as well as maintaining the blood vessels and your heart. Not getting enough sleep also encourages the production of the hormone ghrelin which makes you feel hungry forcing you into a night-time binge eating session. Additionally, hormones that promote growth and repair muscles can’t work properly without deep sleep. (2)
First things first: How Sleepy Are You?
Maybe you know you’re not the best sleeper, or like most of us, you go through periods of time where you have more on your plate and it’s harder to get a full 7-8 hours each night. You can take this simple quiz, to find out just how sleepy you really are!
How to Fix Sleep Problems and Sleep Better Tonight
Problem 1: You Wake Up In the Middle of the Night
The classic problem is often caused by frequent urination. This can be connected to consuming diuretics such as coffee or alcohol too late in the day, but it’s also a symptom of adrenal fatigue. If you’re also experiencing cravings, grogginess, and a weak immune system, learn more about treating adrenal fatigue here.
If your waking up isn’t connected to an overactive bladder, it’s likely because you’re too warm. The ideal room temperature for sleep is actually cooler than people think. One study showed that people with sleep apnea have a longer, better quality sleep at 16 degrees Celsius (60 Fahrenheit) than 20 or 24 degrees Celsius (68 F and 75 F). (3)
Try sleeping with fewer blankets on or thinner pajamas and see if the change in temperature makes a difference.
Problem 2: It Takes Forever to Fall Asleep
First, make sure you’re not consuming any caffeine in the late afternoon or evening (including caffeinated herbal teas). Secondly, reduce your screen time! A 2005 study showed that playing video games late at night led to later and shorter sleep times, regardless of how bright the screen was. (4) Sleep experts explain that electronic screens disrupt our natural sleep patterns, which is closely tied with light cues (5).
Try to limit your screen time in the evenings, especially within an hour before bedtime. That means e-readers, computer screens, smartphones, and TV.
If the problem is more of a psychological and emotional one- you can help to calm anxiety and racing thoughts at night in a few ways. Many people find that journaling before bed helps to release negative emotions and allows them to fall asleep faster. There are also supplements and herbs such as L-theanine or GABA, which have a very relaxing and sleep-inducing effect. Our favorite calming blend is Nightly Zen which combines organic valerian root, passion flower, skullcap, and oatstraw which creates a powerful synergistic blend to calm your busy mind and prepare you for a restful, restorative sleep.
Problem 3: Leg Cramps
Leg cramps are often a sign of an underlying health problem such as a magnesium or potassium deficiency, dehydration, or poor footwear. If changing into more comfortable shoes during the day and drinking a glass of water before bed doesn’t help, talk to your medical provider or a nutritionist about making sure your diet is balanced or if you can take a supplement for a deficiency.
If a leg cramp wakes you up, try sitting up with both feet outstretched, and point your toes towards your knees. You can also massage your muscles with gentle circular strokes.
Problem 4: Restless Leg Syndrome
Yes, RLS and leg cramps are 2 very different things. While leg cramps are painful muscle spasms, restless leg syndrome manifests itself as itchiness, discomfort, or tingling in the legs that makes lying still practically unbearable. In advanced cases, the sensation can occur in the daytime while sitting down.
While RLS isn’t yet fully understood, a group of scientists created a foot wrap that can alleviate the annoying symptoms and help you sleep. The foot wrap targets pressure on 2 specific muscles, the abductor hallucis, and the flexor hallucis. After testing for 8 weeks, the foot wrap helped improve sleep significantly. (6)
There are also circulation-boosting herbs which you can take, such as grape seed extract or gingko biloba (7), or supplements which can help reduce the feeling of restlessness. Magnesium with taurine can also help as a muscle relaxant for individuals with RLS.
Problem 5: Neck, Shoulder, or Back Pain
If you wake up feeling stiff or sore, the solution often has a lot to do with adjusting your sleep position. To help prevent neck pain, try sleeping with only one pillow instead of two, or testing a pillow with different firmness. For back and shoulder pain, try sleeping on your back (some find hugging a pillow while doing so makes this position more comfortable). If you prefer to sleep on your side, assuming the fetal position takes pressure off of your back.
If your mattress is more than 5 years old, you might need to consider replacing it. Remember to rotate your mattress regularly to reduce lumps and bumps.
Problem 6: Acid Reflux
First things first, watch your diet! Oily and spicy foods are common heartburn triggers. You can use this trick to test your stomach acid levels. Avoid eating dinner too close to bedtime, and drink a glass of water before bed. If making smarter food choices isn’t helping, see your doctor about diagnosing what might be an underlying digestion issue.
If you wake up with acid reflux, lie on your left side. This is a quick way to calm the pain without needing to take a single pill. Raising your pillow can also help alleviate acid reflux.
Problem 7: Congestion and Stuffiness
If you can’t seem to breathe freely at night even when you’re otherwise healthy, try a deep bedroom cleanse to get rid of potential dust, allergens, and mold. Make sure your “dust detox” gets behind curtains and underneath the bed. It might be time to buy a new mattress, set of pillows, or bedsheets. You can also try bringing in some air purifying plants like these ones.
Whether you suffer from chronic congestion or are just stuffy from a cold, try taking a hot shower and using these eucalyptus oil shower melts to clear up your nasal passages. You can also try this sinus-clearing trick.
If one of these sleep solutions worked for you, let us know! We’d love to hear about it.
Why Is Sleep Important? – National Hear, Lung, and Blood Institute. Nhlbi.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sdd/why. Accessed March 22, 2017
Why Is Sleep Important? – National Hear, Lung, and Blood Institute. Nhlbi.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sdd/why. Accessed March 22, 2017.
Murray, Michael & Pizzorno, Joseph. The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine 3rd Ed. New York: Atria Paperback, 2012. page 74.