Improving sleep habits with sleep hacking is how I went from prescription drugs to help me sleep (nasty metallic taste!) to sleeping normally again.
In my case, it was massive stress ruining my sleep, as well as moving and changing jobs, which came with new stressors. But I also discovered that I wasn’t being true to myself.
All that has changed now.
Hello and welcome to Fearlessly Holistic.
My name is Irma and I want to share my journey to improved health by eating whole foods, moving my body and eliminating stress as much as possible.
It is my hope to inspire you to make daily changes. Why? Because eating fresh, seasonal food and getting some sunshine is the best way to increase longevity. But you do not want just a long life. You want a quality long life.
My blog posts are my opinion and the results of things that I have tried that either worked for me or didn’t. My opinions are for informational purposes only and are not intended as medical advice. Medical advice should always be obtained from a qualified medical professional for any health conditions or symptoms associated with them. As well, there may be affiliate links in this post. Read more here.
How Poor Sleep Habits Happen
For many of us, we create bad habits that work against us. Staying up late, drinking too much caffeine in the evening, and sleep ‘distractions’ all add up and create a sleep deficit.
Other problems that contribute to sleep issues are:
- Aging (I will give you my opinion on this down below)
- Too much blue light before bed i.e mobile phone use
- Shift work
- Physical health issues, like the ones that cause middle of the night bathroom trips
- Mental health issues – depression, anxiety, and panic disorder all come with sleep issues
- Changes in routine, like being out later than normal. Or getting up earlier and then napping.
When you fix these issues, it is easier to set yourself up for sleep success.
3 Common Sleep Thieves
Sleep is a vital function that helps our bodies:
- Regulate and balance hormones
- Stave off illness and disease; increase longevity
- Improve brain function (you know what your brain is like when you haven’t had enough sleep)
- Refresh for a new day.
Our bodies are designed to sleep and use a rhythm to sleep and wake in a natural way. We have natural ‘circadian rhythms‘ that move us through the seasons so that we get enough sleep, but not too much.
When we push ourselves outside of our natural rhythms, sleep problems occur.
These problems are ‘sleep thieves’. Some of them are our choices while others are environmental or beyond our control. Work on fixing these first:
1. Food and drink.
What you eat and drink impacts how well you sleep.
Eating the wrong foods too close to bedtime can trigger digestive issues, heartburn, or give you too much energy before bed.
I had a job once where I worked from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. My roommate, who also worked the 3-to-11 shift, told me of his theory on eating cheese before bed.
My roomie decided that cheese gives you wild dreams.
So we spent a week testing this theory. Every night after work, we cooked up foods with cheese; one night grilled cheese sandwiches, one night Kraft dinner, and so on.
The result? I had crazy wild nightmarish dreams that whole week. Was the fact that it was cheese? Or was it dairy in general? Or was it just eating late at night.
I’m pretty sure it was cheese.
We had no choice for the work hours, but we did have a choice of foods to eat after work.
Overeating can also affect your ability to fall or stay asleep. Being uncomfortable due to the foods you eat can make falling asleep harder than it needs to be.
In the same way, too much caffeine or too much liquid in general can affect your sleep.
From being too stimulated to fall asleep to waking too frequently to visit the bathroom, too much liquid before bedtime can ruin your sleep.
2. Overstimulation from Blue Light
The screens that we are all so addicted to emit blue light which affects our natural sleep cycle. The blue light mimics sunlight, so our brains actually wake up when we are watching a screen, whether watching TV, playing games online, working on the computer or reading a book on an eReader.
Unplug at least 30 minutes before bedtime to ensure better, faster sleep. Snuggle up with a good book instead.
Studies show that the blue light emitted from devices as well as the eye movements caused by scrolling or watching videos can prevent sleep. Or make it harder to fall into deep sleep.
Add a blue light filter app to your phone.
Apps like Twilight turn on at sunset and shut off at sunrise and effectively block that blue light. So if you must scroll at night, try a blue light app.
In the same way, engaging in energizing activities just prior to bedtime can revive you rather than relax you making it harder to fall and stay asleep.
3. Distraction and discomfort.
Distractions can come in many forms. Your senses can be overstimulated and make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep.
Discomfort can affect you in many ways too.
- Bedrooms that are too hot or too cool can make it hard to fall and stay asleep.
- Being uncomfortable in bed can also affect sleep.
- Having a mattress that hurts your body and bedsheets that aren’t comfortable
- Bedclothes that aren’t soft
- If your room is not dark enough or doesn’t block noise, it can affect your sleep too.
You would laugh if you saw how I sleep, but it works for me. I have a sleep mask and foam ear plugs. I live near a busy roadway, and I’m sensitive the noisy trucks going by. The ear plugs help a lot.
4. Honorable Mention: Aging
I disagree with the whole notion that once we hit a milestone in age, things start to happen.
It has been my experience that poor health can be reversed, and therefore is not tied to chronological age.
Doctors are notorious for this noting that if you are 40, your eyesight starts to deteriorate. At 50 you are in line for Osteoporosis. And at 70 you better be careful or you’ll break a hip.
I call BS on all that.
Aging, besides days on a calendar moving forward, has more to do with diet than anything else.
Good diet = longevity.
Poor diet = compounding health issues.
There are many doctors starting to agree with each other that some health issues are linked, and therefore diet related. Brain scans for Type II diabetes are almost identical to brain scans for Alzheimers. Parkinson’s is similar as well.
Two excellent books on brain issues are “The Brain That Changes Itself” and “The Brain’s Way of Healing” both by Dr. Norman Doidge.
If you don’t think long-term change is possible for you or you want to know how people with brain health issues can recover, read them. We have more power than we know.
7 Ways of Improving Sleeping Habits Naturally
It’s normal to have trouble falling asleep during times of stress or uncertainty. If you find that you are having more sleep issues lately, it could be one of two things:
- Bad sleeping habits
- Low sleep hormones, such as Melatonin, 5-HTP, and L-Theanine (depleted due to stress and too much blue light)
You may find that you lie down exhausted by it all, but then your mind won’t shut down so that you can rest. Let’s tackle the bad habits first:
1. Get some light daily exercise
Find time to move your body each day. A great habit to get into is going for an evening walk for 30 minutes. This gives you an opportunity to clear your head and focus on something relaxing – depending on where you go walking.
It’s always better to walk in natural areas, like parks, where you can see and touch nature. Humans are built for hunting and gathering, so being outside is normal for us.
Unlike our jobs which are usually in enclosed spaces with unnatural lighting. Regular exercise helps us sleep more swiftly and soundly.
2. Eat quality whole food
I know that I talk about this often, but it’s true. Processed food contains non-food ingredients. No one knows the long term effects of eating these ingredients, but your health will suffer over time.
Processed foods/ingredients serve one purpose: to give products a longer shelf life. They are not added to make your life better.
They are created to make manufacturing and selling the products easier.
Food additives may be created from natural products like seaweed (i.e. carageenan); however, most people would not go to ocean, scoop up seaweed, and eat it.
Carageenan is well known to cause bloating, food allergies, IBS symptoms, and inflammation. Yet it is considered “safe” because people can eat the red seaweed that it comes from. That doesn’t mean they should.
Or that we should eat modified versions of it. Stick with whole, one ingredient foods for better health.
3. Have a no tech bedroom
We have technology everywhere. But it shouldn’t be in the bedroom.
As mentioned above, the blue light emitted by cell phones can deplete your sleep hormones. Put a blue light filter on your phone. Or better yet, put it away 30 minutes before bedtime.
Ignore your TV, smartphone, and computer before bed especially if social media triggers you. These days that happens a lot.
One way to get things off your mind before you close your eyes is to journal your thoughts for the day.
Getting them out of your head and onto the page is extremely cathartic. This works best if you use a paper journal, rather than an electric one (see below).
Even if you prefer to meditate in the morning, using a guided meditation right before bed is very relaxing and can help you fall asleep faster.
There are lots of free meditation apps you can use if you don’t already have a guided meditation that you like.
6. Keep the same sleep pattern
When at all possible, go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
Your body will get used to this cycle so that you notice you start to get drowsy right around your bedtime.
You’ll find it easier to get up in the morning also.
7. Only sleep in bed
Excluding journaling and meditating, only use your bed for sleeping and intimacy with your partner.
Avoid studying or working on your bed since your brain starts to believe that the bed is where work occurs.
Create an atmosphere of relaxation and comfort in your bed. Make it a comfy, cozy place for a good nights sleep.
What Is Sleep Hacking?
Sleep hacking is the grown-up equivalent to sleep training for infants. Sleep hacking is a combination of activities that prepare your mind and body for a night’s rest.
If your sleep is out of whack, the easiest way to fix it is to try a variety of sleep hacks. Different hacks work for different people, depending on why your sleep is off.
Lack of sleep contributes to poor physical and mental health and can lead to accidents and other dangers. On the other hand, getting enough rest allows our body time to repair itself and function optimally.
Sleep is tied to our body’s natural rhythms.
During our sleep cycle our brains detox and refresh for a new day and our body works to combat illness and diseases. Did you know sleep helps prevent:
- Memory loss
- High blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
When we sleep our body is fasting. If we fast long enough, we start the process known as AUTOPHAGY (read more at Healthline), which literally translated means “self eat”. It is when your body recycles or eliminates dead cells.
This process can help reverse health issues that are related to eating too much and/or too often.
Sleeping 8 hours gives your body time to start the cell cleanup. This cell cleanup does not happen until we’ve had 12 clear hours of no food. Hence the popularity of Intermittent Fasting for improving health.
Did you know that driving while drowsy can be as dangerous as driving while under the influence of alcohol? A study done by AAA discovered that drivers who miss two or more hours of sleep per day are four times more likely to get into an accident than drivers who slept the recommended seven to eight hours.
Lack of sleep can cause similar driving impairments to those of driving under the influence.
There are lots of reasons falling or staying asleep can be hard.
Better Sleep Hacks
Developing a bedtime routine that works for you is a key to a great night’s sleep. Looking at your lifestyle and personal interests helps you hone in on what the best routine looks like.
Though your routine will be highly individualized, there are some common characteristics of sleep hacking that can help almost everyone. Here are some hacks for you to try:
1. Start before bedtime
Make sure to routinely set aside time for personal hygiene, changing into pajamas, and taking care of any end-of-the-day details well before attempting sleep.
2. Decide when you want to wake up
Knowing that most people need seven to eight hours of sleep, simply count back from the time you want to wake up to determine when you need to go to bed.
3. Add downtime to your bedtime
Be sure to add at least half an hour to an hour to your bedtime to settle in and fall asleep.
You can spend this time reading, meditating, or relaxing. Avoid activities like screen time which can stimulate your mind rather than relax it.
4. Set an alarm with a consistent wake time
Waking at the same time every day will help set your rhythm for sleeping and waking. The more consistent you are with your bedtime and wake time your body will begin to adjust and you’ll find yourself waking on your own just prior to your alarm.
5. Ambient Noise
Using ambient noise can help reduce overstimulation and help light sleepers stay asleep. Ambient noise can be as simple as a clock ticking, a fan blowing, or another neutral sound.
There are apps that can provide ambient sounds.
Pzizz uses science to create sounds that help with insomnia, PTSD, and more.
Calm or Rain Sounds (app store) are mobile phone apps that uses customizable rain sounds to create pleasant ambient noise helping you fall asleep and stay asleep.
6. Ear plugs and eye masks
If you struggle with sensitivity to light and sound and can’t create a quiet and dark space, using ear plugs and eye masks can make a big difference.
A great sleep mask should block light and feel weightless and comfortable on your face. There are a wide range of options that can optimize your sleep and help you get the rest you need.
You can find masks made of cotton, silk, with contours for your eyes, or added benefits like aromatherapy. They are available at drug stores everywhere.
7. Sleep tracking apps
Sleep tracking apps can hone in on what’s going on while you’re sleeping. Knowing when you are getting optimal sleep and what is interrupting your sleep can be valuable information. Sleep tracking apps can monitor all stages of your sleep during the night, light sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep. Then use the data to help you better understand where you are lacking quality.
There are lots of mobile phone apps that are free to try. Sleep Monitor, Sleep as Android, Sleep Cycle are some you can try.
Overcoming Barriers to Sleep
There are a lot of things that can interrupt a good night’s sleep. From falling asleep to staying asleep, there are common barriers that you can overcome if they tend to get in the way. Some barriers are easier than others but with conscious effort you can stop losing sleep and start loving bedtime again.
Some of the common barriers to sleep are:
- Anxiety and worries
- Being a light sleeper
While these aren’t the only reasons people don’t get enough high-quality sleep, they do account for a large percentage of people who suffer sleepless nights. Here’s how to tackle these barriers and overcome them.
Related Post: Overcome Fear and Anxiety Quickly
Overwhelm is usually a mixture of things you can and can’t control. Begin by tackling the things that you can control.
Reduce your schedule to what you can handle in this moment in time. This might mean cutting back on responsibilities and extra activities.
- Delegate when possible.
- Hand over important tasks that aren’t essential for you to complete.
- Allow or require someone else to manage them until you aren’t overwhelmed.
Next, tackle the things you can’t control
Put your focus and energy on solving any problems that are causing you overwhelm. Even if you can’t control the situation, you can control your reaction to it.
Anxiety and worry
Falling asleep when your mind is racing is really hard to do. Sometimes bedtime is the only time you can’t distract yourself from what you’re anxious and worried about. That can make bedtime stressful.
Try some simple activities like:
- Drinking chamomile tea
- Taking an aroma-therapy bath
- Unwinding with a good book
These can help reduce worries and stress before bedtime. If you are up because of a panic attack or anxiety, get up and do something to help calm or distract yourself. Watch some T.V until you feel sleepy, then go back to bed and try again.
Related Post: Is Panic Disorder Curable?
Being a light sleeper
Being a light sleeper can make staying asleep hard. Finding the best ways to eliminate sound and other stimulation can help.
Use exercise to help you sleep better. Physical exertion is an excellent way to combat sleeping lightly. Regularly physical activity including cardio and weights can help tire your body out and make you more likely to sleep deeply at night.
Make sure your environment is set up for sleeping. Your bedroom can be a haven for great sleep or possibly a hell. Make sure your room is free from noise, light, and other distractions. Ensure your bedclothes and your bedding are soft and non-irritating. Making sure all of your senses are comfortable and able to rest during sleep will help light sleepers stay asleep.
There are many distractions that cause poor sleep. Overcoming the ones that affect you most can help you sleep better, longer, and deeper.
I was under a great deal of stress a few years back. I had been on prescription sleeping pills, and when I quit I ended up with insomnia again.
I was determined to find a better way than those disgusting blue pills with the metallic taste.#nasty
So I hit the health food store.
My favorite natural sleep aid is Natural Factors Tranquil Sleep. It contains Suntheanine L-Theanine, melatonin, and 5-HTP, which help regulate sleep.
I went through 2 bottles before I got my sleep hormones back to normal. I started with one at night, then two. Three seemed to be the magic number for me.
The other one I’ve tried is the Melatonin gummies made by Nature’s Bounty
This is the same company that makes the Hair & Nail gummies. They work fine, but I think my bottle was an older supply. They were rubbery and super chewy.
They still worked but I needed 4 a night to get roughly 5 hours straight sleep.
Your mileage may vary.
Holistic approaches never just address symptoms of specific health problems, but instead aim to return or keep the patient in a state of balanced health between mind, body, and spirit. Holism targets overall wellness, and when we are well, we only get better with age.
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Until next time, here’s to our health!