Sleep is the foundation to everything; your overall health, your stress levels, your mood, your patience (or lack thereof), if you have children and experienced a newborn and their sleep patterns then you know what I mean. When you don’t get enough quality sleep, some may unravel at the seams (yup, that’s me), some may be able to cope better, but despite how sensitive you are to sleep deprivation you will notice it in different areas. Here are some ways sleep can affect your day:
- You will crave quick carbs (bread, pasta, easy take-out food)
- You will most likely feel grumpy without enough sleep
- You will notice you just don’t have the patience to deal with more challenging situations
- You will experience more negative thoughts
Starting your day off to support good sleep
Your good night’s sleep starts off the moment you get up in the morning. Everything you do in a day will contribute to a good nights sleep. Here is an example of an unhealthy sleep cycle, a healthy sleep cycle and read on to learn 5 steps you can take throughout your day to get better sleep.
Unhealthy Sleep cycle
Wake up feeling tired, go to the kitchen, make coffee, drink coffee immediately, get the subsequent caffeine hit. Eat breakfast, you need something quick so you grab a bagel and maybe spread some cream cheese on it. Get to work (whatever your job may be; in office, at home, with your kids), have a bit of a crash…oh boy, this will be a long day if it’s still morning and you’re already tired. Have another cup of caffeine, work, eat lunch (more carbs), have another crash (is it too late to have another cup?), make it through the afternoon, go home, lay on the couch exhausted. Order something easy for dinner, then lay on the couch a little longer watching some Netflix and mindlessly scrolling through instagram. Finally time for bed, thank goodness, but when you finally make it to bed you lay awake for at least an hour or 2, your mind is going crazy!
That sounds like a pretty detailed account of a day doesn’t it? How do you think I got there? Well yes, you may have guessed it…I have definitely had those days! I still do to a certain degree, and maybe you have days that look like this to some degree.
To summarize what is happening
Upon waking, your cortisol-wake response is pretty out of whack, normally, cortisol is supposed to be released slowly into the morning which gives you energy and helps wake you up. Since it is not working properly, you need something artificial for that hit of energy (caffeine). Because your body is sleep deprived it is in survival mode, it needs quick energy, which is why you are craving carbohydrates, because this is the fastest form of usable energy for your body. When you eat all those carbohydrates (with little to no protein), the energy is not sustained, which is the reason for your crash. Which perpetuates the caffeine consumption, carb consumption cycle. When you get home and can finally relax on the couch, you want to veg out and not think, so you watch tv, Netflix, or peruse Youtube (no judgement here, I get it). But what that screen is doing to your brain, is telling it to wake up. The blue light from the screen mimics light from the sun and begins to tell your brain “it is time to wake up”. Cortisol and melatonin can be thought of like the sun (cortisol) and the moon (melatonin), you need cortisol to wake you up and melatonin to put you to sleep, they work together just like the sun and the moon, there are a lot of factors that can throw off the balance and mess with your sleep and wake cycle…read on 👇
Healthy Sleep cycle – An Ideal day to improve your sleep
Just like the example given in the unhealthy sleep cycle above, this day will vary and depends on may factors. But I’ll walk you through what a day with a healthy sleep cycle looks like.
Wake up feeling rested, drink a large glass of water with a pinch of sea salt and squeeze of lemon to rehydrate your body. Go outside immediately, or sit in the window where the sun is shining in, close your eyes and let the sun hit your eyelids for as long as you can. Maybe you just have 2 minutes to do this, or maybe you have 15. This tells your body it’s time to wake up!
Then you have another glass of water, make yourself a breakfast high in protein (aiming for 20-30 grams of protein). Now it’s time to move your body, go for a walk if you can, or do 10-15 minutes of yoga, stretching, body weight exercise, a youtube HIIT class – whatever, just get your heart working, body moving, blood pumping. Do enough so you are out of breath. Then you can have that cup of caffeine if you still love it, or even better have some tea or decaf (get Swiss water processed for fewer toxins – like Kicking Horse decaf). Then get ready for your day. If you’re going to work, bring yourself snacks and lunch that are high in protein, healthy fats and vegetables. When you come home, your dinner has been planned out and maybe even prepped beforehand (meal prep for the win), once again, lots of protein, healthy fats, vegetables. After dinner, maybe you get outside for a walk, you use your evening for things you enjoy doing. If you do have to use your computer for more work, you make sure to turn it off at least 1 hour before getting ready for bed. About an hour before bed, you dim the lights (or turn them off completely and light some candles), have a snack (a handful of almonds and pumpkin seeds with a fruit) maybe read a book or talk with your partner, write in your journal, do some light relaxing yoga or stretching. Take your nighttime supplements (including magnesium which calms the muscles – including your brain), have. a warm shower or bath with epsom salts, diffuse some lavender essential oils, and then go to bed.
Just like babies need a ‘bedtime routine’, so do kids and adults, you need to get your body ready for rest, signal to it that it is safe and time to start relaxing. Switch it into the parasympathetic mode (rest and digest) and out of the sympathetic mode (fight or flight) that is was in most of the day.
Reasons you may be waking up in the night
Children and babies are an obvious answer to this – and that’s the one thing I can’t help you with, so my aim her is to help you improve the little sleep that you are getting. Maybe you have no trouble falling asleep, but will wake up in the night and have trouble falling back asleep, that is a common disruptor. Here are some reasons and remedies, you can go through the list and try different things until you find one that works, or maybe you try all of them.
- You have to get up to pee – limit you fluid intake 1-2 hours before you go to sleep
- You are hungry – Eat a snack with carbs and fat before bed (ie: banana with almond butter, or oatmeal with coconut oil and berries), and make sure you are getting enough quality calories throughout the day. Pumpkin seeds and tart cherry juice contain some melatonin and will help promote sleep.
- You woke up and you’re not sure why – this can be a blood sugar crash, if you find you are on a blood sugar roller coaster all day (ie: you crave sweats and quick carbs, do not eat enough protein, get ‘hangry’ before a meal, want to take a nap after a meal), then read this blog about how to balance your blood sugar.
What you can do about it
As I mentioned above, getting a good night’s sleep starts in the morning. And if you have a baby at home, or a child who doesn’t sleep through the night, you can still try these steps, and maybe you can even think how these steps can translate into your toddler or children’s sleep quality (eating to balance blood sugar/more protein, no screens at night, getting outside throughout the day, having a carb/fat snack before bed).
Here are 5 steps to getting a better night’s sleep:
1. Follow the Sun’s cues
You want to properly set your sleep/wake cycle (also known as Circadian rhythm), to do this, upon waking, you need to get that sunlight into your eyes, which will stimulate your pineal gland in your brain – the master centre of the sleep/wake cycle and the gland that secretes melatonin and signals the brain to release cortisol. Cortisol is your “wake up” hormone and melatonin is your “go-to-sleep” hormone, in a system that is working ideally, you will wake up, see a rise in your cortisol, this will give you energy to get your day started, then before bed melatonin will be released and this will make you sleepy. But for most people their sleep/wake cycles are off balance, and this is mostly due to stress and technology. Here is an example: Have you ever gone camping out in nature with no power or technology (so not a plugged in camper trailer)? And did you notice after a day or two how tired you were? You get sleepy almost immediately after the sun goes down, and you might even be getting up earlier in the morning when the sun rises? Well this is what it used to be like before we had electricity, and the way that our bodies are meant to function. What gets in the way of our natural sleep state is technology; computers, phones, tv’s, and even just your household lights. So if you are able to dim your lights 1-2 hours before bedtime, or even light candles and turn off your lights all together once the sun is down and there is no light in the sky.
2. Turn off your screens before bed
Turn off the tv, go plug your phone in for the night (not in your bedroom). Give yourself the gift of (at least) 1 hour a day without your screens. The blue light from your screens have the same effect as the sun – they promote cortisol to be released and in turn will wake you up. Which, if you remember you want melatonin to be releasing at this time – not cortisol. If you absolutely have to do some work before bed (yes, I know, I did an entire 3 years diploma program after my kids went to bed at night), then get blue-light blocking glasses (they look very stylish these days), or at the very least download blue-light blocking apps onto your phone and computer. If this sounds crazy to you, and you like to unwind with some Netflix, then maybe try listening to a podcast or audiobook instead. You can close your eyes and just listen, it is way more conducive to a good night’s sleep, and still gives you that mindless entertainment that you may be craving after a long day.
3. Eat to Balance your blood sugar
If you’ve been following me for a while, you might notice that I mention “blood sugar balance” pretty often. Well that is because it is THAT important. If I could only recommend one blanket recommendation for a diet change in anyone, I would recommend eating to balance blood sugar. Blood sugar spikes and crashes are the (or one of the) underlying cause for so many health issues, and can literally lead to at least one life-altering disease if it get’s bad enough (like type 2 Diabetes). To read in greater detail about blood sugar regulation and how to regulate it, read this blog article, but if you don’t have time, here are the Cole’s notes:
- Eat within 30-60 minutes of waking
- Eat protein with every meal
- Eliminate sugar, and refined carbs (as much as you can)
- Eat every 3-4 hours, don’t skip meals (especially breakfast)
- Don’t eat naked carbs – pair your carbs with protein and fat (that includes fruit)
4. Get outside and get sun on your face
Go outside as soon as you can in the morning, or sit in a sunny window, get that sun on your face. Or maybe you live in an area that has lots of grey days, in that case, get yourself a full spectrum sun lamp and sit in front of that for 15 minutes every morning. As I mentioned above, the light from the sun sends a message to your pineal gland to send another message to release cortisol and wake the body and mind up.
5. Create a bedtime routine
If you have children, you know all about how a sleep routine can help them sleep better, especially when they are young. It is the same for adults, if you can give your body gentle cues that sleep is coming, then it will reciprocate by secreting melatonin, and getting your body into a relaxed and sleepy state. It might take some time to create a routine for yourself, but to start, give yourself a bedtime. If you want to be in bed by 9:30, then start your routine at 8:30. Turn off all the screens and lights, maybe steep some sleepy time tea (if you find you wake up in the night to pee, skip this part or do it earlier), get a good fiction book, maybe light some candles, have a bath with epsom salts and lavender. Every night will probably not look this idyllic, but it is a good goal to shoot for, and you can incorporate some of these aspects each night which will help your body and mind relax.
Foods, Supplements and Herbs that promote sleep
If you still find, after incorporating all or some of the ideas above, that you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, you can try any of these foods, supplements, or herbs (just be sure to check with your healthcare provider first, especially if you are taking medication – there can be contraindications).
- Tart cherry juice (contains melatonin)
- pumpkin seeds (contains melatonin)
- Magnesium (glycinate)
- Vitamin B6
- Sleepy time tea by Celestial, Nighty Night by Traditional medicinals, Restful sleep by yogi Tea.
I recently discovered a supplement that has all of the above and works wonders if I am having a hard time sleeping, or going through a time of anxiety. And while I don’t believe a pill is the answer for better sleep, I believe incorporating all of the tips above will be more effective. But if you are going through a hard or busy time, check out Best-Rest by pure encapsulation, or you can try a melatonin and magnesium as well. Unfortunately I wouldn’t recommend taking these if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, there still aren’t enough studies on these herbs and supplements yet, but try pumpkin seeds, tart cherry juice and all of the lifestyle reco’s above.
Rest well my friend <3