Improving sleep quality and getting a good night’s rest are a priority for everyone, but unfortunately, a lot of us have a real difficulty in falling asleep or staying asleep, which can have a big impact on our day and our overall wellness. For this Self Care Sunday, I have a bunch of tips to help you get better sleep naturally, and I even include some RVer insight too.
Why you should try natural alternatives for better sleep.
Nearly 9 million people in the U.S. use prescription medications for sleep (Source). That statistic is from 2013; I am sure it is even higher now. In 2013, the FDA halved the dosing recommendations for Ambien (and other sleep aid drugs that use Zolpidem) due to the drug persisting in the blood stream, even the following morning (Source). Women showed higher levels of the drug in the blood stream the next morning than men, and are therefore more susceptible to the effects of the sedative during the following day. Ambien and other Zolpidem containing drugs are known to cause dependency, and a recent study published in 2018 in JAMA Internal Medicine proved that many of the users of Zolpidem are using more than they should and using it for a longer time than recommended. The American Addiction Centers gives us a full list of the side effects of Ambien here.
It is easy to see from this research that quality sleep is evading a lot of us, and that the pharmaceutical drugs used for better sleep may not be a risk you are willing to take. That leaves us searching for a natural option, and I have pulled together a bunch of tips to help you on your journey to better sleep. Some of the methods are free and all of the methods are simple to implement.
13 Tips for Better Sleep Naturally
Make your bedroom a stress-free sanctuary.
This is one of the most overlooked best practices for a good night’s sleep. If your bedroom looks like a closet, is really an extension of your office or in any way does not feel like a stress-free, relaxing zone; then you have some work to do. First, remove the TV from your bedroom. Your bedroom is not an entertainment zone, and the very last thing you should be doing before closing your eyes is watching a screen. I also do not charge my phone in my bedroom.
Make your bedroom dark.
Total darkness is so important to having a good night’s sleep. Light plays a major role in our hormone levels. In fact, did you know that women can actual impact the timing of their menstrual cycle by regulating the light in their bedroom? Fascinating. Use some black out curtains like these. And don’t forget to do the same for your RV! RV parks inevitably have a bright light near your spot, and you will need to block it out.
Optimal temperature for good sleep.
The optimal temperature for a good night’s sleep is 65 degrees (Source). Our bedroom is cool, but I do sleep with blankets; so I am sure that the temperature that my skin actually feels is higher than it should be. This is an area I should work on.
Reduce your blue light intake at night.
Install a simple blue light reducer on your computer and other devices. I love this free one.
Help your circadian rhythm do its job.
Some simple steps before bedtime can make a big difference in maintaining your body’s circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is a process that is re-balancing all day long. For good sleep, we need our melatonin levels to be in balance. There are two things we can do to aid melatonin production: 1. make sure you receive natural daylight during the day (preferably in the morning) to raise your seratonin levels and 2. lower the lights in your home in the evening and especially after dark. Both of these steps will help to increase your melatonin at night for a better night’s sleep. They will also help to keep your adrenals in balance as a bonus!
Maintain a schedule for bedtime and wake up time.
This takes a bit of commitment, but it is does help to ensure better sleep. Remember, your sleep pattern is part of a rhythm, and you can support that rhythm by sticking to a schedule.
Support your body’s magnesium levels.
The best way to do that is a epsom salt foot soak, a full bath would be even better, but usually a foot soak is a lot easier to commit to. Learn how to do a foot soak here. If you are prone to muscle cramps, then definitely add this to your nighttime routine.
Wake up naturally.
Part of getting a good rest is how you wake up. This is so evident as an RVer, because as we changed time zones during our travels, our bodies would constantly be adjusting sleep patterns. Try a sunrise alarm like this one and wake up naturally.
Get off the caffeine train.
Do you realize that even that morning cup of Joe may be impacting your sleep at night? Caffeine can stay in our system anywhere from 5-15 hours. So, cut out or at least strictly limit the caffeinated drinks, the chocolate and any other caffeine you are consuming.
Avoid consuming alcohol before bedtime.
This is probably a bit of new information for you. A lot of people use alcohol at the end of the day to help them “unwind” and ease in to the evening hours. Alcohol acts as a depressant and usually makes us feel drowsy, so it would seem to follow that alcohol would help us to sleep. But, the truth is that alcohol actually reduces your REM sleep (the deep stage of sleep your body needs). Avoid drinking within 3 hours of bedtime. (Source)
Stop eating at night.
I fail at this all the time. We usually eat our dinner later than we should. Eating late is hard on your digestive system. While you sleep, your body goes in to detoxification mode. The more focus and energy your body can put toward detoxification, the better your overall health will be. When we add digesting food to our sleep time, we force our bodies to split their focus. Digesting food takes a lot of energy when your body should be putting its efforts toward cleaning up your systems. In particular, sugar is a real problem at night. Eating sugar late sets you up for a blood sugar crash in the night, which spike your cortisol levels. Cortisol is our stress hormone, and if it spikes, you may wake up. Plus, having high cortisol levels during sleep can also take away from your body’s detox.
Limit drinking (anything) at night.
For those of you waking up in the middle of the night to use the restroom, limit your fluids in the evening, especially within 2 hours of bedtime.
Supplements for better sleep.
Melatonin is the most commonly recognized, but there is some controversy as to whether or not it actually works. It has been shown to induce a feeling of drowsiness, and has been shown to be effective with jet lag and the elderly. But, its effects are not consistent enough for everyone, and it is a hormone, and we must always be careful and wise using hormone therapy. If you want to give melatonin a try, then make sure you are well-read on the topic.
There are herbal teas that can be helpful, but my problem is that if I drink tea before bed, I am guaranteed to get up to pee in the night. My advice is to use essential oils instead. All you have to do is inhale, and you can send a chemical message directly to your brain to tell it it is bedtime. Simple and effective. Good options for nighttime oils include Lavender (careful – too much can actually have the opposite effect), Cedarwood, Valerian, Roman Chamomile, Orange. Young Living also has blends like Sleepyize (formulated for children, but can be used on adults too), RutaVaLa, Tranquil, Peace & Calming and Stress Away. These curated and perfectly balanced blends are not diy projects, they have years of research and use backing them, which is what makes them so effective. I like to start my nighttime oils about half an hour before bedtime, and I diffuse them for about an hour total.
Now that you have the tips, it is time to put together a plan of action! Focus on the next three nights and try some of these methods. I would start by setting a bedtime and wake up schedule and being sure to get natural light, especially in the morning. I would also set up my bedroom for success. Then, add more of the methods for better sleep over time. Wishing you your best night’s sleep yet!
For further reading on better sleep…
- Insomnia Treatment by Dr. Weil
- How Artificial Light is Wrecking Your Sleep by Chris Kresser
- Melatonin Article by Dr. Mercola