How did you sleep last night? Do you have deep, peaceful, dreamful, luxurious sleep? Or are you restless? Wakeful? Hot? Uncomfortable? Wired?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, "Forty-five percent of Americans say that poor or insufficient sleep affected their daily activities at least once in the past seven days"
Additionally, "Women are more likely to report insomnia symptoms" and "24 percent of women say they have woken up feeling well-rested zero of the past seven days".
The CDC estimates that 50-70 million adults in the US have chronic sleep and wakefulness disorders.
Why sleep is important
Two processes regulate sleep, "circadian rhythms" and "sleep drive". Circadian rhythm is your body's internal clock which responds to light and dark cues. Light is the cue to halt your body's melatonin production and dark is the cue to ramp up melatonin production which increase sleepiness. Sleep drive is your actual sleep craving, which builds as you go through the day. As your sleep desire builds, there comes a point when you need to sleep.
"Sleep is a period during which the brain is engaged in a number of activities necessary to life—which are closely linked to quality of life,” says Johns Hopkins sleep expert and neurologist Mark Wu, M.D., Ph.D.
Sleep significantly impacts brain function, processing input and memory. Too little sleep can also cause symptoms of depression, high blood pressure, seizures, migranes, impaired immunity function, infection, and metabolism issues.
How Sleep Affects your skin
Beauty rest is a real thing. According to the National Sleep Foundation, less than 7-9 hours of sleep per night can contribute to issues like under eye circles, wrinkles and sagging skin. Ever wonder why under-eye bags always appear when you are sleep-deprived? Your body delivers essential fluids to tissue and organs while you sleep while removing fluids and toxins from other areas. Under-eye bags are actually pockets of fluid.
“As far as the skin is concerned, lack of sleep causes the stress hormone cortisol to be released, which in turn encourages inflammation in the skin, causing flare-ups in conditions like acne, psoriasis, and even eczema.” - Judith Hellman, MD, a board-certified dermatologist
Your body releases human growth hormones while you sleep, which is vital for collagen production, an essential ingredient for healthy and youthful skin, hair and nails. Too little sleep can increase your cortisol levels and reduce your collagen production.
How Sleep Affects your Mood
Sleep and Mood are forever connected and one affects the other. Lack of sleep can cause irritability and stress, and even anxiety and depression. Studies have shown that those who went for one week on only 4.5 hours of sleep per night, reported increased feelings of stress, anger, sadness and metal exhaustion.
It's a viscous cycle because those same negative feelings and symptoms can interfere with quality sleep.
My personal sleep struggles
I have personally struggled on and off with sleep issues over the years. I worked overnights from the age 18-21 which really screws with your body. My daytime sleep was never restful and my days off were completely thrown! I would even take caffeine pills to stay up at night because I constantly felt exhausted. SO unhealthy.
Later, stress from jobs I hated carried into the night and made it impossible to fall asleep or kept me in a shallow sleep while restling with frustrating work-related dreams. Then kids came along and I was basically forced to stay awake for 14 months with each child, haha. Not really, but my kids weren't nappers and they really liked to night nurse, so the wakings were frequent. I'm very pleased to announce that they both now sleep from 7pm to 6am. One would think I would sleep amazing, but I frequently wake up in a panic that I forgot to do something vital for my children.
I recently decided I needed to indulge in some things to make my sleep better so that I can be 100% every morning, ready to be super mom, lady boss, energized and most importantly, Happy.
Natural Measures to improve sleep
Stay on a schedule
Erratic sleep patterns can make you feel out of whack, irritable, exhausted, or even ill. Help your body regulate it's internal clock by getting yourself on a schedule. Going to bed and waking at close to the same time every day helps your body develop a rhythm that can improve your quality of sleep, ease of drifting off and waking. If you are on an erratic schedule, try adjusting it by 15 minutes every day until you are on track for a consistent schedule every day. Keep to your schedule on the weekends too!
I recently was fortunate enough to aquire a 15lb Gravity blanket! I was really thrilled to try one out because I had been reading so much about how amazing they are for better sleep. These blankets are backed by science to improve physical and mental well-being by reducing stress and anxiety. The Gravity Blanket website claims to help you fall asleep faster and sleep deeper. It also claims to reduce stress & anxiety by "deep touch pressure stimulation", which simulates the wonderful feeling of being embraced or hugged. This stimulation has been shown to "increase serotonin and melatonin, the hormones responsible for calming relaxation, while decreasing cortisol, the hormone responsible for stress." The Gravity Blanket is apparently the only company with a weighted blanket backed by scientific research, and has developed their blankets with research from the "Journal of Sleep Medicine & Disorders" among other prominent publications. Their blanket is a soft micro-fiber exterior with glass microbeads sewn into a grid so the weight stays evenly distributed as you turn in the night. The blanket is the size of a large throw, so just right for one person and is engineered to be around 10% of your body weight, so you can choose from 15lbs, 20lbs or 25 lbs.
My experience with the blanket has been wonderful! I find that I fall asleep much more quickly and don't wake up as often throughout the night. I am in love with the heavy and secure feeling the blanket gives, which is so soothing and cozy. My only tiny issue it can get slightly hot if I don't layer appropriately so I'm still playing around with how much other bedding to use as the temperatures change. They do make a cooling blanket which has a fabric that pulls moisture away from the body, I'd also love to try! The Gravity Blanket is pretty spendy, but there are a lot of alternative brands making very similar blankets. I've even seen some at Home Goods which look like the real deal. Just make sure you find one with the gridding so the beads don't slide around, and get a nice fabric. You can purchase your own Gravity Blanket here.
If you're an allergy sufferer, your bed can be an allergy attack just waiting to happen, which can mean distrubted sleep. Spring pollen can find it's way into our hair, clothing and bedding. Dust mites live on dead skin cells we shed throughout the day and in our bedding at night. Even mold can grow in your bed, I know, ugh!
Hypoallergenic bedding is made from materials which are resistant to allergens such as pollen, dust mites and mold. Look for memory foam pillows which are anti-microbial... and avoid down or feather pillows which are notorious for creating dander. Look for a comforter made from made from hypoallergenic material like silk, wool, or organic cotton. Organic cotton is naturally hypoallergenic and easy to wash and dry. It is durable enough to withstand the high heat necessary to kill dust mites. Organic cotton is the best chemical- and irritant-free alternative to synthetic materials. Lastly, consider using a mattress cover to create a barrier between you and the allergens that may be lurking in your mattress. Target has a really amazing selection of organic cotton and hypoallergenic bedding that's soft and comfortable.
This might not be for everyone, but I personally love to feel like I'm sleeping on a cloud, in a cloud, surrounded by clouds. I invested in a breathable, fluffy pillow topper that wicks moisture away from your body. It goes directly on your mattress and your fitted sheet goes over it. Oh man, it's so soft and relaxing. You can buy synthetic or lambswool, but I believe the lambswool breathes better. The choice is completely yours as far as material, pile height and size.
Light Alarm Clock
If you hate waking up to that horrible buzzing/beeping/blarring noise, hit snooze 45 times, and feel completely groggy at wake time, a light alarm clock will rescue you. Circadian rhythms respond to light cues, increasing production of the hormone melatonin at night, then switching of the production when your body senses light.
I have the Philips Wake-up Light Alarm Clock with colored sunrise simulation. Philips makes the only light alarm clocks backed by clinical research in which 90% of users said the clock helped them wake up more naturally. "the UV-free Wake-Up Light is proven to wake you up with an improved mood and energy level."
To put it simply, it's like waking up in a spa, with gentle light and tranquil sounds. This clock slowly starts to glow 30 minutes before your set wake time, gradually getting brighter until it's as bright as daylight, at which point it plays your desired music or sound. Choose from 5 different nature-inspired sounds, choose your gradual wake interval, 20 brightness settings, sunset settings, night light option, and 2 alarm times. I now actually look forward to my clock in the morning because it's so soothing. I purchased my clock from amazon and here's the link!
Candles & Himalayan Salt Lamp
I really relish in the short downtime I have before bed. It might be because I have constant stimulation all day from my children, or maybe that I am an introvert at heart, but periods of quiet serenity are really important to me and help me to sleep better. One of the things that helps me wind down is lighting my candles and turning on my himalayan salt lamp. If you want to slow things down and really slip into rest mode, pick some relaxing candle scents made with real essential oils such as lavender, jasmine or vanilla.
Though there is no solid evidence to back the supposed benefits of Himalayan salt lamps, they are thought to be “natural ionizers,” meaning they change the electrical charge and purify the air. Salt lamps are thought to be beneficial for people with allergies, asthma or disabled respiratory function, such as cystic fibrosis. Himalayan salt lamps certainly help promote sleepiness when lit in the evening when you need to wind down for the day. So whether they actually work as ionizers or not, I definitely approve as a tool for getting into rest mode.
Lavender Room Spray
Lavender is a relaxing and sleep-promoting scent.
Studies show that lavender may reduce anxiety which is a huge win for better sleep. It's also been shown to lower stress, blood pressure and heart rate, and improve mood and brain function. Mist your bedding with lavender spray or a few drops of lavender essential oil before bed.
Epsom Salt Soak
Epsom salt is actually the mineral magnesium sulfate which is is easily absorbed through our skin. Magnesium helps improve blood flow which relaxes your entire body, muscles and extremities. It can soothe your body so much, that it can actually lead to deeper sleep. This would be beneficial if you've had a particularly stressful or active day. An excess of stress or adrenaline can chelate magnesium from your body and therefore reduce your levels of seratonin which is the mood-enhancing chemical in the brain which brings a sense of well-being. A magnesium deficiency can lead to poor sleep and restlessness. Keep a box of epsom salt in your bathroom for when you're feeling especially drained. Soak it up and sleep well.
Calming Skin Care
You know that amazing feeling of getting into a freshly made bed after taking a shower and putting on clean pajamas? Add calming and luxurious skin care to that equation and you can achieve a truly restful slumber. After invigorating and calming your body with a warm shower, apply natural products, free of nasty toxins that make your body fight. We want our bodies and skin to focus on healing, rejuvenating and restoring at night. Why give them the extra work of having to process lots of harmful ingredients?
Choose 100% natural skin care, free of synthetic ingredients, preservatives, parabens, and GMOS. Check out our blog, The Ultimate Green Beauty Resources for more ideas about how to choose green products, such as apps, blogs and more.
Select skin care with soothing ingredients. Many people love our Blue Serenity Collection because not only does it seriously soothe stressed skin, but it's also relaxing for your body at bedtime. Essential oils containing Blue Azulene, such as Blue Chamomile, are prized for their calming properties in both aromatherapy and topical applications. Also look for skin care containing lavender, ylang ylang, vanilla or rosemary. Help your body with it's regenerative abilities by choosing products with highly rejuvenating ingredients such as helichrysum essential oil, prickly pear seed oil, argan oil, neroli essential oil, and rose otto essential oil. The more you help your body, the more your body will help you... sleep.
Kill the Electronics
Our circadian rhythm works off of light, so lower the lights if you want to get sleepy, that includes the exciting glow of your precious cell phone. The stimulation from televisions and cell phones can leave you wired before bed, so give yourself some non-screen time to wind down.
Down time before sleep
This goes hand in hand with the last one and is self-explanatory. I absolutely need downtime before sleep, so I always carve out at least an hour to do nothing but relax. Instead of racing around until the minute before bed, read a book, play some relaxing music, chat with your partner, take a bubble bath or bask in your skin ritual. I know it's easier said than done when you have one thousands items on your to-do list, but I promise it will ease your body, mind and spirit.
Caffeine is a stimulant and stresses our adrenal glands. Do you have constant under eye circles? They are a big sign of adrenal fatigue.
Nutritionist, Kimberly Snyder says "Since coffee contains an acid-based oil it irritates the lining of the stomach and promotes gastric acidity. This encourages our body to secrete adrenaline, which then stimulates insulin secretion, and this in turn can fuel hypoglycemia. What does that mean?? The bottom line for us can be craving for sweets a few hours later, having crazy dips in energy, and moodiness!"
Dips in energy and moodiness can really affect your sleep quality, not to mention, if you're having coffee later in the day, it can keep you wired well into your down time. Caffeine has a half life of about 5 hours, so don't drink caffeine after 2pm if you want to start winding down by 7pm.
Valerian Root Supplement
Valerian root is an herbal supplement which can help you fall asleep faster and actually help you sleep better. Before trying valerian, it's important to try all the natural lifestyle changes above. Valerian can be a controversial supplement because there aren't a lot of proven studies about it, so it's best to consult a doctor or herbalist for the proper dosage and discuss and possible interactions with drugs you could be taking, breastfeeding or other health conditions. If you do decide to take it, it's known to take 2+ weeks to feel the full effects.
Most of the ideas above should help your body to naturally increase melatonin and improve your sleepiness. But if those don't work, you can try adding a melatonin supplement.
“Your body produces melatonin naturally. It doesn’t make you sleep, but as melatonin levels rise in the evening it puts you into a state of quiet wakefulness that helps promote sleep,” - Johns Hopkins sleep expert Luis F. Buenaver, Ph.D., C.B.S.M.
It's recommended to take 1-3 milligrams of melatonin 2 hours before bedtime. If it doesn't seem to be helping after a week or two, it's recommended to stop taking it and talk to your health care provider about your sleep issues.
"Do not use melatonin if you are pregnant or breastfeeding or have an autoimmune disorder, a seizure disorder or depression. Talk to your health care provider if you have diabetes or high blood pressure. Melatonin supplements may also raise blood-sugar levels and increase blood pressure levels in people taking some hypertension medications." - Johns Hopkins Health
Wilder North cannot be held responsible for any actions made, implied or expressed by anyone as a result of this guidance.
The above statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. They are in no way intended to heal, prevent or treat any illness. Please consult your doctor if you are seeking medical advice.
This article may contain affiliate links.
National Sleep Foundation - https://www.sleepfoundation.org
The Sleep Doctor - thesleepdoctor.com
Mayo Clinic - https://www.mayoclinic.org
Kimberly Snyder - https://mysolluna.com
Division of Sleep Medicine, Harvard Medical School - http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/whats-in-it-for-you/mood