I'm a fitness and nutrition consultant who helps people learn how to live a healthier life. Many of my clients struggle with getting enough sleep, and I frequently hear complaints. One client, let's call her Alyson, recently told me she was following all of my tips but still barely sleeping five hours a night.
Alyson is in her mid-40s, a single mom with three kids and a high-stress job. Alyson fell into the “extreme cases” category; she did everything correctly yet struggled to maintain solid slumber, often feeling anxious when she attempted to fall asleep and awakening throughout the night.
Over the past few months, we worked hard to clean up Alyson’s diet. She incorporated plenty of protein; high-fiber, low-glycemic carbs; and healthy fats. We tried various supplements like melatonin and valerian. We tapered down Alyson’s coffee to one cup a morning.
All these things helped, yet Alyson continued to struggle to get eight hours of sleep every night and often felt haggard throughout the day. When she confessed that her doctor had put her on Ambien, I knew it was time to bring out the big guns. Working with a prominent sleep-expert friend of mine, we incorporated these seven advanced strategies for falling and staying asleep better:
1. Time your workouts correctly.
Exercising for at least 30 minutes per day can improve your sleep. The trouble was, Alyson worked out too close to bedtime (in her case, mid-afternoon), keeping her wired when she should have been tired. Working out in the morning seemed like a better fit for her. We moved her training sessions from 3 p.m. to 7 a.m. While she complained initially that she wasn’t an early bird, the earlier time improved her sleep quality.
2. Rebalance your hormones.
Hormonal imbalances often underlie sleep problems. Getting Alyson’s insulin levels balanced with a whole, unprocessed foods diet became her reset point. Blood work revealed her stress hormone cortisol stayed elevated past its prime, so we developed some specific strategies to reduce stress, like deep breathing and yoga.
3. Expose yourself to sunlight.
Getting 20 to 30 minutes of sunlight can do wonders for your sleep. Exposure to wide-spectrum light during the day boosts feel-good serotonin levels, which will help improve your sleep hormone melatonin levels at night. For Alyson, that meant taking a walk during her lunch break. Testing revealed a vitamin D deficiency, so she supplemented with 5,000 IUs daily until her levels normalized.
4. Ditch pharmaceutical sleep aids.
Pharmaceutical sleep drugs often have more adverse effects than benefits. Ambien gave Alyson about three hours’ solid sleep, where after she would awaken and drift into not as deep of a sleep. She asked her doctor to taper her off, and I introduced her to supplements like melatonin, inositol, and 5-HTP that, when combined, offer a synergistic effect and a better night’s sleep. About a week later, she started noticing she was having more solid, sounder sleep.
5. Try essential oils.
These can cross the blood-brain-barrier for quality sleep. Choose oils like lavender or Roman chamomile. One study found that lavender oil creates better sleep. Another study found that inhaling lavender and other essential oils improved sleep qualify for 56 ICU patients. Essential oils helped Alyson dial down nighttime stress a few notches so she drifted into sleep more easily.
6. Take a hot bath.
Alyson’s nightly sleep ritual included chamomile tea while powering down all electronics about an hour before bed. She also took a hot bath with Epsom salts to replenish magnesium levels, which stress and other conditions can deplete. This calming mineral regulates more than 500 enzymes.
7. Tap to tune out.
Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), also call tapping, became an easy, fast way for Alyson to taper down stress and find replenishing sleep.
Just to be clear: Sleep struggles occasionally underlie serious medical conditions that require professional help. If you’re doing everything correctly yet still struggle to sleep, please speak with your doctor and visit a sleep specialist.
At the same time, I’ve seen these tactics work well for Alyson and a few other clients who’ve tried everything and still struggle with sleep. Knowing how crucial sleep becomes, what would you add to this list? Share yours below.