Getting enough sleep affects your health in ways you cannot imagine.
Lack of sleep increases inflammation and that, in turn, determines whether you are at risk for heart disease, diabetes, being overweight, high blood pressure, and poor digestive health, not to mention affecting your mood and hunger levels.
Here are some things you can do to enhance your ability to fall asleep:
1. Organize your day to coordinate with your waking and sleeping cycles.
- Mornings are for waking up and greeting the day. Start your day with inspiration from meditation, yoga, or whatever reduces your stress.
- Exercise early in the day, not at night. Exercise makes you alert and awake and decreases your melatonin production.
- Be your most active throughout the day.
- In the evening, allow time to slow down, unwind, and stimulate our sleep neurotransmitters and melatonin. About 30 to 60 minutes before sleep, turn off your "devices," turn the lights down, take a warm bath or shower, and maybe include some meditation.
2. Limit sleep disrupters.
- Alcohol makes you sleepy at first but interrupts sleep patterns later in the night.
- If you drink caffeine, find your threshold for the time you should stop drinking it. For me, caffeine after 2 p.m. affects my ability to fall asleep at night.
- Heavy fatty meals take a long time to digest, so your body is busy with the digestive process and indigestion rather than relaxing and helping you get to sleep. Consider lighter dinner fare.
- Computer and TV screens not only keep your mind active but also emit light that is not conducive to falling asleep.
3. Consume nutrients from foods that help calm the nervous system.
Getting nutrients from foods that help you get sleepy by calming the nervous system, helping muscles relax, and increasing some of the brain neurotransmitters that decrease stress:
- Tryptophan: Spirulina, soybeans, cottage cheese, pumpkin seeds, bananas, turkey, almonds, brewer's yeast, and yogurt
- Taurine: Eggs, meat, and seafood
- Vitamin B6: Garbanzo beans (chickpeas), pistachios, sunflower seeds, bananas, oatmeal, and fatty fish
- Magnesium: Leafy greens, oatmeal, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, brazil nuts, and soy
- L-Theanine: Decaf black and green tea
4. Consider a supplement.
If some of these suggestions don't work, look into a sleep aid supplement that may contain some of these natural substances:
- Melatonin: A hormone that maintains the body's circadian rhythm, a 24-hour clock that controls when we fall asleep and wake up.
- 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan): After tryptophan is converted into 5-HTP, it's then changed into another chemical called serotonin that helps mood and helps you relax.
- Taurine: An amino acid, helps to decrease anxiety and depression so aids in relaxation and sleep.
- B vitamins: Especially B6.
- Sedating and calming herbs: Such as valerian, passionflower, lemon balm, St. John's Wort, chamomile, and skullcap.
Figuring out what works to develop good sleep habits is well worth the effort. Try some of these suggestions and see what works for your situation.
Start with taking a look at how you go through each day, then include some sleep-inducing foods in your evening meal or snack. If you decide to take a natural sleep supplement, discuss your options with your physician or dietitian.
Most importantly, be gentle with yourself. It's tough to change long-ingrained lifestyle habits, and the more you put pressure on yourself, the more difficult it will be to relax with it—and get to sleep!