Having Trouble Sleeping? These 9 Hacks May Help You Snooze Tonight
The CDC reports that more than a third of adults in the U.S. are getting less than seven hours of sleep, which, according to their research, is not enough (getting less than seven hours of sleep has been linked to issues like high blood pressure, diabetes, and weight gain).
While these stats may be enough to keep you up at night, there's actually a lot we can do to get some better-quality sleep. Chris Masterjohn, Ph.D., wellness entrepreneur and researcher, joined me on the mbg podcast to talk about what we can do for better sleep.
It comes down to understanding what our bodies need and then putting the right things in. Chris has seen the immense impact nutrition has had on his mental, physical, and emotional health as well as his mother's. Growing up, he watched his mother heal from fibromyalgia through eating more macrobiotics and doing practices like tai chi, qigong, and yoga. "I got a very early example to see how powerful diet and lifestyle could be in addressing chronic disease, said Chris." This philosophy has influenced how he thinks about many common issues humans struggle with, including sleep deprivation. Chris shares his thoughts on how nutrition and small lifestyle tweaks can contribute to better sleep:
1. Get a sense of what the issue is.
One of the first steps Chris said is identifying what type of sleep issues you're having. He suggests noticing whether you're having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep and how often you're having difficulty with sleep. Issues with falling asleep could indicate that your bedtime routine needs a revamp, and waking up at night may mean your blood sugar is dipping and you need to eat more carbohydrates during the day, for example.
2. Start with basic sleep hygiene.
"You should be getting morning sunlight every morning, ideally by being outside for a half-hour or so," said Chris as a staple of good sleep hygiene. He said it's best to do at the same time every day to get into a rhythm but should be done whenever you wake. For those who can't get natural sunlight, he recommends a light therapy lamp or some form of light at the beginning of the day.
3. Block blue light.
You'll want to try to block blue light two to four hours before bed. Blue light can mess with your melatonin levels, making sleep more difficult, so consider using blue-light-blocking glasses or software on your computer to limit blue light exposure.
4. Give ample time to wind down.
If you're having trouble falling asleep, you may need to alter what Chris calls your "psychological winding down routine." This routine looks different for everyone—this could be meditating in darkness while for others this could be playing Tetris with blue-light-blocking glasses or reading. For some, it could take two hours to stop thinking about work, and it's worth trying out different distractors to see what works for you.
5. Stay in your bed.
While some experts recommend winding-down activities like reading be done out of your bed, Chris sees this is a potential disrupter to sleep as once one starts to get tired and ready to sleep, they'll have to get up and move again. He recommends ending your night in your bed so you can easily fall asleep after reading or meditating.
6. Eat enough food.
When it comes to food, he noted the importance of eating enough. "I know I had a problem for a long time where if I did not eat enough food, I would have insomnia," said Chris. This may be because people don't have enough carbs stored in their liver to keep their blood sugar stable, he explained.
7. Keep the room cool.
As other experts have suggested, sleeping in a colder room could be a recipe for great sleep. Keeping your room anywhere from 65 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit is a good place to start and see how you do.
8. Support melatonin production.
We may also be able to support our sleep quality through supplementation. Chris recommends supplements like B6 that support methylation. Methylation is a key cellular process necessary for cell energy and genetic expression of DNA. B vitamins like B6 help support healthy methylation and the production of melatonin. You can also get B vitamins through foods like potatoes, broccoli, beans, sunflower seeds, and avocado (the list goes on!). This may be particularly helpful for those who wake up in the middle night as they may be lacking enough melatonin throughout the night, Chris explained.
9. Boost tryptophan with these lifestyle tweaks.
It's essential to get enough of the amino acid tryptophan into your brain. Tryptophan is found in foods high in protein and is boosted by exercising or eating more carbohydrates. Two ways to increase the transport of tryptophan to your brain is through a high-carb meal at breakfast or exercise earlier in the day. This should be complemented by enough intake of vitamin B6 and other methylation-supporting nutrients, explained Chris.
Chris points out that there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution, and it's worth trying out a variety of these tips to see what works for you. He recommends starting with basic sleep hygiene but said if you're still struggling to find a solution or are interested, you could consider getting a comprehensive nutritional screening through your doctor. This could direct you toward which supplements will be best for you so you can be on your way to better sleep.
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