Last week, I asked, How DO I sleep at night???? and I explained that for the first time in my life, I’ve figured out how to get consistently deep, refreshing sleep almost every night.
What am I doing right? Well, it’s taken me a long time to figure out all the different factors, but here’s what’s working right now for me.
1. I take 1 melatonin pill about an hour before I’ll be laying down in bed. This, I believe, has made the biggest difference in the quality of my sleep. Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate circadian rhythms and generally tends to rise as night falls. When I take melatonin, I am out like a log. For a while, I didn’t take it every night, just when I hadn’t slept well the night before, because I didn’t want to get “addicted” to it. But I decided that it made such a profound difference for my sleep quality that I just started taking it every night. This doesn’t seem to have had any negative effects; I haven’t become less sensitive to the melatonin (it still works the same every night to knock me out) or felt like I “had” to have it (i.e. addicted to it). It seems to work the same now as it did when I started taking it, and I’m absolutely loving the quality of sleep it gives me.
2. I take 1/2 teaspoon of GABA powder before bedtime. It seems to do such a good job of calming the little hamster running the thinking wheel in my brain. You can read more about why I take GABA here.
3. I take a spoonful of coconut oil most nights before bed. This is just an extra little “insurance” against blood sugar crashes, which can be a physiological cause of mind-racing and inability to relax.
5. I try to take a bath every night. This doesn’t always happen these days, but it definitely helped A LOT when I was first figuring out how to improve my sleep. Taking a bath calms my body, cools me off in the summer (when I take almost completely cold baths) or warms me up in the winter, detoxes my skin or allows it to absorb needed nutrients. It also allows me to think through all the loose thoughts that have accumulated throughout my day. I usually put a book beside the tub to read in the bath, something light and not related to my work from the day, but a lot of the time I don’t even pick up the book. I just sit in the bath and think, decompress, work out the problems still lingering in my mind. Some of my best and most creative ideas have happened in the bath–figuring out a strategy for planning one of my classes, or working through an impasse in my research or writing, or coming up with the opening lines and main points of a blog post.
6. I try not to drink too much water before bed or during the night. Before bed, I only drink as much water as I need to get the three supplements I listed above down, and no more. If I wake up in the middle of the night with a dry mouth, I take a small sip of water (not a bunch of gulps), and lay back down.
7. If I do wake up in the middle of the night with my mind racing, unable to fall back asleep, I take a spoonful (or chunk, when it’s cold in the winter) of coconut oil and swallow it with a little water. It’s amazing how rapidly this works. At least for me, waking up in the middle of the night with a racing mind is very clearly caused by a blood sugar drop. It’s quite incredible how quickly I fall back asleep after this, just moments before having been stricken with a potentially hours-long insomniac panic.
8. I try to go to bed by 10 pm. Sometimes this means that I’m not actually in bed until 11 or later, depending on what I need to do before I get into bed and how long of a bath I take, but surprisingly, to me, if I stop what I’m doing and get ready for bed between 9 and 10, I rarely am tired the next day. Even if that’s only on 7-8 hours of sleep, when ideally for me, 9-10 hours is what I function best on. For most of my life, 7 hours of sleep the night before would invariably mean that I’d need a nap or be falling asleep in class or studying the next day. Now, I can manage, as long as it’s not several days in a row of only 7 hours.
9. I don’t consume anything caffeinated. Ever. (Well, I did have a square of chocolate yesterday for the first time in a month, but that’s it.) It seems a bit redundant to me to point this out, but probably bears saying nonetheless, given our culture’s addiction to caffeinated substances. Caffeine makes me crazy. I didn’t sleep well even after I gave up caffeine, but I definitely didn’t sleep well when I was consuming it, even on a not-too-heavy basis. If you’re not sleeping well and haven’t given up caffeine, it might be worth a shot. Caffeine messes with your adrenals something nasty, it’s not a healthy substance to be consuming on a day-to-day basis. Are there worse thing? Of course. Nicotine, heroin, partially hydrogenated oils. But for someone who consumes no caffeine ever, this very addictive substance seems like such a blind spot for so many people who care about and want to improve their health. Sleep is critical to good health, and caffeine has a profound effect on sleep. If you can’t get through a day without caffeine to keep you awake, maybe you need to do something about the sleep you’re getting, rather than accommodating for the needed sleep with a substance that is just going to make catching up on that sleep more difficult. Sorry to lecture here, I’m going to step off my soapbox now …
10. I try to limit the amount of emf exposure I receive while sleeping. We sleep on a platform bed (not a set of box springs, which supposedly can amplify certain electromagnetic waves), we try to turn off the wireless at night (although I have to admit I have gotten lax about this lately), and sometimes if I’m feeling really sensitive I’ll sleep with an emf shielding fabric hood over my head.
11. Before bed every night, I spray my entire body with diluted magnesium oil (I dilute this product one-to-one with filtered water in a spray bottle) followed by a light coating of coconut oil. The magnesium is both to generally improve my magnesium levels as part of a daily routine and also to help my body and muscles calm down at the end of the day. The coconut oil is to help with the stinging and burning that I sometimes get with the magnesium oil and to nourish and condition my skin, which has a tendency to get dry very easily, especially with the daily magnesium oil application.
12. I put earplugs in if something (a.k.a. my cat, who decided this summer that waking me up before dawn is a necessary daily occurrence) is keeping me awake with too much noise. I used to use these earplugs, but the pain they caused my eardrums made me eventually stop. These days I’ve switched to this brand, which is incredibly comfortable and still keeps out most of the noise, enough to help me fall back asleep.
13. I wear an eyemask every night. I love this eyemask. It’s comfortable on my skin, doesn’t get clammy with sweat, and does a seriously good job of keeping light out of my eyes. Some day, perhaps, we’ll install blackout curtains in our bedroom to keep the city lights (and streetlight immediately in front of our bedroom window) out of our sleeping space. But for now, this sleep mask does the job. I like it so much I ordered two and have one permanently in my travel bag so I never forget it on trips.
14. We sleep grounded on a grounding sheet that I made. I also have a portable grounding wire with a wrist strap that I use for travel. Supposedly grounding reduces cortisol levels and helps improve sleep. Many people swear by the difference in sleep grounding makes, versus when they can’t sleep grounded; you can read more about it in this book. I haven’t done an experiment on myself to discover whether or not it makes much of a difference for me, but it can’t hurt, and any little bit that helps my rest is worth it.
15. I try to limit my exposure to blue light at night. Blue night can inhibit the production of sleep hormones. This unfortunately does not mean that I get away from computer screens at night. But it does mean that I have a computer program installed, called f.lux, which gradually eliminates the blue light emitted by my computer screen as the sun goes down. Now that I’m used to this, seeing a full-strength, regular computer screen after dark literally hurts my eyes. Again, I’m not sure what effect it’s having on my sleep, but it can’t hurt and costs me nothing to implement.
This set of procedures has given me far better sleep than I knew was even possible from my entire prior life experience of sleep, and I sleep this well almost every. single. night. I can’t even begin to estimate what kind of improvement just this one change in my daily experience has made for my health; sleep is such a critical component for giving the body the time and resources to repair all of the damage we inflict upon it on a daily basis.
How do you sleep at night?
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