ZZZZZZ….Sleep…. The word alone can stir up all kinds of emotions, can’t it? At the mention of the word some of you cannot wait to cozy up in your bed tonight. Others might be overwhelmed with dread because it is so difficult to fall asleep or get good sleep. Or maybe you’re a parent and it’s a struggle every night and all through the night to get your little ones to sleep and sleep well. And trust me, I know the feeling. Follow these sleep tips for a better night’s rest.
If you google sleep tips many different articles pop up. It’s an information overload and you might not be sure where to start. There are tips on best positions to sleep in, or timing issues (when to sleep). Today I am talking about sleep from a hormonal perspective. What are some key things you can do to activate, rebalance and take control of your main sleeping hormones? The two main hormones I am talking about are cortisol and melatonin. These two hormones work together and they have major roles in your life. Cortisol works during the day and decrease at night as melatonin is secreted and used. Melatonin is one of the main hormones which help you fall asleep. And yes, there are melatonin supplements you can take, but that still isn’t getting to the root cause of your sleeping issues.
So here I have compiled 5 sleep tips that will help you get to the bottom of some possible hormonal issues you may have. I have done a lot of research and have found that if these 5 sleep tips can be implemented into your lifestyle, you will be on your way to better rest, a positive hormonal balance in your body, and a healthy pattern of good sleep.
5 Sleep Tips for Better Rest:
- Black Out Your Environment – A study was conducted by a group at Cornel University* on 2 groups, one group had a pitch-black room with no lights. Another group also was in a pitch-black room but they had a small fiber optic light behind their knee. They found a significant decrease in melatonin production in the group with the small light behind their knee. And that is because our skin is photosensitive. Meaning our skin responds to light. So, one of the best things you can do for yourself and for your kids is to use black out curtains to help completely shut out any light. And in our children’s rooms if we use night lights, we make sure to turn them off after our children have fallen asleep. Invest in some black out curtains and cover up any small lights that might be in your room. It will help increase melatonin production and it will support a better sleeping environment.
- Screen Time – Screens are detrimental to your cortisol levels. Screens emit a blue light that is telling your brain that it is daytime and it releases hormones that once again damper down melatonin production. Studies have shown that 60% of people spend more than 6 hours a day looking at a screen. That is affecting not only their eyes but the hormonal balance of cortisol and melatonin. So if we are watching TV or looking at your phone right before bed time your body is receiving signals to boost your cortisol levels. The time frame to stop the screen time is 90 minutes prior to sleep. I know that might sound painful. You might ask me, “What in the world do I do? This is a good time to wind your body and mind down. I suggest, stretching, reading a book, talk to your spouse, read with your kids or journal. Get all of your thoughts out of your head onto paper so that you can rest easy and sleep well. This step might be difficult, but it will greatly affect your melatonin production and it will lead to falling asleep more easily.
- Caffeine – Caffeine affects your sleeping pattern (you think). Coffee and chocolate boost your cortisol and can throw off your melatonin production. The latest you should have caffeine is 2 pm. Now I know moms need that nap time coffee, but the more you can stick to this regimen the healthier your sleep will be. (When it comes to caffeine some people are able to metabolize it quicker than others and some might not “feel the effects” but none the less it still disturbs your hormones.) Yes, I love my coffee also, so I try to keep my 1-2 cups/day early (I also make sure its high quality non-toxic coffee but that is a whole other issue).
- Morning Routine –The key to good sleep starts in the morning, having a steady morning return is a big step to good night time sleep and it starts with getting up early. Yes, it will be hard and it will be an adjustment, but your body will adapt and you will find a good healthy rhythm. Second in the morning routine is, getting a good workout in every morning. Exercise improves cortisol levels and helps kick your hormones into gear. Last every morning get outside as early as possible and get sunlight. The sunlight kicks your activates the receptors in your eyes and skin and sets your bodies circadian rhythm. Bonus, do some grounding in the morning this will help reduce inflammation and can further help hormonal balance. (see our post on grounding).
- Bed – its really just for 2 things – sleeping and making babies. Sex decreases cortisol and increases melatonin, our bed should be left to those two activities. Avoid doing work on your bed, watching TV or using other devices. Let your mind and body know that when you get in bed it is time to go to sleep or that other thing that release a cascade of great hormones which help the body relax and sleep.
You can see how if we wake up late, skip our morning workout, down our café mocha, run around all day doing work, then come home to watching tv and lay in bed on our i-pads and i-phones, we are setting ourselves up for disaster. We are destroying the very hormones which allow us to fall asleep and more important have restful sleep. Individually these 5 sleep tips might not make a huge change, but if you implement all 5 sleep tips the synergy that occurs is transformational. Your sleep patterns and more importantly your health, will improve and your body will thank you for it. I know you can do it, so now turn off your screen and get started!
Dr. Raul Serrano
*Lights Out by T.S. Wiley – p.81