It’s been months since I’ve woken up feeling well-rested.
As someone who struggles with sleep constantly, I fully understand how crappy your day feels when you’re running on little to no sleep. The problem you’re having isn’t even the amount of hours you’re sleeping; it’s the lack of quality sleep that you’ve been getting that you’re frustrated about.
I’ve don’t often struggle with falling asleep — it’s the staying asleep part I struggle with. For the last 4–6 months, I’ve been waking up at midnight, and 3 am, alert and ready to go — like clockwork.
Psychiatrist Jean Kim says that sleep is crucial to overall health and daily functioning. Increasing evidence has tied a lack of sleep to numerous mental and physical disorders, including increased depression, irritability, impulsivity, cardiovascular disease, etc.
From my personal experience, I’ve struggled with a lack of energy, my productivity levels have dwindled, and my body took a pretty drastic hit to the gut because poor sleep is also linked to both weight gain and poor athletic performance.
Basically, when you’re not getting quality sleep, your hormones become extremely imbalanced. There are two particular hormones that are dependent on a healthy sleep cycle — Ghrelin and leptin.
Leptin is a hormone made by fat cells that work to decrease your appetite.
While Ghrelin, is a hormone that increases appetite and also plays a role in body weight. When your body isn’t getting good sleep, your ghrelin levels spike, and the level of leptin falls, leading to an increase in hunger. Both of these hormones work indirectly, so when one falls — the other goes up.
I didn’t want to go to the doctor; I knew that they would prescribe me some pills and call it a day — so I resorted to researching natural and organic remedies to improve my sleep cycles. I was starving for a good night of rest, and my work was piling up.
My research resulted in me having to start being significantly more aware of the little things that I often bypassed, and here are my findings.
How do you spend your evenings?
I started paying attention to how I was spending my late afternoons and evenings. As I work from home, my workday varies depending on how much I have to do, so some nights I spend staring at my computer screen till seven or even 8 pm, then I would go to bed and watch TV until I passed out around 9–10 pm.
According to an article on SleepFoundation, light is one of the most powerful signals in our environment — regulating the brain’s internal clock and affecting our sleep patterns, health, and mood.
A few hours before bedtime, the pineal gland in your brain starts to release a hormone called melatonin. Melatonin is what helps you regulate your sleep cycle, and it reaches its peak in the middle of the night.
What this means is that when you’re laying in bed watching TV, or on your phone or computer, your melatonin levels are suppressed. It not only takes you longer to fall asleep, but it also harms the quality of your overall sleep resulting in you waking up feeling significantly more sleepy and groggy despite a full night of rest.
I started regulating my evenings by wearing blue blockers every night after 6 pm, despite always going to bed at relatively the same time, I didn’t want to risk my melatonin being suppressed.
I also set my phone on the night shift.
When is the last time you consumed caffeine?
This is a daily struggle of mine.
I love a good cup of joe’ right around 3–4 pm, a nice little pick-me-up, if you will. However, my lack of quality sleep was suffering from it.
Caffeine is one of the most widely consumed stimulants in the world, with over 90% of American adults consuming caffeine-infused beverages almost daily. And, while it has a ton of positive effects, it also has it’s downsides.
For instance, a study discovered that consuming caffeine 6 hours before bedtime ended up reducing total sleep time by 1 hour. These effects also could be stronger in older adults because it takes their bodies a long time to process caffeine.
I’m not a monster, I didn’t completely cut this God-like liquid out of my routine, but I did limit my consumption and adjusted the timing of it. Instead of having a cup in the late afternoon, I started having it around 12–1 pm, to make sure I give my body enough time to process it before bedtime.
I also limited any other beverages that have caffeine; if I drink tea, it’s always herbal and decaf.
Have you ever considered natural supplements?
There are many ways to improve your sleep quality without supplementing, but when all else fails — natural and organic supplements can benefit you.
Valerian root, an herb that has been used since ancient times to promote tranquility and improve sleep, helped my sleep cycles immensely.
Valerian root contains numerous compounds that aid sleep and lower anxiety. These include valerenic acid, isovaleric acid, and a variety of antioxidants.
Research suggests that taking valerian root may reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, as well as improve the quality and quantity of your overall sleep.
According to a study that was performed on 27 young and middle-aged adults with sleep problems, 24 people reported back saying their sleep was significantly improved, and 12 reported “perfect sleep” after taking 400 mg of valerian root.
I don’t always take Valerian root before bedtime, but if I notice that my sleep quality has been lacking for the last 2–3 days, I’ll supplement with 400–500 mg and always wake up feeling refreshed.
Have you utilized Aromatherapy?
In 1910, a French chemist and perfumer Rene Maurice Gattefosse was working in his laboratory when he ended up burning his hand. He stuck it in a vat of lavender oil and found the incredible healing properties of lavender oil.
Following this, Gattefosse went on to treat multiple soldiers with essential oils in military hospitals during World War 1. He started to research and experiment using a variety of essential oils and reported his findings in a scientific paper in 1928. This is where the term “Aromatherapy” was first used.
Your sense of smell is a very powerful thing. It’s our only sense that goes directly into our brains. Specific smells can even have major impacts on our mood and behavior. In essence, that’s what Aromatherapy is all about — using scents to alter our brain activity.
Whenever I would go to bed, I would have one of two problems, if not both.
One would be that my mind wouldn’t stop racing. Every thought, frustration, and worry would suddenly resurface the moment my head would hit the pillow. It was nearly impossible to let my thoughts go. The second one was more frustrating; I would wake up in the middle of the night, worrying about work or some other problem that didn’t need to be addressed at 3 am.
I started using essential oils on my body at first, to relax.
After doing some light research, I discovered that I could be using essential oils specifically to calm my mind and release any tension that my body was holding. I combined oils that would help stimulate relaxation, and at the same time, work to put my brain in sleep mode. It’s been working well.
I purchased a diffuser and a variety of different scents that are known to help with stress, anxiety, and sleep problems.
Research shows that essential oils can provide relief for disrupted sleep and improve sleep quality in adults. A 2017 study compared the effects of Aromatherapy and acupressure massage on sleep quality and overall quality of life in women. Their findings stated that a blend of sleep-promoting essential oils worked more effectively to improve both sleep quality and quality of life than acupressure.
Is your room hot or cold?
I’ve never — not once put into consideration that the temperature of my room might prevent me from getting good sleep.
According to Dr. Chris Winter of Huffington Post, science dictates that temperatures between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit are ideal sleeping conditions.
As nighttime approaches, your body temperature naturally begins to drops, signaling that it’s time to slow down and get to sleep. By keeping your bedroom cooler, you’re reinforcing your body’s natural instinct to sleep. If the room is too hot, it could end up blocking that signal and cause you to take longer to fall asleep.
Your body temperature lowers right before bed; then it rises naturally as you get closer to waking up. If you keep your bedroom cooler and regulate the temperature throughout the night, you’ll find that your overall sleep quality improves.
I live in California, and I love hot weather; I don’t like being cold. I realized that it was one of my biggest mistakes, sleeping in a hot room with an oversized blanket.
I started turning on AC and switched from a big blanket to a lighter one, especially during the hotter times of the year.
Overall, my sleep quality has improved significantly, and when I wake up, I don’t feel as groggy as I used to feel.
These are all strategies that I’ve been utilizing for the last few months to improve my sleep. As mentioned, sleep is imperative to your well-being, and if you’re someone who struggles with it — it might be time to try some natural remedies.
You deserve quality sleep and making a few minor adjustments will allow you to feel better, function at a higher level, and it’ll improve your overall mood.