More than 70 million Americans are longing for better sleep, and for many of them the issue is stress. You probably know from personal experience how worries, fears, and relentless thoughts can interfere with sleep. You also know that how well you sleep has a direct effect on your energy and mood—making it that much harder to deal with the very situations that are keeping you awake at night.
It’s a vicious circle that can sap your energy and impact your mood and overall well-being—and it’s time to get serious about breaking it. In this article, we will share effective strategies to help you relax, fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and wake up feeling rested, refreshed, and ready to face the day.
Dim the Lights 2 Hours Before Bedtime
We take it for granted that we sleep at night, but it’s more than fatigue at the end of the day that makes us sleepy. Your sleep-wake cycle is part of your circadian rhythm, the physical and behavioral changes that occur in a predictable pattern every 24 hours.
Your circadian rhythm is controlled by your internal “body clock” and is synced with environmental changes such as light. As night falls, darkness triggers the production of melatonin, the hormone that makes you sleepy. Melatonin levels slowly rise through the evening, peak in the middle of the night, and ebb as morning approaches.
Unfortunately, in today’s world darkness is a rare commodity, and this has a direct effect your body’s production of melatonin. The reason is that bright light slows or halts your body’s melatonin release and upsets your natural sleep cycles—making it tough to fall asleep, stay asleep, and get the deep restorative stages of sleep you need.
Even dim light affects sleep, so do your best to keep your bedroom as dark as possible. Natural melatonin secretion begins earlier in the evening, so also try dimming the lights two hours before bedtime. The same goes for your phone, computer, and other electronic devices, which emit an even more problematic type of light.
Put Your Electronic Devices to Bed
The average US adult spends nearly eight hours a day looking at digital media on phones, computers, tablets, televisions, and other screens. All sources of light suppress melatonin production, but the high-energy blue wavelengths of light emitted by these devices reduces melatonin to an even greater degree. Plus, these devices create electromagnetic fields that can disrupt your sleep.
What you’re looking at on your screen is another issue. Much of the news and other content is so negative or worrisome that it can trigger a surge of stress hormones—the last thing you need when it’s time to sleep.
The solution? Less screen time. At least one—and preferably two—hours before bedtime, turn off the TV, shut down the computer, and put down your phone. Some families have a spot in the house where everyone, including mom and dad, can park their electronics for the evening.
Be Consistent and Keep Your Body Cool
Your evening routine should include a consistent bedtime that will allow you to get seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Lay off caffeine after noon and limit your evening consumption of sugar, alcohol, chocolate, and other stimulating foods and drinks. Make your bedroom a sleep sanctuary, as dark, quiet, and comfortable as possible.
It’s also important to keep it cool. The ideal temperature for facilitating sleep is 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit. Your body temperature naturally goes down as you sleep, so a cooler bedroom helps you to fall asleep and stay asleep. Pajamas and bedding made from natural fibers (cotton, linen, silk) also help to keep your body cool while sleeping.
Get the Whole Family Onboard
Bedtime can be particularly hectic if you have kids—as working parents of three young children, we know! Make sure homework gets done early in the evening, try to sit down to a meal together, and make baths and story time a calm, relaxing close of the day. Plus, here are two additional tips that work for us:
- Yoga before sleep: Yoga is terrific for promoting relaxation. An easy pose we like to do before going to bed is the Viparita Karani (legs up the wall) pose. You lie on your back with your hips close to a wall and raise your legs up against the wall to form an L-shape. This position, legs above your head, helps to calm the central nervous system. Our kids also like this pose and enjoy reading bedtime stories while doing it.
- Essential oils for sleep: We sometimes run a diffuser with essential oils in our and our children’s bedrooms, 30 minutes before bed. Our favorite relaxing oils include chamomile and lavender. You can also add a few drops of lavender to baths to help wind down from the day.
Take Safe, Natural Sleep Supplements
If you are looking for a little extra support at bedtime, we recommend two safe, well-researched ingredients for supporting better sleep: GABA and melatonin.
- GABA: Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is an amino acid that acts as an inhibiting neurotransmitter in your brain, meaning it calms neural activity, soothes the mind and nervous system, and helps to reduce stress. Taking GABA an hour or so before going to bed can help to melt away the stresses of the day so you fall asleep more easily. Suggested dosage: 100 mg of GABA 60 minutes before bedtime.
- Melatonin: Taking a low dose of the “sleep hormone” before bedtime can help you fall asleep and stay asleep. For best results, take a combination of immediate and time-release melatonin. That way, you get both a quick release to help reduce the time it takes to fall asleep and a sustained release to help you sleep through the night. Plus, sticking with a low dose keeps melatonin levels in the normal range and prevents next-day grogginess. Suggested dosage: 2 mg of melatonin (immediate and time release) 60 minutes before bedtime.
You can take these individually or in combo products such as Sleep Tight, which also contains lavender essential oils for additional benefits.
Reap the Benefits of Sunlight & Exercise for Sleep
Our final suggestion for better sleep and reduced stress is to spend more time outdoors during daylight hours. Although darkness is the primary environmental regulator of sleep, light plays an important role in synchronizing your circadian rhythm—and when it’s out of sync, your sleep suffers.
Americans spend an average of 90% of their waking hours indoors, which can impact sleep. Studies have linked optimal sunlight exposure, especially before noon, with improvements in sleep duration. Light also stimulates the production of the “feel-good” neurotransmitter serotonin—yet another reason why spending time outside and connecting with nature helps to curb stress and, by extension, enhance sleep.
While you’re outside, get some exercise. Physical activity releases tension and boosts mood, and studies reveal that it improves sleep quality and duration in people of all ages. Just avoid exercising too close to bedtime.