Tips for Better Sleep – Lifestyle Tools and Sleep Supplements
Written by: Ryah Nabielski, MS, RDN
Do you wish there was a magic pill that decreased stress, tamed cravings, improved athletic performance, and even slimmed the waistline? Well, the magic isn’t in a pill, it’s sleep!
Life demands a lot, and often, it’s our sleep that suffers. Poor sleep places extra stress on the body and affects all aspects of our life and health, including memory, mood, energy, and so much more. Just ask any new mom how she feels when sleep deprived.
With the kids headed back to school and changing schedules this fall, it’s the perfect time to get in a good sleep routine. If sleep is challenging, keep reading to learn more about simple habits to support deep, restorative sleep.
This article will cover:
- Common sleep issues in the U.S.
- Health benefits of sleep
- Tips for better sleep
- Top sleep supplements
Insomnia and Sleep Problems
According to the CDC, around 35% of American adults are getting less than the recommended seven hours of sleep per night. And according to 2017 data, almost 50% of Americans suffer from a sleep problem, which can carry significant health risks.
Insomnia is the most common sleep issue, affecting up to one-third of people. Insomnia occurs when there is the opportunity for sleep, but there is difficulty in one or more of the following:
- Falling asleep
- Staying asleep at night; not quickly falling back asleep when waking in the night
- Achieving quality sleep and feeling rested from sleep
Chances are, you’ve experienced sleeplessness at one point or the other throughout life, perhaps related to transitions, stress, a new baby, and other life circumstances. When sleep deprivation or poor-quality sleep becomes chronic, it’s not good for your health.
Importance of Sleep
Sleep is critical for detoxification, cellular repair, healing, metabolism, hormone balance, brain health, mood, and so on.
When we aren’t allowing for the essential functions that occur during sleep, we accelerate the aging process. Chronic sleep issues affect health, quality of life, work performance, energy, and even increase the risk of accidents.
Poor sleep contributes to symptoms and disease, including:
- Poor blood sugar control
- Increased hunger, appetite, and cravings
- Weight gain
- Pain and inflammation
- Decreased motor function and coordination
- Decreased memory, cognition, and focus
- Decreased exercise performance and ability to build muscle
- Increased risk of insulin resistance and diabetes
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Increased risk of depression and anxiety
In one study, participants were monitored in a laboratory for two baseline nights. Then sleep was restricted for five nights, followed by two recovery nights. Compared to controls, those who experienced sleep restriction ate an average of 550 extra calories and gained more weight!
This research shows that even five nights of short sleep or poor sleep affects our food choices and metabolism. Also, that making up for lost sleep during the week on the weekend isn’t an effective strategy for health.
Many reasons and theories attempt to explain why Americans are so sleep deprived and suffering from increasing rates of sleep issues. These include:
- Increased work and life demands
- Increased access to technology and screen time
- Increased stress
- Increased access to news and social media
- Increased isolation
- Poor sleep hygiene (lifestyle habits that promote sleep)
We all have so much on our plates, affecting our sleep and, ultimately, our health.
Tips for Better Sleep
Here are some tips and habits to consider for improving sleep.
- Create a bedtime routine. Pick a bedtime and stick to it most of the time. For the 30-60 minutes before bed, engage in relaxing, non-stressful activities. Instead of checking your email or scrolling social media, try taking a hot bath, drinking a cup of herbal tea, practicing guided meditation, stretching, reading, journaling, knitting, or any number of other options. A relaxing routine will help to teach your body to expect sleep next.
- Upgrade your sleep environment. Make sure your bed is comfortable, and your room is cool and dark. Darkness is essential for increasing the body’s production of melatonin, the hormone that makes you feel drowsy and promotes sleep. If it’s hard to block outside light, use a sleep mask.
- Adjust your lighting. Our modern environment makes it much easier to experience indoor light when it’s dark outside. The body’s circadian rhythm and associated hormones respond to the natural day-night cycles we’d experience if we were living outside.
You can set your circadian clock by getting natural sunlight exposure during the day. Open your curtains in the morning, work next to a window, and get outside in the sun. The blue light in sunlight suppresses melatonin and helps you to feel more awake and alert.
Conversely, at nighttime, limit blue light to allow melatonin to rise. Use lamps instead of overhead lights indoors after the sun goes down. If you are using screens, set them to night mode, which makes the screen more of an amber color instead of blue. Or use blue light-blocking glasses.
- Be mindful of caffeine and alcohol. We all have different tolerances to these substances, which can affect sleep. For some people, having coffee or other caffeinated beverages in the afternoon or before bed will negatively affect sleep; for others, even their morning cup of coffee will have an impact.
While alcohol is relaxing and might make it initially easier to fall asleep, it often leads to disrupted sleep through the night. You may need to experiment with dosage and timing to see what works for you. Or, if you are currently having trouble with sleep, taking a break from caffeine and alcohol might be helpful.
- Try a bedtime snack. For some, we might wake at night because blood sugar dips low or we get hungry. An evening snack may help. Here’s the trick: ensure your bedtime snack contains protein to promote blood sugar stability overnight. You can try half of an apple with peanut butter, oatmeal raisin energy balls, or a protein smoothie.
Sleep Support Supplements
Supplements can be a lifesaver while you work to put sleep habits in place. Or, if you practice good sleep hygiene but are going through a time of increased sleeplessness, supplements are an effective, non-habit-forming solution.
Please discuss sleep supplements with your provider or dietitian for personalized guidance, especially if you take any medication or have a medical condition. As always, this information is for educational purposes only.
Here are some sleep supplements options to consider:
Melatonin is a hormone made in the pineal gland of the brain. Levels are low during the day and rise in the evening to help you wind down and fall asleep. Artificial blue light exposure interrupts this rhythm.
Taking melatonin as a supplement has been well studied. It may help reduce the time it takes to fall asleep, improve sleep quality, and increase mental alertness in the morning. One study showed melatonin improved insomnia symptoms in 50% of participants.
Melatonin is naturally occurring in some foods and extracts, including tart cherry. Tart cherry juice has been shown to increase melatonin levels and promote sleep.
Typical melatonin dosages range from 0.5 up to 5 milligrams. More isn’t necessarily better, so it may be helpful to choose a supplement (such as a powder or liquid) to adjust the dose to your individual needs.
Gamma-aminobutyric acid, GABA, is the body’s primary inhibitory neurotransmitter. It reduces the activity and excitement of neurons in the nervous system. GABA makes you feel calm and relaxed by pulling you out of a stressed state. It reduces anxiety and promotes sleep.
People with insomnia may have less GABA production compared to those with normal sleep patterns. Increasing GABA via supplementation may help with falling asleep more quickly.
GABA can be taken alone or combined with other sleep-supportive herbs or nutrients. In one study, GABA was combined with l-theanine, a calming amino acid naturally found in green tea. The combination showed a 15% improvement in the time it takes to fall asleep, a 26% improvement in sleep duration, and a 20% improvement in deep sleep.
A typical GABA dosage is 100-200 milligrams, but some doctors may prescribe higher amounts. Lower dosages may be more effective when used in synergy with other sleep ingredients like l-theanine and magnesium.
Magnesium is a naturally occurring mineral found in food and one that humans must obtain from the diet. Because of depleted soil quality and dietary patterns, many of us aren’t getting enough magnesium. One survey suggested that 58% weren’t meeting the recommended amounts of dietary magnesium.
Even a moderate magnesium deficiency can impact sleep. Magnesium helps relax the muscles, calm the nervous system, and serves hundreds of other functions in the body.
Using a magnesium supplement helps to replenish magnesium that may be missing from the diet and promote relaxation. In one study, elderly participants received 5 grams of melatonin, 225 milligrams of magnesium, and zinc or a placebo. The study group experienced improvements in getting to sleep, sleep quality, and morning alertness.
Magnesium bisglycinate chelate is a form where the mineral magnesium is attached to glycine. This amino acid acts as a calming neurotransmitter. This form of magnesium is highly absorbable and preferred for sleep support. Typical dosages start around 200 milligrams, although higher doses are very safe.
Twenty2 Nutrition Peaceful Sleep is a synergistic formula offering therapeutic dosages of the sleep supplements discussed here. It contains melatonin, magnesium, GABA, tart cherry extract, and l-theanine. This formula is designed to be taken in a cup of hot tea around 30 minutes before bed. Please note that Peaceful Sleep is not intended for use during pregnancy.
We can all get weighed down and anxious from the demands of life. Often, a few simple strategies practiced consistently help turn sleep around, so you get restorative sleep and function your best during the day. Implementing some of the sleep habits above, along with trying Peaceful Sleep for extra support, will help you to relax your body and mind. You’ll be catching your ZZZs in no time.
Ryah Nabielski, MS, RDN is a functional nutritionist, writer, and recipe creator. Ryah helps clients use a natural, food-as-medicine approach to improve fertility, pregnancy, hormone balance, autoimmunity, and discover a healthy relationship with food and body. Learn more about Ryah and her private practice at econutrition.co.