4 Lesser-Known Natural Habits For A Great Night’s Sleep
Over the past few months, I have been plagued with some Tyler Durden-level bouts of insomnia that have knocked me on my ass. There have been days that I went to work without having slept for the previous three nights, and then the fourth night I would take Advil PM just to be able to doze off. As someone who shies away from using medicine for even the worst headaches, the use of these pills was done as a last resort.
Up until this point in my life, I have had a pretty decent relationship with sleep. I am not a super deep or heavy sleeper, and I never really had too much trouble falling and staying asleep. I was never one of those kids that needed to get up five times a night to pee (and at every sleepover, there’s always that ONE kid). College wasn’t even that bad for me with only occasional sleepless nights in the midst of a fight with a friend or before a big class presentation. But for some unapparent reason, the past few months have been an immense struggle as I have essentially sleep-walked through life.
Attempting to perform the day’s necessities after a multitude of sleepless nights must be what some levels of hell feel like. It’s impossible to be your best self when working with little to no sleep. When this sleep deprivation really started to affect my daily life is when I dove into research.
For the past year or so I have really gotten into a podcast called the Rich Roll Podcast. Rich, the guy who hosts it, is a former entertainment attorney turned full-time wellness and plant-based nutrition advocate. He is widely known for his participation in ultra-endurance fitness challenges (i.e. the Ultraman Marathon) where he has gained a lot of notoriety. In 2012 he became a #1 bestselling author and in 2013 he started the hugely popular Rich Roll Podcast. In the podcast, Rich interviews thought leaders, experts in health and wellness, and spiritual gurus alike. His aim in the creation of the podcast is to help his listeners live a better life by discovering their best, most authentic selves.
I absolutely LOVE this podcast and everything it stands for and there are two specific episodes I want to talk about in this article because you guessed it, they are about sleep (by the way, I am in no way affiliated with or compensated by these articles, I just love them a lot!)
Episode RRP 224 is with author, columnist, actress, and co-founder/editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington. In the episode, Arianna and Rich discuss her latest book, Sleep Revolution: A Formula For Enhanced Productivity, Performance, Success & Happiness.
Episode RRP 219 is with best-selling author and creator of The Model Health Show podcast, which has been featured as the #1 Nutrition and Fitness podcast on iTunes. Shawn also has a book on sleep called Sleep Smarter, which is the topic of discussion in this podcast.
Each of these episodes offers some amazing insights into helping to get a better night’s sleep and I am sure their books delve way deeper. But the following 4 points are going to be a few tips I parsed out after listening to the episodes that I feel are not necessarily as obvious when it comes to getting a better night of sleep.
Shawn Stevenson is a huge advocate for this one, and so am I. In the podcast, he explains a study done on people with chronic insomnia. When tested, each person in the study had magnesium deficiencies and once their magnesium levels were raised through treatment, their sleep improved.
On the podcast, Shawn personally recommends using topical magnesium (a kind that you can spray on your body in oil form) rather than taking a supplement because often times magnesium supplements can result in diarrhea (think about the warnings/side-effects on the back of Epsom salt containers). He mentions a brand called Ease Magnesium.
I looked into this one and found some pretty favorable reviews on Amazon here. Personally, I have been using a brand called Magnum Solace and the product is Dead Sea Magnesium Oil. I really enjoy this product and have only been using this specific brand because a friend gave it to me after I freaked out seeing it on her nightstand. I haven’t tried a different kind so I don’t really have a preference.
Exercise and light exposure in the morning
It seems that the term “cortisol” is thrown around along with the term “stress” lately, and it is true that this is the bodily hormone that is secreted when we have that stressed-out feeling. But it is also secreted when our body is under physical stress and exertion like when we are working out. It’s something that we need because it is something that regulates our body’s natural, Circadian Rhythm. Having an inverse relationship with melatonin, cortisol is supposed to peak in the morning and gradually decline throughout the day, with melatonin levels rising and becoming much higher in the evening.
Shawn discusses a study done at Appalachian State University where individuals in group A exercised at 7 AM, group B exercised at 1 PM, and group C exercised at 7 PM. The research found that group A spent up to 75% more time in the deepest most rejuvenating stages of sleep. Shawn explains that this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to hit the gym at 7 AM if you want to sleep well at night, but it’s more about regulating your body’s natural rhythm by encouraging that normal cortisol spike in the morning. He suggests a form of cardio whether it’s five minutes of jumping jacks or some power yoga, just something to get your body moving.
Another huge factor in regulating your body’s natural rhythm and hormone secretion is getting some sun exposure during the day. Shawn explains that “by getting some early morning sunlight…between 6 and 8 AM” your cortisol rhythm will be much more regulated and helps to lower cortisol levels at night. This is why “a good night’s sleep starts the moment you wake up in the morning” Shawn proclaims confidently in the interview. By taking these steps you’re taking measures to regulate your body’s natural rhythm to induce a great night of sleep.
Along with the importance of sunlight in the morning and during the day, it is equally important to have darkness at night. The main takeaway I found from my research is that the human body has photoreceptors EVERYWHERE. They are not exclusive to our eyes. “Our skin actually has photoreceptors that pick up light, and they send information to our brain [saying], ‘hey it’s daytime, produce more cortisol, more serotonin, more daytime hormones,’ Shawn explains.
If we have light in our rooms, even a small glow from a phone charger or a nightlight, our body is going to pick that up and it has the potential to negatively impact our sleep. Since listening to this podcast I’ve purchased my own eye mask that has done absolute wonders for my sleep hygiene.
The goal is to wake up without an alarm
There were many overlapping points made between Shawn and Arianna’s interviews on the Rich Roll Podcast, and her interview was also much shorter in length, which is why the previous three points are all from Shawn. However, this last point was one of the most important takeaways from Arianna’s interviews and I needed to include it. To wake up with an alarm is in Arianna’s words, “barbaric”, and I think she’s onto something. The word in itself suggests a heightened state of stress; a cause for panic.
Now think about how most of us wake up to something like this every day! We wake up already stressed and in a panicked mindset which, I don’t know about you, but that makes me not the brightest morning daisy of the bunch. Consistency in one’s sleep cycle is another key factor to a great night of rest and the goal to aim at here is the ability for your rhythm to be so down pat that your body will wake up when you need to naturally.
There you have it, four lesser-known tips that I hope will have you dozing off into dreamland tonight in no time. Leave a comment below to let me know if any of these have helped, and also about your own sleep tips. Happy sleeping!
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