Sleep is inarguably one of the most fundamental acts of self-care. Yet, it seems to be the first thing we sacrifice when we’re falling behind in one aspect of our lives.
As a matter of fact, it’s estimated that 84 million Americans aren’t getting sufficient sleep. The prevalence of this public health problem is quite alarming and should not be taken lightly.
Long-term sleep deprivation is linked to increased risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Aside from the more serious health issues, we all know that we need sleep to be the best versions of ourselves.
As a working stay-at-home mom who’s experienced countless sleepless nights, I’ve done my fair share of research on getting restorative sleep.
Here are 7 holistic hacks that I’ve found to be the most effective:
1. Get morning light.
Your circadian rhythm, or body’s internal clock, is roughly a 24-hour cycle designed to secrete two hormones (cortisol and melatonin) that regulate your sleep/wake cycle. The production of these hormones are readily engaged and influenced by shifting patterns of light in your environment.
In the morning, you want to have higher levels of cortisol to wake you up and give you energy to power through the day. At night, your brain should be releasing more melatonin to make you sleepy.
According to this study, exposure to bright and early morning light caused caused circadian rhythms to shift earlier in the day (phase advance). Whereas light exposure in the evening resulted in later wake-up times and bedtimes (phase delay).
Tip: Mornings are worthy of veneration. Strive for 15-30 minutes of early morning light by taking a walk or eating breakfast outside.
2. Avoid blue light at night.
While exposure to morning light is necessary to reset your circadian rhythm, you want to avoid blue light at night as it can suppress the secretion of melatonin. Computer screens, televisions, cell phones, and similar self-luminous electronic devices are major sources for diminishing melatonin at night because they emit blue light.
A study published in the Journal of Pineal Research found that one hour of moderately bright light (1000 lux) was enough exposure to suppress melatonin close to daytime levels.
However, it’s important to note that melatonin reduction is intensity dependent, meaning lower intensities of light may have similar suppression effects at longer durations. For example, two hours at 500 lux (well-lit room) may have similar effects to one hour at 1,000 lux.
This means exposure to a well-lit room can reduce melatonin levels, perhaps just as much as electronic devices. In fact, another study suggests that “chronically exposing oneself to electrical lighting in the late evening disrupts melatonin signaling and could therefore potentially impact sleep.”
- Turn off your computer, tv, and phone two hours prior to bedtime.
- If you must be on your computer, then download this free app called F.lux which automatically adapts your screen to the time of the day and removes blue hues at night.
- Get a pair of amber-colored goggles, which are the only current tools available that can eliminate all sources of blue light (including emission from household light bulbs). This brand is a popular brand, but if you wear glasses, this other brand offers a great wraparound option.
3. Block light pollution.
If you live in an urban area with 500,000 or more people, you may be exposed to outdoor nighttime lights (ONL) three to six times greater than individuals living in small towns or rural areas.
Dr. Maurice Ohayon and Dr. Cristina Milesi published a study in 2016 showing that people living with greater ONL were at a higher risk for circadian rhythm sleep disorder symptoms, which manifested into “delayed bedtime, delayed wakeup time, and reduced nighttime sleep.” The study also shows that exposure to greater ONL affects sleep quality and duration, and increases daytime sleepiness.
Tip: Skip the eye mask. Your skin detects light in ways similar to your eyes, meaning light may still disrupt your circadian rhythm if you’re wearing a mask. Opt for blackout curtains instead.
4. Keep the room cool.
The temperature of your sleep environment is related to sleep regulation. “When you go to sleep, your set point for body temperature – the temperature your brain is trying to achieve – goes down,” says H. Craig Heller, PhD. This means that you’ll fall asleep easier if your sleep area is cool, as opposed to being in a warmer room.
In this study, researchers looked at how thermal environments affected sleep in semi-nude individuals and those who used bedding and clothing during sleep. The results determined that hot exposure affected sleep stages more than cold exposure in semi-nude subjects.
In contrast, for those who used bedding and clothing during sleep, heat exposure increased wakefulness, decreased slow wave (SWS) sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, and affected sleep stages and thermoregulation. Cold exposure did not affect sleep stages, but it should be noted that the use of bedding and clothing plays a crucial role in supporting thermoregulation and sleep.
Tip: While the ideal room temperature for sleep is between 65-72F, you should set the room at whatever temperature feels best for you.
5. Turn off WiFi and unplug electrical devices at night.
Our organic alignment to the natural way of living is stunted by our ever-increasing addiction to our modern technologies. While there is a time and place for these devices, bedtime should not be one of them.
Devices such as lamps, WiFi routers, cell phones, laptops, alarm clocks, and other electronics emit invisible areas of energy known as electromagnetic fields (EMFs), or radiation. One study suggests that exposure to EMFs decrease the production of melatonin.
While the health risks of EMFs are highly controversial, I believe EMF pollution to be one of the most crucial and often overlooked cause of sleep problems (speaking from personal experience).
- Turn off your WiFi router.
- Electronics that are plugged into the outlet can emit EMFs even if they’re turned off. It’s best to unplug any lamps and clocks in your room. If you need to leave your clock on for an alarm, place it as far away from you as possible.
- Switch your phone (and tablets or other electronic devices) to airplane mode, or completely turn it off.
6. Get grounded.
Earthing, also known as grounding, refers to connecting to the Earth by walking barefoot, sitting, or lying outside.
The Earth’s surface holds an endless supply of free electrons. It’s believed that when your body is grounded, free electrons are transferred from the Earth to your body. This, in turn, can create a balanced internal bioelectrical environment for your body to function properly.
While earthing might sound a little woo-woo, a 2004 study conducted by Ghaly and Teplitz confirms that this practice improves sleep and reduces pain and stress. This is because grounding the body during sleep reduces cortisol levels at night and realigns the secretion cycle to be more in tune with the body’s natural sleep/wake cycle.
There is such an intimate reciprocity to this sacred practice. As we touch the blades of grass with our bare skin and as we feel the dirt touching us, the terrain tunes us in return.
Tip: Walk barefoot outside and renew your relationship with the earth.
7. Use aromatherapy.
Aromatherapy works by using essential oils in a diffuser or applying them on your skin. In this study performed on patients with ischemic heart disease, lavender essential oil placed in a diffuser improved sleep quality.
Tip: Common essential oils for sleep include lavender, chamomile, sandalwood, geranium, and ylang ylang. Be sure to buy high-quality essential oils (Folk and Co is a great resource if you want to buy pure therapeutic grade essential oils and learn more about them).
Sleep should be at the top of your list for overall well-being. Only through honoring yourself will you be able to flourish physically and mentally. Remember, you can’t fill anyone else’s cup unless you fill up your cup first.
It’s absolutely necessary to unplug from modern-day technology, take deep breaths, and find your center. If you embed these pro-sleep habits into your routine, you should find to easier to fall asleep, stay asleep, and wake up feeling rejuvenated.
Which of these steps did you find most helpful? Let me know below!