I don’t know about you…but I’ve had enough and heard enough about the coronavirus. And I feel like it’s high time we start to regain some sense of normalcy and get back to our healthy routines…including making good sleep a priority again.
Fortunately, you have many safe, effective, and natural options that can significantly improve the quantity and quality of your sleep. And I’ll tell you all about them in just a moment.
But first, let’s back up to look more closely at why insomnia poses such a big problem for so many folks…
Insomnia is more than just a sleep problem
Even in “normal” times, insomnia affects up to 50 percent of the adult population in the U.S. And as I recently reported, sometimes the problem persists for years…especially if your symptoms were severe from the start.
Unfortunately, when insomnia does persist over many months or years, it can significantly impair your immune system. Research links insomnia with a number of negative health outcomes, including anxiety, depression, Type II diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and suicide.
In addition, people with insomnia can develop an obsession about their sleep. They begin to fear not sleeping and the consequences they will suffer during the day. And this emotional distress often feeds into and even perpetuates the sleep problem.
Therefore, I strongly encourage you to speak with your doctor about any sleep problems that continue beyond a few weeks.
Of course, your doctor may suggest trying a pharmaceutical sleep aid. But these medications come with troubling—and even downright dangerous—side effects.
So, as always, you’re far better off trying to adopt a few natural approaches first…
Six simple dietary changes for better sleep
You probably already know to limit caffeinated beverages (like coffee) to earlier in the day, if you suffer from insomnia. (A good, tried-and-true rule is to avoid all caffeine for at least six hours before hitting the sheets.)
But there are many other sneaky ways that your dietary patterns can disrupt your sleep. So, let’s go over how to eliminate them…
1.) Don’t eat late at night. During the pandemic, I know many people started keeping later hours, potentially sitting down much later in the evening to eat dinner. Or—they started snacking well into the night while binging TV.
But because digestion takes up so much metabolic energy, eating later in the evening can disrupt your sleep. So, make sure to stop eating at least four hours before bedtime.
2.) No alcohol after 8 PM. Science shows that enjoying an alcoholic drink or two in the evening will help you relax. (And it can even help improve your mood, in moderation, as I explained last week.)
But just make sure to cut it off around 8 PM. That’s because higher blood alcohol just before bed may help you nod off faster, but it can severely disturb later stages of sleeping…especially REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.
It’s during REM sleep that the brain is very active and dreaming occurs. Getting enough REM sleep also supports learning, memory, and mood. However, disruptions or shortened REM sleep can cause mood problems, memory deficits, obesity, and migraines.
3.) Limit late-night chocolate. As I mentioned earlier, make sure to cut off any caffeinated drinks at least six hours before bedtime. Just remember, this cut-off applies to any caffeinated food items, too—including dark chocolate. (Especially high-quality chocolate, as a serving can contain up to 26 milligrams of caffeine, which is almost as much as you find in a 12-ounce caffeinated drink!)
4.) Avoid sugar completely. Sucrose (table sugar) is the ultimate metabolic disrupter. So, as I reported last week, strive to eliminate it completely from your diet. And most certainly don’t consume anything with any added sugar after 7 PM, as it will flood your system and cause metabolic problems. It can delay winding down for sleep.
Plus, when sugar interferes with normal sleep, it can even influence caloric consumption the next day. Specifically, lack of sleep leads to increased production of a hormone called ghrelin—which stimulates appetite and cravings for sugar and calories.
5.) Rethink citrus fruits. If you have trouble sleeping, I suggest you limit citrus fruits later in the day. They do contain loads of healthy B vitamins and vitamin C. But they’re also acidic and may cause some difficulty when lying down at night, if you’re prone to acid reflux. Citrus and other acidic foods also act as natural diuretics, which can wake you in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. (Drinking tea can have the same effect.)
So, instead of citrus (or tea), perhaps enjoy a glass of tart cherry juice in the evening after dinner. Tart cherries contain melatonin, which can help induce and prolong your sleep (and have many other benefits).
6.) Late-night spicey foods may present a challenge. Like citrus fruits, many spicey dishes made with tomatoes, garlic, and onions may create or contribute to acid reflux, which can lead to night-time wakefulness. A large dose of acidic foods can also cause foods to move more rapidly through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, causing you to wake and go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
In addition to these six dietary adjustments, there are a few other natural, sleep-inducing tips I’d like to share with you here today…
Natural sleep remedies can help you wind down
Science shows many people experience significant improvements in sleep and relaxation by inhaling essential plant oils through aromatherapy. You can apply these essential oils to your skin and/or diffuse them. Both methods work well to induce sleep and relaxation because they both rely on the olfactory nerves of the upper nasal passage, which are wired directly into the brain. The most effective sleep-inducing essential oils are: chamomile, eucalyptus, lavender, limonene, orange, and peppermint.
Over the last year, our daughter used a topical preparation that combined these essential oils (blended with vitamin E and coconut oil) to help her achieve perfect sleep throughout her pregnancy, labor, and after the birth of our healthy granddaughter in October 2020. So, I know firsthand how effective and safe it is, just as the science shows.
(You can learn more the effects of poor sleep—in addition to “my ultimate sleep solution”—in the current issue of my monthly newsletter, Insiders’ Cures [“My ultimate guide to getting a good night’s sleep—naturally”]. Click here to become a subscriber!)
In addition, spending time in the sun can also help improve your quality of sleep. For one, it stimulates your skin’s natural production of vitamin D, which not only benefits sleep, but also has many other health benefits.
Plus, upon exposure to sunlight, the optic nerve at the back of your eye sends signals to your brain’s pineal gland to start producing serotonin—the “feel-good” neurotransmitter. Then, when darkness descends, your body starts to convert the circulating serotonin into melatonin, which helps you sleep.
Some people also find success learning how to change their sleep and thinking patterns with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). With this form of talk therapy, you typically attend four to eight therapy sessions with a trained specialist. About 70 percent of patients experience some improvements in sleep—which usually continue after CBT treatment ends.
So, as we get back into a healthy, active, and productive routine, try also incorporating these healthy, beneficial, science-backed tips into your life to help induce quality sleep.
And instead of turning on the news in the evening, perhaps take a walk out in Nature, especially as the weather continues to warm up. I’m quite sure all the fresh air—and fresh perspective—will do wonders for your state of mind…and your sleep.
“Incidence, Persistence, and Remission Rates of Insomnia Over 5 Year.” JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(11):e2018782. doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.18782.
“Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality.” Eur J Nutr. 2012 Dec;51(8):909-16. doi.org/10.1007/s00394-011-0263-7. Epub 2011 Oct 30.