I opened up a can of worms with the topic of sleep. I do believe, for the better. So let’s keep the party going. Since interviewing sleep expert Dr. Carmel Harrington for the podcast and engaging with A.H. Beard’s 6-week sleep challenge, I wanted to share more about my personal journey to better sleep.
Sleeping itself isn’t a problem for me when I’m in it. It’s in preparing for sleep and prioritising that prep time that I suck at.
I wouldn’t say that I’m a bad sleeper. I don’t suffer from insomnia nor do I have sleep apnoea. I do however have a very restless mind and often find it hard to switch off. This makes it difficult for me to go to sleep and when I do sleep, it’s minimal. I’d usually sleep 6 hours and be up to tackle another working day.
This wasn’t healthy, and it certainly wasn’t sustainable. Thanks to A.H. Beard and Dr. Carmel, things have slowly changed with the right advice, education and initiative to prioritise sleep in the first place. I’m now sleeping around 9 hours per night which I’ve concluded as my personal length required as adequate and truly restful.
How I’ve gone from 6 hours sleep to 9 hours:
1. Mimicking the rhythm of the sun
I didn’t know much about what melatonin was, how important it is and how to access it naturally. What I now know is that melatonin’s main job in the body is to regulate night and day cycles or sleep-wake cycles. Darkness causes the body to produce more melatonin, which signals the body to prepare for sleep. Light decreases melatonin production and signals the body to prepare for being awake.
As Dr. Harrington has mentioned “What’s worked forever is the rhythm of the earth. The sun rises and falls. The body adapts to this.”
My understanding is that when the sun rises, so should we. And when it falls, we should start preparing for sleep. By putting this in practice, it’s working wonders. It’s no surprise we’re ready to clonk out at 8pm when we’re camping.
2. Eating organic wholefoods and cutting out preservatives
I won’t go through the entire list of benefits of eating organic wholefoods. For one, I wouldn’t be the most qualified, and secondly, even if I tried, we’d be here a while.
I will pin point out one major factor I’ve noticed which is the correlation between organic whole food intake (with no preservatives) and improved digestion. I’m not bloated after meals. Regular bowel movements are consistent. I feel calm and energised. Plus, my mood and appetite remain stabilised. There aren’t any spikes or extreme changes. You’ve no doubt experienced some of these for yourself.
3. Last coffee at 12pm
I’ll admit, this is a hard one for me and most coffee lovers would agree. I only have one (double shot) coffee per day and it’s usually at 2pm. I’ve started to shift this to 12pm as advised by Dr. Harrington and when I have managed to do this, it’s most definitely helped me get to sleep faster and easier.
Sleepeducation.org stated that “one study found that consuming caffeine 6 hours before bedtime reduced total sleep time by 1 hour. These effects also can be stronger in older adults. It takes their bodies a longer time to process caffeine.” Which makes sense to have our last coffee at midday to ensure ample time for caffeine to leave the body before bed.
4. No strenuous exercise 3 hours before bed
General exercise is certainly part of the equation to better sleep. In my opinion, even a ten minute walk around the block. Everyone is different and you should certainly listen to your body. It’s not uncommon or unheard of that some people actually sleep better with a full-on workout an hour or two before bed. However, if you were like me and were training at the gym in the evening and found it difficult to sleep, then do give this a go.
I’ve now switched my routine to strictly train either in the morning or around midday. It’s personally worked better for me as I’ve found that evening gym sessions stimulate my adrenalin and alertness and struggle to completely relax until about 3-4 hours after. So If I finish my session around 7pm, my body only starts to unwind for sleep around 10pm – 11pm. Actual sleep then happens from 12 midnight. This rhythm goes against point one. Now I’m able to easily sleep at 9 – 9:30pm and up at 6 – 6:30am feeling fully rested.
5. Last meal 3 hours before bed
I won’t address the health and weight loss benefits of this as there are many studies around that topic specifically. I will however share my positive experience with both having a lighter (low carb or carbless) meal at night and consuming it 3 hours before bed. I’ve found that once eating, my metabolism fires up, which makes it difficult to fall asleep and sleep soundly. I used to eat constantly – even if it was snacking, all the way up until 10 – 11pm at night.
I now make sure my largest protein-filled meals are in the morning and stagger out my meal amount from there. By dinnertime I’ll have an egg white omelette or a chicken salad, paired with some fruit or a blended juice of carrot, spinach, lemon and orange, and I’m done for the night.
6. Camomile tea with raw honey, ginger and a dash of apple cider one hour before bed
For some reason this concoction just works for me. So I’ve done some digging to find out why. According to researchers, drinking camomile tea is associated with an increase of glycine, a chemical that relaxes nerves and muscles and acts like a mild sedative.
Raw honey, supports your body as you sleep and helps heal your liver as well as various cells in your body. It ensures an adequate supply of liver glycogen for the night fast. The average adult liver can store only about 75 to 100 grams of glycogen, with differences between men and women based on body size. The body will consume about 10 grams of glycogen per hour (6.5 grams by the brain and 3.5 grams by the heart, kidneys, and red blood cells). So for instance if we eat dinner at 6pm and head to bed at 11pm, the body would have consumed up to half of the liver’s supply of glycogen, leaving less than what’s required for eight hours of rest. Eating honey before bed re-stocks the liver with glycogen and ensures getting through the night before the brain triggers a crisis search for fuel, which would normally wake you up.
Honey also facilitates restorative sleep by contributing to the release of melatonin in the brain. To my understanding, it triggers a small spike in insulin levels, and insulin stimulates the release of tryptophan in the brain. Tryptophan is converted to serotonin, which is then converted to melatonin. Melatonin in return inhibits the release of insulin, thus further stabilising blood sugar levels during the night.
As an acid, apple cider vinegar helps regulate digestion and breaks down fatty acids, and also releases tryptophan.
7. No devices one hour before bed
No surprise here. Any bright light source is an alerting vehicle that keeps us awake. Studies have shown that even our small electronic devices project substantial light to promote wakefulness to the brain. This one would be my biggest challenge!
8. Using a candle or a very dim light source half an hour before bed
I use an essential oils diffuser that has a very dim colour changing light. It illuminates the bedroom as a candle would. Dr. Harrington emphasised that having a candle or a dim light source is a visual trigger that signals the brain that it’s time to sleep. It works perfectly with point 10.
9. Pen to paper
When it’s bedtime, it’s easy to get caught up in the long list that hasn’t been attended to. It’s part of the reason why I personally struggled with getting to sleep. Writing all my concerns and brain dumping on paper has been a lifesaver. I quickly capture those your thoughts and stop them from floating.
I do this in two ways. One is through reflection. I use the ‘Five Minute Journal’ for reflection. It’s a simple structured format based on positive psychology research, you will start and end each day with gratitude. Three questions are presented to you in the morning (one is ‘what would make today great?’) and three at night (one is ‘how could I have made today better?’).
The second is through planning. I use a traditional notepad for this. I jot down my to-do list for the following day, order them based on what would make the most impact in line with my goals and brutally cull which is absolutely necessary.
10. Gentle stretching with deep breathing half an hour before bed
Whether it’s yoga, meditation, prayer or your own thing without a name. The pairing of breathing exercises with stretching exercises takes me to a place of completeness. I’m centred and grounded. Satisfied with what has happened and hasn’t happened. I’m still. This is the cherry on top and secret sauce for how I’ve achieved better sleep.
The truth is that this is a long list for anyone! So I understand if it may seem overwhelming or difficult to implement all of it. I found that if I’m even partially meeting this list, let’s say 6 items of the 10, I’m still amplifying my chances of getting to sleep better. The other thing to note, is that these are behaviours. To get the full effect of these suggestions, it needs to be implemented long-term.
One of the biggest ways I’ve implemented some of the items above has been through the guidance of A.H. Beard’s 6 week sleep challenge and sleep coach.
At the beginning of each week you’ll receive an email outlining a task which will focus on one simple lifestyle change that can help to improve your sleep. At the end of each week, they check back in to see how you’re progressing!
I highly encourage you to sign up as it’s totally free and a program created by experts: ahbeard.com/sleepchallenge
For additional reading check out their sleep coach – filled with latest articles on everything sleep related. Here are some of my personal favourites:
Let me know how you go via the comments below!