7 Natural Solutions for Better Sleep
*Disclosure: I only recommend products I would use myself and all opinions expressed here are our own. This post may contain affiliate links that at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission.
2020 was a hell of a year. In one way or another, every single person was affected and for many, anxiety has been a particular struggle. According to an October 2020 poll from the American Psychiatric Association (APA), “62% of Americans feel more anxious than they did at this time last year. That marks a sizable increase over APA polls of the past three years, in which the number has ranged between 32% and 39%”. (Psychiatry.org 2020)
When anxiety rears its ugly head, it can affect all aspects of life but especially quality of sleep. You see, quality sleep matters just as much as quantity. So, even if you get the recommended 7-9 hours of Z-time, if its interrupted by frequent wake-ups or anxiety-stricken thoughts that don’t allow you to dip into the REM stage, then your body and cells never get to fully recover and recharge. Beyond peaceful dreams, sleep is your body and brain’s chance to recover from the day by repairing and reenergizing your cells. When your sleep is interrupted you might get some of the common side-effects like poor memory, weakened immunity, and increased irritability.
So what are some easy, natural ways to increase sleep quality? Here are some of the tried and true methods we (and many other health professionals) recommend:
1. Screen time
Oh for the love of phones! It turns out limiting screen time is not just for kids anymore. It seems like screens are inescapable these days with more and more aspects of our lives turning virtual. So how can we possibly reduce our time in the virtual realm when our school, work, shopping, and social lives have become so dependent on its existence? What it really comes down to is time management. For every 2 hours you are on the computer or phone it is recommended to take a 30 minute break. Schedule in those breaks throughout the day. Even if you end up blowing through that exact timeline, set the time with the intention of hitting those breaks at least half the time. Get up, stretch out, grab a snack or water, shut the laptop and leave your phone for those 30 minutes.
At least 1 hour before bedtime, set an alarm for yourself to begin your bedtime routine. This should be the time you finish up your work, send your last email, and pause that episode of “Bridgerton” for later. If you have littles, you might set their bedtime a little earlier than this so you have time to decompress without managing the 300 requests for snacks, water, and just one more book. You might start your skincare routine, take a hot shower, or have a relaxing yoga sequence to get you ready to sleep. Keep your phone on silent, in a drawer, or even better, in another room. Pro Tip: If you must have your phone close by, turn down the backlight and turn on night mode to reduce blue light! Additionally, we recommend not keeping a TV in the bedroom as it just adds to eyestrain and poor sleep habits.
2. Bed/Pillow Comfort
When you are finally ready to jump into bed, your mattress and pillow matter! A lumpy mattress, flat pillow, or scratchy blanket can all affect how well you sleep. Mattress and pillow choices are a very personal decision and really depend on a variety of factors including your weight, build, temperature preference (foam mattresses tend keep in more heat), and any past injuries you might have that inhibit certain movements or sleeping positions. Great resources for mattress recommendations are Consumer Reports or this Good Housekeeping article.
Your perfect pillow is also dependent on whether you are a side, back, or stomach sleeper. Ideally, you want to have enough support under your head and shoulder so your back and neck are not at an angle. If you are waking up with a headache or sore spots that you didn’t have when you went to sleep, then you probably want to reevaluate your pillow setup. As a massage therapist, I have even recommended some of my side- and back-sleeper clients to roll up a towel -secured with tape or rubber bands- under their neck for a few nights as a quick fix until they can find a pillow that suits them.
The temperature and humidity of your bedroom is another easy fix to help you achieve great sleep quickly.
A part of your natural circadian rhythm is to lower your core temperature with the approach of bedtime. As your brain releases melatonin, your metabolism slows which lowers your body temperature by 1-2 degrees. Research suggests that lowering your bedroom temperature to around 60-67ºF helps you stay asleep longer. Personally, I use a Smart Thermostat so I don’t have to think about lowering the temperature every night. We use the Ecobee.
The humidity level in your bedroom is not only an important aspect of sleep quality, it’s also great for your general health and even skincare! Especially in the during the winter months when we crank up the heater (which dries the air considerably), it’s super important to put moisture back into the air. Keeping the humidity up ( between 30-50% according to The Sleep Foundation) helps coat your nasal passages for better breathing, keeps your skin hydrated, and helps your body regulate its temperature. We really like this humidifier for its water capacity -less refill fuss- and essential oil tray!
4. Essential Oils/CBD/Tea
Sometimes even if you do everything right to adjust your environment for optimal sleep, you still struggle. Pain, anxiety, and stress are huge factors that don’t always have an easy or quick solution. Thankfully, there are also natural, internal remedies we can look at. Of course, always ask your doctor before taking anything internally to be sure it won’t aggravate a condition or react with a medication.
Adding an herbal tea to your bedtime routine is great way to unwind and begin to relax your mind and body from within. When shopping for a bedtime tea, you want to look for some key ingredients. Skip any blend with caffeine since it’s a stimulant and actually blocks melatonin production. Chamomile, Catnip, Valerian, Lavender, and Magnolia Bark are all wonderful sleepy-time herbs that taste great in a tea blend. Mama-Te-A is a local (to the PNW) tea maker with a wealth of herbal knowledge that makes a delicious bedtime tea, REMTime.
CBD oil is another natural remedy that can also help you not only sleep better, but there is new research that suggests CBD is highly effective against anxiety and insomnia! A recent study found that CBD helps to block cortisol production (the stress hormone), acting as a mild sedative.
“During the 3-month study, the investigators followed up with the participants monthly. At the first follow-up, 66.7% reported an improvement in sleep, but 25% had worsened sleep. At the second, 56.1% of the participants reported improved sleep, but 26.8% had worsened sleep.” ( (MedicalNewsToday 2020)
Of course, Essential oils for sleep are a more common remedy but no less effective. Although research is limited on the evidence, a recent study on Lavender Essential oil produced some promising results. “Researchers found that lavender increased the amount of slow- and deep-wave sleep in participants. All participants reported feeling “higher vigor” the next morning.” (HealthLine 2020)One of my favorite oil blends for sleep is, Serenity from DoTerra. A few drops in your bath water or diffuser perfectly sets the mood for a blissful sleep.
5. Mental Health
Let's talk about it! With the massive amount of change we and our families have had to endure and adapt to in the last 10 months, it's no wonder there has been such an uptick in the need for mental health resources and stress management tools. When we are stressed, our bodies release Cortisol which is responsible for that 'fight or flight' reaction. Usually, it's a good thing because it keeps us safe in dangerous situations (think running away from a lion). However, when we experience chronic stress, the continuous release of Cortisol can create some serious imbalances. Add a history of depression or other mental health disorders and you have a recipe for problems a better pillow might not be able to fix. And that's okay! Mental health professionals like therapists, counselors, and psychiatrists are trained to help you build your 'tool belt' to manage stress and work through things.
One of the best pieces of advice I have received from my own journey with mental health has been writing things down. Especially before bed, I keep a notepad next to my bed and before turning in for the night, I spend a few minutes 'brain dumping'. A brain dump is a chance for your to pull out everything that's on your mind, put it down on on paper, and LEAVE IT for the next day. I mainly write to-do lists but on extra stressful days it feels great to spill out the emotional frustrations that have been weighing me down. Some people might need more guidance with this process so I've linked my favorite destress journal, Let That Sh*t Go Journal.
Have you ever received a massage and felt like you've slept for 8 hours? Well you're not alone. That 'million bucks' feeling comes from the theory tied to power naps. Taking a nap between 20-90 minutes helps boost your immune system, reduce stress and depression, and improves memory function. Add that nap to a massage session where you'll be actively relaxing tense muscles and upping your positive hormone endorphins, it's no wonder that you feel great afterwards. Research has show that individuals who received at least 30 minutes of massage on a regular basis were show to have decreased pain, anxiety, stress, depression, and sleep disturbance. and Cortisol (stress hormones) levels were also remarkably lowered after just a week of massage. (AMTA 2007)
A more therapeutic session such as trigger point or deep tissue work can also help unwind the body's holding patterns that might be disrupting your nighttime sleep. Regular massage is recommended because long-term changes in the body take time, just as the kink in your low back took time to get like that. We actually recommend 60-90 minutes of massage once a week for 6-8 weeks to see significant changes in posture and movement. Of course, the changes you make outside of your session are just as important to any treatment plan.
You've probably heard this last one a million times but we are definitely going to reiterate it. Movement is not only important for your physical health, it's also great for your mental health as well! I've decided to not use the word 'Exercise' here because that word can sound pretty daunting to some people and movement feels more accurate because it lends to more variety. Any kind of movement that makes you feel less 'stuck' and maybe even a little more happy is fantastic. Even if you can only manage once a week to start with, it's important to start somewhere. Movement can be the traditional workout, a yoga practice, morning walks, or even dance parties in the living room. "The increase in body temperature during late-afternoon exercise, followed by the drop in body temperature that accompanies sleep onset, may be one reason why sleep occurs more easily alongside regular physical activity. Exercise also eases muscular tension, reduces stress, and increases the body’s production of endorphins, which in turn creates a sense of well-being" (Sleepscore 2021)
If you look at this list and feel stressed from all the changes you feel like you need to implement, let's take a step back. Instead, it would be better to choose 1 or 2 items and try to implement them over several weeks to see how they work for you. It could be as easy as switching your phone light to 'night mode' and adding Lavender to your diffuser each night. Start small and build from there. As long as you are moving forward, any small adjustment should yield some kind of result. And if it doesn't work, ditch it and try something new! This blog post should help you feel empowered to take control of this piece of your like by allowing yourself to sleep better.
In health and great sleep,