How to Get a Great Night's Sleep
We’ve all heard the advice that a getting a good night’s sleep is critical for good health. Indeed, it is.
Sometimes that’s easier said than done, right? Whether it’s work stress that makes it difficult to relax and drift off, a young child waking and calling out, or the call of nature in the wee hours, many experience obstacles to falling, and staying, asleep.
Given how much time and effort many of us devote to being healthy during our waking hours, effort to ensure a good night’s rest isn’t often at the top of our list. But evidence suggests that perhaps it should be first.
Stress and sleep
Time and again, studies have shown that stress can cause everything from weight gain to fatigue, depression, heart disease, cognitive issues, and blood sugar imbalances…even Type 2 diabetes. And we know that stress is directly linked to thyroid disease/Hashimoto’s (including other autoimmunity), adrenal dysfunction, infertility, difficulty in menopause, and general hormone imbalance, among other issues, due to the inflammatory effects of excess stress hormones (cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine) and dysregulation of the HPA (hypothalamic/pituitary/adrenal) axis.
To be clear, “stress” can be temporary. And it isn’t always mental/emotional. It can also be physical (injury, illness, or food sensitivity or other gut imbalance) or chemical, like a toxic exposure.
What many experience is a true feed-forward cycle, where stress causes fatigue and fatigue causes more stress. But if we’re fatigued, why aren’t we collapsing into bed and night and sleeping like a baby?
Unfortunately, many also experience the “tired and wired” phenomenon, which is a sure sign that the adrenals (our stress adaptive system) need support. We may be exhausted, but can’t wind down at night (or during the day), only to drag ourselves out of bed the next morning and start the cycle all over again.
So, can we get a good night’s rest even in the face of stress? Yes!
The role of the adrenals
If you’re in a period of chronic stress, or otherwise suspect that your adrenals are overworked, chances are your adrenals are dysregulated and fostering a healthy sleep cycle should be top priority. Remember the feed-forward cycle? It’s not always a losing proposition, as you can flip the script and get it working in your favor. Happier adrenals? Better sleep. Better sleep? Happier adrenals. It builds on itself and it’s glorious.
[A DUTCH panel (dried urine testing for comprehensive hormones) is, hands down, the best test for adrenal status, as it not only tests cortisol four times throughout the day, but also metabolized cortisol, which is equally important and tells us whether we’re using the cortisol we’re making. It tests many other hormones, including their metabolites, and has a page of nutritional organic acids to boot. If you’re interested in doing this hormone panel, reach out. Or reply to the email where I notified you of this blog post. I’m offering a temporary discount on a DUTCH kit and a 50-min. session to review the results.]
Cortisol is the boss of our circadian rhythm/sleep cycle. It’s got a 24-hour, diurnal cycle, which is precisely why it plays such a significant role in how we sleep.
Speaking of menopause, if you’re in that time of life and night sweats and hot flashes are interfering with your sleep, heed everything in this post…it will help. Why? Because the source of thermo-dysregulation stems from the hypothalamus gland, which responds very favorably to stress reduction and adrenal nourishment.
You can go here for my post, Restore Your Adrenals. But when it comes to adrenal health, cortisol, and sleep, there’s more…
The role of blood sugar
Keeping blood sugar as stable as possible is, hands down, critical to getting a good night’s rest. In fact, if you only read one suggestion in this post, read this.
When people are dysglycemic and prone to even mild hypoglycemic episodes during the day, blood sugar crashes can take place in the middle of the night. And here’s what happens…blood sugar drops, which is an emergency response. Cortisol (a stress hormone) spikes, and we wake up. Remember, cortisol is the boss of our sleep cycle.
It’s a push/pull scenario that for some, can happen a few times a night and the longer cortisol stays elevated, the longer it can take to fall back asleep. This tends to happen on a schedule and if you’re someone who wakes at the same time each night (between 2:00-4:00am for many), it’s highly likely that you’re dysglycemic.
Many say, “But I wake up to pee.” Our bladder is large enough to hold our urine all night long. For many, it’s not that they’re waking because they have to pee, they’re waking and then realizing they have a full bladder. They can’t go back to sleep and if they do, they get their deepest sleep right before they need to get up—they’re still in that drunk phase of deep slumber when the alarm goes off. This isn’t how it’s meant to be!
Additionally, dysglycemia can cause cortisol to be high in the evening (the opposite of what cortisol should be doing—it should be highest early morning, like a natural alarm clock), which gives people a boost of energy before bed—the “second wind.” An evening second wind is a huge issue, especially in Western culture. Couple this with melatonin-blocking blue light from screens, and we’ve got a society jacked in the evening, sleeping poorly, and feeling completely ragged in the morning. This isn’t how it’s meant to be!
I hear it all the time:
- I’m tired all day, only to get energized and productive in the evening. Then I can’t go to bed at a reasonable time.
- I’m waking several times a night, like clockwork.
- I lie there awake, overthinking.
- I get my deepest sleep right before I need to get up.
- I feel like I’m not sleeping deeply enough.
- I feel terribly in the morning—getting out of bed is the hardest thing I do all day.
To all of this, I say, “Let’s get your blood sugar balanced.”
[See below for a discount code on my bestselling Balance Your Blood Sugar, Balance Your Life ebook.]
For those with more severe blood sugar issues, it’s highly recommended to eat a macronutrient-balanced (carb/fat/protein) snack before bed, in the short-term. Don’t worry, it’s not going to make you gain weight. In fact, the opposite may be true—the ways in which this helps to balance blood sugar can help make you a hotter metabolic burner.
Let’s talk about another positive feed-forward cycle, shall we? One of the most effective strategies for supporting the adrenals is to…balance your blood sugar.
You’re one meal away from balancing your blood sugar and meal after meal, if you’re mindful about your macronutrient intake, the cumulative effect of keeping yourself off of the blood sugar roller coaster can turn things around quickly. This is specifically why most of my clients say, “I’m now sleeping better than I have in years.” [Again, see below for a discount code on my Balance Your Blood Sugar, Balance Your Life ebook, where I cover so much, including how to balance your macronutrients.]
Why do people see improvement so quickly? Because:
- Insulin, which is a hormone that regulates blood sugar, is a short-cycle hormone. Again, you’re one meal away from balancing your blood sugar—you have three opportunities a day to get insulin working in your favor.
- Cortisol is a short-cycle hormone—24 hours. The health of your adrenals/cortisol cycle directly impacts how you regular blood sugar and vice versa. So you’ve got these two short-cycle hormones that are highly interdependent on each other (compared to estrogen and progesterone in women, for example, which have a roughly 28-day cycle).
I simply cannot stress the importance of this enough. Imagine me banging on pots and pans right now. If stress is playing a huge role in your life and it stresses you out to think about managing your stress…balance your blood sugar! And watch what happens.
[Go here for my bestselling Balance Your Blood Sugar, Balance Your Life ebook. Use the code POTSANDPANS to get the ebook for $20 vs. $27.]
Finally, know that balancing blood sugar—and getting a good night’s sleep—starts with breakfast. I promise you, how and what you have for breakfast will affect the next 24 hours of your life. Get up and do it again. Then get up and do it again the next day. And the next. And watch your life change in ways you couldn’t have imagined.
Again, cortisol should peak in the morning and be highest of any point in the 24-hour cycle. You can help cortisol peak in the morning by eating a substantial, nutrient-dense breakfast. When this happens, cortisol has an opportunity to actually fall in the evening, not spike. You can easily and positively alter your entire cortisol cycle in a short time—and positively impact your whole endocrine system.
Other tips for getting a great night’s sleep
No doubt you’ve heard much of the standard advice about promoting good sleep. Get room darkening shades. Don’t watch TV in bed or have other blue light devices present, like phones and computers (this is huge). Make your bed for sleep and sex only. Don’t drink too much water before bedtime.
[If you HAVE to be on a device at night, install the f.lux app.]
This is all great advice, but no matter what’s going on in your life, there’s more that can be done to help you get that deep, restorative sleep that we all deserve.
1. Make your sleep as “healthy” and productive as it can be
When planning for 8-9 hours of sleep, 9:00pm to 6:00am is much better than midnight to 9:00am. Many experts claim that every hour of sleep before midnight is worth two hours after midnight (catching the “angel train”) and research suggests that the earlier you get to sleep, the deeper your sleep will be.
Again, the goal is flow with your body’s desired cortisol cycles, which should be peaking as the sun rises. Trying to sleep through this peak may prove counterproductive.
2. Create a restful environment
Keep lighting in your bedroom low, always. If you can’t get room darkening shades, use an eye mask and be amazed at what it can do for you.
Keep a small dish with a few drops of lavender essential oil by your bed (or other oil known to promote rest and relaxation).
Keep your bedroom cooler than the rest of your home. You can even use a fan—many people are comforted by white noise.
Don’t underestimate the power of good bedding. Invest in the highest quality mattress and sheets you can afford. Consider adding “weight” to your bedding (via a breathable cotton blanket or quilt). For many, the sensory effects of adding weight to their chest and bodies can promote relaxation.
3. Plan for a good night sleep throughout the day
Avoid caffeine after mid-morning (and perhaps all day if you’re sensitive). Depending on your level of sensitivity, this could mean avoiding even that ounce of dark chocolate you love to savor at the end of the day. (This was a big one for me—I cut out all dark chocolate after midday.)
Make sure you get your exercise. A simple 20-minute walk after dinner can do wonders.
Create a rhythm to your day. Our bodies thrive on consistency and routine, which help keep our cortisol cycle (again, the boss of our circadian rhythm) waxing and waning appropriately. Research shows that variation from routine can create stress for our body as it struggles to adapt to a sudden change. Whether that change is skipping a meal, joining a friend for an intense class at the gym on a day you don’t normally exercise, or indulging in a mid-afternoon espresso at a client meeting, our body may not respond favorably.
So, as much as reasonably possible, keep life steady. Wake up at the same time each morning (even weekends). Exercise the same time of day. Eat about the same amount of food at roughly the same intervals. And ease into sleep at a consistent time.
4. Create a relaxing ritual in the evening
Avoid eating three hours prior to bedtime. After you’ve had dinner, your body is busy digesting and metabolizing food, so it’s not in the mood to shut down and go to sleep. You want to work with your body, and not against it, so avoid giving it “things to do” when you want it to rest.
Avoid alcohol before bed, which can be counterproductive. Even if alcohol can help you fall asleep, it can disrupt your sleep cycles for hours afterward, causing you to wake throughout the night (blood sugar!). It’s best to avoid it altogether or to be sure you know how much you can safely tolerate. A tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in a glass of water is a yummy, satisfying alternative to a glass of wine. Not only does it help keep blood sugar stable, it’s also good for promoting proper digestion. If you can, splurge on a quality, artisan vinegar.
Do your best to turn off your “monkey mind” a couple of hours before bed. This may mean doing your prayer or meditation in the evening, taking an evening walk, or adding 15 minutes of gentle stretching to your pre-bed routine.
Write it out. Take some time well before you want to sleep to vent, scream, cry, worry, or obsess—on paper. Or try another approach—catalog the day’s blessing, victories, and accomplishments in a journal to foster some positivity.
5. Consider supplementation
[Scroll to the end of this post to get some of these products from Fullscript, at a discount.]
Magnesium: This is a go-to for many people with sleep issues. You can take magnesium with dinner to lower nighttime cortisol and relax your system. It’s also helpful for restless leg syndrome and muscle cramps/Charley horses that many get at night. Depending on the type of magnesium, it can cause loose stools for some. I like MegaFood’s mag, which is food-based. In lieu of oral mag, you can also do a magnesium oil rub, which is a lovely way to end the day and great for alleviating cramping.
Coffea cruda: This is a homeopathic remedy (pellets under the tongue) that’s wonderful for shutting down nighttime monkey mind.
Relaxing Sleep Tonic by Herb Pharm
Sleep and Relax Tea by Gaia Herbs
Muscle Cramp/Tension Formula by Pure Encapsulations (herbal formula that includes calcium and magnesium)
The list below is adapted from Dr. Aviva Romm. The dosing recommendations are from her.
Chamomile: Many drink chamomile tea before bed, but I prefer people take the tincture, 40 drops 1 hour and again 30 minutes prior to going to bed.
Passionflower: This herb has been shown to help with not only falling asleep, but also improving sleep quality. It’s also useful for anxiety disorders. A typical dose is 40-60 drops of the tincture (or 320 mg in a capsule) up to 3 times daily. It can be taken an hour before sleep and again right before sleep at this dose.
California poppy: This has been widely used by herbalists for its sedative effects. Know that it’s quite strong and should not be taken during the day or before driving. It’s also a gentle analgesic and muscle relaxant. A typical dose is 20-30 drops before bed.
Melatonin: While not effective for everyone, those with sleep latency syndrome and who have melatonin deficiency may get moderate improvement from taking 1-3 mg in the hour before bed. You don’t want to overdo it with melatonin, as it can interrupt glucose signaling. Menopausal hot flashers may also get some relief (and sleep) from melatonin. The dose mentioned is considered safe for a duration of up to several months at a time.
The bottom line?
Your body wants to be resting and sleeping when it’s dark and active and engaged when the sun is up. Flowing with this natural rhythm will create less stress than fighting it. Follow the suggestions above to promote restful, rejuvenating sleep, which will, in turn, work to limit the harmful effects of stress in your body. A true win/win.
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Go here for my bestselling Balance Your Blood Sugar, Balance Your Life ebook. Use the code POTSANDPANS to get the ebook for $20 vs. $27.
You can go here to set up a Fullscript account, where you’ll receive premium pricing on the highest quality supplements. U.S. only.
Again, a DUTCH panel (dried urine testing for comprehensive hormones) is, hands down, the best test for adrenal health, as it not only tests cortisol four times throughout the day, but also metabolized cortisol, which is equally important and tells us whether we’re using the cortisol we’re making. It tests many other hormones, including their metabolites, and has a page of nutritional organic acids to boot. If you’re interested in doing this hormone panel, reach out. Or reply to the email where I notified you of this blog post. I’m offering a temporary discount on a DUTCH kit and a 50-min. session to review the results.]
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