Tossing and turning. Racing thoughts. Feeling tired, yet wide awake. Sounds familiar? Do you struggle to fall asleep or to stay asleep at night? Do you wake up exhausted despite getting some sleep? You are not alone. I’ve been in your shoes. Sleep is incredibly important for your physical health, mental well-being, and overall wellness. Yet, most people don’t get enough restorative sleep. The result? A society held down by fatigue, brain fog, stress, anxiety, depression, chronic inflammation, chronic pain, and chronic disease. It’s time to make a change.

In this article, I want to unlock the secrets of deep, restorative sleep. I will offer some lifestyle strategies, dietary tips, and advice on supplementation to improve your health with better sleep. Let’s dive in.

 

woman sleeping

The Importance of Sleep

Getting restorative sleep is one of the most important things you can do for your physical health, mental health, and overall well-being. Sleep (or the lack thereof) affects all parts of your body and all areas of your life, including your immune system, metabolism, circulatory system, respiratory system, brain function, and mental health. Not getting enough sleep may affect how you think, move, learn, work, or function socially. It can cause not only low energy and fatigue but also chronic inflammation and chronic health issues (1).

Not getting enough sleep may affect your:

  • Metabolism: It may affect your hormone levels. This includes hormones that control leptin and ghrelin, which control your hunger and increase cravings. It may also decrease your body’s ability to respond to and use insulin, potentially adding to the risk of obesity and metabolic syndrome (2, 3).
  • Circulatory system and cardiovascular function: Poor sleep could increase the risk of chronic inflammation, high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, and stroke (4, 5).
  • Immune and respiratory function: Not getting enough sleep may also affect your immune health, which can increase your risk of respiratory infections. It could also worsen symptoms of asthma and COPD (6, 7, 8).
  • Brain function and mental health: Poor sleep can contribute to chronic stress, poor cognitive performance, brain fog, and anxiety. It can affect your job performance, learning, school performance, daily activities, and social life (9, 10, 11).
  • Chronic inflammation and chronic health issues: Not getting enough sleep may also increase chronic inflammation, which is the root cause of most modern-day chronic diseases. (12, 13, 14).

Restorative sleep, on the other hand, may help to lower chronic inflammation, chronic stress, and the risk of chronic health issues. It allows rest, relaxation, tissue damage repair, and cellular rejuvenation, providing the foundation of better physical and mental health.

 

My Sleep Story

Before I get into my tips to improve your sleep, I want to share my story. I have struggled with sleep since 2004. I was fresh out of residency, living in Corvallis, Oregon, and working in Lebanon, a small farming community nearby. My office was a flat-roofed building– in hindsight, probably moldy. I developed chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, depression, and insomnia. At night, I would wander around my little house, moving between my bed, the couch, and the bed again, with non-stop swirling thoughts.

It was painful. At the time, I didn’t yet have the tools to help myself nor the knowledge to understand what was going on, but clearly, my brain was ON FIRE! If you are experiencing the same, I understand. I’ve been in your shoes!

Falling asleep is all about letting go; letting go of the day, letting go of control. But when we are sick and dealing with inflammation, especially brain inflammation, it’s sometimes impossible to let go and allow sleep to happen.

So what can you do? In the next sections, I will share my top recommendations for good sleep hygiene and some supplements that may help.

 

woman sleeping in field with flowers

My Best Tips for Good Sleep Hygiene

Let’s look at some lifestyle strategies that can help you fall asleep easier and get restful, uninterrupted sleep during the night.

Set Yourself Up for Success During the Day

Many of us only think about sleep as a nighttime activity. Yet, your daytime routine also affects your sleep.

Aim to wake up at the same time every day. This helps to establish a routine and supports your circadian rhythm, which is your internal 24-hour clock. Waking up with the sun is generally the best way to help your body stay aligned with nature. Getting outside and getting natural sunlight first thing in the morning is ideal. One of the many benefits of having a dog is this daily morning ritual!  These habits may not always be possible or practical, depending on your work schedule and other obligations. Still, aim for a regular wake-up time and bedtime.

Pay attention to your lifestyle and diet throughout the day. Move your body regularly and exercise five days a week. Movement and exercise can support daytime energy, decrease daytime sleepiness, and allow better sleep at night (15, 16).

Follow a healthy diet. An unhealthy and high-sugar diet can cause blood sugar imbalances, energy crashes, and poor sleep (17, 18). Follow a nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory diet with lots of greens, vegetables, fruits, spices, herbs, sprouts, fermented food, healthy fats, and clean animal protein. Since caffeine is a stimulant, I recommend keeping your caffeine intake low to moderate and only during the first part of your day (19). After years of being a caffeinated coffee drinker, my husband finally convinced me to give it up and my sleep absolutely improved by switching to decaf!  For those with specific gene SNPs, like Cyp 1A2, caffeine may be a no-no for restful sleep.

Keep your stress levels as low as possible and learn to manage stress better. Practicing yoga, breathwork, meditation, mindfulness, or other stress-reducing strategies can go a long way. Working with a therapist may also help to address stress or underlying emotional issues behind poor sleep (20).

Improve Your Evening Routine

Ideally, you already set yourself up for success during the day. Now it’s time to get ready for bed in the evening.

Avoid eating too late. Allow 3 to 5 hours between dinner and bedtime. Avoid nighttime snacking, especially sugar or heavy foods (21). Avoid caffeine or alcohol in the evening (19, 22). Drinking water or herbal tea is a great idea for hydration. Certain herbal teas, such as chamomile, valerian, passion flower, or lavender, may even help you to wind down (23, 24, 25, 26)

Avoid using electronics and blue lights at night. I love the soft amber-colored lights that enable you to make melatonin. You can also wear amber-covered blue blocker glasses. If you must use your computer or phone, use the built-in low blue light setting. It is not as effective as a blue blocker light bulb so combine them with those or blue blocker glasses (27, 28, 29).

Avoid stress and engage in relaxing activities. Calm family activities, such as jigsaw puzzles, board games, bedtime stories, or loving conversations, are great. Reading, listening to calming music, journaling, coloring, or taking a bath are fantastic solo ideas. Meditation is another great tool to help improve your sleep. Even just 5 – 10 minutes before bedtime can help (30).

Create a Sleep Sanctuary

Your bedroom should be a place for sleep and intimate activities only. Keep all electronics (phone, TV, etc), work, and stress outside. You may consider seeking an EMF specialist to help make sure your bedroom is an EMF sanctuary.

Consider calming colors in your bedrooms, such as anything tan to beige. Invest in a quality bed, a supportive and comfortable, non-toxic mattress, and comfortable sheets and pillows. I recommend organic cotton or bamboo bedding. Avoid anything synthetic. Your pillows should support your head and sleep posture. Your spine should be straight when you sleep, and your pillow should help with that (31, 32).

A cool room, between 60 and 67F is ideal for sleep. For older individuals, it may be higher – at least 68F (33). Block out all sound. Sound machines or air filters that double as noise machines work very well for many people. For others, the sound of a noise machine can be actually disturbing. In that case, you may try earplugs or soundproofing your walls. Use blackout curtains and/or an eye mask to keep out the light.

Track Your Sleep

You may consider tracking your sleep. I personally love my Oura ring and highly recommend it. There are many other sleep trackers on watches, smartphones, smart rings, and other devices.  These can track your sleep duration, sleep quality during each phase, and the length of your sleep phases. It can really help to spot areas that need improvement (34).

If you think that you are getting 7 – 9 hours of sleep, yet you wake up exhausted, these trackers may have the answer. You may not be getting enough REM and/or deep sleep. Not getting enough REM and deep sleep is associated with a variety of neurodivergent conditions (35).

Tracker devices can see various patterns, such as an elevated heart rate, indicating if you are getting sick, or perhaps you have ingested a food you are sensitive to, or had an alcoholic beverage. The devices can also track your exercise, movement and your heart rate variability and give you a readiness score for the day.

As fun as these devices may be, It is important that you don’t become obsessed with these trackers. They are fantastic tools to help identify and correct issues affecting your sleep or health. You can also geek out on the data. Don’t let them run your health journey!

 

Restorative Sleep supplement

My Favorite Supplement for Better Sleep

Start with lifestyle adjustments. If it’s not enough, you may use supplements strategically. Here are some of my favorites:

5HTP

5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is a fantastic option for sleep.  5-HTP saved my life! After I moved to Oregon, I learned that my serotonin levels were very low based on a urine neurotransmitter test. Taking 5-HTP was a game-changer for me.

It is a chemical that your body makes from an essential amino acid, tryptophan. Once tryptophan is converted into 5-HTP, your body can convert it into serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter transferring information between your brain cells. This is a great supplement for anxiety, mood, pain sensation, appetite, and sleep. It may support melatonin production and improve sleep quality (36).  Most people can take 50-100 mg at bedtime safely.  Be aware if you are also taking pharmaceuticals with serotonergic activity like SSRIs, SNRIs or some migraine medications, as there is a risk for serotonin syndrome if there is too much serotonin in the body.  Please speak with your healthcare practitioner before starting supplements if you are on prescription medications.

Melatonin

Melatonin is something that’s commonly recommended for sleep (37). It is a hormone created by your brain as a response to darkness. Melatonin supports your circadian rhythm, allows better sleep, and may help to improve insomnia, jetlag, and other sleep issues. Unfortunately, melatonin doesn’t work for everyone. One of the biggest complaints with melatonin is that people have more vivid dreams.

However, it has antioxidant properties, so can be helpful for many other things.  It may also help to decrease oxidative stress, chronic inflammation, and age-related neurodegeneration (38, 39, 40, 41). Doses range from 1 to 10 mg for healthy people. Some colleagues recommended higher doses for patients with cancer and certain conditions.

Other Options

Other supplement options, depending on your personal health circumstances, include:

  • Magnesium (42).
  • Valerian (23)
  • Magnolia (43)
  • Lemon balm (44)
  • L-theanine (45)
  • GABA (It may be particularly effective combined with 5-HTP.) (46, 47)
  • Phosphatidylserine if your cortisol levels are too high (48)

Sleep Support Supplement

Finally if you want to benefit from all these herbs and compounds, I recommend The Spring Center’s Sleep Support supplement. Sleep Support contains eight synergistic ingredients designed to target the entirety of the process of sleep, including valerian extract, magnolia bark, passion flower, lemon balm, 5-HTP, lavender extract, l-theanine, and melatonin.

These botanicals promote relaxation by targeting specific neurotransmitters in the brain as well as physical relaxation through other unique peripheral binding sites. They also regulate transitioning from one sleep cycle to another. The building blocks for specific neurotransmitters are provided in this blend, as are specific amino acids and molecules that regulate the sleep-wake cycle. Take 2 capsules approximately 45 – 60 minutes before bed to promote smooth transitions between sleep cycles

 

 

Consider a Sleep Study

If you are still struggling with sleep, despite your best efforts, you may want to consider a sleep study. Doing a sleep study or working with a sleep specialist can rule out any airway issues or problems with the central nervous system. They may be able to find and address the root problem.

Additionally, working with a functional medicine practitioner (hint: my team and I!) can help to find underlying nutritional imbalances, chronic inflammation, or chronic health issues that may interfere with your sleep. We can guide you with dietary changes, lifestyle strategies, and the right supplementation.

Working with a therapist may also help to address underlying emotional issues, trauma, anxiety, or stress. Some therapists specialize in sleep and can help with relaxation strategies and other action plans to improve your sleep.

The point is: you don’t have to struggle alone. If this general guidance I offered doesn’t help, don’t be shy to seek professional help. You need and deserve regular good sleep!

 

Happy Dreaming

Dreaming is another part of sleeping. It’s a whole topic unto itself. In short: you should not only welcome your dreams but also try to remember them. Dreams are a way we process our thoughts and emotions. It’s a place to potentially explore other facets of our consciousness. Keeping a dream diary and working with your dreams is a great way to get in touch with your emotions, spot issues you need to work on, take control of your morning, improve your memory, or boost creativity.

Happy dreams and peaceful slumbers!

 

blue flowers

Next Steps

If you are struggling with sleep, I recommend following the steps outlined in this article and trying Sleep Support. And if you are dealing with symptoms of low energy, chronic symptoms, or chronic health issues, we can help. If you want to improve your health, I welcome you to schedule a functional nutrition consultation with my nutritionist, Sarah. Visit our store for products.

And stay tuned for more information to help you uncover the root cause of your health issues, improve your nutrition, repair your body, and regain your health naturally.

You can learn more about enrolling as a patient at the Spring Center here. You can schedule a nutrition consultation with Sarah here.