Wouldn’t it be nice to fall asleep faster?
There’s nothing worse than lying in bed trying so hard to fall asleep but not being able to. Then, the worrying about not being able to fall asleep kicks in, and before you know it, it’s been an hour.
You know you need enough sleep, but sometimes, it’s as elusive as a rainbow-maned unicorn with glittered wings. (And if you’re unconvinced that sleep matters—a whole heck of a lot—click here to hear why lack of sleep is America’s biggest problem. It’s a TEDx talk straight from the mouth of Paleo’s foremost expert on the topic, Dr. Kirk Parsley.)
If you struggle to get to sleep, you’re hardly alone. It’s estimated that 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from sleep problems. (source) That’s a pretty sobering statistic, considering that for many people, lack of shut-eye is a completely fixable problem.
Before I went Paleo, my sleep habits weren’t great. I routinely got less than 6 hours in bed, ended the evening by falling asleep in front of the television, and slept in a room that had lots of ambient light.
The thing is, if you asked me if I was doing okay on 6 or less hours of sleep, I’d have sworn I was fine.
A Quick Look at the Science
A 2006 study comparing total sleep deprivation with sleep restriction concluded that the group that was chronically moderately sleep restricted—6 hours or 4 hours sleep a night—performed just as poorly on cognitive tests as subjects who stayed awake for 48 hours straight.
Even more telling, the group that got 6 hours of sleep thought they were doing okay, though their cognitive tests showed they weren’t. Even though you might “feel fine,” you’re likely impaired when it comes to tasks involving thinking, reasoning, problem solving and more.
I was also training hard on fewer than 6 hours of sleep, which was hurting my physical performance, too. Click here to read more about trading sleep for training time, and listen to Dr. Parsley explain how sleep affects performance.
Somewhere between 7 to 8.5 hours of sleep is best depending on the person. I shoot for at least 8, and I’ve made significant improvements to my sleep—falling asleep fast, staying asleep all night, and waking feeling refreshed—using these natural tips I’m about to share with you.
Five Tips to Help You Fall Asleep Faster
1) Develop a routine around sleep.
We create bedtime routines for children, but for some reason, we tend to shun them as adults. By following the same patterns of behaviors around bedtime, you’re training yourself that it’s time to actually wind down and sleep.
What does this look like? It’s totally up to you but make it a low-stress, relaxing routine. Maybe you read for a while, then set out your work clothes for the next day, take a shower and brush your teeth. The point is to build repetition so you know that at the end of the routine, it’s time to sleep.
Another component of this routine is going to sleep and waking at roughly the same time. Erratic bedtimes make it hard to train your body and brain so you can fall asleep faster.
This works for kids of all ages.
2) Consider using magnesium before bed.
Magnesium is a vital mineral implicated in hundreds of biochemical reactions in the body and is important for muscle function, electrolyte balance, cellular energy production and more. Also, it helps with a feeling of relaxation, and is great to take before bedtime.
Paleo-friendly dietary sources rich in magnesium include dark leafy greens, sea vegetables and nuts. Interestingly, some minerals such as calcium compete with magnesium for absorption, so if you’re taking it internally, avoid calcium-rich foods at the same time. Many of us, particularly if we’re physically active, still struggle to get enough magnesium from diet alone.
The types of magnesium in each are slightly different. PurePharma M3 contains magnesium taurinate and gluconate while Natural Calm has magnesium citrate. Epsom salts are magnesium sulfate.
I personally find magnesium citrate to be harsher on my digestive system. (It causes the colon to retain water and too much causes diarrhea.) Experimentation has told me that I tolerate magnesium gluconate much better.
It’s best to take your magnesium about 30 minutes before bedtime. It’s part of my routine to take my magnesium before I brush my teeth.
3) Use lavender oil.
Lavender is renowned for its ability to calm and relax the body, and it makes a great addition to your bedtime routine to help you fall asleep faster. Here are some ways to use lavender oil for better sleep:
- Add lavender to your Epsom salt bath.
- Mix a few drops in a spray bottle with water and mist your sheets and bedding.
- Put a drop or two on your temples or on the bottoms of your feet.
- Diffuse lavender oil while you sleep.
Lavender is one of the essential oils that’s safe to use neat (undiluted) but as always, check for skin sensitivities before using on large areas.
4) Avoid nighttime blue light.
This. Is. Huge.
Nighttime exposure to light, particularly the blue wavelengths that mimic sunlight, is incredibly disruptive to melatonin. This hormone is responsible for helping to put us to sleep—and keep us asleep. Unfortunately, the backlit electronic devices that are so prevalent in our modern world are oozing with blue light.
Televisions, computers, tablets and phones are always close by, and they’re negatively impacting our collective sleep. Yes, daytime exposure to blue wavelengths is important because it helps maintain the “awake” part of our circadian rhythms. However, reducing or avoiding blue light once the sun goes down is one key to falling asleep faster.
Here are some things you can do to cut down on the amount of nighttime blue light your eyes get:
- Install the free program f.lux on your computer. It dims your screen and turns it yellow / orange as dusk turns to darkness outside. It’s not available on most phones—and certainly not on your television—so if you can’t avoid those screens 100%, there’s another option…
- Wear amber glasses / blublockers. They may look nerdy, but these orange-lens glasses function to block much of the blue light coming from your screens. At $10 a pair for the generic kind, that’s a pretty inexpensive solution to help you fall asleep faster.
- Eliminate light sources in your bedroom, such as digital alarm clocks, electronic devices with glowing power lights, and ambient light coming through your windows. Blackout curtains are a must.
- Use salt lamps for soft light sources that don’t throw blue light and aren’t as dangerous as candles.
5) Reduce stress, especially in the evening.
Okay, it’s hard to 100% eliminate stress from you life. I get that. But nighttime stress can make it particularly hard to fall asleep because of the effects of cortisol.
Cortisol, a stress hormone, is also associated with a normally functioning circadian rhythm; it ramps up as morning approaches and peaks in the mid-morning, helping us wake up. When cortisol rises at night, though, it can make us feel too alert to be able to wind down.
Psychological stress is the type we often think of, but physical stress—especially from evening training sessions—can also make it difficult to fall asleep. If you train in the PM and are having trouble sleeping, you may want to reconsider your training schedule.
Some other ways to reduce evening stress:
- Do some light stretching or yoga.
- Practice deep breathing or meditation.
- Avoid suspenseful / physiologically thrilling books and programs.
- Disengage from work emails, online message boards and social media if it’s likely to stress you out or spike your adrenalin.
- Read a book or take a warm bath / shower.
Wrapping It Up…
A healthy diet rich in nutrient-dense foods is the best foundation for getting the hormones responsible for circadian rhythm and sleep in check. If you’re still struggling to fall asleep, try implementing the suggestions in this article before turning to pharmaceutical intervention.
Of course, there are several others things you can try to improve your sleep such as avoiding caffeine after noon time, eating a protein-rich breakfast, getting morning exposure to sunlight, and avoiding alcohol at night. If you continue to suffer from sleep issues, seek the help of a physician or health professional.