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Your Checklist for Better Sleep

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Sleep affects memorymood, your energy levels and your ability to feel alert and fully engaged. As if that weren’t enough to make sleep a priority, it’s also important for supporting healthy blood pressure, blood sugar balance and maintaining strong bones. Use this checklist to improve your sleep so you can feel and look your best.

1. Balance Blood Sugar

If blood sugar drops during the night, it can cause an increase in cortisol and epinephrine. These hormones release sugars stored as glycogen for your body to use. But they also have the effect of waking you up.

When I worked with patients in my medical clinic I’d ask them if they were waking up in the middle of the night. If they said they were, the way to test if poor blood sugar regulation might be causing this is to eat about 10 grams of protein before bed. Many people don’t realize that protein is one of the best dietary ways to regulate blood sugar. While this approach of eating protein doesn’t help everyone, when someone reported back that they tried this and had better sleep as a result, they were thrilled. And so was I. This is a simple, no-cost solution that’s easy to try.

Some ideas for protein before bed are:

  • Nuts generally contain about 5 grams per handful, depending on the nuts.
  • A hardboiled egg provides about 6 grams of protein.
  • Chicken contains about 26 grams of protein in a three-ounce serving. A serving is about the size of a deck of cards in the palm of your hand.
  • For amounts of protein in other foods, download the NBI Protein Handout.

2. Decrease Liquids

If you’re waking up at night to go to the bathroom, one simple solution is to make sure you stop drinking liquids earlier in the evening. Stop all liquids, unless you need a little water to take medications or dietary supplements, at least three hours before bed.

  • If that doesn’t do the trick, try stopping four hours before bed.

3. Manage Stress

People who have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep may be struggling with increased stress, which can disrupt sleep, including a whole host of other health issues. There are fantastic natural approaches for stress. Here are a few that can help you get sleep better:

  • Get it out of your head. If your mind is racing at night with everything you have to do the next day, write it all down before bed. Get it out of your head. Making a list of everything you have to do can help you drift off to sleep knowing that you have a handle on all of it.
  • Meditation has phenomenal health benefits. One of them is to reduce stress, which can help you sleep better. Even just 10 minutes once daily of meditation can have wonderful benefits. There are some excellent meditation apps for your smartphone that can help you, especially if you’re a beginner. One I like is Headspace.
  • Exercise. Exercise is an excellent stress buster.
  • Get into nature. Taking a walk outside or going for a hike reduces stress and improves mood.
  • Take Calm + Clear.

4. Create Your Ideal Sleep Environment

Sleep hygiene is about ensuring your sleep environment promotes sleep and doesn’t keep you awake. To help you get better sleep:

  • Make it dark. Light can keep the body in a lighter sleep state and can signal the body that it’s time to wake up. Some people like wearing sleep masks to keep the light out if they are particularly sensitive to the light.
  • Set the right temperature. While the optimal temperature for sleep can vary from person to person, the optimal temperature for most people seems to be 69 or 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • White noise might be best. While some people love sleeping with total silence, others find they sleep better in with some background noise. You can download an app on your smartphone that will play white noise, such as the sound of wind, rain or waves, that can be very calming and help you sleep better.
  • Try a weighted blanket. Many people find using a weighted blanket helps.
  • Turn off technology. Using smartphones and tablets before bed depletes melatonin, a hormone that helps us fall asleep. Research shows using technology before bed makes it harder for people to fall asleep and it took them hours longer to feel fully awake in the morning. Learn more in my blog, Three Ways Smartphones are Ruining Your Sleep and Relationships.
  • Take Sleep Relief.

5. Reevaluate Medications 

There is a long list of medications that can ruin someone’s sleep. They include drugs prescribed for high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, heart attacks, migraine headaches, depression, anxiety and anti-inflammatory medications such as prednisone.

  • Check with your pharmacist or healthcare provider if you’re having a hard time sleeping to see if the problem could be caused by one of your medications.

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References
Medications that can affect sleep. Harvard Women’s Health Watch 2010; Accessed December 28, 2017. [Article]

Garcia MC, Kozasa EH, Tufik S, Mello L, Hachul H. The effects of mindfulness and relaxation training for insomnia (MRTI) on postmenopausal women: a pilot study. Menopause. 2018. [Article]

Gross CR, Kreitzer MJ, Reilly-Spong M, et al. Mindfulness-based stress reduction versus pharmacotherapy for chronic primary insomnia: a randomized controlled clinical trial.Explore (NY).2011;7(2):76-87. [Article]

Ohayon MM, O’Hara R, Vitiello MV. Epidemiology of restless legs syndrome: a synthesis of the literature. Sleep Med Rev. 2012;16(4):283-295. [Article]

Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem. In: Colton H, Altevogt B, eds: The National Academies Press; 2006:424 [Book]

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