By Alane Stieglitz, ND, CNC
Let’s Get Better Sleep to Feel Awesome Again! (Zzzz)
Everyone operates on a biological schedule that determines when we feel tired and when we feel awake. When our internal sleep clocks usually function, they send our bodies signals to sleep in the evening and wake in the morning.
This sleep clock can fall out of sync, and you may start craving better sleep due to travel, work, stress, keeping odd hours, hormones, kids, noise, and other factors. Wonky schedules can make it difficult to fall asleep and wake up at the correct times, leaving you sleep deprived or with “social jet lag” that can affect performance, energy, and moods.
If you find yourself with a broken sleep clock, there are a few strategies you can use to get back on track with better sleep.
1. Take your lighting cues from mother nature! Your natural rhythm should rise and fall with the sun. We now have screens and our days are much longer than intended. Limit blue and green lights at night and turn them off two hours before bed. If you must work after dark, use a feature to make the screen more yellow in hue. Pick up a book to read before bed rather than reading on your phone or tablet. I made one simple error this year when I moved. I put a greenish/blue clock on the table, and I could not sleep. For nights I would toss and turn, wondering what I was doing wrong. One night it hit me; I went to my closet and pulled out an older red light clock, put it on the table instead, and I finally got better sleep.
I have a patient that ordered red lens glasses online, and she wears them at night when she answers emails and works on the computer. It helps a lot.
2. Go to bed earlier to wake up before your alarm. I know this sounds crazy but go with me here. It takes about a week to reset your sleep schedule, and your body will thank you for it, and you will experience better sleep. Your cortisol levels are nice and low if you naturally wake up at the end of your required sleep cycle. Suppose a blaring alarm jolts you out of a sleep cycle; your stress hormone (cortisol) skyrockets and affects the rest of your day! I always thought it was odd that I tend to wake up 10 minutes before my alarm goes off, but my days are full of good energy and focus while being calm at the same time.
3. Eat by a schedule. Eat within a 12-hour window and have completely balanced meals/ snacks, including protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates. Balanced eating can help those food cravings until you ditch your alarm that sent your stress haywire and your food cravings with it.
Have your last meal a few hours before bed. If you are still hungry before bed, opt for a high-quality protein that slowly digests. According to studies, whey protein boosts metabolism (for extra fat burning during sleep and upon awakening) and satiety (feeling full longer) and improves post-exercise overnight recovery and overall sleep. It might get you better sleep because protein provides a good dose of tryptophan, which increases the amino acid’s access to the brain to create serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, which converts to melatonin to regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycle.
4. Go slow. Making incremental changes to your sleep patterns and nutrition can lead to better overall health. The small, consistent action is the way to make permanent lifestyle changes for better sleep. Set your alarm to go to bed 15 min earlier each night until you reach your desired bedtime to wake at the expected time sans alarm in the morning. Use a light alarm instead of a sound alarm or gentle, gradual music, and make sure it is red.
You will have to change something to have consistent, better sleep; you can’t burn the candle at both ends and sleep well. You can still read before bed, hold a book, and save TV time for the weekends or earlier in the evening. In the long run, your body will thank you for it, and you will be able to enjoy so much more of your everyday life!
If you wake up tired, we can check your cortisol levels with a simple test.
Let us help you get better sleep with normal cortisol levels.
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Medical disclaimer: Our tests cannot be used to diagnose, treat or cure any disease. All test results are to be used as educational materials and as a guide to help support your overall health and wellness. Always discuss health concerns with your medical doctor.
REFERENCES: Madzima TA, Panton LB, Fretti SK, Kinsey AW, Ormsbee MJ. Night-time consumption of protein or carbohydrate results in increased morning resting energy expenditure in active college-aged men. Br J Nutr 2013;1-7.
Res PT, Groen B, Pennings B et al. Protein ingestion before sleep improves postexercise overnight recovery. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2012;44:1560-9.
Markus CR, Olivier B, Panhuysen GE et al. The bovine protein alpha-lactalbumin increases the plasma ratio of tryptophan to the other large neutral amino acids, and in vulnerable subjects raises brain serotonin activity, reduces cortisol concentration, and improves mood under stress. Am J Clin Nutr 2000;71:1536-44.