Shortly after John McCain lost his presidential bid he was on a talk show. The host asked him “How are you?” He said “Fine. Sleeping like a baby…and by that I mean I wake up every two hours crying”. Funny joke, but quality sleep is no joke. I should know, I have suffered from insomnia for 22 years. And the ten years before that I suffered from sleep deprivation due to having six babies. I know there are few things in the world more frustrating than chronic sleep issues! (Catch Periscope video on Insomnia here)

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What Happens While We Sleep

While we sleep there is some big repair work going on. For adults sleep is the time our muscles, tissues, and cells grow and repair themselves. For children it’s all that plus a time for hormone production and brain development. For all of us it’s a time to eliminate toxins thereby reducing inflammation. Reducing inflammation reduces our risk for ALL disease. 

So What Happens When We Don’t Get Enough Sleep?

Beside feeling crappy, according to Dr. Mercola lack of sleep causes you to:

  • Dramatically weaken your immune system
  • Accelerate tumor growth—tumors grow two to three times faster in laboratory animals with severe sleep dysfunctions
  • Cause a pre-diabetic state, making you feel hungry even if you’ve already eaten, which can wreak havoc on your weight
  • Seriously impair your memory; even a single night of poor sleep—meaning sleeping only 4 to 6 hours—can impact your ability to think clearly the next day
  • Impair your performance on physical or mental tasks, and decrease your problem solving ability


    Impaired sleep can also increase stress-related disorders, including:

    • Heart disease
    • Stomach ulcers
    • Constipation
    • Mood disorders like depression.
    • And if that weren’t enough it can also cause premature aging…ah now that got your attention! 

After years of only getting 3-4 hours of sleep a night I have learned a few things about getting a good nights sleep and I would love to share them with you. Good sleep and good health go hand in hand.

First and Foremost Lack of Sleep is Rarely Caused or Fixed by One Thing

For years and years I tried natural ways to get better sleep. A friend would say “try lemon balm tea” or “melatonin” or “meditation”. I would try it for a while, it wouldn’t work and I would move on the the next thing. Over the years I became more and more discouraged. At one point I thought I would literally die from lack of sleep. I lived in a fog, had no energy and enjoyed nothing. I was in a sad state and I finally went to my doctor in desperation. He offered me a pamphlet and a prescription for Ambien. I took the pamphlet. There were actually a few really good tips in it. Below I have combined some of my own tips with a few of the most helpful my doctor suggested and all of it together made a big difference! I have found insomnia, like any health condition usually has several contributing factors and finding the right combination is crucial for improvement. So be patient, experiment and try many if not all of these suggestions, they are in no particular order.

1. Make sure your bedroom is dark…really dark.

Having a dark bedroom is a very important component to good sleep. Back in the day before artificial light was invented, when the sun went down our brains began producing a hormone called melatonin. Melatonin makes us sleepy. When the sun rose our brains stopped producing melatonin and we would wake up. The invention of artificial light (while wonderful) messed up that rather fantastic natural system. So, turn down the lights an hour before bed, buy black out shades for your windows, or if that isn’t in the budget wear a sleep mask. Unplug or cover glowing appliances; clocks, toothbrushes, electronic equipment etc… and make sure your phone is facedown. Make your room as dark as possible. Even a tiny bit of light disrupts melatonin production!

2. De-stress and Power Down

This one is a toughie but so worth the rewards. At least an hour before bed put the ipad, computer and cell phone down. As stated above that glowing light coming from your device disrupts melatonin production, but there are other reasons for staying away from technology: answering emails, confronting work problems, even having a stressful conversation with a spouse can cause the stress hormone cortisol to rise, making sleep almost impossible. Anything stressful before bedtime should be avoided…believe me, it will all still be there in the morning!

3. Get A White Noise Machine

I swear my white noise machine is worth it’s weight in gold. I never realized how much noise had been a cause of my wakefulness until I got one. A white noise machine is a small device that makes a whirring sound, blocking out other sounds. It’s truly a miracle. You can purchase one at baby stores or find them here (affiliate link)

4. Keep Your Bedroom Cool

Studies show optimum room temperature for the best sleep is about 70 degrees. 

5. Figure Out What’s Bothering Your Belly

The pamphlet I got from my doctor said ‘don’t eat foods that cause you stomach upset before bed’. Not to be rude but, duh. AND I do not think that advice is good enough. Sometimes things you eat in the morning can bother you at night and truth be told most people haven’t even begun to figure out what foods bother them! Gas, bloating and constipation are the cause of many people’s insomnia. To find out what may be bothering you I recommend Whole 30 or The Virgin Diet (affiliate links). Both books teach you how to systematically eliminate the foods most likely to be the cause of belly distress. Then they teach you how to add the foods back in methodically so you can figure out what might be causing a problem and keeping you awake! 

6. Ditch The Sugar and The Caffeine

I am sure you’ve all seen that video of the MRI that shows that a brain on sugar and a brain on cocaine light up the same way. You wouldn’t expect to get a good nights sleep after snorting coke, you can’t expect to get one after eating sugar all day either. And of course, caffeine, especially later in the day keeps you awake…ditch it, enough said. Oh…and don’t use cocaine:)

7. Establish a Bedtime Ritual and Be Consistent

You know how pediatricians recommend kids have a bedtime ritual? Perhaps a high protein snack, a warm bath, a bedtime story etc….all at the same time every night? Well it works for grown ups too. Establish a bedtime ritual and stick to it. Establishing rituals prepares the mind and body for sleep. So choose whatever relaxing, soothing rituals float your boat, meditation, deep breathing, a good book, a relaxing bath and try to be as consistent as possible.

8. The Most Important Sleep is Between 10pm and 2am

The sleep you get from the hours of 10pm and 2am may indeed be the most beneficial! That is when we get the most restorative and deepest sleep. According to Dr. Mercola “Your body (particularly your adrenal system) does a majority of its recharging between the hours of 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. In addition, your gallbladder dumps toxins during this same period. If you are awake, the toxins back up into your liver, which can further disrupt your health.” I know if I miss that crucial 10pm-2am window, I don’t sleep well at all. So set your bedtime for 10 at the latest. 

9. Go to Bed Earlier

Seems kind of obvious doesn’t it? But people fight this one the strongest I think. Most of us have an internal clock that wakes us up at a certain time every morning. I wake up at about 4 am regardless of what time I go to sleep. I usually go to bed at ten, so I usually get six hours of sleep (a huge improvement from the 3-4 hours I was getting ten years ago!) But I discovered a while back when I accidentally fell asleep at nine that I still slept till four. I got seven hours! Unheard of. This is true for most people. If you have an internal clock that wakes you up early, getting more sleep could be as simple as going to bed earlier! Thank goodness for DVR’s.

10. Hide The Clock

We’ve all been there. We wake up, look at the clock and this internal monologue transpires “Oh no! 2 am! I have to be up in four hours. I am going to be sooo tired. I have to sleep!” Then a half hour later we look at the clock again and repeat the entire scenario. The more we worry about getting to sleep, the more agitated we become and the less sleep we get. It’s a problem. The best thing I ever did was get rid of the clock. When I didn’t know what time it was I had no idea if I should worry. The pressure was off. And when I didn’t lay there bemoaning my fate sometimes I actually fell back asleep. Losing the clock is liberating.

11. Magnesium, Magnesium, Magnesium

When I had my kidney stones I learned those horrible things are linked to magnesium deficiency. Taking magnesium (affiliate link) everyday helps to prevent them! The interesting thing was as soon as I added the supplement daily I started sleeping better. Not longer unfortunately, but more deeply. Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxant and sleep aid. Magnesium also helps with restless leg syndrome and leg cramps. I take a supplement (two with dinner as recommended by my doctor for insomnia), use magnesium salts in baths before bed (part of my ritual) and use a magnesium oil a few days a week. I like to cover my bases. (affiliate links) If you are magnesium deficient it can take 2-3 months for magnesium stores to regulate. So don’t expect it to work like a sleeping pill. Give it time.

A few more tips: don’t drink within 2 hours of bedtime. Use the bathroom right before retiring. If you have a spouse that keeps you awake, consider separate bedrooms (boo I know) Avoid grains before bed (I am talking to you late night cereal eaters). Read something uplifting and spiritual before bed. Make sure you exercise moderately at least 30 minutes a day and if all else fails a little melatonin under the tongue can be a life saver! Make sure to take only the suggested dose though.

Pulling out the big guns:

If all the suggestions above do not work for you, don’t give up, sleep is far too important. You may need to consider pulling out the big guns and visit a doctor to see if you need your hormones balanced or are experiencing adrenal fatigue. I see a doctor of internal medicine that specializes in hormone balancing. It has helped a lot.

There truly is nothing more glorious than a good nights sleep. I wish more of us experienced it more often. 


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