Chronic sleep deprivation was one of the first issues I needed to tackle in order to improve my health: I had been maintaining a sleep pattern for many years in concordance with my husband’s restaurant hours while in fact I had to keep to normal working-and parenting hours during the day. This resulted in an average of 5 hours of sleep per night. To say that is less than ideal is an understatement, the fact I had Leaky Gut Syndrome only made matters worse: inflammation, pain and raised cortisol levels caused by that contributed to my insomnia.
I therefore implemented a strict bedtime routine (in bed at nine, asleep by ten) and started using melatonin to help get my body back into a rhythm. Today, with the exception of times of extra stress, my sleep is fine. The regularity suits me and I also discovered I am at my most productive in the hours between six and eleven in the morning.
While good sleep is essential for everyone, medical issues or not, for people doing keto with weight loss in mind sleep is extra crucial: people who are sleep deprived or suffer from a circadian rhythm disorder (read more about that here) are more likely to stall in their weight loss journey and even store extra body fat.
Chronic sleep deprivation:
- produces less growth hormone
- impairs glucose metabolism
- decreases leptin, the hormone that signals satiety
- increases ghrelin, the hormone that tells the brain when we are hungry
All the more reason to take a closer look at your sleep habits and see where it can be improved. Here are my eight tips to work on getting good sleep:
1 Don’t do this
- do not exercise vigorously 3-4 hours before bedtime; a nice walk earlier in the evening may help you unwind though
- do not eat a heavy meal right before turning in; digestion may hinder the body’s ability to rest
- do not fall into the trap of thinking shorter sleep during week nights can be remedied by sleeping in during the weekends; you should aim for 7- 9 hours of steady sleep ALL days of the week. Yes that means going to bed at the same time each night, weekends too, as well as getting up at the same time each day
- do NOT forget to balance your electrolytes: adequate levels of magnesium are very important for sleep. (read here about magnesium supplementation)
2 Control the temperature
The temperature of your body and its surroundings can actually influence the quality of your sleep: our brain needs a natural drop in evening temperature (ideal is between 15 and 19 ºC) as an alert to the brain to release melatonin, the sleep inducing hormone that controls your daily sleep-wake cycles. Central heating can interfere so adjusting the temperature in your bedroom is essential. Sleeping with the right sheets and a good mattress also helps in getting the temperature right, as does leaving a window open for the necessary air circulation inside the room. In really warm weather a small fan helps cool down the room.
3 Turn all electronics off
This may be an obvious bit of advice but reality is, even for me, a lot of people tend to use a phone or computer in bed right up to the moment of switching off the lights. Both the blue light from your devices as well as the constant sensory overload caused by endless scrolling through your social media are bound to mess with your ability to fall asleep. Having electronics on in the hour before actually going to sleep may also be responsible for reducing our levels of melatonin by a staggering 50%…ouch!
For some people blue light blockers may be a good option, even during the day if your job entails lots of computer/phone hours, and also keep in mind most phones have a blue light blocker build in so you can actively start using that hours before bedtime. And while you are at it: try to not switch on your devices immediately after waking up. Instead wait one hour: this allows for a much more mindful morning routine and ultimately helps with your sleep too. The world can wait!
4 Dim the lights
Where possible, dim the lights in the hours before bed as this is proven to help your body prepare for the sleep to come. Overhead lights especially are not a good idea so try to lower light intensity by keeping those switched off and stick to diffused or indirect light from smaller lamps. Better yet: back to the old days with some candle light anyone? Also try to sleep in the darkest environment possible: invest in some good blinds, especially when you live in a city where lights outside may intrude into your bedroom.
5 Quiet please
Not everyone is blessed with a quiet outside environment, especially when you live in the city like I do. Sudden noises like sirens, the screech of a car braking, neighbours slamming a door: not very helpful when you are trying to fall asleep. But did you know you can actually drown out these annoying sounds by listening to these two other types of sound?
- white noise is a steady ambient sound, like the whirring of a fan or steady rainfall
- pink noise is an alternating steady sound with a mix of high and low frequencies, such as waves hitting the beach
While we obviously can not produce either sound naturally at will there are apps that can. Yes, that would mean leaving a phone on but when put in airplane mode at least the beeping of alerts will not bother you. Check out the Noisli or SimplyNoise apps or you can invest in a sound machine.
6 Stop worrying
Everyday stress (think work, money, housing, family etc) can keep you up at night. A vicious cycle is usually the result: the more you worry the less you sleep; the less you sleep the more you worry. Here are three tips to try:
- write down the worst unresolved issues and for each one also write down a point of action. It does not function as a to-do list (because most long-term stress also requires a long-term plan of action). But what it does it takes off the immediate pressure, it gives your mind a chance to at least turn away from the worrying long enough to be able to sleep. Try it, I find it very helpful
- calming down the body may help in calming down your mind: lie down in bed and starting at the toes tense and relax the muscles going all the way up the body
- this tip I am dying to try out but the hefty investment will have to wait for now: sleeping under a weighted blanket. Apparently the pressure on your body triggers the brain into upping soothing neurotransmitters
- try meditation techniques; I started taking Zen meditation classes at an actual zendo almost two years ago but meditation can be taken up anywhere anytime. Again, there are plenty of apps for that too. A lot of people I have spoken to about this are using Headspace, at home I use InsightTimer myself
7 Cuddle up
It may not be for everyone but cuddling up with someone may help you fall asleep faster. For some being cuddled does the trick, others may find actively cuddling someone else is helpful. If you fall in the last category and you are without a cuddling partner, there are in fact other options. I have heard of people simply hugging a pet, a large cushion or the good old-fashioned teddybear. For a more high tech option take a look at the Somnox Sleep Robot, developed in collaboration with Auping.
8 Implement a bedtime routine
Doing the same exact routine every night before bedtime actually helps in letting the brain and body know it is time to get ready for sleep. Exactly what that routine consists of is of course up to you: a skin routine, taking a bath, reading a book, writing in a journal, listening to a podcast, getting your outfit ready for the workday, decluttering your bedroom before actually getting into bed: if done every night and with mindful attention you will in time experience the relaxing effect.
So there you go: my short guide to achieve optimal sleep. Do you have any questions or want to share your own experiences? I love to hear about it in the comments!