I have a complicated relationship with sleep. It’s sometimes aloof, evasive, standoffish, unmotivated, and plays hard to get. Sounds like I’m describing a bad ex-boyfriend, honestly. I’d be lying if I said I had the whole thing figured out and that I went from sleeping 1 hour a night to the golden 7-8, but I do have some tricks that have most certainly helped. Along with some dietary recommendations, supplements, and A MATTRESS. Read more below!
My number one issue for difficulty falling asleep is actually pain. I wake up at least 6-8 times throughout the night, sometimes from actual back pain. I’ve had back issues from as long as I can remember. Scoliosis diagnosed in middle school, pain beginning around that time, and the cherry on top of the spinal sundae was a double stress fracture from a dance injury when I was about 18. I had a really sexy plastic back brace when first entering college (no better way to cement a thriving social life than rolling into a party wearing a back brace). Admittedly I wasn’t as diligent as I should have been wearing the brace, and so the healing process was a bit disjointed (literally lolol). Since then, it’s been referred pain down legs, lots of stiffness, and chronic aching. I was recommended cortisone shots due to inflammation, but instead opted for a chiropractor. This actually helped extraordinary amounts and got me feeling from a 4/10 to a 6/10.
At this time I was sleeping on my mattress from childhood (living at home 3 years post-grad!!!! Again circling back to the thriving social life!!!!). I talked with my chiropractor about ways to improve sleep using a few props and pillows (on my side, pillow between the legs, and spooning another pillow). This simple habit actually did improve my sleep quality and I didn’t wake up as often during the night.
And then and then and then…
I got a new mattress from Brentwood Home. An organic, nontoxic, mattress with natural materials, and no chemical retardants, phthalates, ozone depleters, or heavy metals to be exact. I started waking up with significantly less pain, especially on rainy days when I wasn’t able to be as active. Typically, lots of low-intensity movement like walking is the best thing to get my pain in check. When I’m sitting all day long, I tend to wake up the next morning with stiffness down my legs and very tight hips and low back. But since making the switch, that discomfort has significantly alleviated.
Beyond making the mattress shift, there are a few other habits I’ve adopted in an attempt to catch a bit more shut-eye. Below is the list from A to zZzZzZzzZ.
Ways to help you fall asleep and stay asleep:
- Get a new mattress if it’s super old, preferably one that’s non-toxic like from Brentwood Home (code lemons15 for 15% off any / all Brentwood home products from now until June 30th)
- Get adjusted by a chiropractor. Research suggests that mean scores of back pain were better for patients who underwent chiropractic care versus those who did not ( 1 ).
- Change your sleep position: use a pillow between your legs, under your legs, or hug a pillow while on your side to improve your alignment and therefore stay asleep better
- Use certain apps to help you fall asleep faster:
- meditation app – I like Headspace
- brain waves app – called Brain Wave: 32 Binaural Programs
- purchase a sound therapy machine
- hypnosis app – I like HelloMind
- essential oils before bed. Lather on the lavender. One study showed that adding lavender to sleep hygiene habits (maintain a regular sleep schedule, avoid fluid intake before bed and food, caffeine, alcohol and nicotine late in the day, create a good sleeping environment, create a relaxing bedtime routine, keep up with school work, and exercise regularly) resulted in better sleep quality, waking feeling refreshed, and improved daytime fatigue ( 2 ).
- Make your bedroom a sanctuary and try not to do other things in it. Because I work from home, I have the tendency to make my bed my office space. My brain, however, is then trained to view my bed as work time, not sleep time. For this reason, I try not to do anything in my bed other than sleep (well…I’m sitting in my bed as I type this because it’s just so amazingly comfortable…but I’m working on it!!!).
- Make sure to turn your screens to night shift and download the f.lux app for your computer. Researchers very recently discovered that light wavelength affects sleep and a wide-range of biological and behavioral functions. Wavelength is shown on phones and so screen light exposure at evening may have detrimental effects on human health and performance ( 3 ).
- Hit up the decaf tea before bed. In one study, subjective sleep quality was found to be better when participants drank passionflower tea ( 4 ).
- A multi-B vitamin: Deficiencies of group B vitamins and minerals may disrupt sleep. Their effect seems to be based on their influence on the secretion of melatonin ( 5 ). Vitamin B12 in particular contributes to melatonin secretion, and dosing with B12 has a potentially beneficial effect on the sleep-awk rhythm of individuals. Administration of niacin (B3) to 6 people with normal sleep pattern increased REM sleep, and when given to subjects with moderate to severe insomnia, the sleep efficacy, recorded in a sleep laboratory using electroencephalogram, was improved. B6 is needed for the synthesis of serotonin from TRP, which is also necessary for sleep ( 5 )
- magnesium: oral magnesium supplementation has improved sleep quality and total sleep time recorded by polysomnography in 2 separate studies with about 10 subjects with low magnesium status ( 5 )
- tryptophan – a 5-HTP supplement before bed is helpful for some, since it is a serotonin precursor. Serotonergic neurons innervate many brain regions that influence sleep-wake behavior. One of the most potent ways for serotonin to regulate sleep is through changes in melatonin concentration because serotonin is an intermediary product in the production of melatonin ( 5 )
- glycine: Taking glycine (3 g) 1 hour before bedtime showed improved subjective sleep quality and sleep efficacy (sleep time/in-bed time). Glycine lessened daytime sleepiness and improved performance of memory recognition tasks ( 6 )
Diet also plays a role in sleep quantity and quality. Nutrients such as glucose, amino
acids, sodium, ethanol, and caffeine, and the timing of meals, can reset the bodily rhythms of rodents, so it’s best to stick to regular meals and avoid salt, alcohol, and caffeine too soon before bed time. ( 5 ).
- Obtaining an optimal amount of tryptophan (a precursor of serotonin) requires a combination of foods containing tryptophan with ample carbohydrates. According to the reviewed studies, a balanced and varied diet that is rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat protein sources (all of which contain plenty of tryptophan, as well as group B vitamins, minerals, and unrefined carbohydrates) can improve sleep. ( 5 ) food sources of tryptophan (remember tryptophan —> 5-HTP —> serotonin —> sleep): meat, poultry, salmon, yogurt, egg, fish, banana and nuts/seeds
- The postprandial release of CCK induced sleepiness in healthy adult volunteers 2 to 3 hours after a high-fat, low-carbohydrate meal. ( 5 ) A high fat snack a few hours before bed, therefore, may be helpful for sleep. Think almonds, avocado, or super dark chocolate.
- tart cherry juice: fresh tart cherry juice, consumed twice daily, produced reductions in insomnia in 15 elderly subjects, and the time required to fall asleep was reduced by 17 minutes ( 5 ). Daily doses of different cherry cultivars increased sleep time significantly and reduced the number of awakenings measured by actigraphy compared with baseline measurements.
- 2 kiwi fruits an hour before bedtime improves sleep – both the total sleep time as well as sleep efficiency ( 5 )
- also try foods high in protein, iron, riboflavin, and vitamin B6 all tend to contain large amounts of tryptophan.
- iron: meat, or pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate, dried thyme, blackstrap molasses, dried apricots, lentils, potatoes, spinach, quinoa, kidney beans, tempeh, black beans, tahini, broccoli for non-meat eaters
- riboflavin: beef, lamb, oily fish, eggs, pork, mushrooms, sesame seeds, seafood, spinach, almonds
- B6: lean beef, tuna, turkey, chicken, sunflower seeds, pistachio nuts, dried prunes, banans, avocados, spinach
bed time snacks:
[one_half]Dark chocolate tart cherry coconut butter cups: 2 bars dark chocolate (I used 95% dark, 1/4 cup coconut butter, 2 tbsp dried tart cherries or tart cherry juice (cherry juice will blend better). Melt chocolate, pour in lined cupcake tins, put in freezer to slightly set. Mix coconut butter with dried tart cherries or tart cherry juice. Pour on top of set dark chocolate. Pour remaining dark chocolate on top, until coconut butter cherry mix is covered. Let set in freezer for about an hour.[/one_half][one_half_last]Tart cherry coconut bites: 1 cup almonds, pulsed in food processor, 1/4 cup coconut butter,1 scoop collagen, 1 date, 1/4 tsp vanilla extract, few sprinkles of cinnamon. Blend until well combined. Add 1 tbsp of almond milk at a time until dough forms. I used 1 tbsp total. Sprinkle with coconut flakes. [/one_half_last]
So, there you have it: a few things you can do and a few things you can eat to improve sleep quality.
What was pretty pivotal for me was getting a new thing to sleep on. I personally love my Brentwood Home mattress. I genuinely feel a relief in back pain after having used it over these past few weeks. Since using it, I haven’t had any radiating leg pain, which is something I’ve dealt with for the past 7-8 years. I also have WAY more energy during the day, despite not sleeping as much (finals + moving + dance show + thesis + internship + blogging, man), which translates to having better quality sleep, despite not better quantity. HONEST. I also love that it’s made in the USA with amazing materials. But if you don’t like it, they have a 120-night sleep guarantee and a 25-year warranty, plus free shipping and returns.
Here are my Brentwood Home picks:
You can use the code lemons15 for 15% off any / all Brentwood home products from now until June 30th.
In exchange for this review, I was provided a Brentwood Home Mattress. All above research is done on my own, and not related to the mattress itself. I do not make commission from use of the discount code.
( 1 ) Goertz, C.M., Long, C.R., Hondra, M.A., Petri, R., Delgado, R., Lawrence, D.J., Owens, E.F., & Meeker, W.C. (2013). Adding chirpractic maniuplative therapy to stadnard medical care for patients with acute low back pain. Spine, 38(8), 627-634. doi: 10.1097/BRS.0b013e31827733e7
( 2 ) Lillehei, A.S., Halcon, L.L, Savik, K., & Reis, R. (2015). Effect of inhaled lavender and sleep hygiene on self-reported sleep issues: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 21(7), 430-438. doi: 10.1089/acm.2014.0327
( 3 ): Green, A., Cohen-Zion, M., Haim, A., & Dagan, Y. (2017). Evening light exposure to computer screens disrupts human sleep, biological rhythms, and attention abilities. Chronobiology International, 1-11. doi: 10.1080/07420528.2017.1324878
( 4 ): Ngan, A. & Conduit, R. (2011). A double-blind, placebo-ctonrolled investigaiton of the effects of Passiflora incarnate (Passionflower) herbal tea on subject sleep quality. Physiotherapy Research, 25, 1153-1159. doi: 10.1002/ptr.3400
( 5 ): Peuhkuri, K., Sihvola, N., & Korpela, R. (2012). Diet promotes sleep duration and quality. Nutrition Research, 32(5), 309-319. doi: :10.1016/j.nutres.2012.03.009
( 6 ): Yamadera, W., Inagawa, K., Chiba, S., Bannai, M., Takahashi, M., Nakayama, K. (2007). Glycine ingestion improves subjective sleep quality in human volunteers, correlating with polysomnographic changes. Sleep and Biological Rhythms, 5(2), 126-131. doi: 10.1111/j.1479-8425.2007.00262.x
( 7 ) Leach, M.J. & Page, A.T. (2015). Herbal medicine for insomnia: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 24, 1-12. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2014.12.003