Hey guys! You might wonder why a picture of me at my job wearing dark-rimmed glasses and surgical scrubs has anything to do with sleep. Keep reading, I’ll explain soon. So back in the day *cough cough three months ago,* I worked night shift for two years. As you may know if you knew me during that time, working the night shift was a struggle. I rarely averaged more than 4-5 hours of sleep during days that I worked. In an attempt to feel better and increase the quality of my sleep, I picked up on a few awesome sleep hacks, many of which I still use for great sleep now.
There are few things more frustrating than being “tired and wired” before bed, especially if you need to get up early the next morning. If you struggle to fall asleep, stay asleep, or just get enough sleep in general, this post is for you. I hope that you can glean a few bits of new information from what I’m about to share.
Let’s first talk a little bit of science: good sleep hygiene is absolutely essential. It’s even been claimed by well-respected health experts that it’s more important than diet and exercise COMBINED. One of the reasons for this is that our bodies do so much more than just lie in a horizontal position for 8 hours when we sleep. It is our body’s time to literally “mend” itself, clean up shop, take out the trash, and reset itself for another day. Our bodies are incredibly, incredibly smart, but we still need to give ourselves the rest we need in order to function at our best. For more information on the importance of sleep and its relation to hormonal and metabolic health, check out this NCBI article.
So without further ado, here are my top 10 tips for great sleep.
(1) Ditch the Screen Time
Do you lie in bed scrolling on your phone every night? Even if you do, you probably know that it doesn’t help you sleep. In fact, the blue light coming from your phone or laptop screen is actually working against your body’s production of melatonin, the hormone that helps you sleep. If you must use electronics before bed, consider installing a night shift app that creates a warmer-toned screen to counter the stimulating effect of blue light and try to wrap it up at least a few hours before bedtime.
(2) Wear Blue Blocking Glasses
Speaking of blue light, this is another way to block its effects before bedtime. Because I work evening shift at my job (3p-11p), I am usually staring at computer screens right up until I leave. I decided to invest in a pair of LifeArt Blue Light Blocking Glasses from Amazon and am so glad I did (see picture above). I have found that wearing these glasses beginning around 8pm are helpful for me to unwind and fall asleep more quickly after getting home from work. Every time I remember to use them, I notice a difference in how well I sleep that night. The point of blue-blocker glasses, again, is to help filter out the blue light and facilitate your body’s natural melatonin production.
(3) Use a Sleep App
You may ask, what on earth is a sleep app?! Good question. It’s an app you can download on your phone which allows you to track your sleep by measuring your breathing patterns. It monitors your sleep cycle and rates your quality of sleep in a percentage. It also has an alarm feature which will wake you up gently and at the shallowest part of your sleep cycle within a given range of time. I use the app from www.sleepcycle.com. You can use the free version or buy the premium version for more statistics and features. For me, the premium version is entirely worth the investment. I recommend using this app if you struggle with sleep because, in the same way that food journals help you become more aware of what you’re eating throughout the day, a sleep app helps provide objective information about the quality of your sleep and areas you can improve in. You’ll start to be more in tune with the way you feel based on your sleep from the previous night and it will be more motivating to prioritize getting enough zzzz.
It’s worth noting that there is research coming out on how electronics affect your health by prolonged exposure to their electromagnetic field (EMF). This topic is controversial and you can read more about that here, but you might consider switching your phone to airplane mode at night to minimize your EMF exposure. The Sleep Cycle app still works with this feature.
(4) Do a Light Yoga Routine
An important part to falling asleep is relaxing your mind and body. I’m so glad I discovered the benefits of a quick restorative and stress relieving yoga routine! Not only does it increase flexibility, but it helps to relax your muscles, particularly your neck and shoulders, which take a lot of tension throughout the day. I often do a condensed version of this yoga routine from Fitness Blender.
(5) Invest in a Rock Salt Lamp
This was on my list of stuff I wanted for a long time and it certainly did not disappoint! Why a salt lamp? You can read this great post from Wellness Mama, but in summary, not only does make a great night light because of the warm hue it emits, but it is also said to improve the air quality by generating negative ions. I use the Levoit brand because it is high quality and can be purchased from Amazon. I don’t know if it directly helps me to sleep, but it certainly contributes to a relaxing atmosphere and makes an awesome night light for reading before bed. My family tells me it looks creepy, but I think it’s a real thing of beauty, folks!
(6) Rub Lavender Essential Oil on Your Pillow
I learned this simple trick from a friend years ago and it is SO luxurious! It’s a wonderful feeling resting your head on a soft pillow where you can sink into lavender bliss. Most of us know and numerous studies confirm that lavender essential oil aids sleep and relaxation. To do this simple hack, just put a few drops on your palms, rub them together, and spread over your pillow or just run the dropper bottle over your pillow a few times for a lovely scent. My favorite brand of essential oils are from Plant Therapy, which is one of the least expensive high-quality brands.
(7) Use a Sound Machine
Growing up, I always lived in the country and had no need for background noise (cicadas and croaking frogs are the best sleep-inducing sound, y’all). However, since living in town and close to a busy highway, I’ve found it helpful to use a white noise machine to block out traffic sounds. You can purchase a white noise machine (I like the Marpac brand from Amazon) or find a white noise sound you like on Youtube or download an app on your phone.
(8) Use Blackout Curtains
Blackout curtains are the bomb for creating a cozy cave to sleep in, whether night or day. Even the smallest amount of light can create sleep disturbances. Out of motherly concern for my wellbeing, when I told my mom I wasn’t sleeping great after starting night shift, she went and bought me some blackout curtains to use in my room during the day. I still use these at night to block the morning light.
(9) Make a Magnesium Spray
This is one of my favorite hacks. Did you know that magnesium is a critical, but very often overlooked and under-appreciated mineral? SO many people are deficient in magnesium, yet they don’t know that it’s the cause of symptoms they experience, like headaches, restless legs, muscle cramps, and….you guessed it – sleep problems! My favorite brand of high-quality magnesium comes from Ancient Minerals, which you can purchase from Amazon. The Ancient Minerals website is fantastic and offers lots of information if you’d like to read more about magnesium and how it works in the body. I’d recommend starting with this post.
One of the best ways to take magnesium chloride is through direct application to your skin, which then absorbs into your body. You can purchase liquid magnesium spray OR if you are a cheapskate DIY-er like me, you can easily make your own for a fraction of the cost. All you need is a small bag of magnesium chloride flakes from Amazon and some distilled water (I just use filtered water). Here’s my easy formula:
Combine equal amounts of distilled water and magnesium flakes (I use ¼ cup of each) in a saucepan over low heat and heat until melted. Pour into a glass spray bottle (can be purchased from Amazon here) and spray on arms, legs, or torso each night before bed. Be warned that magnesium spray may sting at first upon application, but that is completely normal and may go away over time if you keep using it.
(10) Keep a Consistent Routine
Finally, my last piece of advice is very simple, yet hard to do. In order to get great sleep, I think one of the most important things you can do is to set a routine. We are, after all, creatures of habit, and the more consistently you practice a habit the easier and more effortless it becomes! I’ve shared a lot of stuff with you in this post. You don’t have to do it all, but consider trying a combination of the different hacks I’ve mentioned above and find a system that works for you. I promise it will be well worth the effort!
I’ve only scratched the surface on all there is to know about sleep, so if you’re interested in learning more about it and ways to sleep better, check out this book by Shawn Stevenson: Sleep Smarter: 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to A Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success.
Until next time, friends!