Written by Sondi Bruner, reporting from her West Coast kitchen.
Have you ever had a problem falling asleep? You know the annoying drill: staring at the ceiling, tossing from side to side, glancing at your alarm clock as the hours tick away without the relief of sweet, sweet slumber.
You're not alone, my friends. Not only are sleep problems one of the top issues we hear about in the kitchen, but they're also a problem for over three million Canadians.
Lack of sleep is more than just a nightly annoyance - it can seriously affect both our short-term and long-term health. Sleep is a time when our bodies relax, repair and regenerate, and if that isn't occurring we become susceptible to a wide array of health issues including weight gain, immune system weakness, headaches and memory problems. A recent study also shows evidence that sleeping too little can put us at an increased risk of stroke, heart attack and heart failure.
Yeesh. As if we needed another worry to keep us up at night?
Don't fret - because we've got you covered. Just follow these simple tips and you'll be sleeping like a baby in no time.
Begin your bedtime routine when you wake up. Okay, not immediately after you wake, as that would defeat the point of getting up in the first place. What I want to stress here is that falling asleep isn't a process that begins when your head finally hits the pillow - rather, it's a culmination of every single choice you make throughout the day.
Set your biological clock to the rise and fall of the sun. Many of us are likely accustomed to getting up early to catch a train, get the kids to school or go to the gym before work. But few of us hit the sheets as soon as the sun goes down - and those that do are considered weird stick-in-the-muds. So why is correcting our circadian rhythm so crucial to a good night's sleep? Well, our pineal gland, found in our brains, functions as a light metre that keeps us in harmony with our external environment. It secretes hormones that regulate our sleep/wake cycles. So if you're creeping your ex-boyfriend on Facebook at 1:00am, the light hitting your eye signals your brain that it's still daylight, instead of time to be sleeping.
Sleep in complete darkness. When it's completely dark, our pineal gland secretes a hormone called melatonin, which helps us fall asleep. So black out your window, close the bedroom door, unplug the nightlight, cover your alarm clock and wear a sleep mask - and you'll be catching your zzzzs in no time.
Avoid stimulants, even throughout the day. Cut the caffeine, sugar and alcohol from your diet. These stimulants impair our natural sleep processes. If you're jonesing for a cup of joe, try a hot mug of Dandy blend, or munch on some low-GI treats if you've got a sweet tooth.
Use your bedroom only for sleeping and naughty things with your significant other (or others - hey, we don't judge). Train your body to recognize that when it's in bed, it has one job: to fall asleep. Working, eating, reading, chatting on the phone and watching TV in bed all distract you from relaxing and getting to sleep. So reserve your mattress for sleeping and the horizontal mambo (which, by the way, is also a great way to help you fall asleep! Just make sure you give your partner a cuddle before you drift into dreamland).
Have a light snack in the evening. Our bodies and brains run on glucose. When blood glucose levels drop too low, we begin to produce stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol to pump ourselves up. We don't want this happening before bed, do we? To prevent this, have a low glycemic snack an hour or two before bedtime, like steamed apples with coconut oil and cinnamon, a handful of nuts, a small portion of quinoa porridge, a glass of warm almond milk or a superfood-filled hot drink.
Implement a relaxing bedtime tradition. Try listening to gentle music or practice deep breathing. If meditation's not your thing, you might like to take a bath with lavender, or drink a soothing cup of chamomile tea. Meghan likes to put a few drops of lavender oil on her sleep mask, place a pillow under her back and prop her legs up against the wall while breathing deeply. The key is to find one activity (or a series of activities) that sets the stage for relaxation - so try a few things out and find what works best for you.
Reduce stress. You knew this one was coming, didn't you? The release of stress hormones make us feel wired, anxious and very, very awake. All the best bedtime routines in the world won't help you if you can't shut off your brain and stop worrying about something that's going to happen tomorrow, next week, or next month. We know that reducing stress is easier said than done, but the first step is setting the intention and focus to work on your stress issues, and then formulate an action plan that will make it happen.
Of course, there are many more tricks that can help you fall asleep at night. Check out superhero Patsy Telpner's tips in this post about sleeping for more ideas. And if you have a failsafe method, please share in the comments!
Question of the day: What are your failsafe methods for sleeping well?