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10 Tools, Hacks and Natural Sleep Aids (for 3 Common Sleep Issues)

Author: Jamie Stephens, NTP

Do you feel you’re doing everything right but still can’t get a good night’s rest? Maybe you have a perfect sleep routine, practice good sleep hygiene, you’re eating dinner early, avoiding caffeine past afternoon, and yet you are still not able to maximize your sleep to get that golden 8 hours of full recovery! Not to worry, there are plenty of tools, natural sleep aids, and hacks out there that you can utilize to get a good Noomy night’s sleep. To figure out the right one to try, first you need to identify what your main sleep issue is. Are you not able to fall asleep? Can’t turn your brain off? Are you waking up in the middle of the night? Let’s look at each of these sleep challenges and explore different ways to handle each one.

1. Trouble Falling Asleep

Having trouble falling asleep is one of the most common sleep complaints. You want to go to bed at 10:00 p.m. but can’t seem to fall asleep until after 11:00 p.m. because you don’t feel tired. Adding some herbal tea such as chamomile, holy basil or lavendar at the start of your bedtime routine along with a good book might be just the thing to help! These teas all have a calming effect that promotes relaxation and have been used for centuries to stave off insomnia, stress, and anxiety. Another great addition might be some bedroom aromatherapy using relaxing essential oils such as lavender, Roman chamomile, or cedarwood to calm and soothe your senses until you begin to doze off.   

NOTE: If you’re in need of some stronger support, supplements might be the best approach. However, double check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any if you are on any medication as there can be drug interactions.  

One of the most popular sleep supplements is melatonin. Though it’s a hormone our bodies make naturally to regulate sleep cycles, oftentimes people aren’t making enough because they are exposed to too much artificial light that confuses the body and suppresses its ability to produce melatonin at night. Shift work and jet lag are two scenarios in which melatonin can help you get to sleep when you’re not following the typical day/night rhythm.  

Magnesium is another great natural sleep aid to try. It wouldn’t be something you necessarily associate with sleep, but magnesium deficiency is linked to higher stress levels, anxiety and poor sleep quality. Maintaining healthy magnesium levels often leads to deeper, more sound sleep. Though we do get magnesium from foods such as green leafy veggies, the typical amount isn’t as high as it used to be due to poor farming practices that have resulted in  depleted mineral quality in the soil according to the 1992 Rio Earth Summit that noted “over the last 100 years, average mineral levels in agricultural soils had fallen worldwide and by 85 per cent in North America”. The loss of minerals in the soil has made magnesium deficiency more common among people today and could be the missing link in your sleep equation.

2. Can’t Turn Your Brain Off

Another sleep issue occurs when you can’t turn your brain off. You can’t stop thinking about work or the day’s stresses. At 10 p.m. or later, there’s really nothing you’re going to solve by spinning it around in your head. Instead, you’ll lose your opportunity for some good quality sleep. The best way to handle this is to make a list and write down what needs to be done tomorrow and say to yourself, “I’ll do xyz tomorrow” and put a cap on it. If you still can’t turn your brain off at night because you’re pondering everything from the mysteries of the universe to why you can’t fall asleep, try some GABA. It’s actually a neurotransmitter that is made in the brain, and low levels have been linked to anxiety and sleep disturbances. GABA has a calming effect on the brain, and when a person is deficient, they can experience a tired but wired brain that won’t shut off at night. Try picking up some GABA to quiet the mental chatter keeping you up at night.  

Another issue that keeps people alert and unable to turn their brains off at night is all the blue light we are exposed to through our computers, TVs, tablets, phones and other devices. Our bodies and eyes especially are very sensitive to light, and this blue light suppresses the production of melatonin more than any other type of light. It’s best to stop using devices a few hours before bed, but not everyone is able to do this. For people that need to be on their devices until evening, there are blue-blocking screen shields and glasses that have filters in their lenses that prevent blue light from getting through. These bluelight-blocking products have been a game changer for some people who have no choice but to be exposed to blue light in the evenings.

3. Waking Up In the Middle of the Night

Finally, the sleep complaint that is probably the hardest to hack is waking up in the middle of the night. Again, magnesium could be the answer to this as people with low magnesium often experience restless sleep and wake up frequently during the night. However, for extremely light sleepers, it could be as simple as hacking your bedroom. Does the light outside or first thing in the morning wake you up? Try making your room as dark as possible with some blackout curtains and using electrical tape on any annoying little lights in your room. Maybe it’s outside noises or the lack of noise that wakes you. Earplugs work well for blocking outside noises, and white noise sound machines buffer disturbing sounds, creating a quiet cocoon, regardless of your surroundings.

Sometimes people wake up in the night because they have to use the restroom, so avoiding liquids 2 hours before bed is a good practice to mitigate this. However, if you’re waking up and you don’t really know why, it could possibly be that your body has depleted it’s glucose supply, our body’s go-to energy and fuel for the brain. Our bodies store extra glucose in the liver as glycogen, but if we eat too early or perhaps not enough carbohydrates, then we won’t have much extra glucose reserves.  In turn this stresses the body causing the adrenal glands to pump cortisol and begin glycogenesis. This process naturally regulates the body’s blood sugar, however for those with blood sugar imbalances, HPA axis dysregulation  or adrenal insufficiency the cortisol spike can cause a sudden awakening. A great sleep hack for this is having some good quality local raw honey for some extra glucose. Just a teaspoon is all you need right before bed. Surprisingly, raw honey has a lower glycemic index and lesser impact on insulin than other sugars and is great for glycogen reserves. Try this remedy if you’re always waking up in the middle of the night.  

More than one sleep issue?

Lastly, a sleep tool that seems to help all three common sleep complaints is Earthing or Grounding. You can learn more about Earthing in this Noom blog:  The Benefits of Earthing and How to Do It. Using a hrounding product such as an Earthing mat or sheet while you sleep has reported tremendous improvements in people’s sleep quality from falling asleep quicker to higher quality sleep. If you’re dealing with multiple sleep issues, this might be the best bet!

Sleep can be tricky, but once you figure out your issue, hacking it becomes easier. Play detective, try out some of these different tools, and track your results. Good quality sleep is worth finding the right tools and hacks that work for you!