Clean sleeping is quickly becoming one of America’s hottest new buzzwords. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, the basic premise is that sleep should be prioritized over any other lifestyle change (even diet and exercise!) as a way to achieve and maintain glowing wellness. Whether sleep is actually the single most important factor in overall health remains to be determined, but it resonates instinctively that adequate sleep is a vital ingredient for proper health.
Recent research continually validates this inner knowing, reminding us that we all need to take sleep seriously. The trouble is, it can sometimes be difficult to get enough quality sleep on a regular basis. Thankfully, introducing a top-notch sleep routine helps ensure that you’ll finally enjoy the sleep you need and deserve, no matter how hectic life gets.
Whether you’re having an issue falling asleep, staying asleep, or just finding the time to sleep, here’s everything you need to know about the sleep-health connection, and how you can design an effective, state of the art sleep routine that draws from ancient wisdom, modern science, and the latest in sleep technology.
Why Is Sleep So Important?
After a good night’s sleep, everything seems almost magically fresher and brighter, so you’re ready to take on the world for yet another day. And that effect isn’t just subjective—when you sleep, it’s truly like hitting the “reset” button for your entire mind and body.
One of the areas that benefits most dramatically from slumber is the brain, which gets a major reboot during sleep—removing neurotoxic waste, consolidating long-term memory, increasing creativity, strengthening important neural connections, and pruning back neural connections that are no longer useful.1,2,3,4
Unfortunately, the flipside is that when you miss out on sleep, it negatively alters the way your brain cells fire, impairing neurons associated with memory, emotion, and reasoning—which leaves the brain less able to process information efficiently.5 And it doesn’t take long for the effects of sleep deprivation on the brain to kick in. A single sleepless night causes thinking to become more rigid while reducing the ability to incorporate new information and make decisions.6 Even moderate sleep loss impairs brain (and motor) function in a way much like what happens when you drink too much alcohol.7
As if that wasn’t enough reason to prioritize your zzz’s, sleep deprivation also very quickly negatively affects the gut, which impacts almost all aspects of physical and mental health. In a recent Swedish study, as little as two consecutive nights of inadequate sleep resulted in harmful changes to the intestinal flora of young, healthy weight adults—reducing their numbers of certain friendly strains by almost half, and increasing their insulin resistance so that their microbiomes began to resemble those of very overweight people.8
12 Easy Ways to Bring More Good, Clean Sleep Into Your Life
Adopting a good sleep routine can have a major impact on both the quality and quantity of your nightly slumber. What most people don’t realize, though, is that for a sleep routine to be effective, it can’t just start shortly before bedtime—you’ll need to embrace round-the-clock healthy, sleep-promoting habits.
If you’re ready to commit to your best sleep ever, introduce these 12 tried and true approaches to your personal sleep routine recipe:
1. Stick to a schedule.
Your body has a natural circadian rhythm that operates like an inner clock to signal when it should be alert, and when it’s time for sleep. That’s why (much as you might not want to hear it) it’s best to go to sleep and wake up at pretty much the same time every day—and that means on the weekends, too. Having a different sleep schedule on your days off sends mixed messages to the brain, leaving it confused about when and whether it should let go into slumber.
When setting your schedule, make sure it allows enough time for you to get the perfect amount of sleep for your individual body. Most people need somewhere between seven and nine hours of sleep nightly, but you may need a bit more or less to feel your best.
2. Let the sunshine in.
One of the strongest drivers of circadian rhythms is light, which signals the brain about when you should wake up—and how many hours into the future the brain should begin releasing the hormone melatonin to help you feel sleepy. If you spend lots of time indoors away from natural light, your brain may not be getting the message that it should be secreting melatonin when bedtime rolls around.9
That’s why your sleep routine begins when the sun rises! Exposure to natural sunlight (with proper protection of course!), particularly in the early morning hours, prepares your body to be ready for sleep at night. Try spending at least 10-15 minutes outdoors each day, preferably in the morning, and as much time as possible when you can see daylight through a window to keep your body in the loop about what time it really is.
3. Scale back screens.
Just as sunlight stimulates alertness and tells your brain it’s time to get up, as the sky darkens after dusk, your brain is prompted to begin releasing the melatonin that will ease you into dreamland. That is, unless those signals are interrupted by blue light. The technology we love—including mobile phones, computers, and televisions—emits a type of blue light that the brain interprets as daylight. So when we spend the evening hours texting, sharing on social media, checking emails, or watching our favorite TV shows, the brain may delay releasing the melatonin necessary for restful sleep.10,11
Because of this issue, it’s wise to turn off all screens at least 90 minutes before bedtime. While that may sound a bit extreme, you may be surprised how much you begin to enjoy spending that time in more relaxing ways, such as reading a compelling novel, conversing with loved ones, knitting, or taking a candlelit bath with soft music playing.
4. Embrace the darkness.
If you just shut the lights and jump into bed, you may be missing a crucial part of your powerful sleep routine. Remember, your brain depends on deep, rich darkness to keep the melatonin flowing, and if your room is filled with light pollution, you may find yourself tossing and turning.12
Try this experiment: Switch off your bedroom lights and look around. Chances are you’ll see a glow from electronics like your digital clock, iPod dock, or even your phone charger. Light from street lamps is likely seeping in around your closed shades or blinds as well! To create true, melatonin-promoting darkness:
• Unplug unnecessary light-producing devices.
• Cover clocks and other necessary appliances with opaque cloth.
• Install room darkening shades.
• Consider wearing an eye mask.
If you wake during the night, avoid turning on the lights, as this could make it more difficult to fall back to sleep. When light is needed for safety, use a nightlight with a low-wattage red bulb, since red light is less disruptive to sleep than other color spectrums.
5. Get moving.
You’ve probably noticed that after a day on the couch watching movies, it’s often hard to fall asleep at night. That’s because physical activity levels affect certain hormones that control circadian rhythms.13Including as little as 10 minutes of cardio exercise per day in your sleep routine can significantly improve your sleep experience. Find something fun that you’ll look forward to like dance, kickbox aerobics, or even just a quick run around the block.
6. Curb caffeine.
Since so many of us reach for coffee in the morning to energize, it makes sense that caffeinated beverages in the evening might interfere with sleep. What’s really surprising is just how much of a buffer is truly needed between that last cup of joe and the moment you crawl under the covers.
A recent study found that drinking coffee as much as six hours before bedtime negatively impacts sleep!14 This means if your bedtime is 10 pm, it’s best to stop drinking coffee by 2 in the afternoon. To be on the safe side, you might even want to forgo coffee after lunch altogether.
7. Back off booze.
Sleep experts agree that it’s also a good idea to cut out alcoholic beverages after dinner for healthy sleep. But wait a minute, you may be thinking—doesn’t alcohol help you fall asleep? While taking an evening nip is well known for bringing on sleep faster, the problem is that it also interrupts metabolic signals in a way that cause you to wake in the middle of the night. To make things worse, late evening alcohol interferes with restorative REM sleep as well.15
8. Play it cool.
Did you know that human body temperature doesn’t remain rigidly constant? We all experience subtle temperature fluctuation as circadian rhythms ebb and flow. Body temps normally begin to drop about an hour before sleep, and can actually fall as low as 96° Fahrenheit during the last hours before waking.16
Keeping your bedroom cool encourages your body to cool down and get drowsy. The optimal sleeping temperature is between 60° and 68° Fahrenheit, so you may want to use a ceiling fan, open a window, or turn on the A/C if indoor temps climb out of this range.
9. Nurture your gut.
Gut balance is the root of wellness, and among the many benefits of gut microbial health are uplifted mood, reduced stress, lower perception of pain, and improved levels of important hormones and neurotransmitters—with the end result being better overall sleep!17,18,19,20
Give your gut some sleep boosting TLC with a diet rich in prebiotic plant foods (preferably organic) in their natural state—and by avoiding processed foods, refined sugar, GMOs, and artificial additives, all of which could harm your delicate microbiome. Supplementing with a high quality, time-released probiotic like PRO-15 ensures that your microbial community is continually being fortified with beneficial strains.
Additionally, because even with an excellent diet it can be difficult to get enough prebiotic fiber to properly nourish your friendly flora, consider sprinkling some organic prebiotic powder into your oatmeal, smoothies, or morning coffee. Finally, since antibiotics wipe out your microbial good guys along with unwanted organisms, try to only use these medications when you truly need them to get well.
10. Take advantage of sleep technology.
Adding a bit of technology takes your sleep routine up a serious notch! Here are a few tech strategies to get you sleeping like a baby before you know it:
• Sleep Cycle app: This affordable subscription downloads to your iPhone and monitors your sleep movements throughout the night to determine how deeply you’re sleeping. When you set a 30 minute alarm range, it then wakes you during that time period with a gentle vibration when you’re in the lightest phase of sleep, so you won’t be rudely wrenched awake during deep sleep or in the middle of a dream.
• Blue light blocking glasses: If you’re too attached to your screens to turn them off during the critical 90 minutes before sleep, quality blue light blocking glasses such as Spektrum PROSPEK effectively block all UV and blue light without the loss of color vibrancy, so you can stay connected throughout your waking hours without sacrificing sleep quality.
• Sleep tracking devices: Convenient devices such as the Fitbit Alta HR track your sleep so you can understand your unique patterns and monitor your progress.
• Sleep sound generator: These devices emit a choice of relaxing audio such as white sound, pink sound, thunderstorms, or ocean waves to block out distracting traffic or other noise that might otherwise keep you awake.
• Grounding/earthing devices: Direct skin contact with the earth literally grounds your body electrically, which enhances wellness in a number of ways, such as better sleep.21,22 It’s not always practical to stand outside barefoot, but thankfully a whole host of earthing products are available, including sheets and throws that keep your body grounded throughout the night. Just plug them into the ground port of any electrical outlet and you’ll be connected to the energy of the earth as you dream.
11. Quiet your mind.
Meditation and mindfulness practices done at any point in your busy day (not just before bed) positively impact the brain and nervous system in ways that significantly improve sleep quality.23 Setting aside 20 minutes for your practice each day is ideal, but even just a few minutes can make a real difference. Some tried and true techniques include: focusing on the breath silently, breath counting (count four mindful breaths and repeat for the duration of your session), mindfulness, (consciously observe your thoughts, sensations, and feelings without attachment), and mantra (chant a word, syllable, or phrase aloud or silently).
If you’re not sure where to begin, consider taking a meditation class, doing a tutorial online, or working with a guided meditation recording.
12. Enlist help from nature.
When sleep is elusive despite healthy habits, you’ll be glad to have these safe, natural sleep aids in your sleep “tool box”:
• Magnesium oil: Magnesium calms the mind and helps you sleep by reducing the stress hormone cortisol and increasing sleep-promoting melatonin.24 And since this nutrient is well absorbed through the skin, simply massaging in some high quality magnesium oil (such as Valentia) will help ease you off to dreamland in no time.
• Aromatherapy: Essential oils including lavender, chamomile, and frankincense have relaxing scents that encourage sleep.
• Herbs: Taken internally, lavender, ashwagandha, and valerian may also help you achieve a better night’s sleep.
• Spend time outdoors: You can’t get more natural than the great outdoors! Research shows that just one weekend of camping without any artificial light is enough to reset the body’s circadian rhythm—and after two full days of being outdoors, melatonin begins to rise 1.4 hours earlier.25 Not only does spending time outside expose your brain to natural light that helps set your sleep cycle, the fresh air also offers a delicious (and proven) release of stress, and you’ll get the opportunity to to expose your body to new varieties of friendly flora—both of which have a positive impact on sleep.
While all top notch sleep routines share certain basic characteristics, your personal sleep routine will ultimately turn out ot be as individual as you are. Try not to get discouraged it if takes a little time and experimentation to discover what works for you. Eventually you’ll hit on just the right combination of strategies and habits to start sleeping better than you ever thought was possible. Sweet dreams!
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Roberta Pescow is a writer at Hyperbiotics and proud mom of two amazing and unique young men. Natural wellness is a subject she’s passionate about, so she loves sharing information that helps others discover all the ways probiotics support glowing health and well-being. To learn more about how a healthy microbiome can enrich your life, subscribe to our newsletter.