Trouble Nodding Off or Staying Asleep? Here are Some Sleep Hygiene Tips You May Not Have Tried Yet

There are very few people out there that function optimally on less than seven hours of sleep, and yet so many of us struggle to get those seven hours in each night. Perhaps most frustrating is that even for those of us that try everything we can to get in the recommended dose of shut-eye, physical and psychological hurdles can turn this well-intentioned dream into a sleep-deprived nightmare.

If you have a hard time falling asleep once your head hits the pillow—or tend to wake up in the middle of the night feeling wired—here are a few things you might try when attempting to improve both sleep quantity and quality.

Get Your Hormones Tested

According to some holistic health practitioners, certain hormonal imbalances can manifest in a condition called “adrenal fatigue” and cause sleep disruptions. While the Endocrine Society and other health professionals are adamant that adrenal fatigue is not a real condition, you don’t have to look too far on social media to find everyday users that claim working with a naturopath to correct adrenal imbalances has been a game changer for them.

So, what is adrenal fatigue? According to WebMD, practitioners that insist on the condition’s legitimacy describe adrenal fatigue as a “group of related signs and symptoms (a syndrome) that results when the adrenal glands function below the necessary level.” It typically follows long periods of “intense stress,” and may result in tiredness, an inability to feel alert, and cravings for salty foods.

Another oft-cited symptom of adrenal fatigue is trouble sleeping. According to AdrenalFatigue.org, this is because “stress normally causes a surge in adrenal hormones like adrenaline and cortisol that increase alertness, making it more difficult to relax into sound sleep—especially when they remain high or rise and fall irregularly through the night. Frequent or constant stress can chronically elevate these hormone levels, resulting in a hyper-vigilant state incompatible with restful sleep.”

If you feel like you’ve tried everything to solve your sleep issues and nothing seems to be working, you may consider visiting a naturopath or alternative medicine practitioner and asking about getting your hormones checked. Given the lingering skepticism in the medical community about this condition, it may be a good idea to talk to your family doctor first about the potential pitfalls associated with any recommended solutions for correcting adrenal imbalances. And regardless of what path you choose, if at any time you feel like something’s not quite right with a prescribed treatment plan, talk to a trusted medical professional ASAP.

Check Your Menstruation Calendar

On a note related to sleep and hormones, if you’re female, there’s a chance that your period is wreaking a bit of havoc on your ability to clock a full seven or eight hours of shut-eye each night. Jenny Chen, writing for the Yale Medicine blog, notes that progesterone and estrogen—two hormones involved in the menstrual cycle—“shift up and down throughout a woman’s life, affecting sleep along the way.” When your body experiences low levels of these two hormones—as is usually the case at the start of each period—you may experience difficulty falling asleep.

In other words, consider sleep health one more reason to practice focused self-care in the days leading up to your period. Place a high priority and exercising during this time, go to bed earlier, and avoid drinking too many caffeinated beverages (in addition to trying out the tips below).

Be Mindful of Room Temperature

If you find yourself tossing and turning at night instead of settling into a deep, restful snooze, your thermostat may be to blame. According to recent studies as highlighted in The Wall Street Journal, “sleep may be more tightly regulated by temperature than by light.”

And the ideal temperature skews on the cool side.

As WSJ breaks down, you can probably thank evolution for why our bodies prefer a cooler temperature when it’s time to hit the hay; in the days before our sleep environments became climate controlled, our bodies were constantly subjected to the elements—ie, warm days and cool nights. Given evolution’s snail’s pace, it makes sense that our bodies haven’t fully caught up to modern-day interior heating and cooling systems.

If you normally set your thermostat to 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celcius), try turning it down to 65 (18 Celcius) when it’s time for bed.

Add Some Noise to Your Nighttime Routine

Light sleepers and nighttime wakers often cite noise issues as reasons for why they have trouble falling or staying asleep. But noise in the bedroom—that is, the right noise—can also be a good thing, especially if attaining perfect nightly silence is not on the menu for you (which, let’s face it, is the case for most people—after all, even the otherwise pleasant morning chirping of birds can disrupt sleep for some).

A recent Berkeley Wellness Q&A breaks down the difference between two widely recommended forms of nighttime bedroom noise: white noise and pink noise. White noise, which “is made up of all the sound frequencies that humans can hear, with every frequency distributed equally” is often recommended as a sleep aid as “it creates a constant ambient sound that helps to mask other noises, like a car door slamming outside, which might wake the person up.” Pink noise, by contrast, tends to be “louder and more powerful at the lower frequencies” and includes such sounds as “as waves lapping on the beach, leaves rustling in the trees, or a steady rainfall.”

If you’re interested in adding some nighttime noise to your routine, there are a number of devices on the market that specialize in delivering your color of choice (all you need is a quick Google search). Or, if you’re in a pinch and are looking for an immediate remedy, check out your smartphone’s app store—there are a number of applications out there (many of which are free) that may help you start snoozing more “soundly” ASAP.

Make Your Bedroom a Device-Free Zone

Surely you’ve heard this one by now, but even if you haven’t, it’s time to take it seriously: Bringing a smartphone or other electronic device into the bedroom can take a serious toll on your sleep habits.

According to a 2015 study published in Social Science & Medicine, using a smartphone when you should be trying to nod off can cause all sorts of sleep-related issues: “Sending/receiving text messages and/or phone calls after lights out significantly predicted respondents' scores on the PSQI, particularly longer sleep latency, worse sleep efficiency, more sleep disturbance and more daytime dysfunction.” People who used their phones at bedtime were also more likely to experience insomnia, wake up later, and deal with “increased fatigue” the next day.

If you’re not yet ready to part with your device at bedtime altogether, at least put it across the room when you’re wanting to nod off and pick up a book instead. This will force you to take your mind off the daily grind and prepare yourself—mentally and physically—for sleep.

On that note...

Watch Your Alcohol Intake

This one tends to surprise people as alcohol is most often seen as a depressant that can help people fall asleep faster. That may be true if you consume alcohol in small doses (a drink or two) prior to bedtime, but note that you’re also upping the likelihood of disrupting deep sleep once the sedative effect has burned off.

As Maia Szalavitz highlights for Time, Studies suggest that alcohol can have a major impact on REM sleep, the deep sleep phase during which you experience dreams and “memories are likely stored and learning occurs.” Drinking too much or chronic use, then, can have the opposite result as intended, making it harder to feel well rested after a night of drinking instead of helping you sleep like a baby. As Szalavitz succinctly notes, “The effect of consolidating sleep in the first half of the night is offset by having more disrupted sleep in the second half of the night.”

If you’re not ready to give up your nightcap, just make sure you don’t overdo it. And if you do experience regular nighttime wakefulness, it’s worth considering giving up alcohol altogether for at least a week or two to see if that is, in fact, what’s making it harder for you to rest easy.

Demand More of Your Sleep Support Supplement

We recently waxed poetic about VitaYears™ Sleep Support Supplement in an article here on our healthy living blog. And for good reason: We know that for a lot of people, a simple melatonin supplement isn’t always enough for achieving awesome sleep every night. Yes, melatonin is a huge player when it comes to the sleep-wake cycle. But 21st-century research shows that there are other ingredients out there that can complement melatonin’s qualities and take your deep sleep efforts to the next level.

These ingredients are GABA and apocynum venetum. Studies suggest that GABA can help ease anxiety and reduce sleep latency (aka, the amount of time it takes to fall asleep). Apocynum venetum has been shown to increase serotonin concentrations and help users achieve deeper sleep overall. When all three ingredients are combined, as they are in VitaYears Sleep Support Supplement, you can achieve deeper sleep faster.

In other words, if your basic melatonin supplement isn’t doing the trick, it’s time for an upgrade.