Top Tips For Getting Your Best Sleep

Feb 29, 2024

Written by co-founder Erica Diepersloot

It may or may not be fitting that I am writing this in the middle of the night. The kids have been sleeping for hours; my husband and I went to bed at a reasonable hour and I fell asleep next to him, then woke up to use the restroom and now here I am an hour later, unable to fall back asleep.

Young girl asleep in bed reading book

This is, in fact, not me. It’s our oldest daughter 🙂

If you happened to have read our first blog, you may recall that this isn’t the first time that I decided to use my inability to fall back asleep as an opportunity to write. I will clarify that I am not saying this is a good idea; in fact, it’s a pretty bad idea and I try to not let this be a regular habit in my life. But every once in a while, I turn an hour of my sleeplessness into a writing break. I think it’s partly due to the sweet chapter of life that I’m in right now – having little kids at home means that the majority of my days are spent with them. Which brings so much joy, but minimal amount of time to spend in front of my computer. So if I happen to wake up in the middle of the night, I know that I can use this time to write without getting any invitations to play Magnatiles or have a tea party. A friend of mine labeled this hour (or so…) as “borrowed time” because it is like a gift of extra time that I wouldn’t have expected to get in my day. Even if it means that I’m not getting the sleep that I should.

Anyway, after our second daughter was born, my husband Rob became super interested in tracking his sleep. And yes I’m all about data (I actually majored in mathematics in college) so I love to see numbers and graphs, but anyone could tell you that tracking your sleep when you have a newborn baby in the bassinet next to your bed is going to lead to slightly discouraging stats. Nonetheless, he purchased the Oura ring and it does provide some enlightening information, such as showing how much the quality of our sleep is affected by eating late, for example. Many Oura-users will agree that the first thing they do when they wake is check their sleep score. The Oura app even gives insightful messages based on your results; I personally prefer the encouraging “Go for it!” or “Bring it on” messages, versus the “Concentrate on recovery” or “Don’t push it” ones. 🙂

Father and daughter smiling on a hike

All that to say, Rob and I are both interested in sleep and recognize that quality sleep is vital for good health. I do not claim to be an expert in this field; in fact you have probably already confirmed that I am quite the contrary. However, we have researched a few “tricks” to help boost sleep quality and wanted to share them with you.

Top Tips for Improving Sleep Quality

1. Eating Earlier

Going to bed on a full stomach means that your digestive system needs to work hard to break down all the food that you just consumed. So the key to this one is to not only strive to eat dinner 3-4 hours before going to bed, but don’t snack after that timeframe. You will likely be able to fall asleep faster, as well as stay asleep longer if your digestive system is also resting. (This is one tip that I personally don’t walk the talk, because I really look forward to that part of each evening after we get the kids to bed and I get to sit with Rob on the couch to enjoy our dessert and debrief about our day… but I’m including it here because that is what research recommends 🙂)

This also applies to consumption of caffeine!

You might be familiar with the term “half-life” from the scientific world. In this context, the half-life of caffeine is the amount of time it takes for a quantity of caffeine to be reduced to half the original. It is interesting to learn that the half-life of caffeine varies from person to person, but it is generally between four to seven hours… so enjoying a cup of coffee (which typically has ~100mg caffeine) right after lunch means your body still likely has ~50mg of caffeine running through it at dinnertime, and ~25mg caffeine 4 hours after dinner. All that to say that caffeine can still have stimulating effects long after you consume it.

2. Physical Exercise

Woman running pushing a stroller by a cornfield

The more that we move our bodies throughout the day, the more rest that our bodies will need in order to recover. So if you need a little encouragement to go for a walk or jump on the trampoline with your kids, enjoy it for what it is– plus the benefits it can bring to your sleep quality.

Note: The time of day that you get this physical activity can impact your sleep.

Riding the Peloton right before bedtime may not be the wind-down rhythm you need… but you let us know.

3. Light Exposure

Making sure you get enough exposure to natural sunlight during the day will help keep your circadian rhythm healthy. Many doctors recommend a minimum of 30 minutes of midday sunlight. However, from watching our kids play outdoors, I would say the more time outside the better! In contrast, spending time in front of the blue light of a computer, phone, or TV in the evening can trick your brain into thinking it’s still daytime. We want to avoid that in the evenings to maintain your circadian rhythm, so reduce blue light exposure when it’s dark outside. Or, you can of course switch from blue to red light in the evening hours, if you want to get techy.

4. Extreme Heat & Cold Exposure

AKA: Hyperthermia + Cryotherapy

There are a lot of studies done on the benefits of exposing your body to extreme heat (such as in a sauna) and cold temperatures (such as an ice bath). I could easily have gifted this subject its own separate blog post. I decided to include it here, because Rob and I can both attest to the benefits it has brought to our sleep quality. It may simply be that putting your body through such physically stressful environments leaves you exhausted, hence you naturally fall asleep quicker in response. We both have also noticed that we wake up rejuvenated in the mornings, often before our alarms have sounded–one of the surest signs of quality sleep. 

Man in Ice Bath

Cold plunge courtesy of @Respire_Fire_and_Ice

Check out @respire_fire_and_ice on Instagram for more info and motivation for extreme temp exposure.

In addition to its effect on sleep (and we won’t even get into the benefits on your metabolism and the release of Cold Shock Proteins (CSPs) and Heat Shock Proteins (HSPs) throughout your body), here is a little extra background on some other benefits of Extreme Temp Exposure. You’ll notice that a lot of the benefits are linked to improved blood circulation throughout the body, which hugely affects our overall wellness. I was able to better understand the science behind why extreme temp exposure would affect blood circulation by visualizing the way our blood vessels contract when they are cold, expand when they are warm, then contract again in the cold. It’s essentially a “squeezing effect” on your blood vessels, which helps improve their ability to keep the blood moving to wherever it needs to go throughout your body. Anyway, this is not an exhaustive list of the benefits, but here you go!

Why is Cold Exposure so great?

ie. cold plunge or ice bath

  • Brown Fat Activation: Our bodies contain two primary types of fat: white fat (adipose tissue, which stores energy and releases it when needed) and brown fat (brown adipose tissue, which burns energy instead of storing it). By immersing your body in cold water, you stimulate the production and activation of brown fat cells as your body responds by producing heat, which can encourage your body to burn calories, as well as contribute to weight loss (1).
  • Immune Response: Some research suggests that regularly undergoing cold exposure can enhance the function of your immune system, possibly by increasing the count of certain immune cells. 
  • Improve Mood and Alertness: Cold exposure can increase the release of norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter related to alertness and mood. Makes sense because many people describe a cold shower or a cold plunge as “invigorating!” 
  • Anti-inflammatory Effects: There is some evidence that cold exposure can reduce inflammation, possibly through the effects on cytokine levels.

What are the Benefits of Heat Exposure?

ie. sauna or steam room

Sauna experience with @respire_fire_and_ice

  • Cardiovascular Benefits: Heat exposure increases heart rate and can improve the function of your body’s blood vessels, leading to better blood flow, and potentially lowering your risk of cardiovascular diseases.
  • Muscle Recovery: Heat can improve blood flow to muscles, which can improve your body’s ability to recover after exercise. Additionally, there’s some research that heat exposure can promote muscle growth by increasing the release of your body’s natural growth hormones and improving protein synthesis.
  • Stress Reduction: Heat exposure can increase the release of endorphins, which are natural mood lifters.
  • Improved Brain Health: As your blood circulation improves, this includes the blood flow towards your brain, which can support cognitive function and mental clarity. 
  • Youthfulness and Longevity: Some studies have suggested that regular sauna use might be linked to maintaining your body’s youthfulness. Saunas encourage perspiration, which is one of the body’s primary methods of detoxification – to eliminate toxins and impurities, and benefit your skin cells.

Precautions: While both cold and heat exposures can offer benefits, they also come with risks. It’s essential to approach these practices with caution, especially for individuals with heart conditions, certain medical conditions, as well as those not accustomed to extreme temperatures. Always consult with a healthcare professional before beginning any extreme temperature exposure regimen.

5. Meditation & Mindfulness

For thousands of years, people have practiced meditation for spiritual awakening and awareness, but that is not meditation’s only benefit. Studies show that it helps to deepen sleep, even in people who do not have sleep issues. If you think of your brain as a computer system, then every subject we think about through the day is an additional application open. Like a computer or a phone, our brains can get bogged down with so many open apps, so it may be helpful to visualize exiting out of each “application” or thought, and choose to focus on being present instead of letting those thoughts run rampant.

Meditation slows down your heart rate and lowers the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in your body, which both happen naturally when you sleep. Meditation can also cause your brain to produce theta waves, which is the same state your brain enters when you are falling asleep. So while some people prefer to practice meditation or mindfulness earlier in the day to reap the benefits of a clearer mind for the afternoon, there may also be benefits in a brief meditation before bed to clear your mind and help you mentally relax.

6. Colostrum Supplements

Who would have known, but colostrum can actually be a factor in improving sleep too! When your gut can function at its top performance, it is able to maintain healthy hormone levels, like melatonin. A happy gut also aids in decreasing stress and anxiety, and can promote relaxation – which helps with winding down. I know I can use a little help with that!

Try WonderCow Colostrum 

7. Bedtime Routine

As cliche as it sounds, taking a warm bath before bedtime can promote better sleep. 

Woman reading in bathtub

Pro Tip: Add Epsom salt to your bath to help your muscles relax. 

I have been using Dr. Teal’s Pure Epsom Salt, which has been helpful for my recent cases of Restless Legs Syndrome. Speaking of that…

My Top Tips for Restless Leg Syndrome

As a pregnant mother, I thankfully fall asleep relatively quickly (especially that first trimester, I would sometimes catch myself falling asleep while reading a bedtime story to our kids at 7pm). But I have found that if I wake up in the middle of the night, I have trouble falling back asleep. Unfortunately, this whole waking-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night thing happens quite regularly (about seven nights a week), so I have had ample opportunity to experiment what helps me fall back asleep. Usually, the reason I have a hard time falling back asleep is due to restless leg syndrome.

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a common condition where you feel slight twitching or tingling in your legs, or have the irresistible urge to move them. The general cause of RLS is unknown. However, there are certain gene variants associated with the condition, which makes sense because I have found that it runs in my family (as you’ll read about with my last home remedy tip below 🙃)

Best Home Remedies for RLS

  • Iron: Make sure you are getting enough iron in your diet since RLS is more likely when you are iron deficient.
  • Compression socks: Since they help with blood circulation, it may help the muscles in your legs relax. I have been using these ones.
  • Get out of bed for 5 minutes: This may seem counterintuitive as you are trying to relax, but if you get out of bed to walk around the couch for a few minutes, you may trick your body into thinking that bedtime has just begun and now it is time to relax.
  • Quinine: Quinine is a substance naturally produced from the bark of the Cinchona tree which can stop repeated muscle contractions. It is found in tonic water (which you might recognize sold here as well as in another drink called Bitter Lemon). While there are not sufficient studies on the efficacy of tonic, some people have found that just a sip or two before bedtime helps.
  • Bar of soap: I have saved my favorite home remedy for RLS as the last, and I will leave you with my personal story behind it…

Fact or Myth: Can you use a bar of soap for RLS?

When my sisters and I were little, we made so many memories going to our Grandma’s house. She was a sweet lady and we loved playing all sorts of games with her (Skip-bo, Rack-O, Chinese Checkers, Rummikub, to name a few). She had a few little “–isms” that made us laugh, such as the way she hid her house-key in the back of the freezer for safekeeping, and how she kept a king-size chocolate bar hidden in her nightstand drawer for a bedtime snack. But as she got older, some of these “–isms” had us granddaughters concerned for her… 

I will never forget the day that we found a bar of soap in her bed. Not just on the covers, but inside the sheets, unwrapped and smelling like lavender. It immediately made us so sad at the idea of our sweet Grandma, who had always been sharp as a tack, was actually getting old and potentially losing her marbles. We were a little reluctant to approach her about it, but felt like we needed to bring it to her attention in case she actually needed assistance at home. But when we cautiously brought the bar of soap to her, she just laughed and laughed. Turns out that she had put the soap in her sheets on purpose – to help with restless leg syndrome. How relieved we were to discover that our Grandma was not only not going crazy, but she was indeed on the brink of cutting edge medicinal discoveries! 🤩

I hadn’t noticed RLS before having kids, but with every pregnancy I have definitely put my Grandma’s theory into practice. It might be an old wives’ tale or a placebo, but there is some scientific evidence to back it up… in fact, many soaps are made with muscle relaxants that can soothe and calm even the most restless of legs. And lavender is known to promote relaxation as well, so go ahead and buy yourself a bar of soap and see if it helps. Goodnight, sleep tight! Time for me to try…

Woman sleeping in bed

References:

  1. PubMed: Brown Adipose Tissue and Its Role in Insulin and Glucose Homeostasis 

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