Several years ago I found that I was seriously struggling to get a good night’s sleep… at all. Ever! It was massively frustrating! I’d always heard the usual advice about turning off tech an hour or so before you hit the hay, and reading a book for at least 30 minutes before you plan to enter the land of slumber, but it seldom worked. Actually… it just never worked!
I have an overactive mind – what can I say? The electrical pulses zip back and forth around my brain like Formula 1 cars around the Monaco track, and I just struggle to “shut down” at the end of the night. Even when I haven’t been glued to Netflix or playing twenty rounds of Mario Kart, I can often spend the evening just writing down ideas, and when I get tired and head up to bed, the creativity mill just keeps churning!
I finally came to discover some solutions to the problem that actually worked – not just on paper, but in practice too! Now, a quick “disclaimer” before I dive into the 5 Ways to Better ZZZs: they’ve worked for me, and generally seem to work for most people… but may not work for you. When it comes to probability though, you should think that you’d stand at least a one in five chance of finding something that does work, so I hope one of these does for you.
So, in no particular order, here are my proverbial “bio-hacks” to help you gain a good night’s kip:
Aloe Vera [Plants]
While this may seem to be a more obvious choice for sunburn treatment, or for oral consumption (owing to its impressive vitamin and mineral content), Aloe Vera as a whole plant makes for a brilliant addition to your bedroom. While the gel and extract can promote *internal* health, the plant itself can actually help with external factors such as air quality. At night they will emit oxygen as well as cleanse the air of harmful toxins.
Greater oxygen content and cleaner air equals happier lungs (as they don’t have to be bludgeoned with crappy airborne compounds around the clock), and that means easier breathing, resulting in better sleep! One added bonus is that they’re super easy to take care of – requiring minimal watering (as they retain so much of the moisture within the gel in their leaves); they just need a healthy dose of sunlight: minimal, simple, effective!
Unlike Aloe Vera, you actually don’t need to stick a whole Lavender plant in your room; the essential oils that you can buy work just as well (if not better). I remember when I was about 13 years old and finding a couple of books on Aromatherapy that my mother had – she also had a collection of essential oils, so I began testing them and seeing if they had the kind of impact that the books claimed. For the most part, they did. And lavender was one of the most potent ones; it has been widely used by several cultures around the world for its calming properties.
Having been used to help with insomnia, even the American College of Heatlhcare Sciences [based in Portland, Oregon – my backyard] have noted that it can reduce cortisol levels (i.e. reduce stress), and alleviate restlessness. Now, if you do decide you’d like to try using the actual plant, then the upkeep will be almost as easy as aloe – so, nothing that would class as “high maintenance”.
Just “being real” – it may not be the most “masculine” plant, so the oils may be the best option for the more “self-conscious” guys out there, but honestly, if – like me [in the past] – you’ve ever suffered from sleep apnea, I strongly suggest checking the ego and doing whatever *works* best (not just what looks best).
Melatonin is a hormone that plays a vital role in regulating your natural sleep cycles. Not only is it found in the body (produced by the pineal gland in the brain), but also it’s abundant in plants/foods that we commonly eat. Cherries are often touted as one of the best sources, but there’s also tomatoes, walnuts, mustard seeds and more.
So, you could have cherries and/or walnuts as snacks, toss tomatoes in with salads, and season meals with crushed mustard seeds! A nice variety of ways to work these melatonin-rich foods into your daily diet.
If you don’t like anyyy of these, then consider broadening your palette! But just to throw a few more sources out there for you, you have: rice, goji berries, peanuts and broccoli, which also contain decent amounts too.
Just to be clear though, I’m not saying that stuffing your face with a handful of goji berries is going to help you sleep like a baby! In fact, that kind of sugar spike before bed probably isn’t wise. But, the little boost of melatonin will help a bit [especially if you’re putting these other methods into practice as well!].
Once you have your melatonin levels in check, you’ll very quickly want to ensure that your intake of Zinc & Magnesium are up to par also! ZMA (Zinc, Magnesium and Vitamin B6) is a popular and effective supplement that should be taken separate to all your other vitamin and mineral supplements (if you have any). The reason in this instance being twofold: firstly, zinc and magnesium will compete for uptake in the body with other minerals, thus meaning that absorption will be suboptimal. And secondly (perhaps more relevant), is that zinc is essential for the metabolism of melatonin, and magnesium plays an important role when it comes to nerve and muscle relaxation.
I’ll be delving far deeper into the importance of ZMA as a supplement in other posts, however, for now – be sure that you’re not deficient in these crucial minerals, and consider taking them separate to your regular daily vitamin/mineral (preferably at night before bed).
And the final “bio-hack” – Sleep Tracker Apps! Now, unlike the other four on the list, this clearly isn’t supposed to stimulate a response within the body to help induce better quality sleep. No. This is more to do with waking up at the optimal time!
See, *this* was [for me] the most effective way to regulate my sleep as far as how long I was sleeping for. It was when I first discovered the importance/significance of Circadian Rhythms (more in future posts), and it’s perhaps the simplest of the five methods to implement.
I use an app [found on the Apple App Store] called: Sleep Cycle. It is… brilliant! The two best things that the app does are that it will monitor your sleep (using both sound and movement sensors to detect your movement and snoring, which will help it gauge whether you are in ‘deep sleep’ or on the brink of waking – a cycle that repeats itself a number of times throughout the night).
The second thing is that if you select the “smart alarm” setting, the alarm will sound at any point within a half-hour window (that you select) when it detects is optimal for you to awaken; plus it will start the alarm off quieter and gradually get louder (so as not to “startle” you to wake up).
The cool thing is [even on the free version of the app] you’ll see it provides statistics/charts that illustrate when you were sleeping the heaviest, when you were close to waking, how much you were snoring, and more.
It’s important to realize that waking up in the middle of a deep sleep cycle can result in you feeling super groggy for several hours after you get up; whereas, being woken at a point when your body is naturally coming out of that cycle will result in you feeling far fresher and re-energized (this is because the melatonin levels [that help induce sleepiness] are highest in deep sleep [obviously, right?], and lowest when you’re at the end of a full Circadian rhythm).
And there you have it – a variety of ways to “bio-hack” your sleep! These Five Ways to Betters ZZZs have proven very effective for me! I would suggest taking a “stacking” approach… i.e. rather than going “all in” and using all five methods at once, start with one and evaluate its results; if it’s not working, then *add* another until your sleep quality improves.
If you find that one doesn’t work, two [together] don’t work, and you’ve wound up trying all five together… well, only your doctor can prescribe the best ways to move forward from there. Granted, it would be pertinent to consider consulting your doctor before trying these in the first place, but for the most part, they should all be safe and effective for the majority of [healthy] people.
As always, I hope you’ve found this helpful! Be sure to share this with anyone you feel may benefit from implementing these ideas in a bid to attain better sleep!
Remember: Love life, and Love yourself!
Yours in Training,
Chris Atkinson | Master Personal Trainer, SDO