10 Keys to Healthy ZZZZs

by Kristen McElveen, ND

updated from an original post at kristenmcelveennd.com/blog from December 3, 2008 - there are NO affiliations with any of the products mentioned in this article

Image courtesy of iStock

Image courtesy of iStock


Sleep deprivation is becoming a major issue and it is affecting us at younger and younger ages. 

The hustle mentality and work around-the-clock expectations are definitely contributing as is the ever present FOMO (fear of missing out) with social media and 24/7 social addictions like Facebook, Instagram (and Periscope lately for me).

Not only is it the activity that keeps us from sleeping, but the artificial light emitted from all the technology we use throughout our lives can significantly affect our sleep cycles. 

Sleep is our body's time for healing and therefore it is imperative for optimal health. The way we sleep can affect our heart health, our ability to lose weight and obviously our energy levels, which in turn, affect a host of other things such as focus, memory, sex drive and more.

Light is important to our biological clocks, not only emotionally, but biochemically.

Darkness actually stimulates our brain to start making melatonin, a neurotransmitter that helps us to sleep (and also helps us to fight cancer, among other things).

So, what can you do right now to help balance your light and get the best sleep ever?

  1. Purchase blackout shades for your windows if your curtains or blinds aren't blocking out light pollution at night - this is necessary if you live in a larger city or if you're like me and live in the country, but happen to have a neighbor who lights their property up like a football field...fear not if this isn't really an option for you, because you can always:
  2. Use a sleep mask to prevent sleep-interrupting light (preferably organic and fragrance-free - even though lavender can help to calm and fall asleep, I don't recommend long-term use of it due to potential hormonal effects over time) - also try to find one that has concave areas for your eyes so that they can still easily move during REM sleep
  3. Invest in a white noise machine or use an air purifier for white noise - obviously, I believe everyone should have a good quality air filter at least in their bedroom, so this is a win-win! Just a little bit of white noise can really help to reduce the annoyance of roommates, neighbors and even big city sounds and you don't have to spend a ton of money - I recommend Honeywell's Envirocare home air filters, which can be found in most local hardware or bigger box stores
  4. Use foam earplugs while you sleep - this is for those where white noise just isn't enough, or who have partners who snore or sleep talk - it can take some getting used to, but it can completely change your sleep quality and therefore your health
  5. Reduce EMFs in or near you bedroom or sleep area - this can be harder in urban areas, but you can usually do something to help - I have seen several people who are sensitive to EMFs (electromagnetic frequencies) that come from power lines, power meters (especially smart meters), old wiring that may not be grounded, and more, so some tips to help reduce your exposure to EMFs nearby are:
    • reposition your bed - make sure your bed is not right next to (or on the other side of the wall/floor) of your power meter or electrical panel/fuse box
    • turn off your wireless internet each night, especially if your router is in or near your bedroom
    • keep as many devices out of the bedroom as possible - TVs, radios, computers, routers, tablets, cellphones
    • do NOT sleep with your cellphone on you or in your bed - make sure it is at least 3 feet from you and if you have to have it near you, put it in airplane mode and turn the wireless and bluetooth off - stop using your cell phone as your alarm clock! Basic alarm clocks are like $5 and if you have a smart phone, you can afford a $5 alarm clock
    • use a basic alarm clock if you need an alarm - no radios or bells and whistles - if you've ever put your cellphone next to your clock radio, you know what I mean (you'll hear static every few seconds from the jumbled frequencies) - it is preferred that you use a sunrise alarm clock if at all possible, but if you are wearing an eye mask, keep in mind, it's not going to be effective
    • Check out Stetzer Electric for meters and filters to see if EMFs are an issue in your home and Dr. Talmor's site on Biosyntonie for more information and different ways you can protect yourself if moving isn't an option
  6. Get enough light during the day so that your body can recognize that it needs to start slowing down at the end of the day. If you live in the North, or work nights, this may be an issue in winter especially, so invest in a light box - commonly used for those with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), these boxes are actually great for everyone, especially those who don't get access to natural light much during the day for whatever reason - use it at the peak of your day, whatever time that may be (mid-afternoon for most) and then make your environment darker as the day/night goes on - this will give you a little dose of happy (and vitamin D) and help to keep your light-clock in check (a walk outside is the BEST way to do this as it gives you a little vitamin N - nature - too)
  7. Avoid light from devices 2 hours before bed - the blue light emitted from these devices (TVs, tablets, e-readers, smartphones, computers) keeps your melatonin from kicking and and helping you to get ready for sleep - if this is impossible, try using a filter like f.lux that automatically dulls the sleep-affecting blue light on your computer, or use blue-light-filtering amber glasses (no need to spend much $$ on this, a pair of orange safety goggles from your local hardware store do the trick)
  8. Focus on routine - routine is the most important when it comes to our adrenal glands (which handle our stress hormone, cortisol, which needs to wax and wane on a specific schedule in order to sleep well) - not only will it help you to set a routine bed and wake time, but it will significantly help your body's own built-in stress management system since it will be supporting the adrenals - this can help especially if you are WAY out of whack or suffering from a recent life change, stressor or insomnia - wake and sleep at the same time EVERY day (even on weekends) until your pattern balances and you are able to sleep - for some, this can take some time (up to 3 months), so don't just do it for a week or 2 and then give up! After a few weeks, most people will start to naturally get tired at their "bedtime" and naturally wake at their wake time and may not even need an alarm clock
  9. Keep bedtime sleep time - try not to do other activities in bed (reading, watching tv, working on your computer), especially if you are having trouble sleeping - there more time you spend in bed not sleeping, the more your body associated your bed for non-sleep activities - even if you wake in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep for more than 20 minutes and need to read or meditate to get back to sleep, get up and go to a chair or sit on the floor rather than staying in bed and staring at the ceiling - this will help your body to realize that when you are in bed, it is for sleep (and sex) only!
  10. Try deep breathing to get to sleep - there have been a lot of claims that 4-7-8 breathing can help you to fall asleep in ONE MINUTE...I don't know about that, but it has been super helpful for those who find it difficult to get to sleep because of a busy mind - deep abdominal breathing (using your diaphragm/belly, rather than your chest/shoulders) literally switches your nervous system from "fight-or-flight" to "rest-and-digest," and can help to calm you down and help you to fall asleep - to do the 4-7-8 method, inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, then hold your breath for 7 seconds, then exhale through pursed lips for 8 seconds (like you are blowing out candles)

What has helped you to get to sleep? Let us know in the comments below and don't forget to share this and spread the word!