Updated: Feb 16, 2021
It's interesting to me that in our culture, we’ve developed a kind of “sleep-shaming.” Many of us might do this without being fully conscious of it: we boast about how early we wake up and pooh-pooh those who sleep in late. Many take pride in highlighting how little sleep they need, seemingly as a sign of strength or masculinity: Donald Trump famously brags about how he is able to “function” off of 3-4 hours per night. There’s a kind of competitiveness around sleep in our society, which I find so integral with our society’s exaltation of productivity above all else.
“We are the supremely arrogant species; we feel we can abandon four billion years of evolution and ignore the fact that we have evolved under a light-dark cycle. What we do as a species, perhaps uniquely, is override the clock. And long-term acting against the clock can lead to serious health problems.” Russell Foster, Oxford University professor and neuroscientist
Lack of proper sleep is associated with a lowered immune system and more frequent illness, increased stress, decreased cognitive performance, increased depression and anxiety, adverse heart and lung function, weight gain… the list goes on (University of Georgia).
No matter what anyone claims about their minimal sleep schedule, humans need between 7-9 hours per night. Adolescents need an average of 9 hours of sleep, but almost 70% of high school students report getting fewer than 7 hours.
And it’s not just about quantity, but sleep quality is just as important. Fortunately, there are some natural approaches we can take to get better quality and quantity of sleep.
Below are 7 of my top natural sleep helpers, many of which you may not have ever heard of! All place emphasis on the power of nature to restore our sleep cycles, and all are safe for adults and adolescents.
1. Natural light
You may already know about the importance of turning off screens before bed. But did you know that visually taking in 20 minutes of morning sunlight is just as important for healthy sleep and circadian rhythm?
Even on a cloudy day, you can still soak up some good UV. Windows and sunglasses do block certain UV rays, so you want to step foot outside the door with your naked eye. The most enjoyable way for me to get morning rays is taking my pittie for a walk within an hour of waking up.
And of course, avoid screens for 1.5-2 hours before bed time. I recommend wearing blue light blocking glasses because it’s not just screens that emit blue light, but all artificial light-- even the tiny little indicator lights on electronics can disrupt melatonin production in your body. I recommend the Swanwick or BluBox brands of glasses.
2. Yin Yoga
Yin yoga is made for bedtime. In ancient Chinese tradition, yin represents calm, relaxing energy. Instead of high-powered yoga flow, yin is a calming style of yoga in which you hold relaxing yet deep stretches for a few minutes at a time. Most positions are seated or lying down on the ground. It is one of the most effective ways for me to relax before bed. Even just 10 minutes of yin yoga can sometimes put me right into a deep sleep.
3. Acupressure Mat
My acupressure mat is a miracle worker. I don’t fully understand it, but every time I lie on it, I pass out even while I’m still lying on the spikes-- not an easy feat for someone who has struggled with insomnia. How it works: lie on the spiky mat with bare skin touching. It’s definitely uncomfortable at first, but within 25 minutes the discomfort should recede and you should feel incredibly relaxed. The key is to stick with it for at least 25 minutes to feel the benefits. Acupressure is based in ancient Traditional Chinese Medicine, and science has recently verified its benefits in helping us relax our bodies and minds.
4. Magnesium Spray
Up to half of all Americans are deficient in magnesium, which is considered the most important mineral for healthy sleep. Our ancestors naturally got multitudes more magnesium than we do by drinking spring water and bathing in rivers and the sea. Magnesium is successfully absorbed transdermally (through our skin), so I like to give my gut a break and use a spray at night as opposed to swallowing a pill. I recommend the Ancient Minerals brand. After a few sprays, you should feel sleepy within 20-30 minutes. Women who menstruate: this is also a great helper for cramps.
5. Ayurvedic Self-massage
The ancient Indian wellness system of Ayurveda has a practice called Abhyanga, or self-massage. It’s a great bedtime ritual for creating deeper, better quality sleep. I do this once or twice a week and every time, I wake up feeling like I’ve been sleeping on a cloud. A full-body self-massage is great, but even just spending two minutes massaging your shoulders provides benefit. Ayurveda usually makes use of sesame oil, as that was most available in ancient India. Some other oils that are known to be great for the skin are jojoba, coconut, and argan. The Ayurvedic tradition is to warm the oil before use by placing its container in a cup of hot water.
6. Blackout Curtains & Sound Machines
If you don’t have blackout curtains, I highly recommend swapping your regular curtains or blinds out for them. Even the slightest bit of light seeping in your room at night can disrupt your sleep cycles. These are the ones I purchased for my bedroom.
If you don’t want to purchase new curtains, I recommend a silk sleep mask. They are a must for travel, and 100% silk is best for your skin.
I don’t recommend using ear plugs every night, so a good alternative is a sound machine. Our ancestors would have slept to the sounds of nature around them-- crickets, wind through the trees, a nearby stream. A sound machine helps mimic that naturally soothing soundscape for us, and masks any disruptive noises.
It’s important to be aware that sound machines can emit high EMFs (electromagnetic fields), especially if they have a motor in them. This is the sound machine I use-- it can run on a charge so it’s portable for travel, and does not emit high EMFs nor have any indicator lights.
7. Reduce EMFs
Turn off your wifi at night and keep phones in another room, turned off, or on airplane mode. Make sure any devices near your bed, such as Kindle, are on airplane mode. Non-native EMFs (in other words, unnatural levels of EMFs such as from wifi) are major disruptors to our sleep and to the regeneration of our cells. For more on the importance of reducing EMFs (and why it’s not just woo woo), see my previous EMF newsletter.
I hope you found these suggestions helpful. If so, you might be interested in an upcoming online course I’m creating. It will cover all the most important steps toward natural, non-toxic living and wellness. I’ll provide more sleep suggestions and discuss many other topics, from reducing toxins in your kitchen to the benefits of breath work. This course is a real labor of love, backed by scientific research, and I promise to cover all the bases in keeping your mind and body healthy, safe, and well. The course combines different teaching modalities such as video, audio, text, and interactive elements so you won't get bored. :) I’ll be selling it for $47, but you can sign up early to get it for $37. Just shoot me an email before March 10th to receive the introductory price. The course will launch in April. And if you're like, wait, who are you to create this wellness course? I'm completing my Wellness Coaching certificate from Cornell University, and I have an MA in Teaching from Stanford University... among, most importantly, lots of personal and professional experience with wellness. It's going to be legit!
Wishing you a peaceful month ahead.
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I offer 50-minute and 80-minute private online sessions on a sliding scale. These are available one-on-one and for small groups or families. Private Online Session » If you’d like personalized resources or coaching in mindfulness and wellness practices, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also subscribe to the monthly Mindful & Well newsletter below. I’m always available to answer any questions you have, by email or in the comments below. Thanks for stopping by!