As autumn begins to shift towards winter and the days grow shorter and darker, it’s completely normal to experience sleep disturbances, as our circadian rhythm, which regulates our sleep cycle, is affected by daylight. That means you may need to adjust your sleep routine, as what worked in the spring and summer may be slightly different from what works in fall and winter.
When our sleep suffers, other aspects of our life take a hit too—trying to power through a busy workday, focus on a project, or give a presentation are all much harder when we’re sleep-deprived. Appetite changes and food cravings are also common. As a dietitian and health coach, I have worked on sleep with many of my clients. While it’s not outwardly a “food thing” our sleep duration and quality are closely tied to our eating patterns thanks to “hunger hormones” leptin and ghrelin, which get thrown out of whack when we don’t get the sleep we need. I’ve written more specifically about the role of food in sleep before, but today I want to share some other little sleep hacks.
-Set consistent sleep and wake-up times
You may need to shift the times you go to bed and wake up in order to increase your exposure to sunlight. Some people find it helpful to adjust the time of day they exercise as well. Think about whether it would feel better to have your last meal of the day earlier or later as well. I don’t typically give hard and fast rules about what time to stop eating, but give yourself at least an hour to digest after your last meal or snack before you lay down or make that last meal of the day your smallest if it has to be late so your digestive system doesn’t feel overtaxed as you attempt to ease into sleep.
-Hack your sleep environment
Keep the room cool and dark. Remove electronics. You can even turn off your router if you’re ambitious. Position any devices that emit light away from you. Keep the room quiet or use a white noise machine. An eye mask and / or ear plugs can also work wonders. I know this may feel like a leap but an old-fashioned alarm clock so you don’t have to keep your cell phone right by your bed.
-Declutter your mind
Meditating or journaling (or both) before bed can be incredibly helpful in sorting through and clearing clutter in your mind. Even five minutes of meditation can help you unwind. You may also find it helpful to write down whatever may be on your mind at the end of the day to just get it out or write down the next day’s to do list so you’re not trying to sort through all that as you attempt to drift off. This is also great when you wake up in the middle of the night with your mind racing—jot down whatever is in there and nine times out of ten you’ll feel calmer and more able to drift back off.
When I went off to college my mom gave me a little bottle of lavender oil and said to drop a few drops on the lightbulb in my bedside lamp before turning in for the night. More than 15 years later I still use the scent of lavender to help me drift off. I often will just dab the oil on my wrists or rub a few drops into the bottom of my feet. There is a lot of research showing lavender works as an effective sleep aid. I also use a spray. I originally received a similar one as a gift from my friends at CVS and I’ve continued to buy it.
-Sip something soothing before bed
A cup of tea can be soothing in the evening. Aside from the soothing effect of certain ingredients like chamomile, lavender, and rose, sipping something warm gives you a change to slow down. I have also found magnesium citrate powder works fo easing tension because it acts as nature’s muscle relaxer, so to speak. I’ve been buying Natural Vitality’s Natural Calm powder for years and adding it to warm water. A more recent find is this Mickelberry Gardens Relaxation Honey Tonic, which was another gift from CVS that I’ve continued to buy. It was raw Pacific Northwest honey, apple cider vinegar, lemon balm, chamomile, and lavender among its short and sweet ingredients list. A teaspoon in a cup of tea or warm water makes a soothing evening treat
I have found CBD oil, capsules, and gummies to be incredible helpful for sleep—it even got me to be able to stop relying on Benadryl when I need help drifting off. While CBD comes from the cannabis plant, it doesn’t contain the psychoactive component, THC, so you won’t get you high. This article from Consumer Reports has some great tips for choosing the best product for you.
-How to use melatonin
Melatonin is a hormone that is involved in regulating our circadian rhythm. It’s not present in many foods so a supplement is your best bet. While it won’t knock you out, melatonin can be helpful when we need help establishing a consistent sleep cycle, such as when we’re navigating a time change due to seasonal shifts of travel across time zones. Start with a small dose (about 1 gram) because it is possible to build up a tolerance over time and require more.
Weighted blankets have become more popular over the last few years, and they really work. The benefit is thought to be related to that gentle pressure therapy, which helps stimulate the release of a feel-good brain chemical called oxytocin. It’s similar to a hug, but in blanket form. I received one from Bearaby as a gift when they launched but there are tons of others on the market at all different price points.
Another option? I never thought I’d be a cat person, but if you’re a back sleeper like I am, it turns out that a cat sleeping on you works too. When traveling, I’ve caught myself sleeping with a pillow on my chest because I miss her.
-Be kind to yourself
Don’t put pressure on yourself to get the perfect night of sleep. When it happens, great, but when it doesn’t, beating up on yourself tends to only make it feel worse. If it helps, think about what may have let you from sleeping well and use that information to come up with a plan for the next night.
Disclosure: This post contains a few Amazon affiliate links and mentions of products I initially received for free, I was not compensated for my time. Opinions are my own.