The Top 10 Ways To Improve Your Sleep, According To A Functional Medicine Expert
According to the CDC, adults should get 7 hours (1) of uninterrupted sleep every night for optimal health. However, 35% of people (2) - about 1 in 3 Americans - regularly sleep less than what is recommended.
After years of consulting patients in my telehealth functional medicine clinic, I have seen the far-reaching implications poor sleep can have on a person’s health. But it’s never too late, or too difficult, to take back control of your sleep.
These are some of my favorite natural tools to help you fall and stay asleep so you can wake up feeling rested, refreshed, and ready to tackle the day.
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1. Weighted blankets
Designed to mimic a technique known as deep pressure stimulation that uses hands-on pressure to relax the nervous system, weighted blankets have been shown to help improve insomnia in individuals with ADHD, (3) anxiety, (4) and chronic pain. (5) Depending on your personal preference, you can get weighted blankets anywhere between 5 to 30 pounds.
To facilitate better sleep, magnesium supplements are best taken right before bed. This is because magnesium acts as fuel for your body’s GABA receptors that help regulate your body’s sleep system. Magnesium is typically found in powdered form to mix easily with water.
To help with this, I formulated The Magnesium with 4 different forms of Magnesium to be taken daily.
3. Chili pads
Your body’s core temperature should naturally drop while you are sleeping, but that doesn’t always happen depending on certain environmental factors and certain health problems. Brands like ChiliSleep have designed specialized sleeping pads and blankets that help regulate your temperature while you sleep so you can get the deep, restorative sleep you deserve every night.
4. Warm showers
Taking a warm shower or bath is another way to lower your body’s core temperature for optimal sleep. Instead of heating your body up, the warm water stimulates (6) blood flow to your feet and hands which causes your body heat to escape quicker, thus cooling you down.
Late night eating has always been a taboo. But if you pick the right snacks, they might actually help you fall asleep. Certain foods like walnuts and sweet cherries naturally contain melatonin - your body’s “sleepy time” hormone - that helps your body relax and wind down. These foods are also a better alternative to melatonin supplements as these can mess with your body’s natural melatonin production and further perpetuate a poor sleep-wake cycle.
6. Block blue light
Melatonin regulates your body’s sleep-wake cycle by dropping in the morning to help you wake up and gradually increasing throughout the day so you are ready to hit the pillow at night. However, exposure to blue light from your phone or computer can actually inhibit melatonin production. Limiting screen time in the evening is the best way to encourage healthy melatonin levels; but if you can’t unplug completely, wearing amber colored glasses can help mitigate your blue light exposure.
Racing thoughts are not exactly the best foundation for a great night’s sleep. Anywhere between 5 to 30 minutes of meditation can be enough to quiet your mind enough to help you fall asleep faster. Meditation looks different for everyone, but apps like Headspace and Calm have specific nighttime meditations that you can use regardless if you are new to meditation or have been practicing for years.
8. CBD oil
CBD oil is a superstar when it comes to reducing anxiety. While further research needs to be done to learn more about how CBD can influence sleep, studies have shown (7) that CBD’s ability to lower anxiety helps individuals with insomnia improve (8) their overall sleep quality.
9. Black out curtains
Sunshine alerts your body that it is time to wake up. If you are exposed to sunlight too early, it can interfere with your production of melatonin and cause you to wake up before you’ve slept enough. Blackout curtains and blinds shut out excess light pollution and can be especially helpful if you work irregular hours or night shifts. They can also help regulate room temperature by keeping your room cool or locking in heat.
By lowering anxiety and blood pressure, listening to music before bed has been shown to be a simple and affordable way to improve sleep. In fact, one study (9) found that students who listened to music every night improved their sleep after just three weeks.
Rehabbing your sleep is one of the most important things you can do for your health. Not only will you feel better rested and enjoy your day-to-day more, cultivating a bedtime routine will lay the foundation for a healthy lifestyle for years to come.
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- United States, Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “How Much Sleep Do I Need?”Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2 March 2017, www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/how_much_sleep.html.
- United States, Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Short Sleep Duration Among US Adults”Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2 May 2017, www.cdc.gov/sleep/data_statistics.html
- Hvolby, Allan, and Niels Bilenberg. “Use of Ball Blanket in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder sleeping problems.” Nordic journal of psychiatry vol. 65,2 (2011): 89-94. doi:10.3109/08039488.2010.501868
- Brian Mullen BS, Tina Champagne MEd, OTR/L, Sundar Krishnamurty PhD, Debra Dickson APRN, BC & Robert X. Gao PhD (2008) Exploring the Safety and Therapeutic Effects of Deep Pressure Stimulation Using a Weighted Blanket, Occupational Therapy in Mental Health, 24:1, 65-89, DOI: 10.1300/J004v24n01_05
- Baumgartner, Jennifer N et al. “Widespread Pressure Delivered by a Weighted Blanket Reduces Chronic Pain: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” The journal of pain, S1526-5900(21)00313-8. 20 Aug. 2021, doi:10.1016/j.jpain.2021.07.009
- Haghayegh, Shahab et al. “Before-bedtime passive body heating by warm shower or bath to improve sleep: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” Sleep medicine reviews vol. 46 (2019): 124-135. doi:10.1016/j.smrv.2019.04.008
- Vigil, Jacob M et al. “Effectiveness of Raw, Natural Medical Cannabis Flower for Treating Insomnia under Naturalistic Conditions.” Medicines (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 5,3 75. 11 Jul. 2018, doi:10.3390/medicines5030075
- Shannon, Scott et al. “Cannabidiol in Anxiety and Sleep: A Large Case Series.” The Permanente journal vol. 23 (2019): 18-041. doi:10.7812/TPP/18-041
- Harmat, László et al. “Music improves sleep quality in students.” Journal of advanced nursing vol. 62,3 (2008): 327-35. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2648.2008.04602.x
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, leading functional medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He received his doctorate from Southern California University of Health Sciences and post doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He specializes in clinically researching underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the best selling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.