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How to Improve Your Sleep

Sleep is vital to our health. But did you know that short sleep is associated with more than a 40% increased risk of cancer? Recently, my Imerman Angel Melanie and I were talking about how important sleep is to cancer recovery. Eight years after my diagnosis, sleep is still something I struggle with, too. Here are 16 ways to improve your sleep.

Not sure whether or not you're sleeping well? Try a sleep tracker like Fitbit or Oura. I thought I was getting a better night's sleep, until I started tracking my sleep in real time. My sleep duration was shorter than I expected—I was waking up often and not falling asleep as quickly as I should have been.

What is REM sleep?

That meant I wasn't getting enough REM or deep sleep. You should spend about 20-25% of your sleep time in REM sleep, which is associated with a reduction in amygdala reactivity — that's the area of your brain responsible for anxiety, stress, and fear. According to Oura, "Scientists reason that the low adrenaline during REM sleep decreases the emotional intensity of events as we reprocess them in dreams, which promotes emotional balance."

Late nights on screen, a crying baby, coffee too late in the day, or serious jet lag—we've all been there at one time or another.

16 ways to get a better night's sleep

Here are some of the tricks and tips I always go back to when I'm not getting enough sleep.

  1. Create an evening ritual. Drink a calming sleep tea or light a candle. Play a mantra over Spotify. Listen to a YouTube meditation. Whatever you do, try to make it a regular ritual at the same time every night. Consistency builds sleep. A 2009 study from Sleep found that a consistent nightly bedtime routine—in and of itself—is beneficial in improving infant and toddler sleep. Why wouldn't consistent routines help adults sleep, too?

  2. Take 5-HTP. 5-HTP dietary supplements help raise serotonin levels in the brain. Because serotonin helps regulate mood and behavior, 5-HTP may have a positive effect on sleep, mood, anxiety, appetite, and pain sensation. I take 200 mg of 5-HTP an hour before bed.

  3. Use essential oils. Lavender oil is calming, but there are a lot of oils that assist with better sleep. Try misting lavender oil and water on your pillow, dabbing some on your wrists and ankles before bed, or using a diffuser at bedtime.

  4. Take magnesium or an Epsom salt bath at bedtime. Try a magnesium supplement or drink like Calm or chug almond milk at bedtime, which is also high in magnesium. One study of older adults with insomnia found that magnesium supplementation at a dose of 500 mg daily for eight weeks helped them fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, reduced nighttime awakenings, and increased their levels of naturally circulating melatonin. Epsom salts are an excellent source of magnesium. Add lavender soap or essential oils for a calming lavender-infused Epsom salt bath.

  5. Use infared therapy. Red infared light is known to induce a better night's sleep. That's because it mimics watching a sunset, which is our body's natural way of regulating our circadian rhythms and hormones for better sleep.

  6. Watch a sunset. Or if you can manage to find a way to carve out time to watch a real sunset, it's been scientifically proven that the light at sunset regulates our circadian rhythms and prepares us for a better night's sleep.

  7. Get off media before bed. Turn off your devices early in the evening. Not only will this help calm your mind, you'll also be exposing yourself to less blue light which can negatively impact your sleep.

  8. Try blue blockers. If you have to be on your computer or phone late at night, you might buy a pair of blue blockers. Blue-light blocking glasses are easy to purchase, or you can also add a blue blocker to your prescription glasses. Just ask your optometrist.

  9. Drink electrolytes. Electrolytes help us have a deeper more restful sleep. One symptom of electrolyte imbalance is insomnia, so make sure you're getting adequate amounts of sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium in your diet. Electrolyte supplements can help. Coconut water also contains high amounts of potassium, calcium and magnesium.

  10. Make your bedroom more restful. Decorate your room with fresh flowers and calming crystals like quartz, citrine, or amethyst. Make your room smell good with incense or essential oils, clean your sheets regularly, and invest in a good back rest or pillows that produce a sense of relaxation and calm. Get darkening shades or decorate your room with calming colors like blue or purple. Relax.

  11. Exercise. Daily exercise helps you feel tired at night and regulates your circadian rhythms. According to a 2017 study published in the Journal Impact Factor of Acta Cardiologica Sinica, proper exercise can have a significant circadian phase-shifting effect and affect our sleep and wake schedule.

  12. Read. Reading a calming or inspirational book before bed can help ease your mind of any worries and bring peace. If you read on a Kindle, you can use your red light settings or blue blocking glasses. You might read something like Original Wisdom: Stories of an Ancient Way of Knowing or Eckhart Tolle.

  13. Listen to relaxing music or sounds. Ocean waves, flutes, trickling creeks and ponds, Erik Satie, or Beethoven—whatever your sound of choice, calming music is a great way to relax our minds and prepare for sleep. You can even pair your music with radiation-free air buds for a healthier experience.

  14. Write a gratitude list before bed. A gratitude list is a great way to get your mind in a positive space before you fall asleep. And a gratitude list keeps you from worrying about the small stuff. In fact, the Journal of Psychosomatic Research found that feeling grateful helps people sleep better and longer. Follow Rhonda Byrne's The Magic to jumpstart your gratitude practice. My teacher, Beth Osmer, recommended this book. We've held book groups devoted to this book, sending text reminders to members and sharing some of our insights or gratitude practices.

  15. Sleep on a grounding blanket or earthing pad. Studies have found that grounding blankets can normalize cortisol release and improve your sleep. Grounding blankets may also decrease inflammation. Research has found that grounding can improve inflammation, free radical damage, blood pressure, sleep quality, pain, stress, mood, and wound healing.

  16. Create a colder sleep environment. Using a cool mattress, opening a window, or lowering the thermostat gives you cooler sleep temperatures. Cooler temperatures when sleeping is associated with better REM sleep and your body producing more melatonin.

Please consult your physician or oncologist before you do any physical exercise or take any supplements. Please read my Medical Disclaimer for more information.

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