If you’re on-the-go until the moment you fall onto your mattress, or find yourself lying awake for hours, unable to fall asleep, you’re not alone. Prioritizing sleep — and actually getting to sleep — is a challenge for many of us. In a recent survey of Life Time members, 62 percent of respondents said they struggle to get enough hours of sleep to feel and perform physically and mentally at their best.
Unless you’re crashing from sheer exhaustion, your body and mind probably need time and some intentional efforts to wind down and prepare for rest. We asked Paul Kriegler, RD, CPT, director of nutritional product development at Life Time, to offer a few practical steps we can all take to help promote calm before bed.
1. Turn down the lights. Your circadian rhythm — or body’s “central clock” — plays a pivotal role in how easy or difficult it is for you to fall asleep. Light exposure is one of the elements that impacts it: Sunlight wakes you up in the morning, while darkness aids in sleepiness at night. Send your body a signal that it’s time for rest by dimming the lights around your home and in your bedroom about two hours prior to bedtime.
2. Lower your body temperature. Sleep studies suggest it’s easier to fall asleep (and stay asleep) after our body senses a drop in core temperature of two or three degrees. Transitioning into a cool bedroom — ideally around 60 to 67 degrees F for sleep – can amplify the cooling sensation that prepares your body for rest. Taking a warm bath and drinking hot (noncaffeinated, relaxation-promoting) herbal tea are both great ways to raise the body’s core temperature before moving into a cool environment to increase the temperature drop.
3. Establish a tech-free nighttime routine. “Find something to do other than watching a screen,” advises Kriegler, “especially if whatever you’re viewing or scrolling through is creating some kind of stress or stimulation that doesn’t allow you to fully relax, physically or mentally.”
The blue light that electronic devices emit is another sleep-blocking form of stimulation. Ideally, strive for minimal screen time after sundown. If you must use a screen after dark, Kriegler recommends using any available means of dimming the blue-light spectrum, such as using built-in filters and/or wearing blue-light-blocking glasses.
Taking an Epsom salt bath, listening to a podcast or soothing music, reading a book, doing some light yoga, journaling, or conversing or snuggling with a loved one are all good alternatives to late-night scrolling or TV watching.
4. Practice meditation. Meditation can create a relaxation response in the body, lowering blood pressure, slowing heart rate, and reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Close your eyes, notice your breath, and use it as a tool to help welcome sleep. There are a number of guided meditations available in the Life Time Digital app, including ones specifically designed to aid in stress release and better sleep. (Learn more about mindfulness in “Why Meditation?”)
5. Consider supplementing with magnesium. This mineral is one many of us are deficient in, yet is essential for hundreds of biological functions. Among its benefits, magnesium can serve as a natural sleep aid, supporting muscle and nervous system relaxation.
If you tend to struggle with sleep, try reaching for a high-quality magnesium supplement rather than an over-the-counter medication.
6. Try other relaxation-supporting supplementation. “There are four basic brain wave states, with the one we need to get into for deep and REM sleep being the alpha wave,” explains Kriegler. “This wave can be a challenge to get into, especially if we’re hyper-stimulated, anxious, or our minds are busy.”
He continues, “There are certain nutrients and botanical extracts that can help decrease scattered brain effects and promote the more relaxed alpha-wave brain state. These include valerian root, passionflower, chamomile, lemon balm, vitamin B6, 5-Hydroxytryptophan, L-theanine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid. We included this combination in our Relax supplement to naturally promote a restful state of mind and sleep onset and depth.”