You can eat all the right food, drink water by the pitcher, use the finest skin care, and exercise daily - but if you aren’t getting a decent night’s sleep, then you’ve built your health on a foundation of sand.
Poor sleep is known to decrease memory, energy, confidence, motivation, immune function and more. That marked decline in performance leads to increased stress, causing cortisol levels to rise, which in turn can wreak havoc on your appearance – to include the skin. They don’t call it “beauty rest” for nothing.
My husband and I have both suffered from poor sleep at various points in the past. He gradually adopted this little ritual during his time finishing his master’s degree while we were also launching Ladyloved, had our first baby, and moved to live in a brand new area.
As in our case, insomnia tends to crop up during maximum stress. The problem with poor sleep is that it’s often part of a vicious cycle: sleeplessness leads directly or indirectly to increased stress, which leads to poorer sleep, which leads to increased stress, and so forth until you’re a walking extra from Zombieland.
So without further ado, the ritual:
About forty minutes before you intend to actually be asleep (that means head on pillow, lights out, no screens or books in front of you) do the following:
1. Sip a hot cup of strong chamomile tea. Chamomile is loaded with apigenin, an antioxidant known to induce a sense of calm, and has worked very well for us. Do not buy “improved” tea that contains chamomile mixed with something else, and don’t add sugar or milk to the brew. Straight chamomile steeped in hot water, plain and simple.
We recommend Starwest Botanicals’ 1-Pound Bag for around $20. Cheaper brands tends to have twigs and bugs; Starwest is clean and delicious. Whatever you select, get it raw.
2. While you sip your tea, take a one milligram tablet of melatonin. One theory on why so many people report sleep deprivation today is that artificial lighting (including phones and laptops) perpetually signal daylight to the brain. Without darkness, the brain never ramps up melatonin production to signal sleep.
And if you're like many people, you've tried melatonin at some point, felt groggy and tired the following day, and never tried it again. We often assume that more of a good thing is better, take too much, and then discard it when we don't like the effects.
However, in the body, melatonin has a half-life of about an hour, so if you take a 10 mg tablet, then six hours later you still have a .16 mg dose in your system. It might sound small, but the human body operates on very, very miniscule doses for sleep regulation.
Begin by taking a 1 mg tablet, and if that’s not sufficient you can easily increase it to two without chopping up tablets. We use (and recommend) Nature’s Bounty 1 mg tablets (180 count) for about $4.
3. Lastly, as you sip your tea, take a ZMA. ZMA is a special mineral blend made up of zinc, magnesium aspartate, and vitamin B6. While ZMA is often marketed for exercise recovery, it's also associated with improved sleep, and has worked wonders for us. While chamomile and melatonin are included to help nudge you into dreamland, ZMA is there to help you remain asleep peacefully throughout the night.
If we were to only recommend one of these three natural supplements, it would be the ZMA, no question. It's also the one you’re least likely to be familiar with. We recommend Optimum Nutrition 180 capsules for about $20 (women take two capsules, men three). Whatever you get, select one with no additional ingredients. Just plain ZMA is what you want.
Taken alone each of these three steps will help, but for us they seem to work synergistically in such a way that the total effect is greater than the parts. For that reason we recommend giving the whole ritual a try before dismissing it.
A few bonus items that will help maximize the above:
Avoid back-lit screens (phone, laptop, television) for at least an hour before you intend to be asleep, or download a red-screen app. These are apps that will reduce the blue light emitted by your screen at night, such as Twilight for Android. Blue light signals your brain to suppress melatonin and wake up. Red light not so much. It makes sense... after all: what color is the daytime sky?
Second, avoid calcium before bed. Calcium competes with ZMA for uptake and will reduce its efficacy. This means avoiding dairy before bed, and taking your calcium supplement (if you take one) at another time. Of course you should also avoid sugar and caffeine, but that goes without saying.
Third, if you must indulge a late night snack, make it a banana. They're full of potassium and magnesium, which act as natural muscle relaxants. Additionally, bananas contain L-tryptophan, which is converted into 5-HTP, and then into seratonin. They also digest fairly rapidly, and a slight 'crash' after eating one can help to induce sleep.
Finally, make sleeping intentional. Close your eyes, and focus on relaxing every muscle in your body, one by one. Begin with the top of your head, and consciously think about releasing the tension in every little muscle - one at a time - until you get to your toes. This will take a couple of minutes. Once you're a full-on rag-doll, proceed to breathe deeply and imagine a peaceful scene.
And there you have it. A little learned advice from our family to yours. If you or a loved one suffer from difficulty sleeping, consider giving the above a chance. You may be pleasantly surprised.
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What about you? Do you have any sleep stories? Advice for others? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below - we'd love to hear all about it.
The above statements are our own opinions, based on personal experience, and should not be construed as medical advice. Always consult your doctor if you have a health concern. If you're pregnant or nursing speak with your doctor before taking a new supplement.