Sleep plays an essential role in good health. Circadian rhythms are physical, mental, and behavioral fluctuations that occur on a 24-hour cycle. They respond primarily to darkness and light in the environment and play a vital role in our sleep/wake cycles.

Sleep is important for healthy brain function and emotional well-being. It allows us to learn during the day and consolidate our memories during the night. It is also important for our physical health. Quality sleep encourages hormonal balance, anti-inflammation, tissue healing and repair, and immune balance.

Most adults require 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night. Here are a few strategies for improving your sleep quality and quantity:

1. Turn the lights down low

Turn off electronic devices and bright screens 1 hour before bed. This includes computers, TVs, video games, and smartphones. These devices emit blue light, which inhibits sleep by suppressing production of melatonin, our sleep hormone. If late night screen time is unavoidable, use blue-blocking glasses and programs such as f.lux or built-in “nightlight” features on your devices in order to warm up the hues.

When you go to bed, make sure your bedroom is completely dark.

2. Routine is key

Go to bed every night at the same time and wake every morning at the same time, even on weekends. This supports a normal circadian rhythm, which is essential for regular, deep sleep.

Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night.

Generally, avoid napping during the day. If you need a nap, limit it to 30 minutes and aim for early afternoon. Napping too long or too late in the day may make it more difficult for you to fall asleep at your regular time.

3. Stabilize your blood sugar

Feel free to eat a small snack before bed but avoid anything high in sugar or carbohydrates. Focus on foods that contain healthful fats and proteins, like a handful of almonds, pecans, or walnuts.

4. Move your body daily…but not right before bed

Daily exercise is important for restful and restorative sleep, but avoid vigorous exercise before bed as this ramps up your sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and causes you to release cortisol. If it’s late and you have not had time to exercise, take a gentle walk after dinner to relieve some of the day’s stress.

5. Take it easy on the caffeine

We all metabolize caffeine differently. The half-life of caffeine in the body ranges from 4 to 11 hours, meaning that for some people, half the amount of caffeine they consume is still present in their system 11 hours later!

Are you one of those people who claim to be able to go right to sleep after drinking coffee with dinner? While you may be asleep, you are likely not getting quality, restful, and restorative sleep.

Nicotine can be stimulating as well and should be avoided before bed…and in general!

6. Calm your nerves

Your parasympathetic nervous system is the one you need to kick in when you’re trying to go to sleep. This is your “rest and digest” mode. Before bed, instead of watching TV or being on your phone or computer, do something to calm your nerves and support your parasympathetic nervous system: meditation, a warm bath with lavender essential oil, calming music, reading a book. There are also certain vitamins and supplements that can help to support your parasympathetic nervous system. Ask your naturopathic doctor about this!

7. Go easy on the fluids

If you regularly wake during the night to urinate, avoid or limit fluid intake after 6pm.

8. Get rid of obstacles

Sleeping with the TV on, with your pet, or with your phone on can cause sleep disturbances that you may not even be aware of. Most smartphones have a “do not disturb” setting on them that can be set for specific hours during the day. If you can’t bring yourself to totally turn off your phone, this “set it and forget it” feature will protect your sleeping hours from wayward texts and robocalls.

Insomnia can be due to many different factors, ranging from stress and adrenal dysregulation to low vitamin D or other nutrient imbalances to medications. There are many ways to regulate your circadian rhythm and improve sleep by supporting the underlying cause. Speak to your naturopathic doctor about how you can improve your sleep quantity and quality.