Getting adequate, quality amounts of sleep if a constant source of frustration for many Americans. Between falling asleep, having a restful night, and waking up energized, there are a lot of ways we’re failing ourselves when it comes to this incredibly crucial part of our lives.

Sleep is vital for our homeostasis, which regulates our bodies’ ability to produce hormones and neurotransmitters that maintain the healthy functioning of our systems. When our sleep is interfered with, our natural processes don’t support us and the food we eat isn’t used efficiently, our brain chemistry becomes out of whack, and we begin to suffer in pretty serious ways.

The science of sleep is very complicated, but there are various things we have control over that have the power to improve our sleep and overall energy levels.

1.    Don’t eat after 8, don’t use electronic devices an hour before bed, don’t drink caffeine after 3 pm.

These ideas are pretty logical at this point, but many people are guilty of all three. If you are one of these people, pick one and work on getting rid of it.

Eating after 8:00 puts a strain on your body while it’s trying to wind down for the night, and interferes with your ability to fall and stay asleep. If it’s heavy food, there’s a good likelihood you’ll feel groggy and lethargic in the morning also.

Electronic devices affect your sleep by stimulating your brain and increasing your cognitive activity, the exact opposite of which you need for a restful night of sleep. The light from your device also reduces with your brain’s ability to create the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin.

Caffeine is a stimulant and negatively affects your ability to fall and stay asleep. This increases your likelihood of consuming excessive amounts of coffee the next day, and supports the cycle. Switch out your afternoon cup for decaf or some green tea. It sounds lame but your sleep is the most important thing and it must be taken care of. Caffeine late in the day works directly against your best interest.

2.    Nourish your neurotransmitters

We’re born with all the hormones we need to sleep well. These include serotonin, GABA, norepinephrine and dopamine. Over time, due to stress and poor diet, these neurotransmitters become depleted. The good news is though that you can increase the production of these neurotransmitters through your diet.

Neurotransmitters are made from amino acid chains that are built of protein, so eating high quality sources of protein is the best way to support the regeneration of your natural sleep-aids. The highest quality sources of protein include superfoods like chia seeds, hempseed protein or rice protein. These have highly bio-available sources of protein so you don’t have to consume a lot and you can enjoy them easily in a smoothie, or in salads and soups.

Melatonin is a darkness-induced hormone that helps us sleep. Eating foods rich in b6 like fish, sunflower seeds, and bright veggies rich in color helps increase production of melatonin. Cherries, fresh, dried, and in juice, are also a potent source of melatonin.

Other sleep enhancing nutrients

Magnesium – magnesium deficiency is linked to insomnia and is an important nutrient in regulating sleep. It calms the nervous system and lowers inflammation, both of which are crucial for a good nights sleep. Increase your magnesium intake with leafy greens, pumpkin seeds, beans, lentils, avocados and fish.

Potassium – potassium promotes healthy circulation and digestion, and is a great muscle relaxer. It’s associated with slow-wave sleep, which is the deepest and most restorative, so it can actually improve the quality of your sleep. Find it in bananas, mushrooms, tomatoes, soybeans, salmon, cod and citrus.

Vitamin D – A 2012 study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that a strong correlation between vitamin D deficiency and excessive daytime sleepiness. The sun is our best source of vitamin D but some people just aren’t exposed enough or can’t be exposed due to skin cancer. Wild caught fish like salmon and swordfish are a great source, along with eggs and mushrooms. A large percentage of Americans are vitamin D deficient so if you feel you may be it’s worth talking to your doctor about, and look into a high quality supplement.

3.    Create a sleep routine

The body craves and thrives on routine. Whether it’s for five minutes or thirty minutes, you’ll feel a change in your sleep and energy levels when you commit to drink tea, shower, read, meditate, breathe deeply, journal, write a gratitude list, listen to calming music, or pray for however long feels right. Find what you enjoy and make it your nightly ritual. It will end your day in a loving and mindful way, and the more you honor this time the more you’ll get out of it.

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