How to improve sleep.
When you’re not getting enough sleep, life is a lot more difficult.
You have less energy, less tolerance of other people, more cravings for sugary foods, and you’re more likely to struggle to reach your goals.
There are things that impact your sleep that you can’t control – like kids waking you up, or maybe hormones and night sweats if you’re going through perimenopause.
But as with anything related to health, weight loss, or life in general, it’s so important to focus on what we can control.
Because there is usually something CAN do, that could make a significant impact over time.
In this post I’ll give you a host of ideas. See what you could add in or test out. Done consistently, they really can make a lot of difference.
How to improve sleep – get outside in daylight
Getting out in morning daylight has been shown to positively impact sleep at night.
It helps align our circadian rhythm, which can get destabilised by the various lights (from screens, and in the house in general) that we are exposed to in the evenings.
Being outside in the daytime, receiving natural light, is telling your body – this is daytime.
Our bodies know that day is followed by night, so we are more likely to feel sleepy when it’s time for bed 12 hours later – particularly if following the advice on reducing blue light from screens later in this post.
Morning is best, but if you can’t do that, just get outside whenever you can.
Even on a cloudy day, it helps (and if you don’t want to go out in the rain, I have to say that’s fair enough – I wouldn’t either. See if you can get out the next time it’s not raining).
20-3o minutes is ideal, but whatever you can do is great – even 5 minutes.
You can walk or exercise at the same time if you want, but you don’t have to. Just sitting or standing is fine.
And if you’re wondering, yes – you do need to be actually outside if you can. Windows block some of the rays of light that our eyes need to receive in order to enjoy the full benefits.
Time in nature
Could you combine being outside in the morning with being in nature?
If not – could you get some nature later in the day?
Walking in a park, by the beach, woods, or anywhere where there are a few trees, flowers or birds, can positively impact mental health as well as sleep.
If you don’t have time for that, how about just getting out into the garden and standing on the grass in bare feet?
That can be calming, grounding, and have a surprising impact on how you sleep later.
When life is busy, these mindful moments – even just 1-5 minutes taking a break to calm and ground yourself – can make a big difference.
How to Improve Sleep – Exercise
Exercise has huge benefits sleep – any form of movement can lead to feeling physically tired and drifting off easier.
I am a huge proponent of resistance training – moving your body against any form of resistance, such as lifting weights, using resistance bands, your bodyweight, or machines at the gym.
Resistance training keeps your body strong, helps you maintain muscle, reduces the risk of aches, pains, injuries and falls as you get older, and improves bone density.
As with any other physical exertion, it can also help your body feel tired enough to sleep.
It doesn’t have to be resistance training (though I do highly recommend it as one of the things you do for the above reasons). Anything active that you enjoy is brilliant.
Nutrition for sleep
A quick nutrition tip that helps a lot of people sleep better is to avoid caffeine after noon.
It can take your body up to 10 hours to completely clear caffeine from your bloodstream, so coffee in the afternoon or evening can contribute to feeling more awake at night.
In terms of food, this little graphic (from my instagram page @hayleyplummerpt) shows sources of tryptophan or magnesium. Both of these nutrients are both linked with better quality.
Tryptophan is involved in the production of serotonin and melatonin – two hormones that play a key role in helping you sleep. You can find it in chicken, turkey, tuna, salmon, eggs, oats, nuts, seeds, kidney beans and milk.
Including a high tryptophan food in your evening meal, along with a serving of carbohydrates, can boost it’s sleep-supporting effects. Carbohydrates at dinner (particularly natural / less refined ones such as potato, sweet potato, rice, beans, lentils, wholegrain pasta) can be helpful too. They increase the amount of tryptophan that can be transported to the brain to induce sleepiness. So, try adding a half to 1-cup serving of whatever carbohydrate you enjoy.
Wait, won’t eating carbs at dinner make me gain weight?
This is a common concern, but if by ‘weight’ you mean ‘fat’, the answer is no – as long as your overall calories are in check.
Every gram of carbohydrate that gets stored in the body is stored with 3 grams of water, so you may notice the scales go up sometimes after eating carbs at night. This entirely normal. It’s just water, and will be flushed out as the carbohydrate stores get used for energy over the days to come.
You only gain fat if you consume too many calories (from any food source, not just carbs). Plus if carbs help you sleep better, they can contribute to weight loss by helping you feel refreshed, able to move more, and experiencing less cravings the next day.
Supplements for Sleep
Magnesium (glycinate if supplementing)
Magnesium is a naturally calming mineral and can improve sleep quality, and it’s most abundantly found in the foods shown above.
You can also supplement with magnesium. If you do, check the ingredients list and look for magnesium glycinate – a version that particularly promotes relaxation and good sleep. It’s best to avoid magnesium oxide, which is cheap and commonly available but poorly absorbed in the gut.
The RDA for magnesium is 320mg for women. You’ll get some of this from food, and may get all you need if you regularly eat the foods in the graphic. If you decide to try a supplement, 200mg is a good dose to look for.
Magnesium supplementation is generally very safe at the standard dose. However, it can interact with a small selection of medications and antibiotics, so check with your doctor first if you’re unsure.
Omega 3 and vitamin D
Two other supplements that can help are omega 3 and vitamin D.
If you tend to eat 3 or more servings of oily fish each week, you likely don’t need to supplement. But if you eat less than that, it can be beneficial. Omega 3 brings a host of benefits to the health of your heart, brain and joints. It’s not directly linked to sleep, but the impact it has in other areas may have a knock on impact of helping with sleep too.
Many of us are deficient in vitamin D, particularly in the months between October and March where we don’t get much sun. Ideally get your levels checked via a blood test to determine the dose (if any) that would be best to supplement. But if in doubt, 1000-2000 IU works well for many in Winter, and may be worth taking all year round.
Finally, tart cherry juice concentrate, as well being anti inflammatory, is high in tryptophan and melatonin. Studies have shown it can help people sleep longer and better when it’s consumed just before bed.
How to improve sleep with your evening routine
Developing a relaxing evening routine – what would that look like for you?
I fully appreciate that having children can impact this!
If this is the case, select anything you feel might be helpful, and adapt things as you need to.
Below are some tips to try.
Of course, you don’t need to immediately implement all of them – that would probably feel a bit overwhelming. But which of these could be worth testing out?
- No screens for 30-60 minutes before bedtime
- Make sure the last 30 minutes before bed is calming – not trying to get things done
- Read a book
- If you absolutely must look at screens, make sure the blue light filter is on your phone or tablet. You can also get blue light blocking glasses.
- A warm bath with magnesium / epsom salts
- Try magnesium spray on your skin, or rubbing magnesium butter/lotion into your feet
- Try tart cherry juice and handful of pistachios for your evening snack
- Change to red light bulbs in bedroom
- Sleep supporting essential oils
- Go to bed at the same time – even at weekends (this really does help a lot with your circadian rhythm)
- If you find that thoughts are keeping you awake, try keeping a notepad by your bed where you can brain dump anything that’s on your mind
- Brain dump on notepad if having thoughts keeping you awake
- Make your room a sanctuary. A tidy, calming environment.
- Keep windows open before bed or while in bed (or both) so the air is fresh
- You could try adding a plant to your bedroom, and spraying lavender or other calming smells on your pillow
- Wear an eye mask (this has been a gamechanger for me)
- If your partner is a noisy sleeper, try ear plugs
- Make sure you have cool clothing, a comfy pillow and mattress
If you’re lying in bed struggling to sleep, it can help to have a non-stressful Plan B.
This could be going downstairs to read a book. Or doing a calming activity like knitting, or working on a jigsaw puzzle.
Basically, something low-key that distracts your brain enough to not stress about not sleeping. Doing this for a little usually leads to feeling sleepy, and then you can head off back to bed.
What else can help?
These are some other general ideas worth considering:
- Regularly practising any form of yoga – Yoga Nidra can be particularly beneficial for sleep.
- Breath work. Slowing it down, and doing belly breathing or box breathing. There are some good videos for this on YouTube.
- Meditation – even just 5 or 10 minutes per day can make a difference. Headspace, Calm and Insight Timer are three brilliant apps for this.
- Listening to a meditation soundtrack with delta or theta waves.
- Sleep stories – the Calm app has some great stories. A very good sleep story podcast that a friend recently recommended to me is Nothing Much Happens by Kathryn Nicolai.
- Getting a monthly (or more often if you can) massage.
Summary – How to Improve Sleep
So, there we go – lots of ideas on how to improve sleep. As mentioned already, please don’t feel overwhelmed and that you have to do all of them.
The biggest rocks for many people are developing a consistent routine. Ideally where they wind down for at least half an hour before bed, and stick to the same (or at least similar) bedtimes and wake times, even at weekends.
For a number of my clients, keeping a notepad by their bed to ‘brain dump’ any thoughts or worries has helped their brain relax and drift off to sleep.
I hope you’ve found this useful.
If you’re interested in getting personal 1:1 coaching for health, fitness or weight loss, you can find out more about online coaching here: