Nothing is worse that waking up in the middle of the night and being unable to go back to sleep.

You stare up at the ceiling and pray that your body will quickly fall asleep.

On those nights, counting sheep doesn't cut it.

As a sleep researcher, my job is to research and figure out how we can improve our sleep. My research is centered around staying asleep at night by means of understanding the biology of sleep.

These are my top five tips for staying asleep at night. The list is based on an understanding of sleep cycles and circadian rhythms.

I am also listing them in order of to-do by time of day.

 

1. Don't Exercise Within 3 Hours of Your Bedtime

It takes our bodies several hours to wind down from exercise, especially during the summer heat. The adrenals and release of "pumped up" hormones can take hours to settle. Our core body temperature (CBT) can take just as long to settle. In general, you want to be sleeping when your CBT is dropping. Drops in our CBTs signal our brains to sleep.

 

2. Stop Eating Two Hours Before Bedtime.

First, stay away from sugar. Increases in blood sugar, especially before bedtime, counteract an overall downscaling of physiology in preparation for sleeping. Instead, aim for prebiotics and probiotics.

Probiotics promote the production of good gut bacteria. Good gut bacteria are thought to improve mood and protect the brain during times of stress. Fermented foods are a natural source of prebiotics and probiotics. Enjoy a bottle of kombucha as a nightcap or snack on kimchi.

Better yet, end your evening with a bottle of blue-green algae kombucha for a double bang for your buck.

Also, prioritizing leafy greens can help overcome mineral deficiencies of the American diet: calcium, magnesium, iron. These minerals help to preserve the health of the central nervous system, and sleep is a phenomenon of the central nervous system after all.

 

3. Stop Netflix An Hour Before Bedtime.

LED light emitted from cell phones, tablets, and HDTVs is awful. This high-energy light actively suppresses the release of melatonin: “the hormone of darkness”.

Melatonin is naturally released by your body to help us fall asleep and stay asleep. Melatonin also helps to maximize our time in non-REM sleep to maximize physical restoration.

 

4. Engage in Relaxing Activities Thirty Minutes Before Bedtime.

Relaxing our brain activity is another way to prepare our brains and bodies for sleep. Research shows that low-level activity and breathing techniques that help us focus on the "here and now" reduces stress. These activities also promote slow-wave activity (SWA) in the brain (which gives you restoring sleep).

A good way to relax before bed is to take a natural, herbal sleep aid. Our Stay Asleep formula is an award winning sleep aid that works to relax your brain into deep, restorative sleep. Stay Asleep is made with natural herbal ingredients.

Another way to relax before bed is via a popular (controlled) breathing technique created by Wim Hof. What is unique about Wim Hof's controlled breathing techniques is they are designed to increase the integrity of communication of the autonomic nervous system; a pro-sleep, anti-inflammation and anti-stress system.

When I first tried Wim Hof breathing, I felt "high." The technique consists of breath holds and releases followed by 3 minutes of idle meditation, lasting 12 minutes (2 cycles) in total.

1. Deep breath in, hold 10-15 sec, let out, and repeat for three minutes.
2. Relaxed and controlled breathing focusing on pushing the diaphragm into the floor for three minutes.

 

5. Sleep Naked.

As our core body temperature drops, the drive to sleep heightens. Clothing provides insulation, and insulation makes us sweat. We can't get quality sleep if we are sweating!

Sleeping naked may be grassroots science, but it releases all types of feel-good hormones. Plus, I'm sure your bed partner won't mind!

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Dr. Allison Brager is a neuroscientist specializing in the physiology and genetics of sleep and performance. Outside of the laboratory, she is a former college athlete, Crossfit Games team athlete, and is still active in track and field.