Sleep has an incredibly imperative role in our overall health and affects every single part of our being, down to a cellular level. We all know this, and we are all aware of how much better we look after a good streak of restorative, restful nights. But popping Ambien like Tic Tacs isn’t a healthy habit, and adrenal fatigue can make our natural rhythms really screwy.
Getting into the swing of a healthy sleep cycle isn’t as quick as popping a pill—it’s a holistic, lifestyle approach. However, many of the little things we can incorporate daily are actually pleasurable and beneficial on multiple levels!
We talked to Alanna McGinn, sleep expert and creator of Good Night Sleep Site, who shared with us some holistic and off-the-radar activities that will help you clock more winks each night, get to your sleepy-happy place sooner, and stay there for longer. Because “beauty sleep” is not just a cutesy term, it’s a real, legitimate concept.
Alanna mentions natural light first and foremost, and that’s because humankind has thrived on natural circadian rhythms since the beginning. Essentially, when we wake up as nature intended, we are setting our body’s natural clock for a 24-hour period, naturally dictating proper sleeping and waking times to ensure we get optimal sleep for optimal performance. While the amount of time varies from person to person, consistency is key.
“When we keep a consistent wakeup time and allow our body to naturally wake, it helps our body build enough drive to sleep throughout the day, making falling asleep at night much easier. The biggest way we can achieve this is by immersing ourselves in natural light. Opening up the blinds upon waking or getting outside in the fresh air and natural light works well, but you can also use a sunrise simulator that gradually turns the sleep switch off in the brain and allows you to wake up the way your body is naturally intended to.”
There are many alarm clocks available that simulate natural light to wake you up gently and naturally, rather than jolting you awake to a sound you will cultivate murderous feelings for.
Nature therapy is real. Not only does the term “forest bathing” make us feel like wood nymph goddesses, but it’s actually an ancient practice that really works. Just like with natural light, it’s how humans were meant to interact with the world since, well, forever. Alanna explains that this Japanese practice is known to reduce stress and is super easy. You don’t need to lay in a meadow or roll around in dirt—you can simply take a walk in a forest or wooded park.
“Being surrounded by the sights, smells, and sounds of the forest or nature can lower one’s cortisol levels (our stress hormone), as well as lower blood pressure and anxiety. True forest bathing is physically being in the forest, but you can incorporate indoor trees, moss terrariums, smells, and sounds into your bedroom that can mimic this environment.”
Our olfactory senses play a big role in our reaction to stress, and modern city living keeps us far from the cleansing, antimicrobial, relaxing, and herbaceous scents of plants and nature. That’s why aromatherapy with botanical essential oils is so effective. Alanna suggests that bringing in natural elements like plants, waterfalls, or any touch of nature into your home space is a great way to get a little dose of “forest” to keep your adrenals from over-producing. Because overactive adrenals (i.e., a constant state of “fight or flight”) can affect your circadian rhythms and give you a jolt at night when you should be winding down, this relaxing practice is definitely one to be taken seriously.
It may sound counterintuitive, but Alanna says that taking a walk is a great substitute for rest when that sluggish feeling hits and you feel a nap-attack coming on but the opportunity to catch some midday z’s isn’t possible. Get outside and get moving. “Fitting in some daily exercise, preferably in the morning or early afternoon, can help boost your metabolism throughout the day and also help to create that drive to sleep at night.”
And that light thing again: natural sunlight and increased oxygen to your brain will get you back in the natural daily groove. “The photoreceptors in our eyes regulate our energy levels, mood, and sleep patterns. These receptors respond to the blue light of the sky.” Alanna knows it can be tough for some to get outside throughout the day. “There are light therapy devices that you can use for just 20-30 minutes a day that can give you the exposure to the blue sky that you need to keep your serotonin levels raised and melatonin levels balanced.”
Maybe these aren’t the conventional remedies that you were expecting. But if you need some help sleeping, like, right now—we got you. We’ve linked some of our favorite natural and herbal helpers below to get you in the right place tonight so you can start incorporating these daily activities tomorrow. Sleep tight, beauties.
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