I talk a lot about the power and practice of meditation, but there is nothing quite like a good night’s sleep for better quality of life. It helps us have a good mood, more energy, recover from exercise, and generally keep your body and mind working at peak potential.
I can’t understate the importance of sleep. According to Dr. Andrew Huberman at Stanford:
“Lack of sleep is linked to many physiological and psychological problems, such as poor memory, mood disorders, lowered immunity and disrupted blood sugar regulation. Depriving someone of sleep is one of the quickest ways to pull them apart.”
Dr. Huberman also says that sleep is the best nootropic (too many people are obsessed with biohacking and nootropics, but forget about sleep). Additionally, the Dalai Lama even said that “Sleep is the best meditation”.
Unfortunately, 1 in 3 US adults don’t get enough sleep (according to the CDC).
I’ve spent years researching and experimenting on how to improve my sleep. It’s been a goal of mine to be at 90-100% mental energy almost every day, and a key part of reaching that goal is through sleep.
And a good night’s sleep is hard to come by in the 21st century. Society is over-engineered, with artificial lighting everywhere (including from our devices), which messes up our natural circadian rhythm.
So how do you sleep through the night naturally, without having to resort to quick fixes like sleep aids and melatonin?
I’ll share my daily protocol with you, based on circadian rhythm science and biology. Read on, friend.
Natural Sleep Protocol Summary:
- Morning walk or Light Therapy (for sunlight and stress reduction to the amygdala)
- No caffeine past 12pm or so
- Throughout the day: Micro meditation
- After workout: Fish oil and turmeric to fight inflammation and reduce nighttime inflammation
- After dinner: Light blockers, chamomile tea, magnesium, calcium, carbs (yes carbs!)
- No social media past 7pm (for anxiety reduction)
- Minimal to no alcohol
- Stop fluid intake 3-4 hours before bed
- Keep lights low and warm (turn device lights on lowest setting, use phone light to go to the bathroom, etc)
- Comfy pillow and mattress (or get mattress topper)
- Keep room cool and dark
- Sleep meditation: body gravity scan
Alright, let’s get into the details.
1. Morning Walk or Light Therapy
I got this protocol from Dr. Andrew Huberman, a neurobiology professor at Stanford University.
Taking a walk every morning accomplishes two things:
- Creates optic flow
- Teaches your body that it’s time to begin its 24-hour circadian rhythm
Optic flow helps us sleep in a somewhat indirect way, by lowering our stress level. Technically, it lowers stress in the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for our flight or fight response.
Often, it’s hard to fall asleep because our anxiety and stress produce wild, racing thoughts that keep us awake. When our amygdala is calm, our brain in general is more calm. Not only does that create more peace for us throughout the day, it helps us fall asleep.
Morning Walks Also Teach Your Body To Begin Its Circadian Rhythm
You’ve probably heard about the concept of a biological clock or circadian rhythm, but most people don’t know how to get into proper rhythm. I sure didn’t.
We all have a 24-hour biological clock called a circadian rhythm. This rhythm helps our body produce or reduce hormones that help us wake up, or help us fall asleep.
The problem is, artificial lighting is rampant in 21st century society, giving our bodies mixed messages for when its circadian rhythm should begin or end. TV’s, electric lights, tablets, and phones all produce light that can throw off our sleep rhythms.
By taking a walk every morning (or using a light therapy lamp), you’re exposing yourself to lots of natural, bright light from the sun. This activates a neural circuit in the brain that regulates cortisol (a stress hormone that makes us alert in the morning), and melatonin (the hormone that helps us fall asleep).
Many people supplement with melatonin as a band-aid fix for a disrupted circadian rhythm. I did. When this rhythm is disrupted, our body doesn’t know when and how much melatonin to produce, so supplementation feels necessary.
By teaching your body when to begin and end its circadian rhythm, you lessen or eliminate the need for sleep aids and melatonin supplements. It absolutely worked for me, after just one day of implementing this protocol.
- Looking at a device screen in the morning is not the same thing as natural sunlight (our bodies need UV light from actual sunlight to learn its sleep cycle)
- Same with windows (windows block out UV light, you need actual sunlight)
- Get more natural sunlight during the afternoon and evening (this gives your body even more information on when to begin its circadian rhythm)
2. No Coffee After 12pm Or So
This one is pretty self-explanatory. We drink caffeine to keep us alert, so it stands to reason that drinking caffeine too late will keep us too alert at night to fall asleep. Research shows that 12pm is a good time to stop drinking caffeine. I have found that any caffeine past 2pm negatively impacts my sleep.
3. Throughout the Day: Micro Meditation
Many teachers recommend that you meditate for up to 20 minutes consecutively every day. But in my personal experience, I have found that micro meditations of just a few seconds or minutes at a time, is enough to keep my anxiety low and stay spiritually centered.
Think about it. You meditate for 20 minutes first thing in the morning. You feel relaxed, centered, and ready to conquer the day. But then throughout the day, you accumulate all kinds of anxiety and stress. And then you might still have racing thoughts and anxiety keeping you up at night. Your morning meditation probably made you more resilient to the day’s anxiety, but you probably still have enough anxiety to affect your sleep.
Enter micro meditation. Throughout the day as I experience anxiety, stress, overwhelm, brain fog, or scattered attention, I take a few seconds or minutes to get centered. Focus on your breath, or just rest in pure awareness. Multiple small “centerings” can help your anxiety stay ultra low for bedtime.
4. Optional: Take Turmeric and Omega 3 After a Workout To Fight Nighttime Inflammation
I usually work out 5 days a week. I’m also a side sleeper. I have found that if I don’t take steps to fight inflammation after a workout, I will likely have hip pain at night from sleeping on my side (I sleep on my side because I snore when I sleep on my back).
Easy fix: take an omega 3 supplement and turmeric after a workout. I get my omega 3 in the form of fish oil. And make sure to take your turmeric with black pepper and a fat of some kind. Turmeric is very hard for the body to absorb, so these two compounds dramatically increase bio-availability.
5. After dinner: Light blockers, chamomile tea, magnesium, calcium and carbs (yes carbs!)
I know blue light blockers have become quite the trend, but I’ve become a big fan. Dr. Huberman (again) says that these blue blockers are in fact effective, but not because they block blue light. Apparently it’s not about blue light, as much as the brightness of light in general.
So, since blue light blockers dim all spectrums of light, that is why they are effective for training your body’s circadian rhythm.
Next up, chamomile tea, magnesium, calcium and carbs…
Part of the reason that chamomile tea is effective for sleep is because it contains apigenin. Chamomile tea is a great way to help your body produce the melatonin needed for a good night’s sleep (again without having to supplement with melatonin).
Magnesium is also excellent to help your body wind down. I use Calm by Natural Vitality. Not only are most people somewhat deficient in magnesium (which controls 100’s of enzymatic reactions in the body), it’s also a highly effective, natural way to help you fall asleep.
Calcium (primarily found in dairy) is crucial for tryptophan, serotonin, and then melatonin production (in that order). The calcium binds with the tryptophan that is also in dairy, to create serotonin, which is a feel-good neurotransmitter that is a precursor to melatonin. Yay biology!
Now for carbs. Yes, they are quite important for melatonin production too. Carbs also increase tryptophan (yes, the sleepy chemical found in turkey), which increases serotonin and melatonin production.
Calcium and carbs are extremely powerful sleep aids. For a while, I was only using chamomile tea with magnesium, which did help me relax quite a bit. But I still found myself not being fully sleepy come bedtime, and then I was still waking up a couple times during the night. As soon as I incorporated dairy and carbs to my nighttime routine, I started sleeping all through the night.
6. No Social Media Past 7pm Or So
This is my own personal rule, which I found through experimentation. Social media is known to produce anxiety, and even depression. This is because of various mechanisms like FOMO, comparing ourselves to others, and general overstimulation.
I have found that engaging in social media past 7pm or so, makes me much more anxious at night, and makes it much harder for me to sleep. So I would recommend no social media past 7pm.
7. Minimal Alcohol
Many people think that a drink or two of alcohol actually helps them sleep better. But that’s not quite accurate.
Alcohol can in fact help us fall asleep, but it actually hurts our ability to stay asleep. So if you’re wanting to sleep through the night naturally, nix the alcohol.
8. Stop Fluid Intake 3-4 Hours Before Bed
Yep, just try to avoid drinking any fluids a few hours before bed. This will make you less likely to wake up in the middle of the night needing to urinate.
9. Keep Lights Low and Warm
Circling back to Dr. Huberman’s and Dr. Satchin Panda’s research on circadian rhythms, it is vital that you keep your lights dim and warm at night. This includes using lamps instead of brighter overhead lights, and keeping your devices dim as well.
I occasionally watch TV in bed, and I keep that TV’s brightness pretty low. And when I go to the restroom right before going to bed, I use my phone’s flashlight instead of my bathroom’s overhead lights.
10. Get a Comfy Pillow and Mattress
A comfy mattress and pillow is crucial if you’re wanting a natural, restful sleep. Getting a decent memory foam or gel mattress topper is a really cheap way to make your mattress immediately more comfortable.
I have found that pillows are very important for spine and neck alignment. If your neck and spine are misaligned throughout the night, that could cause enough discomfort to wake you up.
I sleep on my side, so I use a nice, thick pillow to keep my neck aligned. Back and stomach sleepers should use a thinner pillow. Many pillows at the store will say whether they are back sleeper pillows, side sleeper pillows, etc.
11. Keep Room Cool and Dark
These two components are essential for a good sleep throughout the night.
Any light in your room at night sends signals to your body (including photoreceptors in your skin) that it’s time to stay awake.
And have you ever noticed that if you’re too warm at night, that makes you so uncomfortable that you can’t fall asleep? Yep, that’s why it’s important to keep your room nice and cool.
12. Sleep Meditation
Finally, the last protocol. You’re in bed, ready to fall asleep. You’ve done a lot all day to make sure this moment goes well.
It’s time for a sleep meditation.
There are a few variations on this (as there are dozens of ways to meditate). But I like to do a body gravity scan.
If you’ve ever done a body scan meditation, it’s pretty much the same thing. Except with this, you’re focusing on the sensation of gravity from your body weighing down on the bed.
Starting from the top of your head, focus on the sensation of your head weighing down on your pillow, then your ear against the pillow, your chin against the pillow, neck, shoulders, arms, etc, all the way down to your feet.
Eventually, your mind will get too tired to focus on your body anymore, drifting into non-focus, and eventually drifting off to sleep. It works like a charm.
And that’s it! I spent a lot of time researching and experimenting on these protocols, and they have produced a major difference in my natural sleep quality.
If it helps you, let me know in the comments or on social media – I’d love to hear from you!