You might be surprised to hear this from a Registered Dietitian, but if you are struggling with food cravings and need to know how to sleep better at night naturally, prioritize fixing sleep!
Most of the women I work with are in the perimenopausal and postmenopausal years, and we often have to address insomnia while we’re healing their relationship with food, because it’s much easier to make healthy choices when you’re well rested.
If you are struggling with food cravings, grab the Cravings Busting Audio Guide, and then read the rest of the article to optimize your sleep.
- Why you need to address sleep before changing your eating habits:
- How to sleep better at night naturally:
- 1. Create a soothing nighttime ritual
- 2. Use white noise and/or earplugs
- 3. Stay cool
- 4. Experiment with sleep-promoting supplements
- 5. Limit bedroom activities
- 6. Limit caffeine, alcohol and nicotine before bed
- 7. Treat the underlying disease
- 8. Eat earlier in the day
- 9. Time your exposure to light just right
- 10. Control your thoughts
Why you need to address sleep before changing your eating habits:
For every hour of sleep you are deprived, a 2015 meta-analysis found that you will eat an additional 385 calories.
Sleep deprivation raises the stress hormone cortisol, which causes you to reach for high fat, high sugar foods to numb the discomfort of stress and fatigue.
There is hope though, because a more recent study found that increasing sleep time from 6.5 to 7.6 hours on average helped people reduce their intake by 270 calories.
Your takeaway: If you are sleep-deprived and struggling to reign in out-of-control eating habits, it’s not because you are a glutton or failure, but because primal hormones are driving you to eat.
How to sleep better at night naturally:
To sleep better at night without relying on medication, it will take some experimentation with proven tactics to find what will work for you.
1. Create a soothing nighttime ritual
If you want to know how to sleep better at night naturally, incorporating calming activities to help you wind down before going to bed may help you fall asleep faster and improve sleep quality.
Ideas to incorporate into your calming ritual include:
- Reading a real book (to avoid blue-light from screens)
- Taking a warm bath
- Spend time connecting with a pet or loved one
- Meditating or practicing Emotional Freedom Technique
- Brushing and flossing (your dentist agrees)
A word to those who wonder how to sleep better at night naturally and know they need to get off screens:
If reading tip #1 has you playing the blame game in your head like “if I would just stop watching TikTok videos” or “get off the couch and turn off Netflix earlier”…
I want to remind you to have compassion for yourself. Media is created in such a way to keep you hooked on it, so if you have a hard time “shutting down” it’s because you’re a normal human person.
I’ve also noticed a connection between food cravings (like emotional eating) and the discomfort of being present. Eating feels good and numbs the bad, so does TikTok and Netflix.
If you are someone who is struggling to stay present to discomfort and is using food or screen-time to numb, please download my free Cravings Busting Audio Guide. This 10-minute guided activity will help you connect to your body and the present moment in a safe way.
2. Use white noise and/or earplugs
If you are awakened at night by noises, consider using white noise and/or earplugs when you sleep. You can also download free white noise apps on your phone, which is especially handy for travel.
3. Stay cool
Cortisol helps you sleep at night by naturally decreasing, which has the action of subtly lowering your body temperature. Experts also agree that and you sleep best when you are in a cool environment.
Staying cool can be especially hard for perimenopausal women suffering from hot flashes.
If turning down the thermostat isn’t enough, consider investing in cooling sheets and/or mattresses designed for hot sleepers.
4. Experiment with sleep-promoting supplements
There are several supplements that are relatively safe, inexpensive, and supported by research to support sleep that I consistently recommend in my practice. Remember to talk to your doctor before starting any new supplement.
- Melatonin: .5-3mg taken before bed may improve time to sleep, amount of sleep and sleep quality.
- L-Theanine: 50-200mg before bed may help lower stress and anxiety. Research into L-theanine is still new and has shown some promise in sleep promotion in combination with other compounds. I have used L-theanine in my practice and personally in a formulation with adaptogenic herbs like Ashwagandha and have found it very beneficial in combination with lifestyle changes to improve sleep.
- Ashwagandha: Specific root preparations (250-600mg daily) or leaf preparations (120 mg daily) have been shown helpful in improving sleep time and quality in a small meta-analysis.
- Valerian: 400-900 mg, 2 hours before bed may help you fall asleep faster and improve sleep quality. Valerian side effects are generally minimal and yet may interact with drugs that have similar properties (sedative, depressant) or are metabolized in the body similarly.
- Magnesium Glycinate: Take up to 400mg before bed. Magnesium glycinate is not supported in research for sleep, but more specifically anxiety or muscle pain. I have seen it help people who wake up with racing minds at night. Caution with drugs that lower blood sugar, blood pressure as magnesium glycinate also has this action. Do not take it on levodopa.
- Glycine: Take 1-3 g (1000-3000 mg) before bed. Glycine works to lower your core body temperature and may help you stay asleep at night if you have trouble with nighttime waking. Do not take if you are on antipsychotic medication.
- CBD Oil: Start with the smallest dose, working up to 35-45mg CBD before bed if needed for falling/staying asleep. Research has found doses up to 160mg have helped with sleep but it is generally hard/expensive to reach these dosages outside of research protocols. Do not take CBD oil with CNS depressants or other drugs also affected by grapefruit. I like Joy Organics because of their rigorous testing protocols and ability to purchase CBD products both with and without THC (the compound in the plant that produces the psychoactive effect). As an affiliate, if you use my link I may earn from qualifying purchases.
5. Limit bedroom activities
Research suggests that limiting bedroom activities to sleep and sex will help your brain associate your bed with sleep, improving sleep quality.
6. Limit caffeine, alcohol and nicotine before bed
Bodies metabolize stimulants like caffeine and nicotine differently, so you might have to find the cut-off during the day for you. As a place to start, try limiting caffeine after noon.
Alcohol may make you feel drowsy initially but ultimately works against you because it causes your blood sugar to dip while you’re asleep, causing you to wake up hungry.
7. Treat the underlying disease
Getting support from your doctor to treat causes of poor sleep like sleep apnea, menopause, or depression is an effective way to improve sleep.
For help with menopause-related symptoms, I recommend the telemedicine menopause company, Gennev.
Another thing to consider is medication side effects. You can research the common side effects associated with medications you take with the Drugs.com Side Effects Checker. (Please talk to your doctor before changing medication intake).
8. Eat earlier in the day
It’s commonly known that eating before bed can cause you to sleep poorly. This is especially true if you eat foods that may cause a big spike in blood sugar, like sugar or other refined carbohydrates on their own.
Rather than thinking about cutting yourself off at a certain time, strategize to balance blood sugar by:
- Getting your nutrition needs met during the day, and aim to get all of your eating done by 2 hours before bed.
- If you do eat before bed, pair your food with protein to help stabilize your blood sugar and slow digestion.
- If nighttime eating seems to be fueled by things other than hunger (like emotions, boredom, etc.) download the Cravings Busting Audio Guide to get help.
9. Time your exposure to light just right
Light tells your brain it’s daytime and time to be awake. If you can, consider taking a walk in real sunlight within 30 minutes of waking to help your body adjust your sleep-wake cycle.
Sleep therapy lights can also be helpful for this, but they are contraindicated for some mental health conditions so discuss it with your doctor or psychiatrist before buying one. If you do opt for sleep therapy, look for one that is around 10,000 lux especially when more than a few inches away from the light source. I have learned the hard way it’s worth it to pay a bit more for good light.
On the other hand, avoid exposure to bright light a few hours before bed. You can use blue light-blocking glasses or special modes on your computer and phone to reduce stimulating light.
10. Control your thoughts
Anxious thoughts, rumination and worrying about not getting enough sleep can all make insomnia worse. Sleep meditations, sleep stories, and yoga nidra may help you to focus your thoughts if you struggle with anxiety while falling asleep.
Anxiety can also make you more likely to engage in All or Nothing Dieting, which can cause food cravings. If you find food cravings are keeping you awake, and you know you aren’t physically hungry, download the Cravings Busting Audio Guide to get some relief.