Do you wake up in the middle of the night?
Either just waking up wide awake, mind racing, and unable to go back to sleep? Or because you have to pee?
This is unbelievably common. If I had to put a percentage on it…I’d say close to 60-70% of people experience this.
COMMON ISN’T NORMAL.
Just because something happens frequently doesn’t mean that it should happen. You should be able to get through the night without waking up. Your body is designed to allow you to sleep uninterrupted for 8 hours. Your bladder should make it through the night. If not, then something is happening at a physiological level to prevent it.
I know this because I used to have some of the most broken sleep. I would wake up wired at 2am until about 4am. I would wake up having to pee several times in a night. I would wake up drenched in sweat. I would be unable to fall asleep some nights. Then using the tools I’m sharing in this post, I completely repaired my broken sleep…and only in a matter of 1-2 weeks. In fact, there was one tool that fixed my sleep almost overnight (spoiler alert…it’s food).
First let’s talk about sleep. I’ve gone into much detail about why sleep is important, but it can be emphasized more. Sleep is the time where your body recovers and repairs any and all damage, whether it’s individual cells, muscle, etc. In fact, the most amount of growth hormone is produced in the hours when you are asleep.
Sleep happens because of a balance of hormones. It’s much more complex than how I will explain it, but I’ll keep it simple just to get the point across. It’s all related to your stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol levels for a normal healthy human should follow a general curve, where levels are highest in the morning and taper off throughout the day. Cortisol is what wakes you up in the mornings and gives you energy to get through your day. By the end of the day, it should be very low, almost nonexistent. This will allow melatonin to be released in your body. We’ve all heard of melatonin. Melatonin is what gets you (and keeps you) asleep.
Unfortunately, most people’s cortisol levels no longer follow this pattern. In fact, it’s often opposite. Cortisol is lowest in the mornings and you’re waking up fatigued and groggy. As you go through your day, stress builds and builds (from work, traffic, exercise, personal life, etc.) where its highest in the evenings. This makes it either hard to go to sleep, hard to stay asleep, and impossible for your body to repair and recover during those ours (or all three!). When cortisol is high, melatonin isn’t produced. When melatonin isn’t produced, your body doesn’t produce the necessary machinery to allow your cells to heal and repair, which is why you wake up feeling like garbage.
If you can fix your cortisol levels and readjust them to the normal curve, then you likely will solve all of your sleeping problems.
How do you do that? Well, most of it boils down to (1) stress and (2) nutrition. For the rest of the blog post, I share the many strategies you can use related to both stress and nutrition (and others) that will help you improve your sleep. I recommend starting with 1-2, trying for a few days before moving onto another. For some, it’s just the simple addition of one of these strategies. For others, it may require all of them.
Repair Your Sleep
#1 Manage stress
This is the most important part of things. All of it really is related to stress and cortisol levels because most of the following strategies are merely just stress-reducing (and cortisol-lowering) tools, but it’s still worth it to have its own category.
Managing stress is essential. If you mentally are wound up or physically running yourself into the ground, then it doesn’t matter how many carbs you eat before bed or how many contrast showers you take. It simply won’t solve the root problem. If there is a crack in the foundation of a house, it doesn’t matter how many times you repair the broken window until you fix the foundation.
The first way to manage stress is to start changing thought processes. When work, traffic, life, etc. stresses you out, start reframing the stress into something positive. What can you do to make work less stressful? Use traffic as your time to deep breathe, catch up on podcasts, call friends and family. Why is your life stressful? Ultimately, you’re in control of that, so change what is causing you stress. Is it your environment? Is it the people you surround yourself with? Is it how you respond to your life? I had a client with some of the worse stress. Traffic pissed her off. Her coworkers sucked (truly). Her job had her working 12 hours both Saturday and Sunday with no breaks (even to eat). She was angry about everything. I couldn’t change her job, her coworkers’ behavior, or her hour-long commute. Instead, we changed her mindset and how she responded to these stressors. Now she sleeps soundly.
Meditate. Do just 5 minutes of deep breathing or stretching before bed. Journal about one positive thing daily (or a negative thing and why it’s positive). It seems fru-fru and wishy washy…but from first-hand experience…it works. I went from wanting to cry (or actually doing it) daily to being one of the happiest, most fulfilled people on this planet because of these mindfulness, stress-relieving tools.
#2 Change your nutrition
You need to eat enough calories. Undereating is a stress. It produces cortisol. My broken sleep happened when I started eating 1200 calories. My digestive system was a mess and often I would even wake up with heartburn or reflux…because I wasn’t eating.
You also need to eat carbs. Carbohydrates reduce cortisol…which helps you sleep. Don’t velieve me? Think of Thanksgiving. That coma isn’t from the tryptophan from the turkey…it’s from the smorgasbord of carbs you consumed. This was the secret fix to my sleep problems. As soon as I started eating my rice cake treat 1-2 hours before bed, my sleep was completely repaired. If you train in the evenings, this is the most important because cortisol is even higher from your exercise. Try an extra 10g for a day or two, then 20g, and so on until you reach the carb amount that ensures you getting and staying asleep. This is the also the guaranteed step to quit having to pee in the middle of the night. Carbs transport water into your cells. If you’re not eating carbs, the water has nowhere to go…except out. If you’re peeing in the middle of the night, eat more carbs before bed. Note that you will also have retrain your bladder AND your mind. When you start this process, you will still wake up “feeling” like you have to pee. In reality, you don’t. Lay in bed and remind yourself over and over that you don’t have to go and wait until you go back to sleep.
There are some things in your nutrition that could be preventing you from sleep. The three big ones are sugar, alcohol, and caffeine. Reduce alcohol consumption to 1-2 days/week. You may “need” your daily glass of wine, but it could be preventing you from getting that good nights’ rest. Cut off caffeine consumption after 2pm. It takes up to 8 hours for caffeine to truly get out of your system. Limit caffeine consumption to a max of 2 servings/day. Your dependence is why you’re so sleepy…which makes you want more caffeine. Take the hit for a few days or week. Try coffee-fasts (no coffee whatsoever) every 3-4 months to reset your tolerance. Lastly, limit your consumption of sugar 1-2 hours before bed. I’m not talking just carbs, more the simple sugars (fruits, candy, etc.). They give you the rush that makes going to sleep harder.
#3 Change your environment
Eliminate blue light 2 hours before bed. Invest in blue-light blocking glasses. Change the filter on your phone. Turn off TV. Blue light increases cortisol…preventing a good nights’ rest.
You should also sleep in a pitch black, cool room. Invest in blackout curtains. Set the temperature to below 70°F (truly your room should be cool!). Create the perfect environment to sleep in.
#4 Try promoting sleep
If none of the above are enough to improve your sleep, then try promoting or encouraging sleep. Try contrast showers before bed (10s ice cold water, 20s hot water for 5-10x). Try essential oils, lavender in particular, to diffuse overnight. Remember to resist the urge to pee if you wake up in the middle of the night. If you have a pet that constantly disrupts your sleep, consider separating it from your room.
You can also consider supplements to support and promote sleep. This should be a last resort, but there are natural supplements to help you sleep. Adaptogens are the best option to go. Ashwaganda and rhodiola are two natural supplements that help manage stress levels. If you’re in support of it, CBD has shown to help sleep. You don’t want to be reliant on these BUT it may be hard to reduce stress or sleep better if you have no idea how that even is supposed to feel. Use them as a training tool (kind of like training wheels) to teach your body and mind how it feels to reduce stress and sleep well, so you can apply that feeling eventually on your own.
The last thing I will leave you with is to embrace the placebo. There are a lot of things I’ve tried with my sleep between essential oils, CBD, food, adaptogens, etc. I even had a woman tell me to close my door while I sleep and to remove all items from under my bed because the energy prevents a deep sleep. I tried it and believed it would work…so it did. If you go into it believing it will work, it likely will because you believed it did…not because the science guaranteed it happened. In my opinion, if closing my door was the placebo I needed to get sleep, then I think I’ll take it.
Now, you could potentially need more help than what’s coming from this blog, so this isn’t the end-all-be-all solution. These suggestions are merely a list of things I’ve used personally and with many of my clients to repair broken sleep.
Sleep is one of the most important factors when it comes to seeing results and is one of the biofeedback markers I monitor with all my clients. If you can repair your sleep, your energy will be higher and your motivation will be through the roof. This will keep you motivated to exercise and eat right and see results faster.
Resources and Coaching:
Online Coaching here.
[Free] Nutrition Guide here.