Complete Natural Sleep Guide for Women
Sleep quality for women is one of the most important factors in her overall health. Women who sleep better on a regular basis are less likely to suffer from mood disorders, hormone imbalances, blood sugar instabilities, inflammatory issues and a whole host of disease processes. As homebirth midwives who are well-acquainted with sleeplessness, we have learned a lot along the way in order to support not just ourselves, but our pregnant and postpartum clients as well, in getting the absolute most out of their sleep.
Many of the women we work with are struggling with some type of sleep issue- trouble falling asleep, frequent night wakings (for breastfeeding, bathroom trips, pregnancy discomforts or just plain insomnia), not enough deep sleep or restless and broken sleep. When we polled Instagram, the most common complaint our followers had was not bing able to fall asleep as quickly as they wanted. It's easy to get desperate when searching for solutions, but many women want to avoid medications or over the counter sleep aids in favor of natural remedies for better sleep.
Today we'll share every single holistic sleep tip we have come across to date, including links to over 30 of our most-trusted remedies, praying that something here makes an impact and gets you on the path to your best night of sleep yet! Here's the line-up of what we want you to know about optimizing sleep.
Sleep Guide Contents:
2. Supporting Your Circadian Rhythm
3. Natural Remedies for Better Sleep:
4. Recovering from a Poor Night of Sleep
5. Help for More Serious Sleep Problems
6. Action Steps for Influencing Better Sleep
Common Sleep Mistakes
You may not have every aspect of your nighttime routine within your control, but there are plenty of things you may being doing without realizing that it is impacting your sleep quality in a negative way. Here's a quick checklist of things associated with sleep issues that you should make an effort to avoid:
Sugar or alcohol before bed. Blood sugar spikes overnight can lead to night-waking and insomnia. This typically looks like a 2-3am alertness for no apparent reason, after a particularly indulgent evening. If you choose to consume these items anyway, give yourself a heft dose of protein and fat before bed to help stabilize your blood sugar and keep you asleep longer. If you find yourself awake anyway, get up and have a protein + fat snack before trying to fall asleep again. One easy snack to try is Collagen Peptides.
Screen time before bed. Avoiding blue light is all the rage right now, but the advice is worth taking seriously. Blue light that comes off of TVs, laptops and phones is stimulating to the brain and can keep your mind and body too active to rest deeply once bedtime hits. Avoid screens 2-3 hours before bed for optimal benefit, but if you must use them, wear blue light blocking glasses to protect your eyes.
Caffeine or naps too close to bedtime. Some women can nap easily in the afternoon without it impacting their sleep at night, but if you are napping and struggling with good nighttime sleep, try skipping naps for awhile. We realize this is a rough cycle to break if you are depending on your naps to cope with how tired you are! Likewise, that afternoon caffeine can feel like *just* the thing that is helping you get through the end of the day, only to disturb your sleep overnight. We recommend going on a short brisk walk, eating a protein packed snack or enjoying mushroom coffee (the energy boost without the caffeine.)
Neglecting a good bedtime routine. Restful activities leading up to bedtime, especially when they are done as a routine each night, train our brain and out bodies to down regulate for better sleep. Give yourself plenty of time to put devices away, enjoy a warm bath or hot tea, journal or read, apply magnesium and relaxing oils, etc. It can be anything you want, give yourself some freedom to play around with honoring the wind-down.
Supporting Your Circadian Rhythm
Circadian rhythm is your internal body clock that regulates your biological wake and sleep cycles over a 24 hour period. Circadian rhythms are influenced BY and influencers OF your hormones and how your body processes the nutrition it receives, the stress it mediates, the energy your cells produce and the recovery of your organ systems. Sleep health is hormone health! When your circadian rhythm is out of whack, your sleep can be easily disturbed. Here are some important ways to support these natural cycles:
Watch sunrises and sunsets. Experiencing the rising and setting sun in person provides feedback to your brain that the transition from night to morning and daytime to evening has occurred and releases the necessary hormones the support both alertness or restfulness.
Spend 15 minutes in natural sunlight. Preferably in the morning, get unfiltered (no sunglasses/windows) daylight outdoors. Morning sun rays are full of UV-A and IR-A (infrared) a special type of light that releases a cascade of hormones that ensures maximum melatonin production at night. It’s also an important part of energy production for your day. The more sunlight during the day, the better!
Regulate meal times. Not only does your body thrive on predictable routines, but giving your body the big task of digesting large meals during the day when you are awake and active reserves nighttime for rest and recovery. Regular meals with plenty of good fats and clean protein sources keeps blood sugar stable as well, which promotes other hormonal balance in your body.
Regulate sleep times. For the same reasons you’ll want to eat around the same time each day, going to bed and waking up at the same times day in and out help support your body’s love of routines and cyclic biology.
We discuss circadian rhythms in more detail on THIS podcast episode, give it a listen if you feel intrigued about this piece of sleep health!
Natural Remedies for Better Sleep
There’s a reason we didn’t lead with this section- even though it’s the good stuff that is likely to make a positive impact on your sleep situation, it’s all just a bandaid if your general sleep hygiene is a mess. We would even dare to say that good sleep hygiene alone should bring most women back into healthier sleep patterns. Make sure you have already banned the above sleep mistakes and began working on supporting your circadian rhythm before you jump into these sleep remedies.
(All recommendations are pregnancy and breastfeeding safe unless noted. But, always check in with your primary care provider about any new supplements being right and safe for you.)
Trouble Falling Asleep
Chamomile, valerian root, lemon balm and passionflower are all herbs that have a calming effect. Enjoy tincture or tea leading up to bedtime.
Magnesium spray or magnesium powdered drinks are soothing to the nervous system and one of our favorite secret sleep weapons! Spray on the inside of legs and arms and the soles of the feet or enjoy a warm magnesium drink before bed.
Wearing socks to bed is shown to help women fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer by lowering their core body temperature which supports melatonin release. Sleeping in a cooler room (66 degrees or below) has similar benefits.
The homeopathic Coffee Cruda is the remedy for women who are awake with and active brain, problem solving or feeling hyperactive.
Although melatonin is a commonly recommended natural sleep aid, we are hesitant to include it here because of the possible effects it has on the endocrine system, interrupting important hormonal processes for some women. If this remedy is strongly preferred, we suggest women research herbatonin, a plant-based micro-dose of melatonin that works more synergistically than synthetic melatonin.
Trouble Staying Asleep
Almost all of the items in the “Trouble Falling Asleep” list above apply here too.
One of the most common reasons for night-waking is blood sugar instability. We see this especially true for pregnant women who’s caloric and metabolic needs change rapidly throughout trimesters. A hefty dose of easily digestible protein and fat before bed or during the night waking works wonders for this. Our favorite quick snack is collagen peptides.
Keep your bedroom completely dark- even tiny lights on electronics and alarm clocks can be absorbed through your skin and interrupt melatonin release while you sleep.
If you are a light sleeper consider using an eye mask, ear plugs, white noise and turning down/off the baby monitor.
Menstrual Cycle Related Sleep Issues
Normal estrogen and progesterone drops before menstruation can cause the body to produce less melatonin in the week leading up to your period. Track your sleep complaints in relation to your cycle to see if this is the case for you.
If a hormonal imbalance is causing your cycle-related sleep problems, give seed cycling a try for a couple months straight. It may be just the thing that keeps estrogen and progesterone more balanced throughout your cycle.
Daily evening primrose oil and vitamin b complex is also known to alleviate common premenstrual problems for women and could be a part of hormonal regulation that leads to better sleep.
Pregnancy Sleep Issues
Heartburn: Laying down flat when your throat feels like it’s filling up with hot lava is not conducive to relaxation of any kind. Try to avoid large meals or triggering foods in the hours that lead up to bedtime. Neutralize stomach acid naturally with a handful of raw almonds, homeopathic Nat Phos, or an ounce of apple cider vinegar. If you have to start out sleeping upright, make yourself the coziest nest possible with lots of supportive pillows and cushions. For long term heartburn issues consider getting chiropractic care and specify for work on an upper diaphragm release.
General Discomfort: Pregnancy comes with so many changes, it is not uncommon for a rapidly changing/growing body to have some associated aches and pains. Be sure that you are drinking 3-4 liters of water a day. Aim to get 20-30 minutes of gentle movement like walking or stretching in most days. Relax in epsom salt baths before bed and be liberal with topical magnesium spray. A quality fish oil supplement and reduction in inflammatory foods can be a game-changer as well. Consider treating yourself to much-deserved body work in the form of massage, physical therapy and chiropractic care.
Frequent Urination: Many women work to get in the required oral fluids each day, just to end up bearing the burden of many many bathroom trips, often interrupting sleep. The answer is not to reduce oral fluids however! Even if you do not drink enough water, your body continues to cycle your amniotic fluid which flushes through your kidneys and bladder. Continue to hydrate well each day, but do the majority of your drinking in the first part of the day, rather than trying to make up for "lost ounces" in the evening, which may cause more night waking to pee. One tip for helping your body to better utilize the water you provide it is to add in electrolytes- like a squeeze of citrus juice, a pinch of Himalayan salt, or a few drops of trace minerals.
Restless Legs: More common in pregnancy than most women talk about, this sleep issue is enough to make a pregnant mama go crazy while trying to fall asleep. Deep stretching, massage, topical magnesium, epsom salt soaks and regular exercise can help alleviate restless legs. One powerful remedy for many women is the homeopathic Cell Salts.
Postpartum Sleep Issues
Co-sleeping: Trying to sleep deeply with your new-mom baby radar can bring about more sleep deprivation than being up taking care of your baby all night. Most moms sleep better by bed-sharing, having their baby right next to them in bed (for safe bed-sharing stats and guideline, click HERE). Some moms sleep better with their baby in a sleep station beside the bed, while other moms won’t sleep deeply again until their baby is old enough to sleep in another room. The biggest challenge is usually frequent breastfeeding, so being able to latch baby quickly and half-asleep may preserve your rest the best. Another issue is a hyper-sensitivity to baby’s sounds, in which case some earplugs can help to dampen those tiny sleep sounds while still allowing louder cries to wake mom.
Anxiety: Not all moms who are flat-out exhausted are able to take care of it by simply sleeping. A mix of new responsibilities, lots of life changes, hormonal fluctuations and next-level exhaustion can be the perfect recipe for a mood disturbance. Mild anxiety can be combatted with some soothing herbal tonics (motherwort and passionflower to start) as well as asking for some more help at home, and finding someone they trust to process the raw emotions with. For signs of more serious anxiety see this screening resource HERE.
Night Sweats: Postpartum is a detox party for most moms. Excess fluids, all that extra blood volume built during pregnancy, and a rapid change in hormones can make the first couple weeks of sleep pretty sweaty. After ruling out possible infection signs, begin with plenty of hydration and avoiding caffeine or stimulating foods in the latter part of the day. Sleep as cool as possible with breathable fabrics, a cooled room and a towel underneath you for quick changes mid-night. Beets and beet juice are known to regulate night sweating, as well as herbal tonics like lemon balm, hops and motherwort.
Recovering from a Poor Night of Sleep
What if you sleep well most of the time but have a particularly rough night, or hard string of nights for some reason? This is the position we find ourselves in a lot, as birth workers, but we know moms often have to cope in this sleepy space too. Here’s our tips for the best recovery the day after terrible sleep:
Eat as soon as you get up for the day. Aim to get a good portion of healthy fat. Butter, coconut (or MCT) oil, nut butters or avocado are great things to reach for before any other beverages or food, no matter how tempting carbs and caffeine will be.
Magnesium yourself several times during the day. When we are sleep deprived we create excess stress and inflammation for our bodies to manage and magnesium is burned through quickly as a consequence. Topical magnesium can be applied to the inside of arms, legs, knees and at the soles of the feet.
Seek morning sunlight preferably for at least 15 minutes before 10am. Follow the parameters in the circadian rhythm section for maximizing exposure.
Reach for B vitamins in the form of a total b complex or at minimum b12. Your cells will thank you as they have a boost to continue their recovery and energy-making process while you get through the day.
Move your body even if you don’t feel like it. Some intentional deep stretching or gentle walking for 10-15 minutes will do wonders to get your blood moving and oxygen flowing to your brain and organs in recovery.
Let go of everything you can for the day. Having grace with yourself will keep your stress response lower and subsequent inflammation in better check than if you try to run around a hold a normal productivity on little sleep.
Help for More Serious Sleep Problems
Sometimes sleep issues are much more complicated than a few tips you can implement from a blog post (no matter how great the midwives are who wrote it!). Sometimes sleeplessness is a pesky little annoyance that comes and goes with certain seasons of life, and sometimes it’s a symptom of something more serious happening metabolically for women. If you are having persistent insomnia, lasting weeks or more at a time, that is causing you to have a great deal of difficulty coping and functioning with your normal life- you need some more help on board.
Long-term sleep issues have huge impacts on overall health and well-being, for women especially, it’s a worthy thing to explore! Likewise, although there is a time and place for the reliability of prescription sleep medications and stronger over the counter sleep aids, recognize that these do not get to the root cause issues of your sleep disorder. Listening to what your body is trying to tell you and working to restore whole-body balance, often solves more dysfunctions than the primary complaint. Holistic health is simply better and more restorative for every lady!
Some ideas to get you going in the right direction:
Recommended practitioners: Seeing a care provider who is dedicated to your holistic well-being is important. This is why your primary care physician may not be the most supportive part of your team for a more complex sleep issue. There are great physicians out there for sure, but if you feel dismissed or only given prescription options, you’ll be left wanting. Our recommendation is to find a functional medicine doctor, functional medicine midwife, or naturopathic doctor with a specialty in women’s health.
Recommended testing: Common health issues for women that have insomnia as a symptom can include thyroid disease, metabolic and hormonal imbalances, clinical mood disorders, sleep apnea, chronic inflammation, adrenal fatigue and digestive disorders. While there are many rabbit holes you can go down testing-wise, begin with a good hormone panel, comprehensive metabolic panel and complete thyroid panel. You will at least want to check your cortisol levels, thyroid antibodies and base liver function- and then have someone (see previous bullet point) who can interpret the results and guide you on a path towards recovery.
Action Steps for Influencing Better Sleep
Are you inspired, but slightly overwhelmed? What you choose to do with all this new knowledge is going to be the difference between influencing actual change towards healthy sleep or feeling stuck in a pattern that is not working for you!
We have taken all the guesswork out of implementing these strategies with our Sleep Guide- a free gift sent straight to your inbox when you sign up to join our email community. You’ll get instant access to a template for creating your own sleep hygiene routine and some parameters for tracking your progress in this area.