Rest Easy: Sleeping Guide for the Restless

By Brianna Hoglen, Penn State PRO Wellness

Sleep is an essential bodily function. Without adequate sleep, the body becomes less cognitively available, our immunes systems become weaker, stress takes a harder toll on our body systems and we can even gain weight. It is estimated by Healthy People 2020 that 30.4% of Americans do not get enough sleep¹. If we can decrease this number, the ramification would be huge. We could decrease the amount of drowsy driving related incidents from the current rate of 2.7 per 100 million. We could also decrease the current sleep deprivation state of our country’s high schoolers from the current state of 69.1%².

When we aren’t sleeping long enough or well enough, our bodies have to work much harder to keep going. Sleep is our body’s natural repair mechanism; including our lungs, brain and heart functions.

Experts break sleep down into four major categories. These include science, bedroom environment, lifestyle and age

1. Science is the biology and chemistry of sleeping. As stated previously, sleep is our body’s natural repair mechanism. During sleep, the brain is a given a “blank slate” while it replenishes cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to repair the brain cells. In addition, the heart rate and breathing rate slow down which takes some burden off some of the hardest working organs in your body.

2. The bedroom environment is also an essential part to getting restful sleep. Clean sheets, certain smells, lighting, and even the type of pillow all impact the quality of sleep.

3. Lifestyle choices also play a crucial roll. Healthy habits throughout the day can actually improve the nightly routine. Habits as pushing that afternoon coffee closer to the morning hours, time of day you exercise, and foods you eat before bed all impact sleep.

4. The final category, age, is also very important and an area that can be quite overlooked. It is thought that 8 hours of sleep is the cardinal rule but researchers are learning that this isn’t always the case. As we age, less sleep is needed. For instance, toddlers are recommended to sleep anywhere from 11 to 14 hours a night, while adolescents should get about 9 to 11 hours of sleep a night. Research recommends that adults need between 7 to 9 hours of sleep with an additional 20 minutes for women. The elderly need even less sleep, ranging from 7 to 8 hours. So it seems that the cardinal rule of 8 hours of sleep only applies once we reach a certain age and even then, it varies for each individual.

Following these simple tips and having the knowledge on how they can help you sleep can lead to a higher quality night’s rest for all.

Bedroom Environment Tips

The environment we sleep in is almost as important as the amount of sleep we receive each night. Our bedrooms can impact the quality of sleep and this can spill over into every other aspect of our lives. Sleep is our bodies repair mechanism and helps our organs stay regular and our brain to restore cells from the activities of daily living. Clean sheets, smells, lighting, and the type of pillow you have all impact sleep.

There are a few key factors to keep in mind when designing a sleep-friendly bedroom. Tune in to these tips to help you and your bedroom become a little more in sync for superior sleep.

Bed is for Sleeping

The number one cardinal rule is to use your bed for sleep! We should not be reading, studying, or doing work from bed. This can be distracting when you are actually trying to fall asleep.


Secondly, it is important to keep your bedroom at a low temperature. The recommendation for best sleep is anywhere from 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit.


Furthermore, the type of bedding you have can also disrupt sleep. Sheets that become too hot, pillows that are too soft or too stiff, dirty linens, or a bad mattresses all impact the quality of sleep.

Noise Distractions

Noise distractions may seem like a no brainer, but it is important to note this detail since many individuals sleep with the television on or have other noise distractions. These distractions can be harmful when it comes to staying asleep or entering a deep sleep.

Banish Electronics

Turn off electronics! We are glued to devices; whether it be cell phones, laptops, tablets, or the television before bed. It is recommended that we stop using any device 30 minutes before falling asleep. Not only are they distractions that keep you awake, but the light that emits from a device signals hormones in our brain that mess with your natural sleep/wake cycle and your sleep receptors think it is still day time! There are new features on mobile devices that allow you to turn off the “blue light” that sends these signals. For example, the iPhone released a feature called “night shift” that allows you to set a time frame where the phones back lighting becomes softer and yellow. This feature is helpful, but devices should still be avoiding before bed.

¹Klein, S. (2014). 37 science-backed tips for better sleep tonight. Huffpost Healthy Living.

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²National Sleep Foundation. (2016). Healthy sleep tips. Retrieved from:

Natural Sleep Aids
  • Valerian is a dietary supplement that has been used since ancient times for insomnia and nervousness. Although many people use valerian as a sleep aid, its effectiveness has not been proven. Jawad Miran, DO, a sleep medicine specialist at Somerset Medical Center’s Sleep For Life program in Hillsborough, N.J., cautions that that there is little consistency in the quality or ingredients of valerian preparations on the market today: “There is no one compound which is valerian, rather there are numerous compounds in varying amounts,” says Miran. He says most doctors he knows don’t recommend valerian to their patients with insomnia. People who take valerian should not combine it with other supplements or medications for sleep.
  • Chamomile, like valerian, is a traditional herbal remedy that has been used since ancient times to fight insomnia and a wide range of other health complaints. Chamomile is sold in the form of tea, extract, and topical ointment. Chamomile is widely available in health food stores and supermarkets. Chamomile’s effectiveness as a sleep aid has not been widely researched in humans, but in animal studies it has been shown to be a safe and mild sleep aid.
  • Melatonin is a hormone that is produced by the pineal gland in the brain. Melatonin is believed to play a central role in regulating sleep and circadian rhythms. Synthetic melatonin is a popular dietary supplement that is sold as a sleeping aid and antioxidant. According to Miran, there is evidence that melatonin eases circadian rhythm disorders like jet lag and delayed sleep phase disorders, but it hasn’t been proven effective in treating insomnia or improving sleep quality in the long term.
  • Chamomile: The National Center for Alternative and Complementary Medicine notes that chamomile is used as a therapy for a variety of health conditions, including anxiety and insomnia. The first controlled clinical trial of chamomile extract for generalized anxiety disorder was published in a 2009 issue of the “Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology.” The study, which was conducted on 61 participants over an eight-week period, concluded that chamomile may produce a mild anxiety-inhibiting effect on patients with mild to moderate generalized anxiety disorder.
  • Magnolia bark has been used in Asia to treat anxiety and nervousness disorders. Magnolia bark may also possess sleep-promoting properties, which was demonstrated in a 2012 study published in “Neuropharmacology.” The study found that magnolol — the main bioactive component of magnolia bark — was effective in increasing sleep in mice.
  • Passionflower is an herb that’s used for both anxiety and insomnia. One theory that may explain these effects is that passionflower boosts the production of the amino acid gamma aminobutyric acid, or GABA, in the brain, which may reduce the action of some brain cells and promote a sense of calm. University of Maryland Medical Center notes that passionflower is typically combined with other calming herbs, which makes it more difficult to quantify its effects on sleep and relaxation. However, one 2001 study published in the “Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics” concluded that passionflower is effective in managing the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder.
  • Valerian root is used to produce different types of medicine, including sleep aids. Like many herbal sleep remedies, it is often used in conjunction with other herbs and ingredients that have similar effects. MedlinePlus rates valerian as “possibly effective” for the treatment of insomnia, but also rates it as having “Insufficient evidence” for the treatment of anxiety disorder. A 2006 meta-analysis published in “The American Journal of Medicine” that reviewed 16 studies concluded that valerian can help promote better sleep without causing side effects.

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Bedtime Snacks

In particular, foods that contain tryptophan (an amino acid that turns into relaxing brain chemicals like serotonin and melatonin), whole-grain carbs (which boost serotonin production), certain minerals (like calming calcium and magnesium), and some herbs (that have a relaxing effect) can put you in a soporific state.

If you want a night of sound slumber, consider having a light sleep-inviting snack about an hour before bedtime. Good choices include:

  • Half a Banana and a Handful of Almonds: The combination of tryptophan, carbs, and calming magnesium can help make you drowsy. Don’t like bananas? Have some cherries, a natural source of melatonin, instead.
  • Whole-Grain Crackers with Peanut Butter: It’s another magical combo (tryptophan + complex carbs) that will promote sound slumber.
  • A Mug of Warm Milk: Grandma was right—drinking warm milk before bedtime can help you sleep better, thanks to the dairy drink’s tryptophan, calcium, and magnesium. Just make sure it’s a small mug and not a huge glass, or else you’ll be running to the bathroom all night.
  • A Small Bowl of Whole-Grain Cereal with Milk: The milk’s tryptophan, calcium, and magnesium, coupled with the cereal’s calming carbs and magnesium can make you feel sleepy. Opt for a low-sugar cereal, so you don’t get a spike in blood sugar that could rev you up. Or make hot oatmeal with milk, because oatmeal is a rich source of sleep-promoting melatonin.
  • Half a Turkey Sandwich: Make it with whole-wheat bread (rich in complex carbs and magnesium) and a couple of slices of turkey (the most famous source of tryptophan) and you’ll be ready to hit the hay in no time. Low-sugar cranberry sauce optional, if you’re really craving that Thanksgiving feeling.
  • A Mug of Herbal (Decaf) Tea: Chamomile, passionflower, and valerian teas each have a sedating effect. For an extra dose of calm, add a teaspoon of honey, which contains tryptophan. (Stay away from ginseng tea, though, because it can have a stimulating effect.)
  • Roasted Sweet Potatoes: Roast a dozen small sweet potatoes at a time and then keep them in the fridge for a quick grab-and-go snack. Sprinkle them with nutmeg or Chinese five spice, and squeezes lime and agave nectar on top. If you’ve ever felt drowsy after a big meal of spaghetti, you know the effect that carbs can have on getting you ready for sleep. Sweet potatoes pack those same carbs, but contain an extra dose of vitamins and fiber that you won’t find in refined
  • A Batch of Ceviche: You might not have thought about making this raw seafood salad at home, let alone keeping it for several days in the fridge, but it’s easy to make. Dice up some yellow tail or mahimahi with lime juice, agave nectar , jalapeños, pineapple, tomato, and whatever produce you have on hand. Then scoop out a few spoonfuls whenever you get the munchies. Snooze-worthy bonus: Some evidence links omega-3 fatty acids that are found in fish to better sleep.

Just be sure to keep your bedtime snack on the light side. The last thing you want to do is overload your stomach and set yourself up for a night of tossing and turning—or consume extra calories in an effort to lull yourself to sleep.

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Snacks to Avoid Before Bedtime

Whatever you decide to eat in the evening, just make sure that it isn’t one of these foods that are bound to lead to tossing and turning.

  • Green Tea and coffee boost alertness from the caffeine.
  • Chocolate: Cocoa beans naturally contain alertness-boosting caffeine, but not as much as coffee.
  • Whole-Grains: Your body converts carbs to energy, and whole grains break down more slowly than simple, refined sugars (such as white bread or white rice), giving you a more steady energy release.
  • Fruits have sugars for a quick energy burst.
  • Protein offers a slow energy release
  • Spicy food: In some people, spicy foods can trigger gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)—better known as acid reflux. It occurs when your food and stomach acids rise back up through the valve at the top of your stomach and into your esophagus. The result is painful heartburn. And if acid reflux occurs during nighttime hours, it can make getting to sleep difficult, as you may find that the sensation worsens every time you lie down.
  • Heavy or rich foods that are tricky to digest, fatty foods (such as meals that are fried), citrus fruits, carbonated and caffeinated drinks, alcohol, and mint can also trigger gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

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¹Healthy People 2020. (2016). Sleep Health. Retrieved from:

²CDC Healthy Living. (2016). Getting enough sleep? Retrieved from:


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