We all love to wake up feeling refreshed, energised and full of beans. This alone is a huge contributing factor for you to have a great day. So if you struggle to go to sleep or you are tossing and turning all night, these next few paragraphs might be helpful to you. Understanding sleep benefits and implementing simple changes to your day, pre-bedtime and bedtime routines will make all the difference. Some of these changes will be easier to include in your daily and nightly routine than others, however, if you stick with them, your chances of achieving restful sleep will improve.
1- Makes you feel good! As well as eating and exercising, sleeping is a fundamental pillar of physical wellness and optimum mental health. Experts agree that 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep is ideal.
2- Sleep will help you with weight loss! Short sleep duration is one of the strongest risk factors for obesity in children and adults, so if you are trying to maintain or lose weight getting quality sleep is essential.
3- Sleep deprivation disrupts your daily functions by increasing your ghrelin production (hunger hormone) and reducing your leptin, the hormone that suppresses appetite. As a result of which you have a bigger appetite and eat more.
4- Heart disease and Stroke prevention! Getting plenty of quality sleep helps with lowering blood pressure, regulating cholesterol levels and lowers your stress levels.
5- Curbs inflammation! Inflammation is linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, bowel diseases and premature ageing. Sleep deficit is known to activate inflammatory markers and cell damage. So, quality sleep between 7 to 8 hours will prevent an inflammatory response from the body.
6- Improves your Immune system. While you are asleep your body is producing extra protein molecules that can strengthen your immune system and help your ability to fight common colds.
7- Live Longer! Sleep affects your quality of life, so if you are waking up alert and refreshed, you have more chances of increasing your lifespan.
8- Can help with mood, anxiety and depression. In general, if you get a good nights sleep you are more inclined to be relaxed, less irritable and in a better mood. It has been established that 90% of people with depression complain of poor sleep quality.
Respect your body’s natural rhythm, the sleep-wake cycle, also called a circadian rhythm. This is a biological clock that is controlled by a part of the brain called the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus, a group of cells that respond to light and dark signals.
Go to sleep at the same hour every day as this sends a regular message to the body’s internal clock and optimizes sleep quality. In practice, this means that you need to go to bed when you feel tired and wake up naturally without an alarm clock. This is not so easy to fine-tune but it is worth spending some time working on this to optimize your sleep quality. For example, what works for me is from 10.30/11 pm to 7/7.30 am. However, I am currently trying to adjust this to arrive at a 9.45 pm bedtime, as the top quality sleep benefits are to be had during 10 pm and 2 am.
Avoid sleeping in too long at weekends so you do not disrupt the rhythm that you build up naturally during the week.
If you have difficulties sleeping avoid napping, especially before your evening meal as it will upset your natural clock. Instead, busy yourself with some low-level activity just before you have your dinner. And if you really feel the need for a nap then limit it to 15-20 mins. Napping can be a good option if you need to make up for a late night.
Control your exposure to light.
Melatonin is the sleep hormone your brain produces when it is dark and it is this that regulates your sleep/wake cycle. As night time approaches, the production of melatonin increases to make you sleepy until it is daytime again. During the day, as you increase your sunlight exposure, your levels of serotonin rise in order to keep you awake and sharp until night time.
Why is serotonin important?
Serotonin can be described as our body’s natural happiness drug. It is a feel-good hormone that increases positivity and relaxation, as well as helping us feel all-around more energized and enthusiastic.
The precursor to melatonin is serotonin, a neurotransmitter that itself is derived from the amino acid tryptophan. Within the pineal gland, serotonin is acetylated and then methylated to yield melatonin. Synthesis and secretion of melatonin are dramatically affected by light exposure to the eyes. So the more serotonin you produce during the day the more will be converted into melatonin at night.
If you work indoors, take your coffee break or lunch/snack outside and remain there for as long as your break will allow you to. After work, before you settle down for the evening at home, go for a brisk walk with the dog or your partner, friend, family etc.
At night, avoid bright screens for at least 1 hour before bedtime. The blue light emitted by your phone, tablet, computer screen, TV etc, prevents and/or delays the production of melatonin. Ensure your bedroom is a dark, restful place. No electronic equipment allowed !!
There are several ways you can reduce this blue light exposure.
Wear blue light blockers. These special glasses block this blue light. It does take a few days to get used to the orange glow that they have, but once you have, you will notice a soothing and calming effect on your vision and eye muscles.
Download an app to block blue light on your laptop or computer, also available for your smartphone.
Finally, stop watching TV and turn off any bright lights two hours before heading to bed.
Exercise during the day
It has been proven over and over again that one of the benefits of exercise is sleep improvement. Whether you engage in low level or high-intensity training, both are an absolute must that improves your sleep quality. Vigorous exercise speeds up your metabolism, elevates body temperature and stimulates hormones like cortisol which is all well and good during the day, but should be avoided at least three hours before bedtime. Instead, go for a 10-20 minute light walk, or do a gentle stretching routine. These will not interfere with your evening wind downtime.
Avoid the following
- Avoid big meals before bed. In fact, some people prefer to be fasting during the early evening and at night time, as it helps you to ignore the sensation of hunger.
- Avoid drinking alcohol as it could interfere with your sleep cycles. Although alcohol may help bring on sleep, after a few hours it acts as a stimulant, increasing the number of awakenings and generally decreasing the quality of sleep later in the night. It is, therefore, best to limit alcohol consumption to one to two drinks per day, or less, and to avoid drinking within three hours of bedtime.
- Avoid nicotine and caffeine as they act as a stimulant. Caffeine (found in coffee, tea, chocolate, cola and some pain relievers) can disrupt sleep patterns and should be avoided during the four to six hours before bedtime. Similarly, smokers should refrain from using tobacco products too close to bedtime.
- Avoid drinking a lot of liquid close to bedtime as it will make you get up to go to the bathroom and interrupt your sleep.
- Avoid sugary foods and refined carbs as they could spike your blood sugar levels and wake you up in the middle of a sleep cycle.
Wind down and clear your head
At least one hour before going to bed you should try to relax and let go of all your worries, the residual stress, the anxiety and the frustrations of the day that could play havoc with your mind and deprive you of a good nights sleep. If you are not able to switch off in a moment, and yes it is easier said than done, you can partake in to some relaxing techniques that will help to disconnect from your busy day.
With a few deep breaths, you can start feeling your body relax. A practical method is called box breathing. Breath in and count 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 and hold for 4. Repeat this several times. You can increase to 5 or 6 seconds if you wish.
Yoga has been proven to be beneficial for your sleep quality.
Another meditative technique is to lie down and visualize your muscles relaxing… starting from your toes and slowly creeping up to your legs, belly, chest, arms, head and face as you feel your eyelids becoming heavy.
If reading is your wind-down tool then read a book with low lighting. Some people prefer soft music or guided meditation, taking a warm shower or bath with magnesium salts, stretches or any other activity that promotes you to clear your head.
Improve your sleep environment
Your bed has to be comfortable!! Ensure your mattress is not too old as experts recommend to change it every 8 years to keep your sleep and rest in optimum condition. Have comfortable pillows and make sure your bedroom is attractive and inviting for sleep. I also like to have a diffuser/ humidifier that gently releases soothing and relaxing essential oil fragrances for censorial well being.
Keep your bedroom cool or even chilled. I sleep with the window open even in winter as it helps me to sleep better. If you live in a cold climate, keeping the window open may not be a good idea and if you live in warmer countries you could sleep with a chill pad.
Others like a weighted blanket, like our grandparents, had!! Those heavy quilts would pin you down to the mattress and prevent you from moving.
Ultimately, your bedtime should be solely dedicated to sleeping and intimacy. Not for working, watching TV or using a computer!!
Staring at a clock in your bedroom, either when you are trying to fall asleep or when you wake in the middle of the night, can actually increase stress, making it harder to fall asleep. Turn the clock face away from you.
If you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep in about 20 minutes, get up and engage in a quiet, restful activity such as reading or listening to music and keep the lights dim. When your eyelids are drooping and you are ready to sleep, return to bed.
Why it is so important to sleep well
Muscles: While you sleep your body releases growth hormones to rebuild and repair. The more sleep you get, the better equipped the body will be to repair itself.
Brain: Cerebral spinal fluid is pumped more quickly while you sleep. It acts like a dishwasher, whisking away waste products that brain cells make. So you wake up with a clean new brain.
Heart: During the day your heart works hard, so at night during non REM sleep it takes some pressure off itself by reducing heart rate, as well as blood pressure.
Stomach: Certain foods contain an amino acid called tryptophan and this causes sleepiness. Carbohydrates make tryptophan more available to the brain, which is why carbohydrates or a heavy meal can make you drowsy. Supplements can help you fall asleep faster!
The list of supplements down below have shown to encourage sleep either by boosting the production of sleep hormone or by calming brain activity.
- Magnesium. Magnesium helps activate the neurotransmitters responsible for sleep. Doses of 200–400 mg per day, taken with food, have been shown to improve sleep.
- 5 HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan). 5-HTP boosts the production of serotonin, which has been linked to the regulation of sleep. Doses of 300–500 mg per day, taken either once daily or in divided doses, seem to be effective in treating insomnia.
- Melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by the body, but it can also be taken as a supplement to help regulate your sleep. Doses of 0.5–5 mg taken 30 minutes before bed seem to improve sleep quality. Melatonin is also useful when travelling and adjusting to a new time zone, as it helps your body’s circadian rhythm return to normal. As melatonin may alter brain chemistry, it is advised that you check with a medical professional before use.
- Theanine. Theanine is an amino acid with sedative properties. Although it has not been shown to induce sleep, it could help with relaxation. Doses of 200 mg per day seem to be useful.
- GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). GABA is a compound produced in the brain that inhibits certain transmitters and may help the central nervous system relax. Doses of 250–500 mg and no more than 1,000 mg are recommended.
- Aromatherapy involves the use of essential oils, they are commonly used by those who have trouble falling asleep, as it may help with relaxation and improving sleep quality. It seems that lavender and damask rose is popular scents with positive effects on sleep.
In conclusion, there are many little changes we can make to improve our sleep quality. I am only starting out on this path and at times it seems overwhelming when seen as a whole. However, just one step in the right direction is a start and will, without doubt, help to improve your sleep quality!
DISCLAIMER. The material on this blog is for informational purposes only. As each individual situation is unique, you should use proper discretion, in consultation with a health care practitioner, before undertaking the protocols, diet, exercises, techniques, training methods, or otherwise described herein. The author and publisher expressly disclaim responsibility for any adverse effects that may result from the use or application of the information contained herein.