Sleeping well directly affects your physical and mental health. If you don’t get enough sleep, it can seriously affect your energy levels, productivity, emotional balance, even your weight. But many of us spend our nights tossing and turning, struggling to get the sleep we need.
Getting a good night’s sleep may seem like an impossible goal when you’re wide awake at 3 a.m., but you have a lot more control over the quality of your sleep than you probably think. The cure for sleep issues can often be found in your daily routine.
Unhealthy lifestyle choices and habits can keep us up at night, negatively affect our mood, brain, heart health, immune system, creativity, vitality, and weight. That is why I took on the task of digging up some expert advice on how to improve sleep (and, incidentally, health in general), as well as the way we feel during the day. Read on!
Tip 1: Get your Natural Sleep Cycle in Sync
Sync up with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, known as your circadian rhythm. If you maintain a regular sleeping and waking schedule, you’ll feel much more refreshed and energetic than if you sleep the same number of hours at different times, even if you only modify your sleep schedule by an hour or two.
Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. This helps set your body’s internal clock and optimize the quality of your sleep. Pick a time to go to bed that aligns with when you actually feel tired, so that you’re not just awake and staring at the ceiling. If you get enough sleep, you should wake up naturally without an alarm. If you need to use an alarm clock, this might mean you need to go to bed earlier.
Avoid sleeping in late, even on weekends. The more your weekend and weekday sleep schedules differ, the worse the symptoms you’ll experience–think of it like jetlag. If you need to make up for hours of sleep, it’s much better to take a nap than sleep in. This allows you to pay off your sleep debt without disturbing your natural sleep-wake rhythm.
It’s very important to be smart about naps. While naps are a great way to catch up on lost sleep, if you have trouble falling or staying asleep at night, napping can make things worse. Limit naps to 15-20 minutes and take them first thing in the afternoon.
On the other hand, if you’re the type of person that gets sleepy after lunch or dinner and it is not bedtime yet, get up off the couch and do something stimulating, like washing the dishes, calling a friend, or prepping your outfit for the next day. If you give in to sleepiness, you may wake up in the early morning and have trouble getting back to sleep.
Tip 2: Control Your Light Exposure
Melatonin is a natural hormone controlled by exposure to light that helps regulate our sleep-wake cycle. Our brain secretes more melatonin when it’s dark, which makes you sleepy, and less when it is light, which makes you more alert. However, many aspects of modern life can alter the production of this hormone and change our circadian rhythm.
Remember to expose yourself to bright sunlight in the morning. Have your coffee or tea outside or your breakfast by a sunny window. Getting some light on your face will help you wake up. Try to spend more time outdoors during the day; you can take your breaks at work outside or walk your dog during the day instead of at night. Lastly, don’t forget to let as much natural light as possible into your home or workspace.
At night, avoid bright screens 1-2 hours before bedtime. The blue light emitted by your phone, tablet, computer, or television is especially bad for falling asleep. Say no to late-night television. Not only does the light from the television suppress melatonin, but watching TV might stimulate you rather than make you feel relaxed. It is much better to listen to music, a podcast, or an audiobook.
Tip 3: Exercise During the Day
People who exercise regularly get better sleep and feel less drowsy during the day. Regular exercise also improves symptoms of insomnia and sleep apnea and increases the amount of time you spend in the deep, restorative stages of sleep.
The harder you exercise, the more powerful the benefits of sleep will be. But even light exercise, like walking just 10 minutes a day, improves the quality of your sleep. Exercise speeds up your metabolism, raises your body temperature, and stimulates hormones like cortisol. Just don’t exercise too close to bedtime as it can interfere with sleep. Ideally, you’ll want to finish your workouts at least three hours before bed. Low-impact, relaxing exercises, such as yoga or gentle stretching at night can help promote sleep.
Tip 4: Watch What You Eat and Drink
Believe it or not, your eating habits influence how well you sleep, especially when it comes to what you consume in the hours right before going to bed. For example, caffeine can cause sleep problems, even for up to ten to twelve hours after drinking it. Smoking is also another stimulant that can disrupt sleep.
Try to eat dinner earlier and avoid heavy foods within two hours of going to bed. Spicy or acidic foods can cause stomach problems and heartburn. While a glass of wine in the evening can relax you, it can also interfere with your sleep cycle. Similarly, drinking a lot of fluids before falling asleep can result in frequent trips to the bathroom during the night. Cut back on sugar and refined carbohydrates like white bread, white rice, and pasta during the day as they can trigger insomnia problems at night and knock you out of the deep, restorative stages of sleep.
Tip 5: Take a Minute to Pause and Relax
Residual stress, worry, and anger from your day can make it difficult to get a good night’s rest. Taking steps to control your overall stress levels and learning how to curb your worrying can make it easier to relax at night. You can also try establishing a relaxing ritual before going to bed to help prepare your mind for sleep. Take a warm bath, dim the lights, or listen to soft music.
Trouble turning off your thoughts at night can also be caused by bad habits during the day. The more overstimulated our brain becomes during the day, the more difficult it is for us to slow down and relax at night. A good tip is to only check social media at certain times of day and try focus on one task at a time when possible.
Tip 6: Improve Your Sleep Environment
Even small changes in the environment can make a big difference in the quality of your sleep. A dark, cool, quiet room is ideal for rest. If there’s noise from neighbors, traffic, or other people in your home, you can try using a fan or white noise machine. Earplugs can also help.
Most people sleep best in a cool room (around 65 ° F or 18 ° C) with adequate ventilation. A bedroom that is too hot or cold can interfere with how well you sleep. Your bedding should give you enough room to stretch out and turn comfortably without getting tangled up. I also recommend finding the right kind of mattress and pillow firmness for you.
Remember that your bed is made for resting, so avoid working, watching TV, or using a phone, tablet, or computer in it. This will help your brain associate the bedroom with sleeping and relaxing. Use curtains that block the light from the windows or try a sleep mask. Don’t forget to cover any electronic devices that could give off light and keep the room lights off. If you’re the kind of person that gets up during the night, you can put in a dim night light, which will help you move around but get back to sleep without any issues. I hope these tips for more restful nights are helpful. Sweet dreams!