10 Tips For Improving Your Sleep Quality
If you havent yet found out some of the reasons why you need sleep and also perhaps why you might not be getting it, then I suggest you read ‘Why We Need Sleep – But Don’t Get It‘.
No 1. – Stick To A Regular Sleep Schedule
Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, (even on weekends, holidays and days off).
Being consistent reinforces your body’s circadian ‘sleep-wake’ cycle to a more harmonious one for a healthier life overall (in innumerable ways).
To avoid confusing your body clock, try to make any substantial schedule changes gradually, and if you don’t fall asleep within the first 15 minutes or so of going to bed on any given night, it is actually better that you get up and do something relaxing until you feel ready to go back to your bed when you next feel tired (to re-initiate the cycle).
No 2. – Create A Bedtime Ritual
Do the same sorts of things every night – to tell your body when it’s time to start winding down. This might include taking a warm bath or cool shower (depending where you live), reading a book, or listening to relaxing music — preferably with the lights dimmed. Whatever helps you relax will promote a better transition to sleep from wakefulness.
Try to preserve the bed and bedroom only for sleep and intimacy, so that your mind and body’s associations will work ‘with you’ whenever you turn in for the night.
No 3. – Avoid Bright Light In The Evening Past Sunset
Especially the blue colour wavelengths of light from smart phones, computer screens etc.
Therefore try to avoid the use of TV or other electronic devices in the final 2 hours of your day, or within your bedtime ritual.
Use black-out curtains (or a sleep mask) during the night to keep things dark and avoid confusing or ‘diluting’ your body’s perception of what is day and what is night with momentary exposures to bright light (if you think about it, the sun didnt come up and down ten times an evening before the invention of artificial light only last century, so our body has no way of harmoniously understanding this).
Extra Tip: Contrary to conventional advice on this, try to leave some gaps around any black-out materials, or better still, use a timed lighting device to make sure you wake up in ‘rising light’ (otherwise being in pitch black when you wake up too, will also confuse your body clock).
f.lux is a nifty little piece of free computer software you can download here, that can assist you in at least minimising some of your exposure to those most problematic blue wavelengths of light when you absolutely have to be on the computer late at night, (by turning your screen a shade ‘yellower’ (i.e. by displaying less blue light) after sunset – it might help you to fall asleep quicker and/or deeper when you can finally get yourself off that screen and into bed).
Various lighting systems and eye goggles exist for the same purpose of filtering out blue wavelengths of light from reaching your eyes, to help your body to not be so confused why your house is full of ‘miniature suns’ at what it knows should be night time.
No 4. – Stay Cool, Clear and Comfortable
Keep your room temperature slightly on the cooler side and set up your sleeping arrangements in a way that you feel physically and psychologically comfortable with.
Invest in quality mattresses, bedding and sleeping quarters.
After all its where you spend at least a quarter of your life.
Do not underestimate the power of well chosen bedding, for luxury and comfort as well as cleanliness and immune balance. Any environmental irritants such as harsh chemicals and perfumes for the chemically sensitive, or dust, dust mites and pet dander etc. for the allergically sensitive, will interfere with quality sleep.
This is because Histamine (the chemical we commonly release in response to things the body feels it needs to wash away or defend from) is also ‘neurostimulatory’ (i.e. good luck getting any restful sleep, which requires a calm nervous system, when there’s loads of this stimulating stuff running around your system).
Supporting various biochemical processes in the body (such as balancing methylation and oxidation), and of course minimising exposure to the source of any known allergens such as through room/bedding cleaning regimes, will help minimise Histamine levels. This is also one of the reasons why anti-histmaine medications can be so sedating, and are a common choice among those who have compromised sleep for these reasons. If you are known to be allergic to any household/environmental allergens then moisture sealed, hypoallergenic bedding, pillowcase and mattress covers can be just the kind of ‘luxury’ you deserve.
After all keeping oral/nasal airway passages is quite important for promoting healthy oxygenation during sleep (as in those requiring CPAP). So those with allergies may find it just as important to address these factors, most likely with the assistance of a qualified health professional trained in nutritional and environmental medicine, if they would like to wake rested, (whether they snore or not).
No 5. – Limit Daytime Naps
For the sake of your circadian sleep-wake cycle it can be better not to confuse your body by sleeping during the day and potentially interfering with your night time sleep — especially if you’re struggling with insomnia or poor sleep quality.
We are all different however, and have individual needs, life stages, occupations and circumstances to contend with. So if you are someone that is going to make a habit of regularly napping during the day, try to limit yourself to about 10 to 20 minutes max at a time.
If you are a night-shift worker, you will have to keep your window coverings closed from light during the day and keep to as regular a schedule as possible to simulate your own unique sleep-wake cycle to achieve all of the above.
No 6. – Pay Attention To What You Eat And Drink
Don’t over-eat nor under-eat before bed. Both will disturb you sleep.
Overeating can be physically uncomfortable, especially when lying down.
Overdrinking before bed will likely lead to disruptive middle-of-the-night trips to the toilet.
Contrary to popular opinion, alcohol is a stimulant and whilst it may appear to aid in ‘nodding you off’ as your body attempts to metabolise it, it will invariably disturb your sleep by waking you up again only a few hours later (usually the middle hours) or leaving you feeling unrefreshed on waking due to poor sleep depth/quality.
Nicotine and caffeine also act as stimulants, with effects that can take hours to wear off and can therefore also wreak havoc on any attempts for quality sleep.
Undereating, believe it or not, can act also as a ‘stimulant’, in the sense that when your body starts to suffer from hypoglycemia and is unable to raise sufficient blood glucose levels from your glycogen stores (a problem exacerbated for many reasons), it can only rely on your adrenal glands and the Cortisol they produce, to get the job done (i.e. mobilise some glucose to keep all your body systems humming). However in the process, Cortisol, being the primary ‘stress hormone‘ in the body, opposes Melatonin, the primary sleep hormone in the body, and so you can kiss any ideas of a restful night’s sleep goodbye.
Extra Tip: For this reason it can be a good idea to include a moderate amount of slow release (fibrous) carbohydrates in your evening meal (even if you adhere to a lower carbohydrate lifestyle the rest of the time) – contrary to common generic advice, you do not have to gain weight doing this, in fact it can actually assist you in losing weight if it occurs within a comprehensively tailored lifestyle, for those that need to do so in order to sleep properly. So consult a clinical nutritionist trained in personalised or functional medicine if you would like some assistance in achieving this for yourself.
No 7. – Eat at the same times each day
Remember, your ‘eat cycle’ is connected to your ‘sleep cycle’. So in the name of balanced hormones and a well tuned circadian system, it can be important not to establish chaos as the ‘norm’ in your body’s eating schedule if you expect to also enjoy quality sleep.
Note: ‘Intermittent fasting’ and other occasional or therapeutic dietary regimes and practices are excluded from this, some of which simply constitute merely another form of dietary variety. It is your baseline norm on most days (how you eat ‘typically’), where you should adhere to a predictable pattern for your body to follow and become ‘adapted to’. Whatever that may be, will differ between individuals, circumstances and goals.
Again, see a qualified nutritional professional if you would like to discuss this area of personalisation further.
No 8. – Include Physical Activity In Your Daily Routine
Regular physical activity can promote the build up of Adenosine (from spent energy) in your body, which can make you drowsy, helping you to fall asleep faster and to enjoy deeper sleep. Timing is important, though. If you exercise too close to bedtime, you might end up being too energized to fall asleep at a time that is preferable to your circadian rhythm. If this seems to be an issue for you, exercise earlier in the day away from the last 2-3 hours of your day.
Note: Supplemental Adenosine is most likely to assist with sleep onset for this reason (via homeostatic mechanisms and the opposition of Adrenaline), whereas Melatonin support is more likely to assist with sleep duration (via circadian mechanisms and the opposition of Cortisol).
However, supplemental Adenosine is very short acting, and prone to the development of resistance. So given this, its cost and its poor availability, it is not recommended. Just get your exercise and enjoy this, amongst many of its innumerable benefits.
We all know the sleep we get after an active day outdoors.
No 9. – Let It Go
If you agonise over falling asleep (whether you are or you aren’t), you might find it even tougher to nod off. So incorporate into your ritual a sense of acceptance about your day, and a reminder that tomorrow doesn’t exist yet.
Manage stress – When you have too much to do — and too much to think about — your sleep is invariably going to suffer. To help restore your peace, consider healthy ways to manage stress. Start with the basics, such as getting organized, setting priorities and delegating tasks. Give yourself permission to take a break when you need one. Share your thoughts and experiences, or just a good laugh, with someone close to you.
Journal/Write it down – Any last minute thoughts that come to mind can be easiest to let go of once they have been captured on paper. So keep a pen and paper by your bed for any last minute thoughts that will allow you to clear your mind.
No 10. – Flexible Work Start Times?
Recent research by the Sleep Research Society has shown that many modern workers are sacrificing sleep for work hours and long commutes. Flexible work start times has therefore been proposed by the researchers as one solution to reducing chronic sleep loss.
How Much Sleep Do We Need?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 percent of (employed) adults are regular ‘short sleepers’ (regularly sleeping 6 hours or less per night).
Whilst the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that adults get about 7 to 9 hours of nightly sleep for optimal health, productivity and daytime alertness.
The highest odds of being a ‘short sleeper’ has been found among adults working multiple jobs, (being 61 percent more likely than others to report sleeping 6 hours or less on weekdays).
Perhaps unsurprisingly, those who are unemployed or retired have been shown to obtain significantly more sleep (and are much less likely to be short sleepers).
Which is interesting because it has also recently been found by the University of Waterloo that commuting is also linked to ‘lower life satisfaction’.
i.e. the more time you spend getting to and from work, the less likely you are to be satisfied with life.
As stated by the authors from the Sleep Research Society, “The message to employers is that encouraging flexible work hours or providing time for physical leisure can pay dividends in their employees’ satisfaction with life.”
The research showed that for every hour that work (or class) started later in the morning, total sleep time increased by approximately 20 minutes.
Self-employed respondents with more flexible work times also obtained significantly more sleep than private sector employees and were 17 percent less likely to be a short sleeper.
Something to take to your boss perhaps?
Extra Tip: Know when to see a health professional for further support.
Nearly everyone has an occasional sleepless night — but if you often have trouble sleeping, it may be advisable to consult your chosen health professional. Identifying and treating any underlying causes may help you get the better quantity and quality of sleep you deserve.
What do you think?
How much sleep do you get? (how applicable are the AASM sleep guidelines to you?)
How have you found success in balancing your needs for quality rest? (what tips can YOU share?)
Which factor is most important to you? (which of these factors have you had most trouble with, or the greatest success with, in improving your wellbeing?)