Remember that time when you could sleep like a baby? Some of us are still fortunate enough to sleep soundly at will and for a reasonable amount of time. For most of us though, it seems like a distant cry. While we yearn to sleep better at night, our increasingly busy lives have too much going on all the time. As a result, a decent amount of shut-eye has become more elusive by the day.
Good sleep is essential for a multitude of reasons. Simply put, sleep is restorative. It helps repair and recharge our muscles and tissues, regulate hormones, improve cognitive function, rest our taxed brains and recharge for a new day. It helps improve memory, delays aging, lowers stress, staves off depression and reduces the risk of onset of heart disease, arthritis, diabetes and stroke to name a few. Here’s one more benefit we all love to hear about – good sleep helps us maintain a healthy weight.
Adults need about 7 to 9 hours of sleep each day. It’s unfortunately not one of those things that you can really make up for – rack up pending hours of sleep, and catch up on weekends. Want to learn about simple ways to sleep better at night and reap these health benefits? Here we go:
Screen that Smartphone
It would be really ideal to read a good book and let that phone go. We all know that is less likely to happen. But before you pick that phone again, let’s look at one of the health risks we endure – the link between sleep loss and diabetes. Our gadgets emit blue light that impacts melatonin levels which in turn causes insomnia. Melatonin is a hormone released at night which helps regulate your body’s sleep and wake cycle. In 2013, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) highlighted a study which was the first ever to cite a significant link between Melatonin levels and the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
Many Smart phone models have a night switch feature which helps customize the screen tone specifically for night-time reading and limit impact to sleep loss. Enable night switch on your phone and sleep better at night. No night switch on your device? Check out filtering screens that will block out that infamous blue light on your devices and protect your melatonin levels. If you use more than one device, you might want to consider blue light screening glasses. Switch to light bed time reading on the phone or e-reader, read anything that helps you unwind. Set off message and email notifications. Work and people (excluding present company in the bedroom) can wait until the morning.
It would be best to distance yourself from your phone for at least an hour before you go to bed. If that causes you unbearable separation anxiety, read away with the right filters, but stay away from social networking and work!
Early Cuppa Caffeine
Enjoy your warm cup of coffee in the mornings and early afternoons! Caffeine can stay in your system for as much as 10 hours after consumption. Therefore, it is best to avoid caffeine intake after 2 PM. It might be interfering with your ability to fall asleep soon. It’s also not just about watching that cup of coffee but a myriad range of foods that are caffeinated such as energy drinks, sodas, cookies to name a few. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has shared some useful insights into the connection between caffeine and sleep, and the level of caffeine available in various foods and drinks.
Comfortable sleeping environment
The bedroom should only be for sleep and sex (Okay you can read your phone too if it has that blue light filter on.). Keep gadgets out as much as possible. It’s very important to have a calming environment to sleep in both for your mind and your body. It also helps to have the room cooler when you go to bed. Research suggests that the ideal room temperature to help us sleep better is from 65 to 70 F. When our body temperature starts to drop, it sends a signal to our brain to induce sleep. Ever wondered what happens when you yawn? You actually take the outside air in to cool your body. Also, do not take a warm bath before bed time, it raises your basal body temperature.
Along with temperature, room lighting is also critical. Dim the lights, and ensure that blinds and curtains are drawn, Light has a direct impact on melatonin as well. Melatonin rises at night to induce sleep, and reduces in the morning waking us up to the bright sun. Invest in a good mattress. Your room and bed must feel cozy and comfortable to ensure that you can sleep better at night.
Try Sleep Super Foods
Eat early, Eat light, sleep better at night!
It’s really that simple but our hectic lifestyles are hardly that. Avoid heavy meals for dinner time. Not only do these late evening meals disrupt sleep, but they also tend to add up those pounds we work hard to shed. In addition to impact on digestive rest, late evening meals also impact our immunity, memory and learning. Eat early at home before attending late night social events. That will help you restrict food intake in these festivities, and protect your metabolic health. Try and wrap up dinner at least 3 to 4 hours prior to bedtime.
How about those late night food cravings? Small portions of Graham crackers and cheese, cereal and milk, low-fat plain yogurt are all excellent choices to curb late night hunger pangs. We’ll check out some great food choices for sleep super foods and late night bites in a future post.
Clean your Kitchen
Remember we mentioned this in our post on 6 ways to reverse diabetes? This option might sounds ridiculous, but it’s a surprisingly effective way to train our brain to help sleep better at night. We first heard Dr. Jack Lewis, a neuro-scientist talk about this in a conference in Barcelona, specifically in the context of lowering blood sugar.
His premise is that we should try not to reward our brain, when we are up all night thinking about something. So if deep sleep eludes us, because our brains won’t shut down, do not reward it with a glass of warm milk. Get up and clean the kitchen or do some mundane mind-numbing chore. Your brain will get conditioned eventually to learn to sleep better, because it does not want to be punished with more work.
Now I have tried both the reward (warm milk) and punishment (cleaning my cooking range) approaches to sleep better at night. They both work! It’s all in context. Milk helps stave off any midnight hunger cravings and helps me stay asleep. Cleaning my cooking range on one of those sleepless nights, really did feel like a punishment and I was lights out in no time when I went back to bed!
Light Exercise before bedtime
Stretch and stretch and yawn! Light exercise such as walking, yoga, stretching are all great ways to unwind and ensure a good night’s sleep. Regular exercise is proven to improve our sleep cycle. Intense workouts such as weights, cardio routines, cross fit etc. should be planned at least 3-4 hours before bed time. Intense workouts pump up your adrenaline, may raise your blood sugar and body temperature and increase the time it takes us to unwind.
Walking at a relaxed or moderate pace for 30 minutes after dinner or before bed time, helps lower blood sugar, clears your mind and lets you decompress. Stretching and yoga are great options to relieve the tension that has built up in your muscles all day and unwind. Progressive relaxation is another technique to relieve that stiffness in your muscles. Start with your toes and work your way up to your neck, tighten and relax each muscle group. Stay tuned to learn about some great exercises that will help us sleep better in a future post!
Regular sleep routine
Establish a regular relaxing bed time routine. Try to sleep around the same time every day. Go through a series of relaxing activities, read, stretch and take deep breaths. Similarly, try to wake up around the same time every day. A regular routine works well to help us sleep better at night.
It does so by helping regulate the cycle of melatonin and cortisol production in our bodies. Melatonin increases at night and induces sleep, and tapers off in the morning. Cortisol is higher in the morning propelling you out of bed with the energy you need to get on with the day and tapers off during the day with the lowest levels at night. Cortisol is also linked to stress, which is why stress management is also key for a good night’s sleep.
Drink Up Early
Avoid Alcohol and Liquid intake close to bed time. Alcohol might induce sleep quicker, but it affects deep sleep and will disrupt your sleep patterns in the latter half of the night. You might wake up with a dry throat or a headache, get nightmares or need to use the bathroom too often. Alcohol also has a significant impact on sugar levels for folks who struggle with pre-diabetes or diabetes. Ensure a gap of 3 to 4 hours between liquid intake including alcohol and bed time; simple measures such as this will help you sleep better at night. So go ahead and enjoy that glass of wine! Just watch your portions and the time.
Say No to Naps
This little one can nap all he wants, but us grown-ups cannot. Yes, life is unfair. Power Naps are great, but only on occasion. A short nap of no more than twenty minutes can be refreshing and cure that mid-day fatigue for instance. It helps with alertness, reduces mistakes and prevents accidents due to driver fatigue.
Even though such short-term naps do have benefits, regular or greater than 20 minute naps might adversely impact your regular sleep cycle at night. If your nap time exceeds 20 minutes, you end up feeling more drowsy and tired! A nap should not be used as a regular substitute for night-time sleep deprivation. It should be reserved for occasional days of sleep loss, for instance due to a busy work night or driving too long. On a regular basis, try to say no to naps with these alternatives – go for a short walk in the sunshine or call a friend. You will definitely sleep better at night!
De-clutter your mind
We all could use a few more hours in the day, stay up late at night and wrap things up. A restful sleep however is not as simple as switching off your bedside lamp. Your mind needs some time to shut down. Many of us toss and turn at night because our minds are still hyper active. This slowly turns’ into anxiety that we are not asleep. Look at your list of accomplishments for the day. Update your To Do list for the next day. Maintain a journal. Something as mundane as count backwards from 100 or count sheep or repeat a word such as “the” can help take your mind off worrisome thoughts. Take deep breaths, relax, meditate, listen to music and let yourself drift away!
In the event, you still find yourself awake despite trying these measures, consult a physician or a sleep specialist. There are few things in life that have no substitute. A good night’s sleep is one of them. Try these tips out today and ZZZ your way to a great night’s sleep and better health!