We all know we should be getting enough sleep, but for some reason, many of us find a good night’s sleep elusive. Aside from counting sheep, there are other things we can explore that might help us get more and better sleep. In this post, I’ll talk about a few things we can do to promote healthier sleep patterns, as well as what we may be doing to sabotage ourselves.
Side note: If you are a shift worker or regularly travel to different time zones, there are many things you can do to help get your rhythms straightened out, but that is not the focus of this post. You can go to http://sleepcenter.ucla.edu/circadian-rhythms for more information.
Do get enough sunlight during the day. Our bodies operate on a circadian rhythm which means we have mental, physical, and behavioral patterns that follow a 24-hour cycle. This cycle is influenced by light and dark. One thing that can help us reset our internal clock, if it’s off, is getting up early and exposing ourselves to sunlight early in the day. Early morning exposure to sunlight also boosts our energy which can help us get more done throughout the day. This, in turn, may make us more tired and help us fall asleep easier at night.
Do follow a bedtime routine. Part of that routine should include shutting down electronic devices such as the television, laptop, computer, phone, and Kindle. The blue light that these devices emit causes your body to produce more daytime hormones and inhibit those crucial for good sleep which can throw off your circadian rhythm. You should have a cut-off time for these devices a couple of hours before going to bed, ideally around 8:00.
The 8:00 cut-off time is important because the most restorative hours of sleep are between 10:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. This is when our body is best at restoring and rejuvenating itself. All the hormones responsible for repair are at their peak during this time. I know this is a hard one in our world full of interesting and stimulating things, but at some point, we just have to pull the plug if we are to get some decent sleep. Don’t be like a baby fighting sleep. Everything will still be there in the morning, so exercise some control by putting your cell phone and other devices in another room, and go to bed.
Did someone mention exercise? Great! Exercise is another thing that should be on your to-do list if you want to sleep better at night. Studies show that people who get at least 150 minutes of exercise per week are more alert during the day and sleep better at night. Exercise also promotes weight loss which can help those who suffer from sleep apnea, a condition in which a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep causing them to wake up repeatedly during the night. Excess weight and obesity are the most common cause of obstructive sleep apnea. Remember, hitting the gym can help when you need to hit the hay.
Don’t drink things such as coffee, tea, energy drinks, or sodas that contain caffeine late in the day. It’s also important to read food labels and avoid foods that contain caffeine such as chocolate and other processed foods. Again, read labels because caffeine can be hiding anywhere. Better yet, have most of your diet be foods without a label.
It’s also a good idea to avoid spicy or acidic foods before bedtime because they may cause heartburn, also known as GERD (gastroesophogeal reflux disease). Why is that a big deal, you may ask. Lying down makes heartburn worse, and heartburn makes it difficult to sleep.
Alcohol is something else that makes it difficult to sleep. Say what? I know, I know. You like your little night cap before bed because it helps you relax. Alcohol is the most commonly used sedative people use to self-medicate. However, though it initially acts as a sedative, when its components break down in your body, they cause what’s known as a “rebound effect,” that wakes you up a few hours into your sleep. If you typically have a nighttime drink and are finding it hard to stay asleep, you might have to “just say no” to alcohol late in the day.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but it can at least get you going in the right direction. For more information, you can follow the links in this article. I would also suggest a book by Shawn Stevenson called Sleep Smarter – 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to a Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success. Remember that regular gym attendance is not the only part of the good health equation because, as I said in a previous post, you are tearing your body down at the gym. Proper nutrition along with adequate sleep are also crucial parts of the good health equation because they are what build and repair your body. They must also be addressed if you and I are to enjoy optimum health. Take care that you are incorporating sleep and proper nutrition into your good health equation, and you will see better results.