One of the most selected answers to the question “Which of these healthy habits do you need more of?” in the quiz box here in the sidebar here is sleep! So here are 5 easy ways to improve the sleep you’re currently getting, and possibly get more of it too. Technically there’s more than 5 ways, but it’s 5 general ideas anyway.
1) Adjust the Lighting
Changing the lighting situation before and during sleep may be the most important part of improving your quality of sleep.
The pineal gland (a little ball of matter in the middle of our brains) is extremely sensitive to light. You know how when you close your eyes during the day and you can still ‘see’ that it’s extremely bright out? The pineal gland can do that – it knows when you have a nightlight in hall outside your room, a streetlight shining through your window, or even just a digital clock next to your bed with glowing numbers. The reason this is important for sleep is because the pineal gland is responsible for making melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep cycles – telling your body when it’s time to sleep and wake, and also (perhaps even more importantly) stimulates the release of HGH (human growth hormone) by the petuitary gland, which is the hormone that works to repair any damage done to your body during the day and other important things like metabolism and energy regulation. [Sources: PubMed, Queensland Health, PubMed]
Having a light anywhere nearby can interfere with this melatonin release, ruining your chances of a healing sleep. This is why when you go to a hotel with blackout curtains and turn out all the lights, you wake up feeling so much different than at home – sometimes almost like a mack truck of healing hit you (or maybe that’s just me?). Make your room as dark as possible and just keep a flashlight next to your bed for bathroom trips if needed. You can purchase your own blackout curtains if needed, or drape a dark sheet or blanket over any windows.
A little more info about HGH: the biggest spike of HGH occurs about 2 hours after you fall asleep. There are other minor spikes during the night, however the one big spike each day is bad far the most important. If there is anything that is disrupting your sleep in the first three hours of bedtime, that would be something important to change. Whether it be the neighbors dog that always barks at 11pm and wakes you, or a kiddo that usually hops in bed with you around midnight, whatever the cause – protecting those first three hours of sleep is incredibly important for overall sleep quality. You can print this article and bring it to your neighbor if needed, invest in ear plugs or a noise machine, make sure you go to bed at the exact same time as your child to get in those 2-3 hours before being woken, etc.
Another way to trigger this light reaction is to decrease the lighting in the couple hours before bedtime. Start turning out various lights, switch to dim lighting or even candles, and put down the screen. Blue light – the kind most emitted from our various screens (phones, TV, computer, etc.) is particularly bad for the pineal gland. There are ways around this if you absolutely can’t get away from the screen before bed, such as filter apps you can download to remove the blue light from the screen or computer glasses, which have a special coating that blocks the blue light. There are also actual filters you can buy; basically thin sheets of colored plastic that you place over a screen to block the blue light. If you’re interested in more information, check out the post Computer Glasses: To Get or Not To Get to read about my experience with them.
2) Increase Melatonin
Just as you can turn out the lights to increase your body’s natural production of melatonin, you can also give it an extra boost through eating certain foods. The best times to eat these foods are close to bed time as the hormone needs to be delivered at the proper time (the time when your body is naturally releasing it to signal to your body it’s bed time).
Here are some foods high in melatonin. The best choice is clearly pistachios, especially if you prefer not to eat much later at night. Others are more difficult, such as ensuring your green beans are juiced or your lentils are sprouted, but they’re still potentially good options if you like those things. Sprouted lentils can be purchased on Amazon or at many health food stores. [Data Source.]
Melatonin is also available as a supplement, but you should talk to your doctor before taking it.
One sleep study found that the ideal temperature for sleeping is between 60-66° F (16-19° C) if sleeping with a top sheet and pajamas (temperature can be higher if sleeping nude and without bedding). Any warmer or colder than that temperature range and sleep quality and duration suffers. ‘Nuff said. [Source.]
4) Chamomile Tea
This tea is well-known as a sleepy time tea with good reason. In addition to helping you fall asleep, it also can increase the depth of your sleep. Have a cup just before bed time and there’s a good chance you’ll be asleep even before you drink it all. (Be sure to go to the bathroom before going to bed though so there’s one less potential interription to your sleep.)
5) Allow it
This is the same concept as an airplane emergency drill though: you must put on your mask first before helping your child or the person next to you because you can’t help anyone if you’re not ok yourself. So it’s as simple as that: you must make sleep a priority. There’s always something else that you could be doing – cleaning the house, putting in a little extra work – or something you could be laying awake worrying about. But you have to weigh the risks and rewards: sure, putting in extra work on improving presentation slides is helpful, but if you are so tired you fumble over the words or forget you needed time to iron your shirt then those slides were better off as they were.
If you’re a worrier, here’s a trick: schedule time to worry. If your mind needs to worry about something, you can appease it by scheduling a time. Say ok, from 10-10:15am tomorrow I’m going to worry about my sister’s health issues. Once your mind is appeased, then you can let the worrying go for the time being and nod off.
Some of these may seem obvious, but it’s always good to remind ourselves of things we need to know, especially when we’re struggling.
- Caffine should not be consumed within 1 hour of bedtime. (More specifically, it interferes with the hormone adenosine, which shortens sleep time and interferes with the quality, particularly in the later stages.) [Source.]
- Alcohol initially may act as a sleep aid, but can also cause nighttime wakening, decreasing both quality and quantity of sleep. [Source.]
- The amount of sleep needed varies for each person. Some people may need as much as 10 hours per night or as little as 5 or 6 depending on age, activity level, etc. Instead of aiming for 8 hours, spend a week aiming for 9 or 10 if possible to allow yourself to wake naturally and determine how much sleep you personlly need each night so you can plan better. [Source.]
- Adults can nap too. In fact, the a 2006 study found that the most effective amount of time for a nap for adults is just 10 minutes, leading to hours of improved mentalll function. Increasing the amount of time to 20 minutes was found to be almost as helpful, but 30 minutes was too much. So if you can take a tenner, do so, because that’s all you really need. That’s accomplishable in a work lunch break or even just while sitting in a parking spot outside the grocery store. [Source.]