Seven Steps To A Better Night’s Sleep
So how well did you sleep last night? For that matter, how well do you sleep any night? A good night's sleep is just as important as regular exercise and a healthy diet. Poor sleep can have immediate negative effects on our hormones, exercise performance and brain function.
It can also cause weight gain and increase the risk of illness in both adults and children. In contrast, good sleep can help us eat less, exercise better and be healthier. If we want to optimize our health, maintain a healthy weight and increase our focus and concentration, then getting a good night's sleep is one of the most important things we can do. Here are seven steps to help you get a better night's sleep.
Exposure to light during the day is beneficial, but nighttime light exposure has the opposite effect. This is due to its impact on your circadian rhythm, tricking your brain into thinking it is still daytime. This reduces hormones like melatonin, which help you relax and get deep sleep. Blue light which electronic devices like smartphones and computers emit in large amounts is the worst in this regard. There are ways to reduce blue light exposure, like wearing blue light glasses that block out the blue light, or by downloading an app such as f.lux to block blue light on your laptop or computer. Or just put down the electronics completely to help wind down before bed.
Your body's circadian rhythm functions on a set loop, aligning itself with sunrise and sunset. Being consistent with your sleep and waking times can aid long-term sleep quality. Even by going to bed later on the weekend than weekdays can ruin your sleep for the entire week. If you struggle with sleep, try to get in the habit of waking up and going to bed at similar times. After several weeks, you may not even need an alarm.
Melatonin is a key sleep hormone that tells your brain when it's time to relax and head to bed. Melatonin supplements are an extremely popular sleep aid. In one study, 2 mg of melatonin before bed improved sleep quality and energy the next day and helped people fall asleep faster. In another study, half of the group fell asleep faster and had a 15% improvement in sleep quality. There are no withdrawal effects reported in either of the above studies. Take around 1–5 mg 30–60 minutes before bed to help regulate your sleep pattern. Talk with your doctor to make sure it is safe for you and does not interact with any other medications.
Downing a couple of drinks at night can negatively affect your sleep and hormones. Alcohol is known to cause or increase the symptoms of sleep apnea, snoring and disrupted sleep patterns. It also alters nighttime melatonin production, which plays a key role in your body's circadian rhythm. Another study found that alcohol consumption at night decreased the natural nighttime elevations in human growth hormone (HGH), which plays a role in your circadian rhythm and has many other key functions. Alcohol before bed for some people may be a normal thing but if you are struggling to sleep it is in your best interest to cut it out before bed to better your sleep.
Late-night eating may negatively impact both sleep quality and the natural release of HGH and melatonin. That said, the quality and type of your late-night snack may play a role as well. In one study, a high-carb meal eaten four hours before bed helped people fall asleep faster. Interestingly, another study discovered that a low-carb diet also improved sleep, indicating that carbs are not always necessary especially if you are used to a low-carb diet. Eating a heavy meal before bed means that you have to digest that food right after. This takes time and while your body is trying to digest all of the food you just ate, and you are keeping your body awake.
Exercise is one of the best science-backed ways to improve your sleep and health. It can enhance all aspects of sleep and has been used to reduce symptoms of insomnia. One study in older adults determined that exercise nearly halved the amount of time it took to fall asleep and provided 41 more minutes of sleep at night. In people with severe insomnia, exercise offered more benefits than most drugs. Exercise reduced time to fall asleep by 55%, total night wakefulness by 30% and anxiety by 15% while increasing total sleep time by 18%. Although daily exercise is key for a good night's sleep, performing it too late in the day may cause sleep problems. This is due to the stimulatory effect of exercise, which increases alertness and hormones like epinephrine and adrenaline. It is great to get your workout in during the day, just be sure you are not turning a good thing into a bad thing by exercising too late.
Many people have a pre-sleep routine that helps them relax. Relaxation techniques before bed have been shown to improve sleep quality and are another common technique used to treat insomnia. In one study, a relaxing massage improved sleep quality in people who were ill. Strategies include listening to relaxing music, reading a book, taking a hot bath, meditating, deep breathing and visualization. Try out different methods and find what works best for you