This article is essentially a follow-up with more tips to improve your sleep:
Together with regular exercise and a healthy diet, a good night’s sleep completes the trio that makes us all healthier. Research shows that poor sleep, has a negative effect on our hormones, causes weight gain and increases our risks of illness.
For optimal health, we need to sleep better, and what most adults don’t realize is that we are not getting enough sleep.
There is no need to resort to prescription medications; there are natural ways to achieve better sleep and a healthier body:
- Get more daylight exposure
Each one of us has a natural clock within our bodies called the circadian rhythm which helps our bodies regulate sleep. By affecting our brain, body and hormones, it also helps us stay awake. In order for the circadian rhythm to remain active in a healthy way, the body needs exposure to natural sunlight or bright light during the day.
In studies, people with insomnia managed to improve the quality of their sleep and reduced their time to fall asleep by 83%, when exposed to brighter daylight. Older adults also saw an improvement after two hours a day bright light exposure, both in increased sleep and better a better quality of rest.
If daily sunlight exposure is difficult, then an artificial bright light would be a good alternative.
- Get less blue light exposure
Nighttime light exposure has the opposite effect to light exposure during the day. This happens because the circadian rhythm sends the wrong message to the brain, and the body gets reduced levels of melatonin, which help us relax and get a netter night’s sleep.
Blue light emitted by all our electronic devices is the big culprit here so using smartphones and computers should be avoided in the evenings.
If this is not possible then blue light exposure can be reduced by:
- Wearing glasses designed to block out the light.
- Finding and downloading apps available to reduce blue light on all devices.
- Stopping all exposure to blue light and television at least two hours before bed time.
Caffeine can enhance performance, energy and helps us focus. Nearly 90% of Americans consume it regularly. However, if taken too late in the day, the effects of its stimulating chemicals to the nervous system can take up to six hours to wear off, stopping the body from relaxing and affecting the quality of our sleep. Avoiding coffee after 4 pm is the best solution, but for those of us who can’t live without it, then decaffeinated coffee is the answer.
It has been proven that short power naps, for up to 20-30 minutes, can be beneficial and that they enhance daytime brain function. Anything longer than that and irregular naps during the day can negatively affect our sleep at night.
In one study, the participants ended up been sleepier during the day after taking a nap and in another one, the participants who took longer naps had negative effects to their health and sleep quality.
However, other studies demonstrated that those used to taking regular daytime naps don’t experience any problems with sleep quality nor do they have disruptions.
For those of us who struggle to sleep at night, it might be better to avoid taking long afternoon naps.
Our circadian rhythm has a set routine, aligned to sunrise and sunset and our bodies prefer that we stick to a set routine for sleeping and waking.
Participants in one study who had irregular sleeping patterns and went to bed later over weekends had a higher rate of disrupted sleep. Irregular sleep patterns alter our circadian rhythm and the levels of melatonin drop, preventing restful sleep.
For those struggling to fall asleep at night, we perhaps need to try make our bedtime and waking routine at similar times daily. Try not to sleep late over the weekends and stick to the weekly routine.
Drinking alcohol at night has a negative effect on hormones, reduces melatonin production and affects sleep. Its consumption increases the symptoms of sleep apnea (repeated stops in breathing), snoring and also causes disrupted sleep patterns.
One study found that alcohol consumption in the evening decreased human growth hormones (HGH), which should elevate at night. This hormone also plays a role in circadian rhythm and other key functions.
- Turn your bedroom into a sleep haven
There are many theories about the right type of environment for our bedrooms. Many of them, like feng shui and psychology concentrate on color schemes. Feng shui principles also concentrate on the positioning of furniture in accordance to direction, doors and windows. Perhaps these will help but there have been numerous studies in this area and researchers point out that temperature, noise and external lights affected the sleep of participants. These external factors also contribute toward other long term issues. Sleep quality improved for 50% of women in one study, when noise and light were diminished.
An optimal environment within the bedroom includes, less external noise, light and artificial light from devices. A quiet, relaxing and clean bedroom creates the right atmosphere for a good night’s sleep.
- Neither too cold nor too hot
In one study it was found that bedroom temperature affected sleep quality even more than external noise, while other studies found that increased or decreased body and room temperatures also affected the sleep quality and contributed to wakefulness.
That proves that both body and bedroom temperatures need to be kept constant in order for us to maintain a restful sleep pattern through the night.
Most people find that 70°F (20°C) is the most comfortable, but that always depends on the individual.
Large meals before bedtime can lead to poor sleep and they also affect the natural release of HGH and melatonin. There have been conflicting studies in this field, with one showing that a high-carb meal, four hours before bedtime helped people fall asleep faster. In another study it was discovered that a low-carb diet improved sleep. The best is to prefer light meals at night and to consume them at least 2-4 hour before bedtime.
- Time to clear the body and mind
There is nothing worse than to get into bed and to start replaying the day’s events in your mind, or to start worrying about what the next day will bring. Take some time before going to bed to relax as this has been proven to treat insomnia. Relaxing massages proved beneficial for people who were ill in one study. Other relaxing techniques to try are: listening to relaxing music, reading a book, taking a hot bath, meditating, deep breathing and visualization techniques.
Many studies have shown that bathing or showering before bedtime improved sleep and participants slept more deeply. It seems that 90 minutes before going to bed is the ideal and for those who prefer not to bath or shower at night, bathing the feet in hot water also helps relax the body.
For those of us who have tried all of the above and are still struggling to sleep, a visit to the doctor will help rule out any other underlying problems which could be medically treated.
Sleep apnea, which causes inconsistent and interrupted breathing is a common sleep disorder and affect 24% of men and 9% of women.
Other medically diagnosed issues include sleep movement disorders and circadian rhythm sleep/wake disorders (common in those working shifts).
A relaxing environment in the bedroom will not be enough if the mattress and pillows on the bed are uncomfortable.
It has been shown that after 28 days of sleeping on a new mattress respondents claimed to have less aches and pain while 60% of them reported better sleep quality.
New comfortable bedding like duvets, linens and pillows also contribute to better sleep.
The experts recommend that we upgrade our bedding every 5-8 years.
We all know that exercise has been proven to improve our health and sleep. It reduces the symptoms of insomnia, and in a study of older adults it helped halve the time it took them to fall asleep, adding 41 minutes of sleep at night.
People with severe insomnia have found that exercise offered more benefits than most medications, with exercise reducing their time to fall asleep by 55% and their total night wakefulness by 30%. They also found that they had reduced anxiety by 15% and increased their total sleep time by 18%.
The best time to exercise is earlier in the day otherwise the stimulatory effect of exercise will increase alertness, epinephrine and adrenaline.
Nocturia, or excessive urination during the night, affects sleep quality and can leave us exhausted during the day.
Hydration is vital, but it is wise to reduce fluid intake in the late evening. The last fluids should be taken at least 1-2 hours before going to bed. In order to avoid sleep disruptions it is wise to use the bathroom just before lying down.
- Melatonin supplements are used to treat insomnia, since it contributes to our falling asleep faster. The supplement doesn’t have any withdrawal symptoms and is popular with travelers who need to adjust to new time zones, as it helps the body’s circadian rhythm return to normal. Melatonin is best started off with low doses to assess intolerance and to increase it slowly as needed. It should not be taken without a doctor’s prescription as it may alter the chemistry of the brain.
- Ginkgo biloba is a natural herb that may aid in sleep, relaxation and stress.
- Glycine has been shown to improve sleep quality.
- Valerian root has been shown to assist in falling asleep and improves sleep quality.
- Magnesium is responsible for 600 reactions within our bodies. It improves relaxation and enhances sleep quality.
- L-theanine is an amino acid and can improve relaxation and sleep.
- Lavender is a powerful herb that can induce a calming and sedentary effect which helps improve sleep.
All of the above supplements cannot be taken together. Our doctor or pharmacist is the best person to advise us on how to take them and in what dosages.