Now that we have dealt with the importance of sleep and its effect on our metabolism, it is time to jump into the action. Let’s find out what lowers our sleep quality and what we can do to sleep better.
Let’s start with the most important factor — daily circadian rhythms, meaning mostly activity, eating, and sleeping regularity. As we’ve discussed, human biology has developed a strong need for circadian rhythms throughout millions of years. We can’t expect it to change in a couple of human generations. What should you do? Strive to create routines that help improve sleep regularity. Even if you’d sleep only 6 hours every night, sleeping regularly helps a lot as it gives our brains an option to regulate important physiological processes on a daily schedule.
What to do?
- Schedule and finish your evening chores at the same time on most nights. Take 30-
60 minutes to relax before going to sleep. Watching TV or going through your Facebook feeds aren’t the best options. Meditating, reading, listening to music or audiobooks, yoga, etc. are much better options.
- Go to bed at the same time every night. Don’t diverge from that time more than an hour, even on weekends.
- Wake up at the same time every day. The same principle applies — don’t diverge from that time.
- It’s covered in the nutrition section, but eating regularly helps stabilize your hormonal and nervous system, which in itself improves sleep quality and regularity.
- Many of us work night shifts. Is there anything you could do? Yes — you could talk to your employer about getting as regular shifts as possible. You could strive for regularity in your daily routine even though you work shifts. And if you truly consider your health important, look for a daily job. We, as humans, aren’t meant to be awake nights; it’s a glitch of society.
Okay, we’ve got our circadian rhythm in order, but there’s still not good quality or enough sleep. What next? The next thing on our list is so-called sleep hygiene. What it basically means is creating the best conditions for quality sleep. Sleep hygiene must not be underestimated, since it’s the second most important factor in sleep quality and length. Let’s go over the most important things that affect your sleep hygiene (there are tens or maybe hundreds of things altogether; you should research the subject more if it is a challenge for you).
- Temperature. Our hormonal and nervous systems react to outside conditions much more than we realize. When we talk about sleep quality, temperature is one of the most important factors. Once again, it comes down to biological circadian rhythms. Just like in our caveman days, when the sun went down, the temperature of the air went down and it signaled our brains to secrete melatonin to get us sleepy. We should use this physiological reaction and keep our sleeping environment a couple of degrees colder than the daily living environment. Taking a shower or bath or going
for a walk also work to lower the body temperature. Obviously, for sleep to be good quality all night, the temperature should be lower for the whole duration. There is debate about perfect temperature, but for most people it is around 18 degrees Celsius, or 64 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Sound. This is an obvious one. Whenever possible, try to isolate your sleeping environment from outside noise. Using earplugs might be an option if this is not possible.
- Light. We will be talking about the blue light in the next section, but all the light in our sleeping environment gives our brains a false signal that it shouldn’t be in deep sleep because there is light outside. Keep your bedroom dark, meaning all the devices and street lights, besides lamps, etc.
- Mattress — should be a fit for your body. Most often a harder mattress is better for quality sleep, but it depends on the person.
Those were the most important outside factors, but there are intrinsic factors.
- If you want to sleep better, ditch the evening booze and save alcohol for special
- Only use caffeinated drinks and products like coffee, black tea, energy drinks, and fat
burners in the daytime, before 4 p.m.
- Don’t take regular or long daily naps. Take max 30 minute “power-naps” if necessary
and before 2 p.m.
- Don’t have sex on the expense of sleep (at least not too often).
- Don’t do anything heart rate elevating 4-5 hours before bedtime.
- Don’t do anything else in bed besides sex and sleep.
Besides taking care of the daily rhythm and sleep hygiene, there are many other things that affect our sleep. Let’s go over those briefly.
Stress. Most of us have stayed awake at some point in our lives for some kind of stress. It even might have been positive excitement. Staying awake a couple of nights is no big deal, but it becomes a problem when stress keeps us from sleeping for weeks or even months. In those cases, we mostly turn to doctors to prescribe us sleeping pills. But it’s only the symptomatic treatment, and sleeping pills will never replace normal sleep. Sleeping pills affect the sleep structure negatively, and even though you might be sleeping 8 hours a night under their influence, the actual quality sleep translates to 5 hours. Most sleeping pills are very addictive, which makes them even worse sleeping aids. If you need to take sleeping pills, choose the ones that aren’t bensodiasepin category. The point is that you have to deal with your stress, not just the symptoms. There will be more about stress in a different chapter.
Getting enough sleep. This is the one thing we mostly talk about when we talk about sleep and health. Each of us has our own optimal sleep time. For most of us, it’s around 8 hours, very rarely it’s below 7 hours, and over 10 hours naturally. Sleeping too little is like being a little drunk. One can’t really tell a difference, but the effects might be catastrophic. Sleeping 1-3 hours too little every night for years takes off years from your life and destroys the metabolism and brain function. How do you sleep more if you have been on the same schedule for years? It’s a slow process. You should create a 3-6 month plan for yourself, and after the priorities have been taken care of (sleeping rhythm, hygiene, etc.), you should start
adding 10-20 minutes per week to your sleep. It isn’t easy and won’t happen every night, but over time, it will improve your sleep quality and quantity a lot. Just stick to the plan.
Blue light. Blue light is the blue spectrum of the light. It has been shown to suppress normal melatonin secretion in studies. Melatonin is the hormone that signals to the brain to “get sleepy.” So it’s natural that the more blue light we are exposed to before bedtime, the more it suppresses the normal sleepiness. Where does it come from? Mostly from the screens — smart devices and TV, but also from regular lights. The best thing you can do is dim the lights and minimise your screen time 3+ hours before bedtime. The second best thing is to add a blue light filter to your devices. There are many good apps out there for this, most of them free. Automate the app to start filtering the blue light every evening. You’ll soon start to fall asleep much more easily and naturally.
This was our short overview of improving your sleep quality and quantity. Never underestimate its effect on your health and overall well-being. Working on your sleep, even if you feel you are sleeping good enough, is one of the best investments you can make into improving your quality of life. It is a long process and can’t be rushed. Make a plan for yourself and stick to it. After some months, you might not recognise the new energetic and happy you!