Written By: Karla Tafra
Getting a good night’s sleep is so much more important than feeling rested when you wake up or not having bags under your eyes that make you feel even more tired than you really are. From positively impacting your immune system and keeping your stress under control, to helping manage your blood sugar levels and balancing your hormones - your overall health is drastically affected by your sleep quality, and here are some tips and tricks for a restful slumber.
THE IMPORTANCE OF A GOOD NIGHT'S SLEEP
Whether you need to get seven, eight, or even nine hours of sleep every night will depend on your organism, the way your body functions are optimized, and how efficiently your entire system recovers. It will also depend on your day-to-day activities, from how active you are to the amount of stress you experience from the moment you wake up to the moment your head hits the pillow. And even that can change throughout the week.
Nevertheless, the importance of a good night’s sleep will always be high, as it’s the only real time your mind and body get to recharge, rest, recover, and repair. Sleep disturbances and deficiencies have long shown a negative impact on human health, causing everything from metabolic and cardiovascular diseases to hormonal imbalances and mental health issues.
Getting enough quality sleep at night has proven to help not only prevent many of these conditions, but also put them under control, and even reverse their impacts. There are plenty of different ways you can try to improve your sleep quality and duration, and although not everything will work for every single person, it’s always worth it to give each tip and trick a try, especially if you’re feeling the consequences of sleep deficiencies and you can see they’re affecting your productivity, energy levels, and your overall well-being.
WHAT IS CIRCADIAN RHYTHM?
Before we delve into the well-researched and tested-and-tried tips and tricks, it’s important to say a few words on circadian rhythm and how it truly governs your body's functions. Circadian rhythm is the internal clock of your body that regulates your sleep and awake times. It’s based on the Earth’s rotation and coincides with day and night times. That’s why you’re usually awake during the day and sleep during the night.
Of course, as with everything else in life, there are exceptions to the rule, and most people feel it if their job requires them to do night shifts or when they travel internationally. Still, even with these slightly isolated incidents, your body wants to go back to the usual day-night routine, which is why those who stay awake during the night often have sleep issues, elevated stress levels, and a higher risk of developing diseases.
Circadian rhythm is an incredibly important concept to grasp as you’re taking more control over your sleeping habits. Trying to do your best to go to sleep and wake up at a regular and consistent time is a great step toward better sleeping habits.
So, here’s the number one secret to a good night’s sleep - keep your awake and sleep times as consistent as possible. This means tuning into your body’s natural unwinding mode once the sun starts to set and going to sleep at a reasonable time depending on when you have to wake up, as well as trying to set the alarm as close to sunrise as possible. During the winter months and in most Northern parts of the hemisphere, keeping up with the circadian rhythm might not be possible, but as long as you go to sleep and wake up within the same timeframe, your body will slowly start to adapt by releasing the right sleep and wake hormones at the right times for you to get adequate rest.
THE INFAMOUS TECH DETOX
Whenever you Google secrets to a good night’s sleep, one of the first things to pop up is some kind of tech detox. Even though it’s not the most important tip to get better quality sleep, it’s definitely the most essential to point out, as we can barely imagine our lives without smartphones, tablets, laptops, and Netflix marathons.
The need for explaining what technology and its blue-emitting screens do to our brain cells is huge, especially since many of us unwind or fall asleep with the TV blasting in the background and our phones in our hands, scrolling on the latest social media trends. The blue light, also known as light with blue wavelengths, coming from our screens can completely disrupt your circadian rhythm, suppressing the secretion of melatonin, and prolonging your alert and awake state. This affects your overall sleep quality and causes everything from insomnia and poor sleep duration to frequent wake-up cycles during the night and less REM and deep sleep, resulting in poor cognitive and athletic performance, low energy levels, fatigue, and more.
The best way to tackle these negative effects is by avoiding blue-light emitting screens for at least an hour or two before bedtime, removing tech gadgets from your bedroom, and doing your best not to grab your phone first thing in the morning and expose your eyes to blue light. Another great way to go about this is to invest in a pair of good-quality blue-light blocking glasses and use them as much as possible to relieve the stress and strain on your eyes, improve visual performance, and minimize the tech impact on your hormones.
THE SCIENCE BEHIND MEDITATION
Meditation has been one of the most well-known relaxing and stress-releasing techniques in history, stemming from ancient civilizations and proving its powerful and beneficial impact to this day. Meditation often includes physical and mental techniques that help your body and mind transition from fight-and-flight to rest-and-digest mode, activating your parasympathetic nervous system, allowing your stress levels to go down, and making it easier to prepare all of your body's functions for sleep.
Meditation helps reduce your stress and anxiety, slows down your heart rate and breathing pace, and allows you to relax the tension you’re usually feeling throughout the day so you can fall asleep faster and deeper.
That being said, meditation isn’t the easiest sleep trick in the world, and it takes time, patience, and practice to actually start having an impact on your sleep quality. Luckily, there are plenty of meditation guides, books, playlists, podcasts, and even apps that can help you find the right meditation style for you and your life so you can reap the most benefits.
THE SECRET OF MEAL TIMING
Another important timing trick has to do with your dinner and late-night snacks. The closer your eating window is to your bedtime, the higher the risk of poor sleep and sleep disturbances. This is related to the way your body digests food and how it impacts your body’s ability to release melatonin.
Research around nighttime meals has vastly focused on weight management and disease development, especially related to diabetes and other metabolic diseases, but in recent years, thequestion around their impact on sleep disturbances has grown in popularity as more and more people started paying attention to their sleep quality. Studies show how nocturnal awakenings and even insomnia are both linked to late-night meals as the body fights digesting food while trying to release melatonin, thus elevating your cortisol levels.
Not all foods will create the same sleep disruption for all people, and you might know of some people who eat right before they doze off and have no issues sleeping. There will always be exceptions to the rule, but even then, you can’t know exactly what’s going on in their bodies, and would their sleep quality improve even more if they abstained from food at least an hour or two before bedtime. If you’re struggling with falling asleep or have frequent night awakenings, try having your last meal 1-2 hours before bed and see if it makes any difference.
EXERCISE BEFORE SLEEP: YES OR NO?
And last but not least, is exercise before bed helpful, or does it only increase your body’s stress response? Science shows how low to moderate-intensity workouts have no negative effects on sleep quality, even if they’re done right before bed, while there’s mixed research on high-intensity workouts. That being said, even this will depend on the individual. Exercise is a form of stress, and if you’re already highly stressed, there’s a big chance that adding more cortisol won’t be the best choice to improve your sleep quality.
That’s why stretching and more low-impact exercises have usually been recommended to perform before bedtime, as they can help with your physical as well as your mental state, relaxing your muscles and your nerves.
At the end of the day, there are no real secrets to a good night’s sleep; all you have to do is acknowledge sleep disruptions, find the root cause, and do your best to turn it all around. There is no such thing as sleep debt, so every step toward better sleep quality counts, no matter how big or small.