Sleep Part III: What to do
We've explored what can affect our sleep quality and duration, and what the consequences are. Now let's talk about some strategies for mitigating the negative consequences, and ensuring deep restful sleep.
Make it a priority!!!
One of the most important things you can do is to prioritize sleep. Its important. Act like it! Give yourself enough time every night to get the sleep you need. Start with 8 hours and as you learn what you need you can adjust it.
Your body loves rhythm. Start to maintain a consistent sleep schedule. Choose sleep and wake times that you can keep to. You'll be thankful you did.
Control Your Exposure to Light and Electronics
Light is the primary determinant of our circadian rhythm and sleep/wake cycle, and thus controlling our exposure to light is a powerful way to regulate sleep. The first step is to reduce your exposure to light at night by:
- Avoiding or minimizing the use of computers, TVs, tablets, phones 3 hours before bed.
- Use programs like F.Lux to reduce the blue light emitted from these devices.
- Dimming, covering, or removing anything that emits light in your bedroom.
- Using blackout shades and/or an eye mask to make your bedroom as dark as possible.
- Wearing orange glasses to reduce exposure to blue light (try these over eyeglasses)
- Turn electronics including modems, phones, wi-fi from computers, etc off before bed.
- Keep your head at least 5 feet away from any device emitting an electromagnetic field.
- Once you’ve reduced your exposure to light at night, you’ll also want to focus on getting exposure to sunlight during the day. You can do this by:
- Taking a short walk when you wake up in the morning
- Eating breakfast outside in the sun
- Using a light machine
Move Your Body
It’s important to get adequate amounts of physical exercise for proper sleep. Make sure to pay special attention not only to exercise, but also the time that is usually spent being sedentary. Try a standing or treadmill desk, take the stairs, and walk more!
Pay attention to the time of day you exercise as well. Exercising in the evening, within 3-4 hours of bed, can have detrimental affects on sleep. If you do find yourself working out in the evening take a cold shower to help lower your body temperature. This will improve your sleep quality allowing your to reap the rewards of exercise without being negatively affected by its timing.
Optimize Your Sleep Nutrition
Some people do well eating a smaller dinner (especially those with digestive issues). Others do better with a bedtime snack, such as those who tend toward low blood sugar. In general, though, it’s best to go to bed neither overly full nor hungry.
When we go to bed to full our bodies have to expend energy while we sleep to digest and move the components of our food throughout our body. This will keep body temperature elevated and impede the body from going into repair mode.
Cut Caffeine and Alcohol
These two items can have a profound effect on sleep, so they’re best left out if you’re having sleep problems. Remember it’s best to wean yourself off rather than cutting it out cold turkey.
If you aren't having serious sleep complications consider eliminating caffeinated beverages after 2pm or earlier. As for alcohol, it is best to cease consumption 2 hours or more before bed time.
Create a Relaxing Sleep Environment
Creating a bedroom that makes you relaxed and ready for bedtime is very helpful when it comes to getting quality sleep. You can do this by:
- Only using your bedroom for sleep and sex – avoid using electronics in the bedroom
- Controlling the temperature of the room – most people sleep best in a slightly cool room
- Reducing the noise level – use earplugs or a “white” noise machine to block it out
- Avoid getting into bed after midnight, late hour sleep is not as restorative as early hour
- Avoid stress inducing activities, conversations before sleep, don’t go to bed ANGRY!
- Schedule a time later in the week to deal with difficult or worrying circumstances.
- If something is on your mind before sleep, spend 5 minutes getting it out on paper.
Individualize Your Sleep
Try this experiment to assess and optimize your sleep:
- Track your sleep duration- you’ll do this for every day of the experiment.
- Test your reflexes – go to humanbenchmark.com and test your reflexes for the first 3 days
- Add 30 to 60 minutes of sleep for 30 days. You can do this by going to bed earlier (recommended if you tend to be a “night owl”) or waking up later.
- Test your reflexes (again) – humanbenchmark.com and test your reflexes after 30 days of longer sleep duration and see how they’ve changed. Hopefully they have improved!
- See how you feel – do you feel better now that you’re getting more sleep? Probably! Track your symptoms as you go through the experiment to determine how much better you feel with extra sleep. As you do this experiment, you’ll want to pay extra-close attention to the above factors that improve sleep quality.