Sleep: 16 tips to help prepare for a good night throughout the day

How do you sleep?

How easily do you fall asleep?

How many hours do you sleep?  

 

These are all important questions that I ask people when we first start to talk about their health and fitness goals. Why? Because sleep is just about the most important thing you can do to stay healthy both physically, mentally, and emotionally. So how do you improve your sleep or get more of it? Let’s discuss!

 

In February 2016, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that one in three U.S. adults don't get enough sleep.

In this case, "enough" sleep was defined as seven or more hours per night, but many adults may need closer to eight hours per night (and thus lack of sleep may affect even more than one in three adults).

What are the health risks of this reported sleep deprivation? Research has found that when participants cut their sleep from 7.5 to 6.5 hours a night, there were increases in activity in genes associated with inflammation, immune excitability, diabetes, cancer risk, and stress.

Poor or insufficient sleep was even found to be the strongest predictor for pain in adults over 50.

Interrupted or impaired sleep can also:

  • Increase your risk of heart disease and cancer

  • Harm your brain by halting new neuron production. Sleep deprivation can increase levels of corticosterone (a stress hormone), resulting in fewer new brain cells being created in your hippocampus

  • Contribute to a pre-diabetic, insulin-resistant state, making you feel hungry even if you've already eaten, which can lead to weight gain

  • Contribute to premature aging by interfering with your growth hormone production, normally released by your pituitary gland during deep sleep (and during certain types of exercise, such as high-intensity interval training)

  • Increase your risk of dying from any cause

16 Tips to Improve Your Sleep

 

If your sleep could use some improvements, try these 16 tips compiled by Reader's Digest. What makes them unique is that you do them starting in the morning and continue throughout the day and night.

If you take little precautions throughout the day you can improve your chance of falling asleep easier and staying asleep longer.

 

1.Open Your Shades

Exposure to bright light first thing in the morning stops production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin and signals to your body that it's time to wake up. Outdoor sunlight is best, so you might even want to take a quick walk outside. Don’t discount the effects of taking the dog out for a quick walk in the morning to help you too wake up! O

 

2.Make Your Bed

This is a psychological trick aimed at making your bedroom less cluttered — and therefore easier to relax in — come bedtime. You can also quickly put away any junk cluttering your nightstand and dresser. Clutter, clothes, water cups all create stress. Think of your room as a sanctuary and spa for relaxation. Add fresh flowers, dim lamp light, soft blankets or throws, anything to help you relax. My bedroom purposefully does not have a television to keep everything calm and zen.

 

3.Exercise

Exercise leads to better sleep at night. Many people schedule their full workouts for morning, which makes it easier to also exercise while fasting (an added benefit). If you don't have time for a full workout, at least do some quick stretching or bodyweight exercises.

“Are you sleeping better?” is one of the first questions that I ask people after they have been working out for a week, and the answer is always YES. Exercise makes our bodies feel strong and productive and the movement and exertion encourages good sleep.

 

4. Take a Walk Outdoors After Lunch

Not only will this increase in physical activity help you sleep later, but taking your walk outdoors gives you more exposure to bright sunlight. Light intensity is measured in lux units, and on any given day, the outdoor lux units will be around 100,000 at noon.

Indoors, the typical average is somewhere between 100 to 2,000 lux units — about two orders of magnitude less. The brightness of the light matters, because your pineal gland produces melatonin roughly in approximation to the contrast of bright sun exposure in the day and complete darkness at night.

If you are in relative darkness all day long, it can't appreciate the difference and will not optimize your melatonin production. This, in turn, can have some rather significant ramifications for your health and sleep.

 

5.Cut Off Your Caffeine

If you're a coffee drinker, take your last caffeinated sip in the early afternoon (this applies to caffeinated soda, too). The caffeine can linger in your body for hours, blocking a brain chemical called adenosine triphosphate (ATP) that would otherwise help you to fall asleep.

This is especially hard for me because I always want an afternoon cup of coffee to power through after-school kid pickup. I’ve instead tried to switch to hot tea in the afternoon which does still have some caffeine, but not nearly as much.

 

 

6. Consider an afternoon nap

According to Rubin Naiman, Ph. D. a clinical psychologist, author, teacher, and a leader in integrative medicine approaches to sleep and dreams, we're biologically programmed to nap during the daytime, typically in the middle of the afternoon.

The key is to avoid napping for too long, as this may disrupt your circadian rhythms, which would hurt your sleep instead of help it. The ideal nap time for adults appears to be around 20 minutes (any longer and you'll enter the deeper stages of sleep and may feel groggy when you wake up).

I wish that I could do a nap in the middle of the day, but my mind just won’t shut down. LOL

 

7.Exercise in the Early Evening (If You Haven't Already)

The importance of exercise for sleep cannot be overstated, so if you didn't fit in your workout in the morning, be sure to do so later. There is some debate over how close is too close to bedtime to exercise. For some people, exercising too close to bedtime may keep you awake, but for others even late-night exercise seems to help (not hinder) sleep.

One poll by the National Sleep Foundation found that 83 percent of people said they slept better when they exercised (even late at night) than when they did not, so even if it's late, you may still want to exercise. 

Let your body be your guide. I know that this doesn’t work for me. If I go for a workout or a run after 6:00, I’m more ramped up and can’t settle down for bed. So again, I use that 3:00 pm no caffeine rule here too for exercise.

 

8.Take 15 Minutes to Unwind

If you're stressed, it's harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Taking 15 minutes (at least) each day to relax may help your sleep significantly. You may try listening to music, journaling, meditation, chatting with a neighbor or reading a book. Do whatever works best for you. Phone usage is not unwinding in my mind.

 

9.Eat a Light Dinner and Stop Eating Three Hours Before Bed

If you eat a heavy meal too close to bedtime, your body will have to devote energy to digesting your food when it should be recharging during sleep.

 

10.At Sundown, Dim Your Lights

In the evening (around 8 p.m.), you'll want to dim your lights and turn off electronic devices. Normally, your brain starts secreting melatonin between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., and these devices emit light that may stifle that process. After sundown, shift to a low-wattage bulb with yellow, orange or red light if you need illumination.

A salt lamp illuminated by a 5-watt bulb is an ideal solution that will not interfere with your melatonin production. If using a computer or smartphone, install blue light-blocking software like f.lux, which automatically alters the color temperature of your screen as the day goes on, pulling out the blue wavelengths as it gets late.

The easiest solution, which I recently started using myself, however, is to simply wear glasses that block blue light. This way you don't have to worry about installing programs on all your devices or buying special light bulbs for evening use. Once you have your glasses on, it doesn't matter what light sources you have on in your house.

 

11.Turn Down the Volume

In the evening hours, you'll also want to keep noise to a minimum. Noise louder than a normal conversation may stimulate your nervous system and keep you awake. You may want to use a fan or other form of white noise to drown out noise disturbances while you sleep. The exception is listening to soft, soothing music, such as classical, which may actually help you to sleep.

 

12.Take a Warm Bath About 1.5 Hours Before Bed

Thermoregulation — your body's heat distribution system — is strongly linked to sleep cycles. When you sleep, your body's internal temperature drops to its lowest level, generally about four hours after you fall asleep. Scientists believe a cooler bedroom may therefore be most conducive to sleep, since it mimics your body's natural temperature drop.

This is also why taking a warm bath 90 to 120 minutes before bedtime may help you sleep; it increases your core body temperature, and when it abruptly drops when you get out of the bath, it signals your body that you are ready for sleep.

I also incorporate Dr. Teal’s Pure Epsom Salt Soaking Solution in Lavender to help me relax and prepare for bedtime. The salt naturally helps to ease aches and soreness from workouts and the lavender soothes stress and promotes relaxation and better sleep.

 

13.Adjust Your Bedroom Temperature

While there's no set consensus as to what temperature will help you sleep the best, in most cases any temperature above 75 degrees Fahrenheit and below 54 degrees F will interfere with your sleep. Some experts suggest 65 degrees F is ideal for sleep.

 

14.Sip a Cup of Chamomile Tea or use a Melatonin supplement

Chamomile has sedative effects that may help with sleep, which is why chamomile tea is often sipped before bed. One study found that people with insomnia who took a chamomile supplement had improvements in daytime functioning and potential benefits on sleep measures as well. You may want to try sipping a cup prior to bedtime to see if it helps you sleep.

A melatonin supplement is non-habit forming and does not give you the sleep hangover that some other over-the-counter sleep aides have. They come in easy to take gummies. Look for a product that also includes L-Theanine, which is an amino acid that encourages calmness so you can hush those voices in your head and drift off.

 

15.Get Ready for Bed

A nightly ritual of washing your face, brushing your teeth and getting into your pajamas signals to your mind and body that it's time for bed. Try to stick with the same hygiene ritual, at the same time, each night.

Habits and rituals are important to our brain and our body. As with all of the suggestions above, the more you do them consistently, the easier going to sleep and staying asleep will be.

 

16.Sleep in Complete Darkness and Avoid Noise Interruptions

Once you're ready to climb into bed, make sure your bedroom is pitch black. The slightest bit of light in your bedroom can disrupt your body's clock and your pineal gland's melatonin production. You may want to cover your windows with drapes or blackout shades to achieve this and, if this isn't possible, wear an eye mask.

Do you have noisy neighbors or roommates? Make sure that your windows are sealed shut to avoid extra noise and if it is still a problem, consider a noise machine with white noise to drown out the other noises in your home. 

 

I cannot emphasize enough how important sleep is to your health. Try these steps and if you are still having trouble, you might want to talk to a physician or mental health professional. Talking about the stress that is keeping you awake is a good next step when these simple home remedies don’t do the trick.

 

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