When you want to improve how you look, feel and perform, sleep is just as important as nutrition and exercise. Getting a good night’s sleep gives our bodies and minds an opportunity to recover and recharge and helps to keep us lean, focused, happy and overall healthy!
Getting a bad night’s sleep or not enough can disrupt our hormones causing us to hold on to body fat, age faster, develop chronic illnesses, reduce our brain power and diminish our libido. Bottom line, we need our beauty sleep to look and feel our best! But with our hectic lives, how do we go about getting more of it?
Just as going from sleep to wakefulness takes some transitioning, the reverse is also true. Going straight from being wide wake to fast asleep is not as simple as flicking a light switch. It takes time and requires some element of unwinding. What exactly helps lull you into sweet dreams comes down to personal preference. You have to experiment and develop your own individualized routine. The more you can be consistent with keeping a regular sleep schedule, the easier and more automatic your body will become at falling into a state of sleep.
Here are some of the ways in which you can prime your body for the best sleep of your life!
1. Keep a regular schedule
Our bodies really do enjoy consistency. If you’re consistent, your body will begin to recognize when to release hormones to encourage a peaceful state before bed and when to release hormones, stimulating you to wake up. Tuning in to your body’s natural circadian rhythm is highly recommended – i.e. being awake during daylight and asleep during darkness. Try to get exposure to bright light first thing in the morning and minimize exposure in the evening – this includes bright light from screens, so start powering down those gadgets early in the evening!
2. Keep alcohol and caffeine moderate
When people get good quality sleep, they have usually experienced several cycles of deep sleep over the course of the night. It’s during the deep stages of sleep that the most restful and restorative sleep comes from.
Now I know you might find your nightly wine or beer to be soothing and soporific but more than 1-2 drinks a night can disturb your ability to enter into a state of deep sleep. Have you ever noticed that after an evening out drinking, even if you sleep more hours than usual, you still feel exhausted? Well that’s because your body has been deprived of deep sleep. When it comes to sleeping, quality over quantity can make a big difference!
Caffeine has a similar effect on your deep sleep. Consider reducing or keeping your intake to a minimum after 2pm – beware of hidden sources of caffeine like chocolate! Surprisingly, a Hershey’s milk chocolate bar contains 12mg of caffeine - the equivalent of 3 cups of decaffeinated coffee - whilst a Hershey’s special-dark bar contains 20mg of caffeine – about the same as ½ an ounce of espresso! It also contains theobromine, a stimulant that increases your heart rate and sleeplessness.
3. Watch what you eat and drink
Eating a large meal immediately before bedtime can not only make it difficult to fall asleep but it can make it incredibly hard to stay asleep. It’s generally recommended to eat a medium-sized meal a couple of hours before bed for this reason.
What kinds of foods should you eat? Well a balanced-plate is best as protein and fat will help to keep you satiated, whilst carbohydrates indirectly increase serotonin release, which regulates mood, pain perception, hunger and, most crucially, your sleep.
Try to avoid foods high in sugar as well as spicy foods and chocolate. Foods high in saturated fat are also a bad idea as they stimulate acid production in the stomach which can spill up into the esophagus causing heartburn.
Keeping your body well-hydrated throughout the day is important as water is needed to maintain many bodily functions, but try to avoid drinking your daily quota of water late in the day! Fluids in general should be limited 2-3 hours before bedtime to avoid the need for frequent urination during the night. Regardless of what time you get to bed, uninterrupted sleep by far trumps the number of hours spent sleeping.
4. Power down
Your internal body clock is regulated by the production of melatonin which is light-sensitive. Too much light from electronics at bedtime gives the body the impression that you aren’t ready for sleep as well as suggesting to your brain that it’s still daytime, which can contribute to insomnia and sleep deprivation.
The best advice is to stop watching TV or using light emitting screens one hour before bedtime. The bedroom should be reserved for two things only! ;-) Make a pact with your significant other to relegate your electronics to other rooms in your house. If you must read your tablet or be on your computer before bed, try switching the screen to the black or a dimmer background You might want to consider installing a software like f.lux that varies your screen’s color temperature at night.
5. Do a brain dump
There’s nothing worse than lying awake at night thinking about the millions of things you need to get done the next day. If something’s on your mind, it’s going to be very hard to let it go and drift off peacefully. So grab your notebook or productivity planner and do a “brain dump” to clear your mind and promote some genuine rest and peace.
Whatever it is that helps you relax, do that – don’t forget about point 2 above though!
This might include:
- Reading – best to avoid any page turners like a gripping thriller or murder mystery though as they may persuade you to stay up late!
- Stretching/Yoga – some gentle stretching or light activity can be beneficial as it helps to alleviate tension and activate your parasympathetic nervous system.
- Aromatherapy – a tried and true sleep enhancer; studies show that lavender, geranium, mandarin, bergamot, and marjoram oils are best for stress relief and promoting sleep. Try rubbing a few drops onto your chest or dripping (or spritzing) the same amount onto your pillow case.
- Meditate or practice deep breathing – both activities promote a state of calmness and alleviate anxiety. Long, slow, deep breathing (extending the exhale count longer than the inhale) is widely used as a way of stimulating a parasympathetic state.
7. Aim for at least 7-hours sleep
People who get less than 6-hours sleep are twice as likely to be obese as people who sleep 7-8 hours. There’s a strong correlation between weight management and your sleep because of the effect that sleep has on your production of ghrelin (which boosts appetite) and leptin (which helps indicate fullness).
Try to factor in at least 7-hours sleep a night to start. Don’t forget to allow yourself time to transition. If you need to be up at 5am then you’ll want to be asleep by 10pm. Start winding down and getting ready for bed at 9pm and get in to bed at 9:30pm. The more practiced you are with a consistent schedule, the better your body will respond and automatically start winding down.
8. Get to bed before midnight
My mother always used to tell me “nothing good ever happens after midnight!” and in hindsight I’d be inclined to agree – that could just be a sign of my age though! Some experts suggest that every hour of sleep you get before midnight is worth 2 hours after. So if you get to bed by 10pm then your 7 hours of sleep will really feel like 9 hours! Bonus!
Exercising regularly creates good stress in the body as it helps to regulate your circadian rhythm, normalize endocrine (hormone) functions and subdue your sympathetic nervous system.
Try to get your interval training or intense workouts done earlier in the day – somewhere between 4-8 hours before bed-time to avoid over-stimulating your body.
10. Take a Hot Bath or Shower
Bathing in warm water before bed can help us relax and decompress after a long day – there’s something very therapeutic about washing the dirt from the day off our bodies and down the drain isn’t there?!
If you like to take a bath, then adding some magnesium-based epsom salts can help with sleep too.
Jason on the other hand swears by a quick cold shower at the end of the evening. Apparently once the initial shock has worn off, a cold water rinse can actually help induce a parasympathetic response.
Optimize your environment
Think about how much better you perform in the gym when you’re surrounded by others sweating and working out beside you. Now think about the last workout you did on your own in your house or maybe even your hotel room. You probably worked out half as hard, I know I do! When your environment doesn’t match your mood or activity, it can have a huge effect on how we feel and behave.
Here are some of the ways in which you can make your bedroom more conducive to getting a good night’s sleep:
11. Keep the room as dark as possible
As we mentioned before, melatonin production is inhibited by light which makes it harder to fall and stay asleep. To get yourself ready for bed try dimming the lights of your room, cover your windows to block out any light from street lights, dim your alarm clock and use a small motion sensor light to illuminate your path to the bathroom.
12. Quiet and clutter free
Your bedroom should reflect peace and stillness. Keeping your room clean and tidy (as opposed to disorderly with clothes strewn all over the floor) is recommended for promoting a peaceful environment.
Most people sleep better when the temperature of the room is cool. Some people find a neutral temperature optimal too. Find out what works best for you. If you’re significant other likes it cooler than you do you might want to consider investing in a dual temperature control layer for your mattress.
14. White noise
If you live somewhere with a lot of noise pollution that disturbs you during the night, then drowning it out with some white noise could help. You could use a tranquil and soothing soundtrack of the sea or turn on a fan. An air cleaning filter also works well. Personally, when I’m travelling and staying in hotels I like to take the extra precaution of wearing ear plugs! The silicone type (available at pretty much all pharmacies) that are often used by swimmers are the best because they mold into your ears and don’t fall out during the night.
Do you already have a solid sleep ritual? What methods and routines do you use to ease your body through the wake to sleep transition? Comment below or share your ideas with us on Facebook!