Dr. B is a naturopathic doctor in Ontario, Canada. He is the author of "Rules of Health," a comprehensive guide on healthy living.
To sleep or not to sleep? That is the question. Always choose sleep. Undersleeping has become an epidemic of our time. Read this article to find out the best ways to get a deep restful sleep.
We, as a society, have gone from valuing a good night’s rest to valuing how much we can get done while awake. The advances in modern electronic devices have not made getting a good night's rest any easier. People are glued to their screens everywhere you look, and all that mental stimulation is keeping us more awake than ever. With the stresses of modern life and everyone’s hectic schedules, one can argue that the older times were simpler times and that there wasn't much stress. This may be partially true, but we must adapt to our time, and it all comes down to personal choices and prioritizing things that are important for you. Although productivity is what makes us advance, cutting back on sleep is not the way to go. Several studies show us how important a good night’s rest is for the human body—physically as well as mentally and emotionally.
Here is a good evidence-based article on the importance of sleep that can motivate you to improve the quantity and the quality of the sleep you get.
Ideal Sleep Requirements
In general, adults require between 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep to stay healthy and function optimally. How much sleep you need depends on your individual biochemical needs. The best way to figure this out is to do the following:
- Go to sleep 9 hours before your intended wake time and set your alarm for after 9 hours. After a couple of weeks or so of doing this routine, if you wake up before your alarm rings and feel rested, then that is how much sleep you require. If you wake up with the alarm and still feel unrested, then increase your sleep time to 10 hours and see if that helps.
- If you are an adult who needs more than 10 hours of sleep to feel rested and you are not very physically active, then there is most likely a medical issue, and you may need to bring this up with your doctor.
Melatonin’s Effect on the Circadian Rhythm
Your sleep is regulated by your circadian rhythm, which is controlled by a tiny gland in your brain called the pineal gland. This gland relies on light and darkness as one of the main signals to release a sleep hormone, melatonin, that gives you the urge to sleep. Light inhibits the gland and darkness activate it. If your sleep patterns are all over the place then do the following to restore it:
- When you first wake up open the blinds or turn on bright lights to reset the pineal gland. This drops your melatonin to daytime levels.
- Try to get at least 10 min of natural light daily to reset your clock. In the winter months, you can use full spectrum lights to provide the same effect if it is cloudy.
- Don’t take long naps in the daytime; if you must nap make it maximum 20 minutes long.
- In the evening as it gets closer to bedtime lower the lights in the house to signal your body it’s time to sleep. If possible use light dimmers to keep the lights low.
- Make sure the room is cool and extremely dark when sleeping. Use blackout curtain if needed and cover all sources of light.
- If you wake up at night to urinate, use a nightlight instead of turning on the main lights. Use red or orange lights for your nightlight because they do not seem to interfere with sleep as much.
- Taking a shower or bath one to two hours before bed will heat up your core temperature and as your body cools it will signal your pineal gland to release melatonin which will help you fall asleep quicker.
- Wear light, loose and comfortable clothing to bed to allow the body to naturally cool at night which allows the release of melatonin.
- Trying to catch up on sleep on the weekend’s just dysregulates your circadian rhythm. Try to keep the same bedtime routine throughout the week. Go to bed by 11 pm at the latest to allow your stress glands, the adrenal glands, to recharge and rejuvenate.
Ways to Minimize Sleep Disruption
- Just as light can inhibit sleep, noise can also interfere with sleep. Try to minimize sources of noise. Otherwise, use a white noise machine to drown out the other noises. There are white noise apps available, just put your phone on airplane mode when using them to minimize exposure to radiation.
- Avoid fluids in the two - three hours before bed, especially if you tend to wake up at night to urinate. You may sip on a bit of water if needed. Be aware alcohol in the evening will disrupt your sleep pattern and prevent you from reaching the deeper stages of sleep. How much alcohol it will take to interfere with your sleep depends on how well you metabolize it. In general, it takes a man one hour to metabolize an ounce of hard liquor, women normally take twice that time.
- Drink your coffee in the morning. It takes a long time for the caffeine to break down and clear away from your system potentially interfering with your sleep if you are sensitive to caffeine.
Low Blood Sugar Can Wake You Up
Generally, sleep between 3 to 4 hours after dinner. Going to bed on a full stomach will interfere with sleep and cause indigestion. On the flip side going to bed very hungry will also interfere with sleep. If your last meal was more than 5 hours before bed, eat a light protein-rich snack such as a handful of nuts. This will keep your blood sugar steady and prevent a cortisol spike in the middle of the night which will wake you up.
Minimize Screen Use Before Bed
In today’s fast-paced digital world of electronics and internet, our minds are over-stimulated, and this stimulus sometimes prevents us from getting a good night’s rest. Electronic devices like TV’s, cell phones, tablets, and laptops will disrupt your pineal gland. The blue light from these screens also interferes with melatonin release. Avoid using them for the hour before bed, instead, do something relaxing. Read a book, do a puzzle, meditate or listen to soft music for example.
If you must use these devices before bed, make sure the screen brightness is set to the lowest level and minimize your exposure time. There are also blue light screen filters available, which might help. TV’s in the bedroom generally rob you of your sleep. If you need to watch TV before bed, don’t watch things which will excite you mentally or emotionally. Turn on the timer to turn the TV off, if you fall asleep. For some individuals, the radiation from their smartphones can affect their sleep quality and there is also a possible link to cancer from overexposure to these frequencies so as a precaution keep them at least three feet from you when you sleep or in the least put them on airplane mode.
Managing The Downside of Shiftwork
Shift work is very hard on the body, creating sleep and digestive issues. If you work long shift hours and are allowed by the company you work at to take a short nap doing so will help tremendously. Try to take a mini nap of 15-20 min once or twice during the shift. Some organizations have created dedicated resting areas, and have noticed improvements in productivity. Keep the same eating schedule on your days off. Eat every 3-4 hours and have your warm meals at work, if possible. Don’t drive if you are sleepy. In this situation, taking a short nap before driving will help save lives. Keep the same sleep schedule on the weekends or days off. Adjust your sleep schedule a day or two before the start of your next shift to prevent jet lag. For people doing night shifts, taking a 90 min nap before going to work seems to help with alertness.
Take Back Your Bedroom
The bedroom should be a place you can relax and unwind.
- Don’t bring your work into your bedroom. Remove all the clutter which will keep your mind engaged like calendars and to-do lists.
- Paint your room an earthy tone (green, blue or brown) to make yourself more grounded.
- Place a few drops of essential oils like lavender, clary sage or chamomile on your pillow to create suiting aromatherapy to relax you.
- Choose a comfortable mattress; it should not be too soft or too hard. Creating proper lumbar support will help you stay comfortable and that will provide better sleep.
- The bed should be used primarily for sleeping and having sex. No eating in bed. No working in bed. No kids and pets in bed overnight.
- If you cannot sleep then get up and do something else while keeping the lights low. Avoid watching the TV or using the computer. If your mind is too active thinking of all the things that need to be done, write them down somewhere and take some slow deep breaths, watching your breath to help calm you down.
- Wake up to an alarm clock that gradually gets louder or has a soothing tone. Once your sleep patterns are established, you most likely won’t need an alarm clock.
Regular Exercise Can Help You Sleep Better
Exercise has shown to have a lot of benefits overall, including sleep benefits. Cardiovascular exercises are more stimulating than resistance exercises and should not be done within three hours before bed. Working out within 4 - 8 hours before bed seems to help people fall asleep quicker and have a deeper, better quality of sleep.
Epsom Salt to the Rescue
Some people find taking a warm Epsom salt bath very helpful. The Epsom salt helps relax tense muscles, which aids in having a relaxing sleep and has the added benefit of detoxification. Use about 1-2 cups of Epsom salt and keep your baths to 45 minutes max—20 minutes seems to be ideal for most people. The magnesium sulfate will pull water out of your body, so stay hydrated. It may also drop your blood pressure and make your muscles a bit weak so stand up slowly after the bath. Since most people are deficient in magnesium, this is an inexpensive way to restore some levels into your body.
There is something for everyone in this article. Try your best to make sleep a priority and if you are not sleeping well use the suggestions here to improve your sleep habits and watch the magic happen.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2018 Behzad Azargoshasb
Cecil Kenmill from Osaka, Japan on January 23, 2019:
Awesome! These are great tips and are simple to incorporate.