Sleep is one of the most important things we can do for optimal health and wellbeing. It is a foundation of health that impacts a whole host of functions, from decision making to hormonal health, from appetite and weight control to gut health. Even compassion and creativity are impacted by sleep. Follow these 14 tips for better sleep to improve your overall health and quality of life.
Eat nutrient dense food
Consuming a well-balanced diet rich in nutrient dense food increases the likelihood of the body obtaining the nutrients it needs to support better sleep, including omega-3 fatty acids, tryptophan, melatonin, B vitamins and magnesium.
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that converts to serotonin in the brain, and then serotonin converts to melatonin. One study showed that eating a tryptophan rich breakfast supported the production of early day melatonin, which is needed for sleep. Eggs, beans, grains and meat are all good sources of tryptophan.
B vitamins, including B6, B2 and folate help to synthesize melatonin. Foods rich in B vitamins include dark leafy greens, eggs, poultry, fish, chickpeas and kidney beans.
Whole grains contain tryptophan, B vitamins and magnesium. Magnesium has a calming effect and may play a role in helping you sleep through the night.
Nuts and seeds, including walnuts, sunflower seeds, flax seeds and pumpkin seeds contain heart healthy fats, magnesium and tryptophan to synthesize the neurotransmitter serotonin and the hormone melatonin.
Chamomile, peppermint or a calming tea blend can help calm the nervous system to prepare you for a peaceful sleep.
Engaging in exercise has shown positive effects on sleep . Exercise relieves stress and anxiety, improves sleep quality and can contribute to more restful and restorative sleep. Recent studies have shown no direct correlation between time of day of exercise and sleep quality, but if you think intense exercising at night keeps you awake then opt for more restorative activities at night like walking or yin yoga.
Get sunlight in the morning
Sleep duration is primarily affected by circadian rhythm, the body’s biological 24-hour cycle time-keeping system. Melatonin signals the daily cycle of light and darkness to the body, so is necessary for regulating circadian rhythms and helping us to fall and stay asleep. Light is necessary to synchronize melatonin production. Exposure to sunlight in the morning results in earlier production of melatonin and an easier transition into sleep more easily at night. Get outside and grab some sunlight in the morning for better sleep at night.
Don’t nap after 3:00PM
Unlike cats, that can sleep late into the afternoon and early evening and still sleep at night, late day or early evening naps negatively impact nighttime sleep for most of us because they make falling asleep at night more challenging and are responsible for a decrease in the depth of nighttime sleep.
Limit or eliminate alcohol and caffeine
Even though healthy people who drink alcohol fall asleep more quickly, when the alcohol wears off people can wake up during a restorative stage of sleep. Consuming alcohol negatively influences sleep latency and quality, interrupting sleep homeostasis and circadian rhythm.
Avoid large meals or snacks late at night
Research shows that night eating is associated with binge-eating behaviours and sleep issues, and that the risk of sleep problems is greater in those who are night eaters than in those who do not eat at night. Food consumption signals wakefulness in the brain and prompts the release of insulin. Melatonin is a sleep hormone, but it is also a signalling hormone that binds to receptors in the pancreas to send the message to temporarily suspend insulin production during the hours of sleep; we were not designed to eat at night. Nighttime eating that releases insulin disrupts the natural circadian rhythm, resulting in compromised sleep and compromised health.
Establish a consistent sleep schedule
Consistency in sleep schedules is important for optimal health. A greater variability in bedtimes is associated with insomnia, sleep insufficiency and adverse health outcomes.
Maintain a room temperature at about 18 degrees
Cooler room temperatures enhance slow wave sleep, which is important for memory consolidation.
Take a hot bath before bed
A hot bath is calming and reduces the body’s core temperature. This drop in body temperature helps to signal that it is time to sleep. Temperature changes act as a signalling pathway in regulating sleep. Add magnesium rich bath salts and lavender essential oil and surround yourself with some natural non-toxic candles and dissolve the stresses of the day.
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Keep electronics out of the bedroom
Electronics in the bedroom have health implication for all ages. Studies investigating electronics usage by children and adolescents report sleep anxiety, poor sleep quality and increased sleep disturbances in children and teens. Aside from sleeping ,the bedroom should only be used for one kind of recreational activity; one that does not require electronics or technology.
Avoid exposure to blue light at night
Blue light enhances alertness and suppresses melatonin production, resulting in disturbed circadian rhythms and sleep loss. Whether it’s scrolling your cell phone or watching Netflix on your iPad, the blue light emitted just before bed adversely affects your circadian rhythm. If you are using technology in the evening blue light blocking glasses should be worn to block out blue light a couple of hours before bed.
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Reduce noise and light coming into the room
Intermittent exposure to light and sound can result in disruption in circadian rhythm and frequent waking from sleep. Sleep disturbance due to noise can result in delayed onset of sleep, arousals during the night and overall reduced sleep quality.
Be aware of possible side effects of medications that can disrupt sleep
Some over the counter cough, cold and allergy medications can disrupt natural sleep patterns, as can some commonly prescribed medications for asthma, heart, blood pressure and anti-psychotics. Consult with your pharmacist to determine if your medications have side effects related to sleep.
Don’t lie in bed awake if you’re still awake after 20 minutes. Get up and do a relaxing activity until you feel sleepy.
Staying in bed, tossing and turning can increase agitation and anxiety, making falling asleep increasingly more difficult. Get up and engage in a calming, relaxing activity like reading, meditating, listening to music, deep breathing or a warm foot bath. Avoid picking up technology because the blue light disrupts natural hormone production.
Read more about how sleep impacts health in Wake Up… to the Power of Sleep for Optimal Health.