Got your health all figured out?
Sure, you’re watching your diet and making sure you’re moving a lot. So there’s not much more you can do to further optimize your health, right?
Let me explain why you might have that impression:
One common piece of advice to optimize your health is to “eat less and exercise more”. And if you’re doing that, then your health strategy is as good as it gets…
Well, wrong, unfortunately!
It turns out your sleep quality has massive effects on your overall health as well.
For that reason, I've collected 12 different tips to help you sleep better.
This is a guest post by Bart Wolbers. Bart finished degrees in Physical Therapy (B), Philosophy (BA and MA), Philosophy of Science and Technology (MS - Cum Laude), and Clinical Health Science (MS), and is currently the chief science writer at Alexfergus.com
Below I’ve listed 12 tips to sleep better tonight.
I consider all these tips equally important. So for example, if you ignore tip 11 - which entails fixing your day and night rhythm - you’re not going to sleep as well as you otherwise would.
Additionally, the more of these tips you implement, the better your overall results will be. So stacking all of them together is a difference between night and day for your overall sleep quality.
Let’s get started with the first tip:
Let’s begin with one of the crazier tips:
These glasses prevent some types of light - specifically that of the blue and green part of the light spectrum - from entering your eyes.
You may think: “why in the world would I wear such red-tinted glasses at night?!”
Simple: since the advent of artificial light in the 19th century, you’re now exposed to intense light after sunset.
During all of pre-history and up until the 19th century, your ancestors were never exposed to the intense blue and green light at night time. Edison’s light bulb changed all that--previous campfires, oils, and candles almost exclusively emit red and infrared light which don’t disturb melatonin production.
Light bulbs do generally lower the melatonin levels in your brain - especially the LED and fluorescent bulbs - and wearing blue-blocking glasses prevents that exposure.
BLUblox are some of the best blue light blocking glasses available.
Surprise: many people today are actually breathing through their mouths during large portions of the day.
The problem with mouth breathing is that it creates less air resistance than breathing through the nose. With more air resistance your breathing up until the lungs will be more efficient.
Mouth breathing has a second problem in that you start breathing quicker over time. Breathing quickly, in turn, expels more CO2 from your body.
Contrary to popular belief, CO2 is not a useless byproduct--CO2 is essential to help oxygen at the cellular level.
Not only does carrying extra pounds deteriorate your breathing capacity, but posture may also become less than optimal for getting a good night’s sleep.
Fortunately, Planet Naturopath gives some excellent advice on how to lose weight.
Did you know, for instance, that not everyone should eat the same diet for optimal fat loss? Some people do very well on a high-fat diet, while others perform much better on more carbohydrates.
Another tip to lose weight?
Sure: focus on developing many healthy habits over time, implementing small changes consistently instead of trying to overhaul your entire life at once. In my experience, people who try to lose “20 pounds in 3 months” time almost never focus on habits that will sustain their health long-term. Fat loss, in fact, is almost always a byproduct of developing long-term sustainable healthy habits.
The Planet Naturopath blog supplies you with many such improvements, for instance.
Let’s now consider the next tip:
So, you’ve faithfully worn your blue-blocking glasses at night, and now it’s time to sleep.
There’s one problem…
So, if light is passing along the edges of your curtains or there’s some light emitted at night by a technological device, your body is still affected.
Wearing a sleep mask if necessary and using blackout curtains are excellent solutions to this problem.
Also, make sure to deactivate any technology in your bedroom while you’re sleeping. Quite frequently, you simply need to unplug technology to deactivate it.
A high-quality sleep mask costs about $20-50 but is a godsend. As a bonus, you can also use that sleep mask to sleep on an airplane when traveling, or in a hotel.Next:
Those fighting cats or neighbors at night are not just a nuisance--they actively disturb your sleep.
The solution is to make your bedroom as airtight as possible. Sound travels through the air, so closing off windows lowers your exposure.
Also, remove any noisy technology from the bedroom - so no sleeping with your television activated.
If your partner is snoring, wear earplugs or tell the person to find a solution to the problem. If your partner cannot stop snoring, then consider sleeping in two different rooms.
That’s right, sleep is that important. No-one should ever prevent you from sleeping well at night.
Of course, quantification almost always helps you gain insight into a problem. Simply download a “decibel meter” on your smartphone to measure sound levels in your bedroom. If the sound levels exceed 35 decibels, your sleep quality is lowered.
Time to get up…
So what’s the first thing you’re going to do?
Eat? Shower? Read the newspaper?
No - get some sunlight exposure instead. Bright light exposure through the eyes tells your body that it’s daytime (24; 25; 26). And guess what: the result of that impulse is also an increase in melatonin production at nighttime.
Let me be clear:
Staying inside in artificial light does not do the trick.
The amount of light (measured in “lux”) emitted by most artificial light setups is a 100-fold as low as what you’ll get on a bright sunny day. Even during days with overcast skies, getting outside will help. And if you live in a very rainy and dark area, you can use a SAD box during the wintertime.
(You can learn more about the science of SAD boxes at the Alexfergus.com blog).
A cup of coffee after dinnertime?
What’s more, for some people, caffeine after lunch or even around breakfast can lower the amount of rest they get at night (27).
How do you know how you respond as an individual?
I actually recommend people to cut out all caffeine for 6 weeks to see how they respond in their sleep. If you’re sleeping better, that’s great. If not, you can slowly add caffeinated products such as coffee, tea, and (dark) chocolate back in.
No matter how your body processes caffeine, morning time is the safest to consume the compound.
Overall, don’t take the effect of caffeine on your sleep for granted. For me, personally, every single cup of coffee affects my sleep quality--cups at 6 AM are thus not yet fully metabolized at 9 PM in the evening.
Crazy but true...
The research backs that claim up, in that caffeine can have a half-life in some people of up to 12 hours. A half-life is a period in which half the product is broken down by the body.
So 2 cups of coffee at 10 AM with a half-life of 12 hours translates into 1 cup of coffee right before bed for some people.
Remember that sweaty summer night? Or recall when you forget a blanket during the wintertime?
Cool but not cold rooms are the best. The underheating issue is the easiest to solve: wear socks, pajama, and an additional layer of blankets, if necessary. If that strategy doesn’t suffice, turn up the thermostat.
Cooling you down during a hot summer day is harder. I recommend:
Don’t sweat or shiver at nighttime - both are signs your sleep quality is in the process of being ruined.
Common sense? Sure! And yet, many people still have suboptimal bedroom temperatures.
Let’s consider another eye-opener:
Shocker: about 30% of US adults have a full-blown vitamin D deficiency, and 40% have insufficient levels (34).
That outcome is paramount because your vitamin D status is of massive import for your sleep quality.
Secondly, bringing your levels up through supplementation subsequently improves sleep quality (39). There’s thus a great likelihood of a cause and effect relationship. In other words, lower vitamin D levels cause sleep issues and bringing your levels up cause sleep quality to be improved.
How to get vitamin D? When the sun is high up in the sky, at an angle more than 45 degrees with the Earth, vitamin D is created in your skin. If the sun doesn’t come up high during the wintertime in your location, such as in Canada, Scandinavia, Russia, or Southern Australia then supplement.
Don’t get a sunburn though - exit the sun once your skin has turned pink. Do not develop a very deep tan either. More sunlight exposure is not always better.
Want a magic pill to improve your sleep?
Magnesium is quite likely that magic pill…
My own estimates based on the “red blood cell” magnesium lab test shows that about 80% of people have suboptimal magnesium levels. About half of these people, in turn, have severe deficiencies.
Soil depletion and eating fewer fruits and vegetables are the two main reasons for this widespread deficiency.
And yet, a deficiency is somewhat tragic because it’s really easy to resolve. How? You can buy “magnesium glycinate” or “magnesium chloride” (bath flakes) very inexpensively online. Fixing the problem literally costs pennies per day.
Don’t, therefore, skip this step!
Two more tips to go:
I know the drill…
Sleeping at 4 AM on Friday and the same time on Saturday (well, technically, it’s already Sunday). And on Sunday evening, you’re going to bed early - even though you cannot sleep well.
From Monday through Thursday, moreover, you make sure you’re getting to bed pretty early. Well, except for that birthday party on Wednesday.
Recognize the pattern?
I’ve got bad news: your body sleeps best if your bedtimes are roughly the same every single night.
Switching bedtimes disrupts what is called your “circadian rhythm”. The circadian rhythm is a day and night cycle that regulates every single cell of your body. The center of that rhythm is located in your brain, in an area called the “suprachiasmatic nucleus”.
The light input in your eyes affects that rhythm. And by getting very different light inputs in your eyes throughout the week, the rhythm is never stable.
You’ll continually have mini-jetlags throughout the week (47; 48; 49). Why? Simple: on Saturday, your rhythm has to adjust because you stayed up late on Friday. And come Monday, your rhythm has to re-align to earlier bedtimes once again. The circadian rhythm can only adjust 15-30 minutes per day. If you force it to change more than 30 minutes, all biochemistry of almost any cell is thrown off.
The problem is that these adjustments take a few days at the very least. Hence, you’re continually jet lagging yourself by staying up very late.
Plan your social life differently - especially if you’ve got sleep issues. Moreover, the more stable your rhythm, the better your sleep quality becomes. Stable bedtimes for the win!
Stressed in the evening?
In that case, consider a DUTCH test. The DUTCH test investigates many different hormones in your body, such as testosterone and cortisol.Your cortisol levels are especially important for your sleep. Normally, cortisol peaks early in the day and is lower towards the night.
If not, you’re going to bed with the pulse of energy that you should normally get in the morning. The consequence is that you’re in a “fight or flight” mode just before bedtime.
Other symptoms of a cortisol imbalance are fatigue, mental problems, poor emotional control, reduced willpower, and more.
Hormones matter for sleep, and correct levels of them throughout the day are paramount for having high sleep quality. Again, consider a DUTCH test if you think your hormonal levels or cycles are not optimal.
12 tips to sleep better. Let’s conclude:
Sleep, just like your diet or exercise regimen, is governed mainly by habits.
To develop these habits, you sometimes need to make fundamental changes to your lifestyle.
Let me give an analogy:
To lose weight, for instance, you might need to give up eating fast food every single day and drinking a few beers most evenings.
To improve sleep quality, analogously, you need to have bedtimes that are as stable as possible, fix your breathing (if there’s an issue), and make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D and magnesium.
Of course, by paying the price you’re going to feel and perform much better every single day. Most sleep issues can be fixed. There’s thus no reason why you’d want to have poor sleep quality for months or years in a row.
Michael is head consultant at Planet Naturopath - Functional Medicine and Nutrition Solutions. As Seen