LIFESTYLE STRATEGIES FOR IMPROVING SLEEP QUALITY.
BY JOHN KING
Many of my clients ask me, “What can I take to get a good night’s sleep?” While I have no problem with using supplements to promote sleep, they are often unnecessary if you incorporate some simple lifestyle changes into your daily routine. I always recommend lifestyle changes as a first step. Supplementation is of little value if you don’t correct the bad habits that are contributing to your sleep problems in the first place.
Below is a list of things that you can do to improve your sleep quality. Some of them you may already be doing. Others may be new to you. If after incorporating these lifestyle changes into your daily routine you still have trouble sleeping then I would recommend pursuing some kind of natural supplementation. I will cover some natural substances that will improve sleep quality in a future article. But for now, let’s review some simple things you can start today to improve your sleep quality.
1. Sleep in total darkness.
Our bodies were designed to sleep in total darkness. Even a small amount of light from a clock radio or nightlight can disrupt our circadian rhythm affecting the pineal gland’s production of melatonin. Melatonin is the primary hormone that regulates our sleep cycle. Production of melatonin begins when it gets dark, signaling the body that it is soon time to go to sleep. If sleeping in total darkness is not possible, try wearing an eye mask to bed.
2. Keep it quiet.
Try to keep your sleeping environment as quiet as possible. This is not always possible, especially if you live in a city or have a partner that snores. If this is the case, try utilizing “white noise”. White noise is a consistent low level sound that masks extraneous sounds that may cause us to awaken. You can buy a white noise generator or you can try using an air filter, fan or air conditioner to create a consistent sound.
3. Avoid caffeine.
The half-life for caffeine is about six hours. This means that half of the caffeine in that cup of coffee you had at five o’clock is still in your bloodstream at 11 o’clock. This could seriously impair your ability to fall sleep. In some cases caffeine can affect your ability to fall sleep for more than 12 hours after consumption.
4. Avoid alcohol.
Although alcohol will make you drowsy, its effects soon wear off and may cause you to awaken. Consumption of alcohol before bed causes a disruption in blood sugar levels which disturbs sleep. Even if you do not awake during the night, alcohol prevents you from entering the deeper stages of sleep where most of the body’s healing occurs.
5. Exercise regularly.
It is a proven fact that regular exercise improves sleep quality. Try to exercise for at least 30 minutes per day. Any exercise that gets your heart rate between 60% and 70% of maximum will do. Exercising earlier in the day is best as exercise too close to bedtime may keep you from falling asleep. If you have not been exercising regularly for some time, consult your doctor before undertaking an exercise program.
6. Regulate bedroom temperature.
Having your bedroom too warm or too cold will affect your sleep. An article in the New York Times published in 2009 cited research that determined the optimal room temperature for sleeping is somewhere between 60° and 68°.
7. Only use your bed for sleeping and sex.
Avoid using your bed for activities other than sleeping and sex. If you get in the habit of watching TV or working in bed you may find it more difficult to relax in your bed when it is time to go to sleep.
8. Take a warm bath.
Taking a warm relaxing bath before bed reduces muscle tension and calms the mind. You can also try using things in your bath water such as Epsom salts, baking soda and essential oils such as lavender, jasmine or neroli.
9. Eat a small dinner.
Eating a heavy meal too close too bedtime will surely cause problems with sleep. Your heart will be working overtime trying to supply the blood required to digest all that food. Additionally, that big dinner can wreak havoc on insulin levels and increases the possibility of gastric reflux during the night. Try and eat your larger meal of the day at lunch time.
10. Listen to music.
Some light jazz or classical would be excellent choices of music to listen to while trying to fall sleep. Likewise, there are some excellent relaxation CDs on the market which can be quite helpful. Some of my favorite relaxation CDs incorporate various types of relaxing brain waves into music, you don’t hear them but your brain does.
11. Establish a bedtime routine.
Establishing a bedtime routine will help to signal your body that it is time to go to sleep. Going to bed at the same time every night, a bath, reading, meditating, or doing some deep breathing exercises are all excellent nightly bedtime routines.
12. Clear your bedroom of electromagnetic fields.
Exposure to electromagnetic fields or EMFs can disrupt pineal gland’s production of melatonin. You can check for EMFs yourself by purchasing an EMF meter. You can typically find them on the Internet for less than $50. It is also a good idea to try and keep electronics such as alarm clocks, cordless phones and other devices as far away from your bed as possible as they all generate EMFs. Digital radio frequency signals such as those generated by wireless routers have been found to be particularly disruptive.
13. Have a snack before bed.
Have a small low carbohydrate (no sugar!) snack about an hour before bed. Many people find it difficult to fall sleep if they are hungry. Having a small snack reduces the amount of time your body will be fasting and helps to circumvent excessively low blood sugar levels during sleep. Low blood sugar levels during sleep can trigger early morning awakening due to fluctuating hormone levels.
14. Try journaling.
If your mind races while you’re trying to fall sleep try journaling. If you’re upset about something or thinking about all the things you have to do tomorrow, writing them down will help to clear your mind. Keep paper and pencil on your nightstand so if you wake up during the night with something on your mind you can write it down.
15. Lose weight.
Being overweight is bad for you in so many ways, so losing excess weight is always a good idea. In so far as sleep is concerned being overweight can lead to sleep apnea leaving your body starving for oxygen during the night. If you snore or suspect that you may have sleep apnea talk to your doctor about getting a sleep study.
16. Avoid drugs.
There are numerous prescription and over-the-counter medications that can disrupt sleep. Drugs like prescription pain medication and cold medicines can have a tremendous impact on sleep quality.
17. Wear socks to bed.
When it is time to go to sleep our body temperature naturally decreases and blood flow is directed away from the extremities in an effort to maintain core temperature. So even if you regulate bedroom temperature your extremities can still feel like they’re cold. Wearing socks and even gloves to bed helps to regulate body temperature making you feel more relaxed.
18. Turn off the TV.
The bright light generated by a television can disrupt the pineal gland’s production of melatonin. Likewise watching an exciting TV show or some upsetting news program will not make you feel very relaxed. Hearing about rising gas prices or a tax increase right before bed will not lead to sound sleep.
19. Read something positive.
Reading in bed before retiring can be quite relaxing provided it’s not a thriller or spy novel. Something uplifting and positive is the best read before bed.
20. Put the computer away!
Put your computer away at least two hours before bedtime. Many people have the tendency to stay up working on the computer or visiting social networking sites when they should be winding down for the day. This type of activity tends to stimulate the mind making it more difficult to fall sleep.
21. No serious discussions before bed.
Establish a cutoff time for any serious discussions you may have with your spouse, family or colleagues. Discussing money, family or work related issues too close to bedtime will only serve to stir up emotions making it more difficult to relax and fall asleep. My cutoff time for such discussions is a minimum of three hours before bedtime.
22. Visit the bathroom before bed.
If you find yourself waking during the night to go to the bathroom try to restrict fluids for 2 to 3 hours before bedtime. Make sure to empty your bladder before retiring.
23. For women only.
Fluctuating hormone levels in menopausal and postmenopausal women can contribute to insomnia. Talk to someone well versed in natural therapies to help you manage this issue.
24. Your final thoughts.
When you lie down to go to sleep think about something that went really well that day and something that you are looking forward to the next day. This will help you to relax by promoting positive emotions.
The optimal amount of sleep for adults varies but is somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 to 8 hours. If you are not reaching this target after one month of incorporating these changes to your daily routine, I would consider some form of natural supplementation.