Four Factors That Can Help Improve Your Sleep
No sleep used to be something to brag about. However, these days more and more people are realizing that good sleep is connected to better productivity and overall quality of life. Some of us would do away with sleep altogether if we could but it would be strange if nature created a habit where we are in literal coma for hours instead of doing something useful. Sleep researcher Kasper Vogt’s quote in the Atlantic article Why Do We Need to Sleep describes the mystery of sleep as a phenomenon: “What is so important that you risk being eaten, not eating yourself, procreation ... you give all that up, for this?”.
XKCD reflects on what a weird experience sleep can be. XKCD.com
Research seems to point to part of it being “cleaning out trash from the brain”, research also indicates that sleep has a great impact on things like the recovery and healing of the body, building muscle, and learning and consolidating memories. A lack of sleep can have negative effects such as negative repetitive thoughts connected to anxiety and depression, cognitive impairment, and reduced muscle growth from lower testosterone and higher cortisol levels. brought on by sleep deprivation. Sleep researcher Matthew Walker even makes the point that even loneliness can be connected to sleep loss as sleep deprivation makes us more likely to distance ourselves from social interaction and other people.
As there is a lot to gain from better sleep we’ve put together a couple of useful hacks to help you improve your it.
Rituals and routines are important for humans and by having routines that help you wind down the right way you’re more likely to wake up rested. By considering a few things that have a greater impact on sleep we can get some rather big improvements with relatively small sacrifices. Sleep hygiene involves a lot of things. Here’s a quick guide with four things you can try and regulate to with little cost to your life but great potential to improve your sleep:
Establish regular routines and times: Your body does have an internal clock and likes regularity. By using activities that helps my body understand that it’s time to sleep I’ve gotten an almost Pavlovian response to the ritual of taking a warm shower, followed by tea, and solving sudokus. For example warm baths, meditation/mindfulness and reading are all great ways to wind down. A good rule of thumb is to finish up work at least 2 hours before bed so that you really get to clear your mind and don’t go to bed excited or nervous.
Get away from the blue light: Related to the routines part is the advice that you should avoid exposure to intensive light from screens and other lights can mess with your internal clock by suppressing your body’s melatonin production. You can either stay away from the light sources or get a pair of blue light blocking glasses (the recommended kind is the type with amber lenses cutting out >99% of the light that keeps the body from producing sleep hormones). A study of adults with insomnia suggested that wearing the glasses two hours before bedtime translated into better sleep quality and an average of 30 minutes more sleep.
Mind what you eat and drink: What we eat and drink naturally affect our sleep as well. We should refrain from a couple of things if we want our sleep quality to improve, for example fitness coach Craig Ballentyne’s 10-3-2-1-0 rule advises that Caffeine should not be consumed within 10 hours before bedtime and the last bit of alcohol or food should be consumed 3 hours before bed. On the other hand you have a couple of things that can be helpful to consume before sleep. Chamomile tea has been used to help people to a good night’s sleep for ages, same goes for valerian root . They are both mild tranquillizers known to induce sleepiness and can help you fall asleep easier if you drink it around 30 minutes before you want to sleep. As anxiety is something that potentially can disturb your sleep natural remedies like ashwagandha can help you reduce anxiety and decrease the risk of waking up in “the hour of the wolf”. Depending on where you have trouble in the sleep cycle you can find different solutions to help you get fully rested.
- Regulate the environment: There are a couple of ways to make sure that the environment helps you get the best sleep possible body temperature drops when we fall asleep and there is research that shows that we sleep better and fall asleep easier when the room is a bit cooler with 60-67f (between 16-20c) being the ideal temperature. Soundscapes can also be helpful when trying to fall asleep. A few apps out there, like Calm and Headspace, have stories and sounds meant to put your mind to rest and help you fall asleep.
Sleep is different for everyone but these should be great starting points.
Use an open mind and experiment methodically to find what works for you to help improve your quality of sleep. By documenting your subjective alertness, wellbeing, and overall performance you will understand what works and what doesn’t and hopefully wake up as rested as you possibly can be.
Further Reading and Listening:Matthew Walker’s book about sleep “Why We Sleep”and his interview with Rhonda Patrick are also great primers on sleep, its effects, and some advice on how to improve it.