In Part 1 of this series, we talked about the importance of getting enough quality sleep. But we can’t stop at simply understanding the importance of sleep.
We need action steps to help make improvements.
Here are my top 3 tips to improve your sleep:
1. Respect Your Circadian Rhythms: Your internal “body clock” regulates your sleep cycle. It controls when you feel tired and crave your bed or when you feel alert and ready to be productive. This clock operates on a 24-hour cycle known as the circadian rhythm. These processes respond primarily to light and dark. The brain contains a special region of nerve cells known as the hypothalamus, which processes signals when the eyes are exposed to natural or artificial light. These signals help the brain determine whether it is day or night.
When the sun rises in the morning, morning light alerts the body that it’s time to rise by releasing cortisol to promote energy and alertness. When natural light begins to disappear in the evening, your body releases melatonin, the hormone that induces drowsiness. These circadian rhythms are evident in animals, plants, and microbes.
For the majority of human history, we as humans, lived according to these natural rhythms just like all of the other living creatures on earth. We didn’t have alarm clocks and we didn’t need them. We opened our eyes when the sun came up and we found ourselves yawning when it set. Simple. It was as natural as breathing.
In recent years, however, things have changed. Our modern world is full of things that interfere with the natural flow of living according to our natural circadian rhythms and seasons. We can light up a room at night as if it was high noon. We stare at screens that signal our body that it’s in the middle of the day just before trying to get a good night’s sleep. While these are all wonderful parts of living a modern life, when it comes to sleep, these advancements can make it difficult to achieve quality sleep.
But there are things that I have found to be incredible in helping my body stay in sync with my natural circadian rhythms and I can tell you that it’s had a direct impact on my sleep. And it all goes back to light, light, light.
Light has a profound effect on our body’s natural rhythms in terms of alerting our senses to rise and be productive and releasing drowsy hormones when it’s time to sleep. Modern technology has interfered with these rhythms quite a bit.
Live in tune with the sun as much as possible.Rise when the sun comes up and expose yourself to the light within 15 minutes of waking up. If you have shades to keep your room dark, open them. Walk outside if you can and take in the sunshine on your skin. This will do wonders in making you feel alert and energized.
Reduce your light exposure at night: This one is a game changer. Turn off the television and put away your phone at least an hour before bed, preferably two or three. While there are “night settings” that most devices offer now, simply turning off the devices altogether is most effective.
Besides limiting your blue light exposure before bed, it’s also important to eliminate artificial light inside your bedroom when you sleep. A lot of people have small lights that come from electronics, air conditioning units, nightstand clocks, alarm safety systems, etc. in their bedrooms. Even these seemingly small light sources can interfere with your ability to get a good night’s sleep. I suggest moving the electronics to another room, unplugging them, or placing a little duct tape over the light while you sleep so that you can achieve total darkness.
Avoid naps if possible.If you are looking to reset your circadian rhythms, following a basic routine, and eliminating daytime sleeping as much as possible can help a lot. If you fall asleep in front of the television at 7:00 PM and then wake up for a few hours and then attempt to sleep again, it can interfere with your body’s ability to get good, complete sleep cycles. And while there’s certainly nothing wrong with taking a little power nap every now and then, excessive daytime sleep can also interfere with your ability to sleep deeply at night. If you are fighting to make it through the afternoon without sleeping, it’s also an indicator of deeper problems going on in the body that needs to be addressed.
2.Move it, Move it
Exercising can do wonders for improving sleep. Moderate-to-vigorous exercise has been shown to increase sleep quality for adults by reducing the time it takes to fall asleep. This means more time in restorative sleep patterns and less time lying awake in bed during the night. A nice daytime workout can also help prevent daytime sleepiness. I have seen this true for myself. I typically exercise in the middle of the day, and I have noticed a massive improvement in my energy levels in the afternoon as a result.
According to the Sleep in America poll, it surveyed adults between the ages of 23 and 60 and focused on “Exercise and Sleep” and roughly 76-83% of respondents who engage in light, moderate, or vigorous exercise reported very good or good sleep quality. For those who did not exercise, this figure dropped to 56%.
If you struggle with getting into deep sleep, I highly suggest doing a vigorous workout during the day. You may surprise yourself at how deeply you sleep. I noticed it when I began to do CrossFit regularly. When my bedtime rolled around, I craved sleep and as soon as my head hit the pillow I was out. It’s a great feeling.
3.Keep an Eye on that Late Night Snacking
Let’s face it. Nighttime eating just hits different. There’s nothing like kicking back on the couch with a snack and watching your favorite television series or sports game. The kids are in bed, the house is quiet, and your phone isn’t blowing up with work emails and messages. You feel relaxed and happy and suddenly nothing sounds better than a pint of ice cream, bag of chips, chocolate, bowl of cereal, brownie, or slice of pizza.
The unfortunate thing is that the food you eat late at night can have a huge effect on your quality of sleep. Late night eating can cause increased blood pressure and blood sugar and change your metabolism. When you snack at night and then attempt to sleep, there’s a significant chance that you will wake up, toss, and turn, or be overactive while trying to rest. Your body reads things very simplistically. If you eat food that is full of energy just before bed, your body will become alert and assume that it’s time to get active. You may find yourself having extreme dreams, jerking awake, or tossing and turning as your body responds to the rise and fall in blood sugar.
Additionally, your digestive system will be forced to continue to work through the night which is not beneficial for deep sleep or optimal for good digestion. It’s important to give your entire body a chance to rest. I’d also like to add that though many people think of alcohol as something that aids in relaxation and sleep, it doesn’t. While a few glasses of wine might cause you to feel drowsy, the aftereffects of alcohol in the body as it attempts to metabolize it can cause major disruptions to sleep.
There are times when a small snack an hour or two before bed is beneficial. Many athletes I know need it to sleep well. Their metabolisms burn through food quickly and then find themselves hungry and unable to sleep soundly when they don’t eat something. In cases like this I suggest a small dairy-free yogurt parfait, a small handful of pumpkin seeds or nuts if it agrees with your body (you’ll know from following my Gut Health Protocol), bone broth, etc. I recommend low carb, moderate protein and moderate to high healthy fats if you need that late night snack. Avoiding high sugar snack foods, even high sugar fruits, late at night is key to keeping blood sugar stable getting a good night's sleep.
The most important thing to help stave off late-night snacking is to make sure that you are eating plenty of nourishing, healthy food at dinnertime, particularly foods that are rich in healthy fats and proteins. Without enough healthy fat, you will find yourself walking to the pantry or refrigerator all evening long. When you do get enough quality, healthy fat and protein with your evening meal, you will find yourself satisfied and full for the hours leading up to bedtime.
In closing, I’d like to say this: Nothing I’ve shared here is rocket science. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. These are very simple explanations and practices. None of the habits to improve sleep are that hard to do. But the thing is you gotta do it. Most of us theoretically know what we need to do to get a better night’s sleep, but we don’t make it a priority. We get busy and lazy, me included, and don’t consistently practice simple habits.
So just do it. Don’t underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep or undervalue the simple habits that can help you achieve it.
Sleep is really the unsung hero of a healthy lifestyle. This is even more true for many of my clients dealing with autoimmune problems. Having a good and productive day doesn’t start with breakfast, it starts the night before with quality, restorative sleep.