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More ZZZ's for a better life

Sleep plays a key role in your physical and mental health.

Insufficient sleep leads to an increased risk of obesity by 89% in children and 55% in adults.

Other studies conclude that getting less than 7–8 hours per night increases your risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes..

If you’re interested in optimal health and well-being, it’s recommended that you make sleep a top priority. So here are some of my tips on how you can get better quality sleep and avoid that staring at the ceiling at midnight moment or worse still… scrolling social media platforms to see who else can’t sleep!

Increase bright light exposure during the day

Your body has a natural time-keeping clock known as your circadian rhythm.

It affects your brain, body, and hormones, helping you stay awake and telling your body when it’s time to sleep

Natural sunlight or bright light during the day helps keep your circadian rhythm healthy. This improves daytime energy, as well as nighttime sleep quality and duration.

2 hours of bright light exposure during the day increases the amount of sleep by 2 hours.

Try getting daily sunlight exposure or — if this is not practical — invest in an artificial bright light device or bulbs.

Reduce blue light exposure in the evening

Exposure to light during the day is beneficial, but nighttime light exposure has the opposite effect.

Again, this is due to its effect on your circadian rhythm, tricking your brain into thinking it’s still daytime. This reduces hormones like melatonin, which help you relax and get deep sleep.

Blue light — which electronic devices like smartphones and computers emit in large amounts — is the worst in this regard.

There are several popular methods you can use to reduce nighttime blue light exposure. These include:

  • Wear glasses that block blue light.

  • Download an app such as f.lux to block blue light on your laptop or computer.

  • Install an app that blocks blue light on your smartphone. These are available for both iPhones and Android models such as Twilight.

  • Stop watching TV and turn off any bright lights 2 hours before heading to bed. Try reading a book instead.

Don’t consume caffeine late in the day

When consumed late in the day, caffeine stimulates your nervous system and may stop your body from naturally relaxing at night.

In one study, consuming caffeine up to 6 hours before bed significantly worsened sleep quality.

Caffeine can stay elevated in your blood for 6–8 hours. Therefore, drinking large amounts of coffee after 3–4 p.m. is not recommended, especially if you’re sensitive to caffeine or have trouble sleeping.

If you do crave a cup of coffee in the late afternoon or evening, stick with decaffeinated coffee.

Reduce irregular or long daytime naps

I have written about the benefits of naps on my blog before but its about balance. While short power naps are beneficial, long or irregular napping during the day can negatively affect your sleep.

Sleeping in the daytime can confuse your internal clock, meaning that you may struggle to sleep at night.

If you take regular daytime naps and sleep well, you shouldn’t worry. The effects of napping depend on the individual.

Try to sleep and wake at consistent times

Your body’s circadian rhythm functions on a set loop, aligning itself with sunrise and sunset.

Being consistent with your sleep and waking times can aid long-term sleep quality.

If you struggle with sleep, try to get in the habit of waking up and going to bed at similar times. After several weeks, you may not even need an alarm.

Consider some supplements

Several supplements can induce relaxation and help you sleep, including:

  • Ginkgo biloba: A natural herb with many benefits, it may aid sleep, relaxation, and stress reduction, but the evidence is limited. Take 250 mg 30–60 minutes before bed

  • Glycine: A few studies show that taking 3 grams of the amino acid glycine can improve sleep quality.

  • Valerian root: Several studies suggest that valerian can help you fall asleep and improve sleep quality. Take 500 mg before bed.

  • Magnesium: Responsible for over 600 reactions within your body, magnesium can improve relaxation and enhance sleep quality.

  • L-theanine: An amino acid, L-theanine can improve relaxation and sleep. Take 100–200 mg before bed.

  • Lavender: My personal favourite. A powerful herb with many health benefits, lavender can induce a calming and sedentary effect to improve sleep. Take 80–160 mg containing 25–46% linalool.

Make sure to only try these supplements one at a time. While they’re not a magic bullet for sleep issues, they can be useful when combined with other natural sleeping strategies.

Don’t drink alcohol

I know, I know. This one might be the most difficult to adopt if you like your glass or two of vino on a cold winters evening. However maybe try to limit it to weekends as having a couple of drinks at night can negatively affect your sleep and hormones.

Alcohol is known to cause or increase the symptoms of sleep apnea, snoring, and disrupted sleep patterns.

It also alters nighttime melatonin production, which plays a key role in your body’s circadian rhythm.

Optimize your bedroom environment

Many people believe that the bedroom environment and its setup are key factors in getting a good night’s sleep.

These factors include temperature, noise, external lights, and furniture arrangement.

To optimize your bedroom environment, try to minimize external noise, light, and artificial lights from devices like alarm clocks. Make sure your bedroom is a quiet, relaxing, clean, and enjoyable place.

Declutter your bedroom. If your bed feels dreamy but your room is a mess, you could be at a higher risk for sleep problems. What your eyes see when you walk into a room can influence whether or not you’ll have an easy time falling asleep. So, as many of our parents used to say, clean your room!

Set your bedroom temperature

Body and bedroom temperature can also profoundly affect sleep quality.

As you may have experienced during the summer or in hot locations, it can be very hard to get a good night’s sleep when it’s too warm.

Around 70°F (20°C) seems to be a comfortable temperature for most people, although it depends on your preferences and habits.

Don’t eat late in the evening

Eating late at night may negatively affect both sleep quality and the natural release of HGH and melatonin.

That said, the quality and type of your late-night snack may play a role as well.

In one study, a high carb meal eaten 4 hours before bed helped people fall asleep faster.

Relax and clear your mind in the evening

Many people have a pre-sleep routine that helps them relax.

Relaxation techniques before bed have been shown to improve sleep quality and are another common technique used to treat insomnia.

Personally I love to do a 15minute nightime yoga routine. My favourite is Jason Crandells nightime sequence which you can find on youtube along with simialr ones for morning and afternoon.

If yoga is not your thing, it should be… but other strategies include listening to relaxing music, reading a book, taking a hot bath, meditating, deep breathing, and visualization.

Try out different methods and find what works best for you.

Take a relaxing bath or shower

A relaxing bath or shower is another popular way to sleep better.

Taking a hot bath 90 minutes before bed improved sleep quality and helped people get more deep sleep. I use a lavender bath oil for that extra sleep incentive!

Get a comfortable bed, mattress, and pillow

We spend 30% of our life in a bed so doesn't it make sense to invest in a good mattress and pillow?

One study looked at the benefits of a new mattress for 28 days, revealing that it reduced back pain by 57%, shoulder pain by 60%, and back stiffness by 59%. It also improved sleep quality by 60%.

Other studies point out that new bedding can enhance sleep. Additionally, poor quality bedding can lead to increased lower back pain.

It’s recommended that you upgrade your bedding at least every 5–8 years.

Soothing music

Music can soothe us. Rather than listening to the news — or the chatter in your head/mind — when you get home, put on your favorite music. While classical music has been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce stress, any music that you enjoy will help you quiet down and lift your mood. If you’re looking for some sounds that are specially designed to soothe. Again there are loads of options in Youtube, just listen to a few till you find your favourite. I listen to Mozarts lullabies and im off to dreamland in no time.

Exercise regularly — but not before bed

Exercise is one of the best science-backed ways to improve your sleep and health.

It can enhance all aspects of sleep and has been used to reduce symptoms of insomnia.

Although daily exercise is key for a good night’s sleep, performing it too late in the day may cause sleep problems.

This is due to the stimulatory effect of exercise, which increases alertness and hormones like epinephrine and adrenaline.

Bedtime story

Read yourself a bedtime story (in book form). Reading is a great way to relax. Even just six minutes absorbed in a story can reduce stress by 68%, according to research from the University of Sussex. The cognitive neuropsychologist who conducted the test, Dr. David Lewis, described getting lost in a good book as “the ultimate relaxation … you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world...” Best case scenario, it’s a book — you know, those hardcover or paperback volumes with the pages sewn together — not a Kindle, iPad, or other backlit devices.

Don’t drink any liquids before bed

Nocturnal is the medical term for excessive urination during the night. It affects sleep quality and daytime energy.

Drinking large amounts of liquids before bed can lead to similar symptoms, though some people are more sensitive than others. Although hydration is vital for your health, it’s wise to reduce your fluid intake in the late evening.

Try to not drink any fluids 1–2 hours before going to bed.

You should also use the bathroom right before going to bed, as this may decrease your chances of waking in the night.

So... to recap instead of a nightcap...

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