Sleep is critical. Individuals who regularly receive enough sleep benefit from increased mental and physical health, greater focus, improved autoimmune response, and a variety of other advantages. Consistently excellent sleep has so many benefits that if they were used to promote a health care product, most would believe they were overstated.
Despite the many benefits of adequate sleep, many individuals struggle to get a decent night’s sleep. They lie awake unable to sleep, awaken repeatedly during the night, or just never settle into a restorative deep slumber. Each morning becomes a struggle. Simply getting out of bed may require Herculean effort, and the first 10 minutes spent staggering about the home seem like a scene from Night of the Living Dead.
If this sounds like you, have no worry; there is plenty you can do to reclaim your sleep mojo. And if you currently sleep well but want to improve your sleep quality, the same suggestions may help you improve your REM game as well.
The following eight ideas may be used alone or in conjunction with one another (selecting two, three, or all of them to use at once). Whichever method you choose, exercise common sense and contact your physician if you are unsure how to effectively follow any of these suggestions.
- Early Morning Sunlight
Andrew Huberman, a Stanford University neuroscientist, advises receiving early morning sunshine to improve sleep quality. This is beneficial because the “master circadian clock” (suprachiasmatic nucleus) situated just above the roof of your mouth utilizes sunshine to coordinate the release of the hormone melatonin (from the pineal gland) later in the evening.
Melatonin, on the other hand, contributes to the sensation of tiredness and prepares you for sleep.
However, how is sunlight received by a brain structure (the suprachiasmatic nucleus)? After all, it is hidden inside the skull. The photosensitive retinal ganglion cells, which are mostly situated near the bottom of the retina, link to the master circadian clock (the suprachiasmatic nucleus). When early sunlight stimulates these retinal receptors, they transmit signals to the master circadian clock.
It’s similar to a morning wake-up call at a five-star resort—a pleasant voice informing you that the day has begun. In turn, the circadian clock initiates a checklist of biological “To-Dos” (release cortisol, change internal temperature settings, adjust downstream circadian clocks, etc.). One item on the checklist is signaling the adrenals to begin melatonin production in about 12 to 14 hours.
To get the most out of this procedure, spend five to ten minutes outside in the early morning sunshine (no sunglasses preferred). The sun is low on the horizon during the first few hours of daylight, and the particular frequency of light that happens at this time is perfect for activating photoreceptive retinal ganglion cells.
There is no need to stare directly at the sun (in fact, doing so would be detrimental, as it would ultimately result in eyesight loss, so let us avoid going overboard). Simply wake up early, activate the circadian clock, and then go about your day.
- Routines for Bedtime
Improved performance is a result of habits. To perform at their best, great musicians, doctors, sportsmen, and actors depend on habits.
For example, a professional boxer who has been taught to instinctively slide under an opponent’s right cross and counter with a left hook to the stomach followed by a left hook to the head cannot think through each step of this reaction. It has become automated—a habit—as a result of repeated repetition. He developed this beneficial automatic reaction via a routine—by deliberately rehearsing each stage of this counterattack repeatedly until he no longer needed to direct the process consciously.
Your nighttime routine has the same effect on your sleep as your morning routine does. If your pattern consists of lively phone conversations, a little TV, a little work, and an occasional shower, your sleep will suffer.
To make the most of your nightly routine, it should be constant, and like a giant aircraft descending for a landing, everything should point toward the tarmac known as your bed. This implies that you should begin unwinding two hours before sleep with calming activities. Switch off the computer, disconnect from social media, play soothing music, and avoid harsh overhead lighting.
Spend the last 30 minutes engaging in activities that you find most conducive to sleep. This may be meditating, showering, or organizing your day.
When first beginning, it’s a good idea to stick to a schedule for two to four weeks before modifying it. Routines take time to establish, so you’ll want to give each iteration of a routine a chance to succeed.
- Make Your Environment Dark and Chilly
It’s a good idea to turn off all lights in the bedroom for the greatest sleep. Yes, all of them, even the one-of-a-kind nightlight you acquired on your visit to The Gnome Reserve in West Putford, England. Indeed, let us not leave any stone unturned and ask you to turn your digital alarm clock away from your bed.
For the majority of individuals, the optimum temperature range is between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit with the room completely darkened.
- Eliminate Caffeine and Alcohol from Your Diet
Sleep is divided into many phases (what some call sleep architecture). These may be classified as REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep or non-REM sleep for our purposes. Although this is a broad generalization, REM sleep restores brain function, whereas non-REM sleep restores your body (cells are replaced, injuries healed, etc.).
Caffeine intake late in the day affects not just one’s ability to fall asleep, but also the quality of REM sleep that occurs. If that evening cup of coffee tastes so delicious that you just must have it, I recommend switching to decaffeinated coffee around 3:00 p.m.
Interestingly, alcohol seems to disrupt REM sleep as well. For many individuals, alcohol results in lighter sleep, shorter sleep, and often results in waking up during the night (even if they do not remember in the morning due to the amnesiac effect of alcohol).
As is the case with caffeine, the goal is to keep alcohol intake to a minimum. For the majority, a glass of wine in the evening will have little effect on the quality of sleep achieved. However, more than one glass may be excessive. Keep note of the amount of caffeine and alcohol you drink, how it affects your performance the next day, and then make educated choices regarding your caffeine and alcohol consumption.