If we were to ask you what the foundation of a healthy life is, how long would it take you to mention sleep?
It’s easy to forget in our “go, go, go” society the importance of healthy sleep, and we typically don’t consider it much until we are lacking it.
And boy, do we notice when we lack it.
Why We Need Quality Sleep
Healthy sleep isn’t just an option. To maximize your health and mental wellbeing, getting enough deep, quality sleep is absolutely crucial.
Research shows that not getting enough is associated with all types of health issues, including anxiety disorders and other mental health disorders. [*] Additionally, other studies show lack of sleep can interfere with weight loss and has even been linked to obesity. [*]
Also consider that if you’re trying to lose fat, research shows not getting enough sleep can outdo your efforts of eating healthy or counting calories. [*]
In other words: your body really dislikes not having its sleep, and will begin to react negatively if it goes on too long.
So what can you do if you want to sleep, but are having a hard time getting enough?
Here we’re breaking down the absolute best techniques for falling asleep and staying asleep. Some seem relatively simple (like reducing light exposure at night) but can actually have a huge impact.
The Best Habits for Better Sleep
1. Avoid Caffeine in the AfternoonWe know: that afternoon coffee is sometimes the golden ticket to making it through a busy day. However, the effects of caffeine on sleep are much more potent than you may think, with research showing that drinking it within 6 hours of bedtime can significantly interfere with sleep. [*]
Since caffeine can stay in your blood for up to 6-8 hours, it’s a great idea to switch to decaf for that afternoon cup if it’s after 3 p.m. Give this a go, especially if you feel like there is no other reason for you to be having trouble sleeping. Most people assume the effect of caffeine doesn’t last that long, and rule out their midday java!
2. Reduce Blue Light Exposure in the EveningLight is an extremely powerful regulator of our circadian rhythms, the biological clock that tells our body when it’s time to sleep and time to wake up.
Electronics, including televisions, and even the light from your alarm clock, emit blue light, which is a wavelength of light that is known for disrupting these rhythms. When your body is exposed to blue light, it turns off the production of melatonin, the hormone that tells your body it’s time to sleep. In essence, it tricks your brain into thinking it’s still daytime.
It’s recommended to avoid using electronics 2 hours before bed to give your body a chance to relax into sleep mode. If you can’t quite get away for 2 hours before bed, try setting your phone or computer to switch to “night shift” at a certain time (say, 7:00 p.m.), which tones down some of the blue light. There are also a few apps you can install that will do the same. This will give your body even more of a break before turning off your electronics an hour before bed.
Alternatively, you can also purchase glasses that block blue light (nicknamed “blueblockers”) to lessen the effect.
3. Get Some Sun During the DayAs you can see, light is going to play a big role in optimizing your sleep. In the same way light at night time can interfere with your melatonin production, getting enough sunlight and “bright light” during the day can optimize your circadian rhythms.
Studies show that natural sunlight exposure throughout the day improves daytime energy and sleep quality, with one even showing it improved sleep duration and helped participants fall asleep 83 percent faster. [*][*]
Aim to get at least 20-30 minutes of sun exposure per day, even if it’s just taking a walk or sitting outside during your lunch break.
4. Try to Stick to a Sleep ScheduleTo further settle your body into a perfect sleep-wake cycle, it helps to try to go to bed and wake up at consistent times. Studies show that people who have a consistent sleep schedule have better long-term sleep quality, and that irregular sleep patterns experience poorer sleep. [*][*] The reason this occurs is because it disrupts your melatonin production, confusing your body as to when it’s time to sleep.
So what’s the best sleep schedule? The most optimal would be waking with the sunrise and relaxing into bed shortly after sunset. However, if this isn’t possible, you’ll still reap the benefits by waking up with your alarm at a set time every day, and trying to go to bed around the same time.
5. Try SupplementsThere are several herbal supplements that are known to greatly help improve sleep. A few to try are:
- Valerian root
Valerian has shown in several studies to improve sleep quality even in patients with insomnia. [*] Take a dose an hour or so before bed.
Magnesium is a potent regulator of our nervous system and has been shown to help improve relaxation, sleep quality, and ease anxiety. [*] You can also take magnesium an hour or so before bed.
Lavender has a sedative effect that can help you fall asleep and stay asleep. You can either diffuse the essential oil in an oil diffuser before bed, or try lavender tea.
L-theanine is an amino acid that has been shown to improve deep relaxation and sleep (this one is especially great to take if racing thoughts or anxiety are keeping you from falling asleep. [*] It is recommended to take 100-200 mg before bed.
6. Optimize Your Bedroom and Develop a Bedtime RitualAlong with removing any light in your room (covering the light from your alarm clock, using shades to block outside light, etc…) consider also the noise level where you live. Research shows that even mild noise at night can worsen sleep quality.
If you do experience a lot of noise, consider investing in noise-canceling earbuds.
In addition, developing a bedtime ritual can further signal to your body that it’s bedtime. Even something simple as lighting a candle and reading, or taking a bath can be powerful tools for unwinding and prepping for a deep night’s sleep.
7. Avoid Eating Late at NightWhile we love a good late-night snack as much as anyone, it turns out eating after dinner (or eating a late dinner) can significantly affect your sleep. Studies show it can stop the release of hormones, including melatonin, which can interfere with healthy sleep. [*]