(Part 2 in the sleep series.)
After my latest post, you should now understand how important sleep is for both physical and mental health. Therefore, what do you do if you’re up tossing and turning night after night and wondering how to improve sleep?
Read on to learn more about how to improve sleep, so that you can more easily thrive in this crazy world.
You might be wondering about how much sleep we all really need. The National Sleep Foundation (yes that is a real thing) advises 7-9 hours for the average adult. If you have an autoimmune disease or another chronic disease, you might need even more sleep to help heal the body.
Are you freaking out now? Does 7-9 hours seem like an impossible dream? No need to lose sleep over it, because anyone can improve sleep with some simple (though not always easy) steps.
(Please note that this post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, I’ll receive a small compensation that helps to run my blog.)
How to improve sleep quality
1) Unplug- Sorry, but that means NO tv, email, computer, smartphone, etc. at least an hour before bedtime. These items all transmit blue light, which will inhibit melatonin production, aka the sleep hormone. They also can cause an increase in cortisol right when cortisol levels are supposed to be low, in order to allow for sleep.
If you must work on the computer at night, you can install a free program call f.lux®. This program will adjust the light on the computer to be bright in the daytime and warm at night. I use it on my computer and it really works! (Of course, I’m not usually using my computer at night, as I try to take my own advice.)
2) Block the blue light– Only at night. This helps to regulate your circadian rhythm, or internal clock, which is responsible for sleep-wake cycles and the production of our sleep buddy melatonin. Some simple ways to block the blue light is by using fewer lights at night or dimmer switches. You can also use red or yellow light bulbs in some of your lights for just nighttime use.
In addition, one of the best ways to block the blue light is to use amber-tinted glasses 1-2 hours before bedtime. Yes they are safety glasses and might look a little silly, but they’re very effective in increasing melatonin. So it’s worth it right?
3) Get more sunlight- During the day for at least 20-30 minutes or more per day to improve sleep at night. This will help to stimulate production of the hormone Vitamin D, which is important for immune health and is linked with sleep quality, as discussed here.
Sunlight during the day also stimulates melatonin release by the pineal gland, and you now know how important that is right? Obviously we don’t all live on a tropical island where sunlight is abundant year-round.
Consequently, you might need some help getting the light you need during the day including- sitting by a window; driving with the windows down; stepping outside for a five minute break several times a day; using sunlight spectrum light bulbs. An effective way to mimic sunlight is to use a light therapy box of at least 10,000 lux. Light therapy is commonly used to treat sleep disorders.
4) Manage your stress- You knew I was going to include this one right? Obviously you can’t sleep restfully if you’re up worrying about everything. One way to help with all of those anxious thoughts is to have a journal next to the bed. You write down everything you’re thinking about at bedtime- your to-do list, what’s worrying you, how you feel, reminders for the next day- and this helps to empty the brain, so to speak.
I used to do this when I had insomnia and it really helped me go to sleep much faster. In addition, you can refer back to my stress post for more ideas.
5) Meditate- Funny how some of the same techniques for decreasing stress also work to improve sleep. Meditation is one of those that helps to calm your mind and stop the constant barrage of to-do’s. Once again, check out my stress post for some of my favorite meditation apps.
6) Develop a calm nighttime routine– Yes, just like your children. We all thrive on routines at times. A bedtime ritual can trigger a quieting of the brain before bedtime and allow you to go to sleep faster. It can be something as simple as brush teeth, wash face, take the dog out and read a book.
You can also take a soothing bath with Epsom salts- the magnesium is perfect for inducing a calm, relaxed state. Or apply some lavender essential oil which is known for its anxiety reduction. The routine itself is not as important as the consistency of doing it nightly.
7) Sleep in a completely dark, cool room (around 65°)- Cover any blue lights from alarm clocks, phones, toothbrushes, baby monitors, etc. Use red or yellow light bulbs for night lights. Shift workers (or those who live in Alaska) can use blackout curtains to block the light. At night the core body temp decreases in order to facilitate sleep. Therefore, a cooler room temperature will help with this process.
8) Go to bed earlier- I realize this is a tough one. We all have things to catch up on after the kids go to bed. However, if you’re going to get your 7-9 hours of sleep, an earlier bedtime is a must.
That means if you get up at six AM, you really need to be winding down and in bed no later than 9:30PM in order to fall asleep by 10PM. That might sound impossible, but consider how much time is spent on social media or binge watching Netflix, and see if you can limit those activities at night.
9) Exercise during the day– This doesn’t mean training for a marathon. In fact, exercise that is too intense can actually increase cortisol levels too much and lead to adrenal fatigue. Plus, exercising right before bedtime can make it more difficult to fall asleep.
What you want to do is move throughout the day in order to improve sleep at night. Take a 5-10 minute break every hour and do some burst training. Take a walk on your lunch break. Chase your kids around after dinner. Just move!
∗A note for shift workers: Clearly you have different circumstances than the rest of us. A consistent schedule is even more important for you. Plus using the light therapy box when you are working and blocking the blue light (get out those amber-tinted glasses!) before you need to sleep is super critical. Here is an example of one shift working mom and how she survived the night shift.*
Hopefully, NOW you understand how to improve sleep and overall health. If you want more knowledge and a specific strategy to improve sleep, please consider the program “Go To Bed: 14 Easy Steps to Healthier Sleep” by Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, PhD. This amazing program has in depth information about how poor sleep affects the body, as well as a sleep checklist, supplements and specific sleep aids.
She also has created a detailed 14 day plan to follow, a what-to-expect guide and troubleshooting questions. I fully believe in this program, because I have already incorporated many of her ideas into my routine. Go ahead and try it. What do you have to lose besides more sleep?
“Always end the day with a positive thought. No matter how hard things were, tomorrow’s a fresh opportunity to make it better.”