If you’re looking improve the quality of your shut-eye time, I’m sharing five ways to get better sleep in this post.
Wouldn’t it be nice to sleep better?
This excerpt was taken from an original article posted on my other blog last year:
If you struggle to get to sleep, you’re hardly alone. It’s estimated that 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from sleep problems. (source) That’s a pretty sobering statistic, considering that for many people, lack of shut-eye is a completely fixable problem.
My sleep habits weren’t always great. I routinely got less than 6 hours in bed, ended the evening by falling asleep in front of the television, and slept in a room that had lots of ambient light.
The thing is, if you asked me if I was doing okay on 6 or less hours of sleep, I’d have sworn I was fine.
A Quick Look at the Science
A 2006 study comparing total sleep deprivation with sleep restriction concluded that the group that was chronically moderately sleep restricted – 6 hours or 4 hours sleep a night – performed just as poorly on cognitive tests as subjects who stayed awake for 48 hours straight.
Even more telling, the group that got 6 hours of sleep thought they were doing okay, though their cognitive tests showed they weren’t. Even though you might “feel fine,” you’re likely impaired when it comes to tasks involving thinking, reasoning, problem solving and more.Chronically sleeping less than 6 hours is as bad as pulling an all-nighter. Click To TweetI was also training hard on fewer than 6 hours of sleep, which was hurting my physical performance, too. Click here to read more about trading sleep for training time, and listen to Dr. Parsley explain how sleep affects performance.
Somewhere between 7 to 8.5 hours of sleep is optimal depending on your personal requirements, but suffice to say many of us could stand to get more.
Five Ways to Get Better Sleep
1) Lock down a sleep routine.
It’s ironic that bedtime routines are standard for children, but when it comes to using them as adults, many of us don’t. We got to bed at erratic times and don’t build habits that signal to our bodies that it’s time to wind down.
Habits and routines are extremely personal, and what works for me may not work for you, so you may need to do a little experimentation. My general rule is to start my bedtime routine about an hour before I want to turn the lights out.
Suggestions to try include:
- Putting away the dishes or preparing your lunch for the next day
- Setting out tomorrow’s clothes or packing your gym bag
- Having a bath or shower
- Taking magnesium or other supplements
- Reading a few pages from your favorite book
The point is to build the same sequence that culminates in sleep, and repeat it every night.
Also important is going to bed – and waking – at roughly the same time each day.
2) Avoid nighttime blue light.
This one’s big.
Nighttime exposure to light, especially the blue wavelengths that mimic sunlight, is very disruptive to melatonin. This hormone is responsible for helping to put you to sleep – and keep you asleep. Unfortunately, backlit electronic devices that are so prevalent in our modern world, and they’re oozing with blue light.Staring at your phone while lying in bed is not helping your sleep problems. Click To Tweet
Televisions, computers, tablets and phones are always close by, and they’re negatively impacting your sleep. Daytime exposure to blue wavelengths is important because it helps maintain the “awake” part of our circadian rhythms. However, reducing or avoiding blue light once the sun goes down is one key to better sleep.
Here are some things you can do to cut down on the amount of nighttime blue light your eyes get:
- Install the free program f.lux on your computer. It dims your screen and turns it yellow / orange as dusk turns to darkness outside. It’s not available on most phones – and certainly not on your television – so if you can’t avoid those screens 100%, there’s another option…
- Wear amber glasses or blublockers. They may look nerdy, but these orange-lens glasses function to block much of the blue light coming from your screens. At $10 a pair for the generic kind, that’s a pretty inexpensive solution to help you fall asleep faster. I prefer these gamer glasses from Gunnar – the Intercept style – because they look pretty cool, and they’re comfortable for hours of wear.
- Eliminate light sources in your bedroom, such as digital alarm clocks, electronic devices with glowing power lights, and light coming through your windows. Blackout curtains are a must.
- Use salt lamps for a soft light source that doesn’t throw blue light and isn’t dangerous like candles.
3) Take magnesium before bed.
Magnesium is a vital mineral that plays are role in hundreds of biochemical reactions in the body. It’s important for muscle function, electrolyte balance, cellular energy production and more. It’s also quite calming so it’s great to take before bedtime.
Nutrient-dense dietary sources rich in magnesium include dark leafy greens, sea vegetables and nuts. Worth noting, some minerals such as calcium compete with magnesium for absorption, so if you’re taking it internally, avoid calcium-rich foods at the same time. If you’re training hard, you may struggle to get enough magnesium from diet alone.
The types of magnesium in each are slightly different. PurePharma M3 contains magnesium taurinate and gluconate while Natural Calm has magnesium citrate. Epsom salts are magnesium sulfate.
I personally find magnesium citrate to be harsher on my digestive system. (It causes the colon to retain water and too much causes diarrhea.) Though magnesium supplementation is considered very safe, always check with your physician before taking it.
It’s best to take your magnesium about 30 minutes before sleep.
4) Quantify your sleep.
It’s sometimes hard to know if the quality of your sleep is actually good. How much do you toss and turn? Do you really get the deep sleep you think you’re getting?
Instead of guessing, you may want to track or quantify your sleep.
There are many options for doing this, but the most popular and accessible are sleep apps like Sleep Cycle or the Night Shift app native to Apple’s latest iOS update (for iPhone 6).
I used Sleep Cycle for a long time until I decided that sleeping with my phone next to my bed was something I wanted to stop doing. (I had the bad habit of rolling over in the morning and looking at my phone for the first half hour of the day.)
If you’re new to sleep quantification, an app like Sleep Cycle is a good place to start though. While not foolproof, it can give you a good sense of your sleep patterns, and you can enter relevant data that may have affected your sleep such as what you ate, if you trained that day, and the supplements you took.
Recently, we invested in Sense which takes sleep quantification to the next level and includes a more sensitive sensor. It also collects information about the room such as temperature, humidity, and sound levels. But the best part is that I’m able to sleep with my phone out in the living room and still get data about my sleep.
5) Dig in deeper.
So often, it’s easy to overlook key factors that could be preventing you from getting better sleep simply because they don’t appear to be sleep-related. That’s when digging in deeper and taking a look beyond the sheets is of huge value.
My friend Shawn Stevenson – creator of The Model Health Show podcast and trusted voice in the wellness space – just published a book called Sleep Smarter: 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to a Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success that’ll help you poke around under the hood.
It’s full of practical tips and things you can implement right now to improve your sleep quality and feel more rested including some stuff that might not be so obvious. And, it’s got a 14-day plan for helping you bring all the pieces together for your more restful night ever.
Wrapping It Up…
A healthy diet rich in nutrient-dense foods is the best foundation for getting the hormones responsible for circadian rhythm and sleep in check. If you’re still struggling to fall asleep, try implementing the suggestions in this article – and in Sleep Smarter – before turning to pharmaceutical intervention.
Of course, there are several others things you can try to improve your sleep such as avoiding caffeine after noon time, eating a protein-rich breakfast, getting morning exposure to sunlight, and avoiding alcohol at night. If you continue to suffer from sleep issues, seek the help of a physician or health professional.
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