What You Need To Know To Sleep Better

Sleeping better

Quality sleep comes from a controlled environment, a healthy diet, regular exercise, nightly routine, and a personal intention to rest. 

In another article, I wrote about how proper sleep not only makes your life more enjoyable but healthier as well.

This article will go into further detail about sleep, providing you with some specific things you can do to get a deeper, more satisfying rest.

Understanding Sleep

Quality sleep is fundamental to overall well-being, influencing physical health, cognitive function, emotional stability, and even longevity. One crucial aspect of understanding the dynamics of sleep is the concept of circadian rhythms and the sleep-wake cycle.

The circadian rhythm is an internal biological clock that regulates various physiological processes over 24 hours. This rhythm is influenced by the world around you, primarily exposure to light and darkness. Light exposure, especially natural sunlight, plays a pivotal role in synchronizing the circadian rhythm. This synchronization is required for maintaining a healthy sleep-wake cycle.

The sleep-wake cycle is the pattern of sleep and wakefulness. This cycle is orchestrated by the brain’s internal clock, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus. The SCN receives signals from the eyes about the light-dark cycle, which helps to regulate the release of melatonin, a hormone that causes sleepiness. 

You can read more about these findings in Dr. Charles Czeisler’s paper, Duration, timing, and quality of sleep are each vital for health, performance, and safety.

Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule aligned with your circadian rhythm is vital for optimizing sleep quality. Irregular sleep patterns or disruptions to the circadian rhythm, such as those caused by shift work or off-pattern sleep timing, can lead to sleep disorders and various health issues. Chronic disruptions may contribute to conditions like insomnia, mood disorders, and metabolic disturbances.

Understanding and respecting the body’s natural circadian rhythm can significantly improve sleep quality. Establishing a consistent sleep routine, ensuring exposure to natural light during the day, and minimizing exposure to artificial light, particularly in the evening, are key strategies.

Psychology Today posted an outstanding article about how to achieve a better quality rest.

Sleep Patterns Change With Age

Throughout our lifespan, sleep patterns evolve, reflecting how our bodies continue to mature.

In infancy and childhood, sleep is characterized by longer durations of deep, slow-wave sleep, essential for physical growth and cognitive development. As we transition into adolescence, there is a shift towards a preference for later bedtimes and waking times, often due to hormonal changes and socializing. The young adult stage typically sees a more stable sleep pattern, with a balance between deep sleep and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is very important for memory retention and emotional regulation.

However, as we surpass the age of 30, several age-related changes can impact sleep. One notable change is a gradual decline in the production of growth hormones, which lead to a reduction in deep sleep and slower physical recovery during the night. This also may cause an increase in sleep disorders, such as insomnia or sleep apnea, which can disrupt the natural sleep cycle.

Common sleep challenges include difficulty falling asleep, maintaining sleep throughout the night, and experiencing a decline in slumber quality. Factors such as increased stress, work demands, and lifestyle changes add to these challenges. 

Quality Sleep Can Change Your Life

Quality sleep is the cornerstone of excellent performance in every facet of life.  

A well-rested mind demonstrates heightened alertness, improved concentration, and enhanced memory. This directly translates into superior performance in academic or professional settings, where the ability to process information, solve problems, and make informed decisions is heightened.

Physical performance is also linked to the quality of sleep. Athletes and fitness enthusiasts recognize the crucial role of sleep in optimizing training. During sleep, the body undergoes repair and recovery processes, including muscle growth and tissue regeneration. This results in improved strength, endurance, and overall physical resilience. The restorative nature of sleep also aids in reducing the risk of injuries.

Quality sleep also supports the body’s defense mechanisms, reducing susceptibility to illness and promoting overall wellness. 

Emotional intelligence and stability are also greatly influenced by sleep patterns. A well-rested person can better handle emotions, leading to improved interpersonal relationships and communication skills. The lack of sleep, on the other hand, can increase feelings of irritability, stress, and negative reactions.

If you would like to read more about why you need good sleep, check out the article I wrote about it here.

How To Always Have Quality Sleep

Quality sleep makes all the difference.

While fatigue causes eventual sleep, we have an enormous influence over how we engage in sleep, including the quality of our slumber. In the next few sections, you’ll find a collection of ways to ensure a good night’s sleep almost every time.

Unfortunately, prescription drugs are quickly becoming the norm when addressing sleep issues. Commonly prescribed sleep medications include benzodiazepines like lorazepam and diazepam, non-benzodiazepine sedative-hypnotics such as zolpidem and eszopiclone, and melatonin receptor agonists like ramelteon. 

While sleep medications can be effective, they may come with side effects, including drowsiness, dizziness, and the risk of dependency. Sudden discontinuation can lead to withdrawal symptoms.

Psychology Today published an article explaining why you may want to reconsider prescription sleeping pills.

In the next few sections, you’ll find a collection of holistic, natural ways to ensure a good night’s sleep almost every time.

A. Create Your Environment

Creating an optimal setting for sleep has a significant effect on your rest. One key element is the physical environment, which includes factors such as room temperature, lighting, and noise. Maintaining a cool, dark, and quiet bedroom helps promote relaxation and signals to the body that it’s time to sleep. Proper ventilation and comfortable bedding also contribute to a comfortable sleep environment.

Room Temperature

The exact temperature varies from person to person. On average, 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18.3 Celsius) seems to be ideal for most people. I know I personally prefer the room to be a little cooler than that where I’m experiencing a notable contrast to the warmth in bed.

Natural Air

Adequate ventilation in the bedroom helps by regulating temperature, humidity, and air quality. The importance of proper ventilation lies in its impact on various aspects of health, including respiratory function, cognitive performance, and immune system function. Generally, a cracked window allowing outside air to enter the room is significantly better than keeping a bedroom door open.

A study referenced in the Medical Express supports the benefits of fresh air while you sleep.

Mattress, Pillow And Blankets

The quality of your mattress, pillow, and blankets contributes to your sleep environment. They affect comfort, support, and temperature regulation.

The mattress is the foundation of a good night’s sleep. A high-quality mattress provides proper support for your body, helping to align the spine and reduce pressure points. There is no exact level of firmness or softness, and remains a personal preference. However, a worn-out or uncomfortable mattress can lead to back pain, discomfort, and restless nights.

Your pillow supports the head and neck. The ideal pillow height depends on your sleeping position. For example, back sleepers usually benefit from thinner pillows, while side sleepers may need a firmer, higher pillow to keep the spine aligned. 

Blankets are not just about warmth; they also influence comfort.

The weight and material of your blankets can impact your sleep experience. Weighted blankets, for instance, have gained popularity for their ability to provide a sense of security and relaxation.

The material of your blankets should also be breathable to regulate body temperature and prevent overheating, which can disrupt sleep. Natural fabrics like cotton and bamboo are often preferred for their breathability and comfort.

Feng Shui Your Bedroom

Feng Shui focuses on creating harmony and balance in your environment to enhance overall well-being. When applied to the bedroom, Feng Shui principles create a peaceful and restful atmosphere, which can positively impact sleep quality.

One fundamental aspect of Feng Shui in the bedroom involves the positioning of the bed.

It is recommended to place the bed in the “command position,” which allows for a clear view of the bedroom door. This creates a sense of security and control, which has been linked to relaxation, adding to a better sleep.

The choice of colors and the overall aesthetic of the bedroom also play a role.

Soft, soothing colors like earth tones and muted shades are often recommended to create a calming atmosphere. Clutter and excessive decorations are discouraged, as they are known to create a sense of chaos, which often affects sleep.

Natural elements, such as plants or wooden furniture, bring a connection with nature and promote a more tranquil sleep environment. Adequate lighting, both natural and artificial, is also emphasized to create a balance between energy and relaxation.

I wrote extensively about how Feng Shui in the bedroom is more important than other rooms. You can read more about it here.

B. Create A Sleep Pattern

Establishing consistent sleep patterns is another significant factor in having quality sleep. 

Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends, helps regulate the body’s internal clock, promoting better sleep quality. This consistency reinforces the natural circadian rhythm, optimizing the release of sleep-inducing hormones and improving overall sleep architecture.

It seems we are all busy these days. As such, creating an optimal sleep schedule may require thoughtful planning. 

Start by determining the amount of sleep your body needs to function at its best. Most adults require between 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night.  As long as my diet, exercise and stress level is low, I seem to do well with 6 to 7 hours.

Once you’ve identified your target sleep duration, work backward from your desired wake-up time to establish a consistent bedtime. Prioritize this schedule, treating it with the same importance as other commitments in your life.

For example. Let’s say you realize you need 8 hours to feel fully rested. Work backward from when you usually wake up. If it’s 6 AM, then the latest you would be in bed and, hopefully, asleep, would be 10 PM. 

Ideally, you would also establish a relaxing pre-sleep routine.

Calming activities before bedtime, like taking a warm bath, or practicing mindfulness meditation, help prepare the body and mind for sleep. Limit exposure to screens at least an hour before bedtime, as the blue light emitted can interfere with the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin.

C. Proper Diet And Exercise 

Diet and exercise also play important roles in promoting healthy sleep. A well-balanced diet that includes sleep-supportive nutrients, can positively impact sleep quality. 

One essential nutrient for promoting quality sleep is magnesium.

Magnesium plays a vital role in the regulation of neurotransmitters and melatonin, both of which are involved in the sleep-wake cycle. Foods rich in magnesium include leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. A study published in the “Journal of Research in Medical Sciences” found that magnesium supplementation significantly improved subjective measures of insomnia.

Tryptophan, an amino acid that serves as a precursor to serotonin and melatonin, is another important nutrient for sleep.

Turkey, chicken, nuts, seeds, and dairy products are good sources of tryptophan. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that contributes to feelings of well-being and happiness, while melatonin regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Increasing tryptophan intake has been associated with improvements in sleep quality, according to research published in the “International Journal of Tryptophan Research.”

In addition to specific nutrients, the timing and composition of meals can impact sleep. Consuming a well-balanced meal that includes a mix of carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats a few hours before bedtime may promote better sleep. 

Personally, I sleep better with a close to empty stomach, which means I typically stop eating 4 hours or more before bedtime.

It’s important to note that individual responses to food can vary, and dietary recommendations for sleep should be personalized. Additionally, avoiding excessive caffeine and alcohol intake, especially close to bedtime, helps as well.

Regular physical activity has also been consistently associated with better sleep. 

Moderate aerobic exercises such as walking, jogging, or cycling promotes the length and depth of sleep. It is important, however, to time workouts. Exercising too close to bedtime may have stimulating effects, so it is advisable to finish vigorous activities at least a few hours before bedtime. 

Relaxation exercises such as yoga or meditation can also contribute to better sleep quality.

D. Managing Stress

High-stress levels can lead to increased cortisol production, a hormone that interferes with sleep.

Practices such as mindfulness meditation, deep breathing exercises, or gentle yoga before bedtime can help relax the mind and body, promoting a more peaceful transition into sleep.

These activities signal to your body that it’s time to wind down, helping to alleviate stress.

E. Reduce Technology Before Sleep

Reducing technology in the bedroom can significantly enhance the quality of sleep and overall well-being.

The artificial light emitted by screens, such as phones, tablets, and computers, interferes with the body’s natural circadian rhythm, disrupting the sleep-wake cycle. Exposure to this blue light suppresses the production of melatonin, a hormone needed for inducing sleep.

In addition, technology often leads to increased mental stimulation, making it challenging for the mind to unwind before bedtime. Social media, emails, and other online activities can trigger stress or anxiety. 

Establishing a tech-free zone in the bedroom allows for a mental break, enabling the mind to gradually shift into a state of calmness.

Your Sleep Position Matters

Find the best sleeping position for the optimal rest.

The importance of sleep positions cannot be overstated. The ideal sleep position can vary from person to person, as individual comfort and any underlying health conditions play a role. However, there are a few sleep positions that are generally considered to be beneficial for most people.

Back Sleeping

Sleeping on your back is often recommended by sleep experts as it helps maintain a neutral spine alignment. This position can reduce the risk of developing back and neck pain and minimize pressure points on joints. It also allows for better air circulation and can be particularly beneficial for individuals with acid reflux.

Years ago, I suffered from acid reflux. Sleeping on my back generally caused me a lot of problems, sometimes even vomiting. Before I figured out a diet that worked well, I slept better in a reclined seated position.

If you currently have acid reflux, see what position works best for you.

Side Sleeping

Side sleeping is another popular and generally healthy sleep position. This position can help alleviate snoring and symptoms of sleep apnea. If you’re a side sleeper, it’s advisable to keep your spine straight by using a supportive pillow and placing it between your knees to prevent hip and lower back pain.

Snoring while sleeping my back is still an issue for me. I can personally attest that sleeping on my side keeps me snore free. I definitely recommend a pillow between your legs, but where the knees meet.

Fetal Position

Curling up in a fetal position, with your knees drawn toward your chest, can be comfortable for many people. This position can also help reduce snoring and may be beneficial for individuals with herniated discs or sciatica. However, it’s important to ensure that you’re not curled up too tightly to avoid potential strain on your joints.

Stomach Sleeping

While stomach sleeping is less commonly recommended, some people find it comfortable. However, it can strain the neck and spine, potentially leading to pain and discomfort. If you prefer this position, using a thin pillow or no pillow at all for your head can help minimize stress on your neck.

Some Common Sleep Disorders And How To Resolve Them

According to the National, Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, between 50 and 70 million Americans have trouble sleeping. Among the most prevalent sleep disorders are insomnia, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome (RLS), and narcolepsy.

Insomnia, characterized by difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, can be caused by various factors such as stress, anxiety, or poor sleep hygiene.

To help resolve insomnia, establishing a consistent sleep routine, creating a comfortable sleep environment, and practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or meditation, can be effective. Additionally, limiting caffeine and electronic device use close to bedtime can contribute to better sleep quality.

Sleep apnea, a condition where breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep, often leads to fragmented sleep and daytime fatigue.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy is a common treatment for obstructive sleep apnea, involving the use of a machine to maintain open airways. Lifestyle changes such as weight loss, avoiding alcohol and sedatives, and sleeping on one’s side can also help alleviate symptoms.

Restless legs syndrome is characterized by an uncontrollable urge to move the legs, often accompanied by uncomfortable sensations.

Lifestyle modifications, such as regular exercise, maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, and avoiding stimulants, may provide relief. There are medications for more severe cases, but they require a prescription through a licensed medical professional. 

If You Don’t Get Enough Sleep, Here Is What To Do

Insomnia is when you can't sleep.

If you find yourself in a situation where you didn’t get enough sleep, there are several strategies you can do to help mitigate the effects and improve your alertness and mood throughout the day.

Resist Excessive Caffeine Or Simulants

While a small amount of caffeine can provide a temporary boost, excessive consumption can lead to a crash later on and interfere with your ability to sleep the following night. Instead, focus on staying hydrated with water, as dehydration can exacerbate feelings of fatigue.

Short Bursts Of Physical Activity

A brisk walk, some light stretching, or even a quick workout can help increase blood flow and alertness. Exposure to natural light is also beneficial, as it helps regulate your circadian rhythm and promotes wakefulness. If possible, take short breaks to step outside and soak in some sunlight.

Do Most Important Things First

Try to plan your day to prioritize your most important tasks during your periods of peak alertness. Tackle the most challenging or important things first when your concentration is at its highest, and save less demanding activities for later in the day.

Power Naps

Consider taking short power naps if your schedule allows it.

 A 20-minute nap can provide a quick energy boost without entering the deeper stages of sleep, preventing grogginess upon waking. Be cautious not to nap for too long, as it may interfere with nighttime sleep.

I nap every day, between 20 to 30 minutes. It’s awesome and gives me serious boost of energy mid-afternoon.

Recommit To Sleep Schedule

Lastly, be committed to being dedicated to getting proper sleep. Establish routines that work for you, set up environments that help you sleep, and try to avoid stimulants before bed.

There Are Some Additional Things You Can Do To Improve Sleep

Proper diet, exercise, and sleep routines are massively helpful ways to create consistently good sleep. However, there are a few more methods that you can do occasionally that are helpful as well.

Meditation

Incorporating meditation into your daily routine can have profound effects on sleep quality.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, helps calm the mind and reduce stress, making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep. By focusing on the present moment and letting go of racing thoughts, individuals often find a sense of tranquility conducive to a restful night’s sleep.

Deep Breathing Exercises

Deep breathing exercises, such as diaphragmatic breathing or the 4-7-8 technique, can help activate the body’s relaxation response.

By slowing down the breath and promoting a sense of calm, these exercises signal to the body that it’s time to unwind, making it easier to transition into a restful state before bedtime.

Sexual Activity

Engaging in intimate activities with a partner can be a natural way to promote sleep.

The release of endorphins and the hormone oxytocin during sex can contribute to feelings of relaxation and contentment. Additionally, the physical exertion involved can help tire the body, making it more likely for individuals to experience a deeper and more restorative sleep.

Healthline posted an interesting article exploring the benefits of making love before sleep.

Massages

Regular massages can be a luxurious yet effective method for improving sleep.

Massage therapy helps release tension in muscles, reduces stress hormones, and promotes the production of serotonin and dopamine, which contribute to a sense of well-being. A relaxed body is more likely to ease into a peaceful sleep state.

Make Sleep Your Ally Again

Prioritizing quality sleep is something that can bring you to optimal performance in various aspects of life. Sleep shouldn’t be seen as a burden, but as a way of bettering your living experience.

Addressing the quality and consistency of sleep, while it certainly requires an adjustment in how we live, turns the time spent in slumber into an ally. It’s during these hours and minutes where we can almost magically tinker and rejuvenate ourselves to with greater ease, energy and efficiency.

In fact, by implementing these strategies, we can unlock the full potential of our physical, mental, and emotional well-being, leading to a more fulfilling and productive life.

I hope you enjoyed this article. Until the next time, cheers!

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