12 Tips to Improve Your Sleep
Imagine if I told you that there was a pill you could take, a supplement, that would help you lose weight, build muscle, think faster, have more energy throughout the day, and reduce your risk of all major chronic disease? How much do you think that pill would cost? What would you be willing to pay for it? What if I told you that something like this already existed? Well, it does. And it's called SLEEP.
As a coach, and someone who works in the world of self development, sleep is a non-negotiable. If you want to be healthy, get fit, and make the biggest impact on the world, you need your sleep. It helps you improve the way your body looks, improves cognition, reduces stress and even helps in prevention of major diseases. Degenerative disease as well. Poor sleep has been strongly linked with a higher risk of developing Alzheimer's.
Sleep is paramount. And there are certain practices that can help you to get the best sleep possible. Here are the 12 best tips I give to my clients on a regular basis to help them improve their sleep:
1. Go to bed and wake up the same time every single day
This is the number one tip that is provided from sleep researchers across the board. It is even considered to be more important than the total amount of time that you're sleeping each night. To maximize the benefit of this information it's useful to get into a routine. Have a bed time. Have a time that you wake up in the morning. And honor those times. The more closely these times can be in sync with sunrise and sunset the better.
2. Use blue blocking apps
Your pineal gland is a small endocrine gland in your brain which is responsible for melatonin production. Melatonin in turn is a hormone that is primarily responsible for regulating your sleep cycles and circadian rhythm. The pineal gland is very sensitive to light, specifically blue light, of which we get an abundant amount from the full spectrum light of the sun. When specific photo receptors in your retina receive these blue light frequencies, it sends a signal to your pineal gland that we should be awake, that it is not yet time to rest. The problem is that we are now getting much of these blue light frequencies from our smart devices late into the evening and this is preventing the natural melatonin production we need for deep, restful sleep. This is where it is highly beneficial to use an app such as the F.lux App for your computer or Night Shift on your Apple product. These apps will automatically remove the blue-light from your screens as the sun goes down, allowing your body to more easily find it's natural rhythm and prepare for sleep.
3. Stop looking at screens 2 hours before bed
In line with my second suggestion its best to remove screens and light all together as much as you can. Not only is there the melatonin suppressing blue light that comes with screen usage but usually what we're paying attention to on a screen is very stimulating. Movies, TV shows, social media, the news - it all riles us up and makes it harder for our bodies to relax as we prepare for sleep. It's hard to fall asleep after the dopamine and adrenaline cocktail you just sipped on while watching the latest episode of West World. Avoid screens late into the night. Naturally calm yourself with the closing of the day to have a better night's rest.
4. Dim the lights as the night winds down
Beyond screens, there are other sources of blue light frequencies in our homes. Most common light bulbs have light frequencies that can send the signal to your body that the sun is still out and there is time yet to be awake. As the night carries on, turn off the bright lights and mimmic the natural setting of the sun. If you would like to take it a step further you can even use the F.lux App with the Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance system to remove blue light frequencies as it gets later into the evening.
5. Cool your house
Have the temperature drop an hour or two before bed time. This is another cue to your body that the time for sleep is soon coming and helps in melatonin production. In a natural environment the temperature drops as the day carries on. In modern times, however, the temperature of our homes stays pretty constant with the advent of heating and air conditioning. To create a more natural and conducive sleeping environment, set your thermostat to drop in temperature and hour or two before bed. The ideal sleeping temperature is 67-70 degrees Fahrenheit for most people. However, it's particular to the individual. So see what temperature is best for you and which one helps you get the best night of sleep!
6. Journal your thoughts to let your mind relax
I've been doing this practice for the past few months and it's been very helpful in allowing me to calm down at the end of the night. As an entrepreneur, there is always something you could be doing. There is a project that needs tending to, a person that you need to contact, or a problem that needs to be solved. It can be a lot to keep track of. Your mind is constantly ruminating on your various to do's. But that agitation does nothing to help us destress and sleep better. So my suggestion here is to simply journal anything that might be on your mind before bed. It might be a to do list. It might be an idea your having. It might be some emotional event you want to let go of. By writing it down we can offload it from our minds to be dealt with at a more appropriate time. It's a great stress relief and I've found that it really helps to relax me before bed.
7. Make your room pitch dark
Again, no blue light. As best as you can, make your room as dark as possible when you are sleeping. You will want to get some black out curtains that don't allow any outside light into your room and make sure to cover any lights in your room that might be on while you're sleeping (especially if they are green or blue!).
8. Don't consume caffeine after 1p
On average, caffeine can affect your central nervous system for 8-10 hrs. If you have caffeine too late in the day your body will still be stimulated when it's time to fall asleep and will have a very difficult time doing so. Give yourself a hard stop as to when you will have your last sip of coffee or other caffeine beverage. Many people think that they can handle a lot of caffeine late into the day and still get deep restful sleep. Maybe. Or, maybe those people who have become accustomed to subpar sleep. I would challenge you to experiment with limiting your caffeine late into the day and even try a few days without caffeine all together (blasphemy, I know) to see how it affects your sleep.
9. Don't use alcohol or cannabis to fall asleep
The "night cap" is a popular adherence for many. One last drink to calm the mind and body and put one at ease before going to bed. For some, that night cap has become a late night toke, smoking weed or ingesting cannabis to help them fall asleep. These people swear by it, too. They might say things like, "I don't sleep well if I don't smoke some weed before bed." Unfortunately, the research would say otherwise. Alcohol or cannabis might help you fall asleep but it will prevent you from getting deep restful sleep, and particularly block REM sleep, during the night. It is much better to pass on the drink or pass on the bowl and get a good night's rest instead (your health depends on it!).
10. Supplement with Magnesium
Magnesium deficiency is fairly common these days due to things such as soil depletion, common digestive issues, as well as high use of prescription drugs and antibiotics. But magnesium is a very important mineral and use for many physiological functions in the body. When we don't have enough magnesium it can cause anxiety and poor sleep (amongst many other adverse effects). So eat many healthy sources of magnesium-rich foods such as dark chocolate (70% cacao or greater), avocados, nuts and seeds and experiment with magnesium supplementation. Choose a good brand (by using third party testing sites such as Labdoor.com) and experiment with dosage, often times 200-400mg works best for people. But be careful as magnesium in excess will soften your stool and can cause diarrhea.
11. Read some good fiction
After the TV has been turned off and the cell phones and computers have been put away we might want to entertain ourselves further. One great way to do this is to pick up some fiction or some other type of pleasurable reading to set the mind at ease. It works will to get involved narrative that gets your mind off of the stresses of the day and allows you to switch into relaxation and enjoyment. Choose books that are pleasurable to read and don't make you think too hard before going to bed.
12. Finally, if you must, use a sleep supplement
I generally try to steer people away from supplementing for things that their body should be able to produce quite competently on it's own. If it isn't that probably means there are some easy adjustments that could be made to your lifestyle and habits. However, if you've tried everything and still have had no success then by all means, experiment with sleep supplementation. My only caution is that you not let it become a crutch and still continue to improve upon your lifestyle and habits around sleep as there are many more benefits that come from achieving balance. I do not wish to endorse any sleep supplements in this post but I have used some with success in the past. If you think there is no other way to improve your sleep than supplementation I would encourage you to experiment and pay good attention to how it affects your sleep and your energy. Be mindful that the placebo effect is very real.