- 1 The Four Stages Of Sleep and Health
- 2 Impacts On Sleep Quality
- 3 Reduce Blue Light Exposure, But Only At Night
- 4 Address Stress
- 5 Consider Supplements
- 6 Small Intermittent Fasting
- 7 Final Thoughts
No matter if your wellness goal is to lose weight, have more energy, or simply optimize your health, assessing your sleep is the perfect place to start. Without a good night’s sleep behind you, your ability to manage stress, problem solve and experience good well-being during your day is dramatically impacted.
Here, we look at some proven tips on increasing the hours and improving the quality of your sleep.
But first, let’s look at some sleep basics.
The Four Stages Of Sleep and Health
Sleep is typically grouped into four stages that are divided into two phases: REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM (non-rapid eye movement). Have you ever seen someone’s eyelids flickering while they sleep? They’re likely in REM sleep.
During REM, there is a much higher level of brain activity, and you’re more easily woken up as sleep isn’t as deep. This stage is essential to cognitive functions like memory, learning, and creativity. It’s also where you’ll experience intense dreams.
The other three stages occur in non-REM sleep. Stage 1 and 2 = light sleep, stage 3 = deep sleep, with stage 4 being REM sleep. During non-REM stages, your body builds, repairs and regenerates different tissues, bones and muscles and strengthens your immune system.
For optimal emotional, physical and cognitive health, a typical person should cycle through these four stages of sleep to allow the brain and body to recuperate and develop. With insufficient deep sleep and REM sleep, profound negative impacts can occur, even in the short term. If you feel groggy even after getting a decent amount of hours, you might not be getting enough deep sleep and, therefore, have poor sleep quality.
Impacts On Sleep Quality
If you’re not waking up feeling refreshed after a long sleep, you need to check your sleep quality. A few everyday things can affect sleep quality, including alcohol, caffeine, medications such as antidepressants, heavy smoking, and abnormally hot or cold temperatures.
As well as addressing the above, here are four simple but effective ways to improve the quality of your sleep:
Reduce Blue Light Exposure, But Only At Night
While daylight during the day benefits our circadian rhythm, light exposure at night has the opposite effect.
The sun sets the circadian rhythm and controls when certain hormones are released and suppressed, including the sleep hormone – melatonin. Melatonin release is a signal for the body to sleep and is traditionally regulated by the rise and fall of the sun. However, in modern times, artificial light, especially blue light, has interfered with this process.
While removing all light from your room is not always possible, wearing a sleep mask over your eyes and avoiding digital screens before bed can help encourage melatonin release. Digital screens like phones and laptops are significant emitters of blue light, but if you can’t prevent screen use in the evenings, many phones and laptops come with software that applies blue-light filters. Another option is to wear blue-light-blocking glasses that filter out blue light.
The ability to fall asleep rests on being able to let go of thoughts. Unfortunately, stress and sleep are closely linked and can feed into one another, affecting the duration and quality of sleep. A lack of sleep affects our ability to manage stress, and excess stress is a crucial driver in being unable to sleep. Therefore, learning to manage stress is vital if you want a restful night.
Some helpful tips to consider to reduce stress, especially at night time:
Mindfulness meditation is a relaxation technique that removes stress about the past and future by making you more aware of the present moment. It is often done by acknowledging thoughts, feelings, and sensations and letting them come and go without comment or judgment.
When your mind is busy and the silence of night feels deafening. Sleep soundscapes can be an excellent way to ease your mind. You can try a nap app that offers scientifically formulated music that combines hypnosis and sound, specially created for better sleep. There’s an extensive range of sounds for every mood, for example, the sound of rain app or yoga Nidra meditations.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)
PMR is a straightforward yet effective relaxation technique that dates back to the 1930s. The method involves tensing and tightening different muscle groups one at a time and has been shown to ease insomnia and difficulty sleeping.
While vigorous exercise is not advised before bed, gentle yoga stretches can help ease your mind and muscles. When choosing a type of yoga, try yin or restorative styles.
Replace caffeine with cacao
Caffeine elevates cortisol levels, so it’s advised to avoid caffeine six hours before bed. Try hot chocolate if you like having a hot drink in the evening and afternoons. When made with pure cacao, hot chocolate is rich in magnesium, known as the sleep mineral. Make sure to try out various methods and find what works best for you.
As well as magnesium, there are several herbs and minerals that are known to induce a relaxation response in the body, including:
This root has a long history as a sedative aid. Research suggests that around 500mg of valerian before bed can help you fall asleep and improve sleep quality.
This supplement is an amino acid found in green and black tea that can improve relaxation and sleep.
We all know the aroma of lavender can induce a calming effect, and it can also be consumed as a supplement (linalool) and in tea to help improve sleep.
Another well-known sedative herb, chamomile, is a popular natural sleep remedy.
Small Intermittent Fasting
According to Ayurveda and emerging research, eating large amounts at night can negatively impact sleep and our ability to rebuild and detoxify during sleep. Having food in the stomach when you go to sleep results in more energy being diverted to digestive processes and less into anti-inflammatory actions. This can make us feel tired and hungry when we wake and cause bags under the eyes due to lack of lymphatic drainage.
Furthermore, lying down before food has been adequately digested can cause acid reflux and indigestion, further impeding your ability to fall asleep.
A version of small intermittent fasting involves eating a light meal, like soup, at least three hours before hitting the bed to ensure your food is farther along in your digestive tract.
Creating a routine that regulates sleep hormones and makes you feel at ease and comfortable before bed is essential to ensuring good sleep quality. Find what feels good and enjoyable for you; that’s the key to success. For one person, this could be a light meal, gentle stretches and listening to a sleep app as they doze off, while another could be a cup of hot chocolate and PMR. Bedtime doesn’t have to be stressful. Why not experiment, and see what sticks?