Believe it or not, a good night’s sleep is just as important (if not more) as healthy eating and regular exercise, if you’re looking to live a maximally healthy and productive life.
In this article, we’ll be looking at why sleep is so important, how much of it you need and simple science-backed tips on how to sleep that will help you make the most of sleep every night.
So, sit back and relax as I take you on this life-transforming journey to improved health and productivity.
Why Is Sleep so Important?
There are so many health benefits that stem from getting a good night’s sleep. Contrary to what you may think, your body doesn’t actually “sleep” when you sleep. Rather, it is uses this period to carry out some serious “housecleaning” processes that help the mind and body function at maximum efficiency.
Specifically speaking, though, here are some amazing benefits of a good night’s sleep:((Diet Fitness King: 7 Reasons Why Getting More Sleep Is Good For Health))
- Help manage the appetite, thereby aiding weight loss
- Boost the immune system
- Help to lay off stress
- Reduce the risk of certain cancers such as colon and breast cancer.
- Promote memory, focus and proper brain functioning
- Maintain a healthy heart by regulating the cholesterol levels and blood pressure
- Reduce the risk of diseases such as diabetes, myocardial infarction and stroke((PLoS One.: Association of Sleep Duration with Chronic Diseases in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)-Potsdam Study))
How Much Sleep Do You Need?
Okay, now that it’s crystal-clear that you need sufficient sleep to keep ticking, just how much sleep is sufficient?
Well, as far as sleep experts and research studies are concerned, you need 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night before you can reap maximum benefits from sleep.((Science Daily: World’s largest sleep study shows too much shut-eye can be bad for your brain))
You can learn more about how much you should sleep in this article: Quality or Quantity? Why Don’t You Sleep On It
How to Get the Best out of Sleep Every Single Night
Here’re 10 simple yet power ways to help you sleep well:
1. Stay Away from Blue Light at Bedtime
Exposure to bright light during the day can be a good thing… but at night? Not so much. Research has shown that excessive light exposure prior to bedtime can disrupt sleeping patterns and affect overall sleep quality.
How exactly does this happen?
There are two mechanisms behind it. First off, there’s something called the circadian rhythm. This is the body’s biological clock that regulates sleeping and waking up. However, during excessively bright nighttime conditions, (or under exposure to blue light from smartphones and laptops), the brain gets tricked into thinking it’s still daytime, therefore it reduces the production of sleep hormones.
And that brings us to our next point — melatonin. Melatonin is also known as the sleep hormone, as it helps the body to relax and fall into deep sleep. And as earlier stated, the production of this hormone is significantly reduced under exposure to blue light generated by smartphones, TV and other electronic gadgets.
So, if you’re used to playing video games, answering emails or tweeting late into the night, you need to put an end to that.((J Sleep Res.: Effects of playing a computer game using a bright display on presleep physiological variables, sleep latency, slow wave sleep and REM sleep.)) In addition, set an earlier bedtime for your electronics. Preferably, try and put your gadgets to sleep two hours before you hit the bed.
However, if you must use these gadgets closer to your bedtime, then wear glass shades that block blue light or download applications like f.lux that can block blue light from laptops or smart-phones.((Neuro Endocrinol Lett.: The impact of light from computer monitors on melatonin levels in college students.))
2. Practice Sleeping and Waking up at Regular Times
Okay, listen up, if you want to get the best out of sleep, then you need to keep things consistent. That means you go to bed at a set time every single day and wake up at the specific time each morning. Research has shown that consistency with sleeping and waking up times greatly improves sleep quality.((J Sleep Res.: Investigating the interaction between the homeostatic and circadian processes of sleep-wake regulation for the prediction of waking neurobehavioural performance.))
Why is that so, you may ask?
Well, as earlier stated, your body has a biological clock and that clock is linked to sunrise and sunset. So, maintaining a consistent bedtime every single day (including weekends) enables your body to release the necessary hormones at the perfect time. This enables you to enjoy a sound sleep through the night and wake up fresh and full of life.
And while on the topic, you may want to consider saying goodbye to movie night, game night and all other nights that will hinder you from sticking to your bedtime. And yes, sleeping-in on weekends is totally off the cards, too, as it can lead to poor sleep.((J Sleep Res.: Circadian preference, sleep and daytime behaviour in adolescence.))
Now, here’s a challenge — for the next 8 weeks, practice sleeping and waking up at the same time. By the end of the challenge, you might not even need an alarm clock any longer.
3. Stay Away from Alcohol
Okay, listen up, if you want to enjoy a sweet, deeply-refreshing night rest, then you need to steer clear of booze… especially close to bedtime.
Why on earth would I say that? Well, technically, I’m not the one saying it… it’s all science.
According to a study published in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, it was reported that alcohol consumption at night induced sleep apnea and intense snoring in the tested subjects.((Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatrye: Alcohol, snoring and sleep apnea.))
Another study reported a disruption in sleeping patterns among participants who took alcohol before sleep.((Am J Med.: Alcohol increases sleep apnea and oxygen desaturation in asymptomatic men.)) Other studies have also found that nighttime alcohol consumption affect s the production of melatonin, which consequently affects the body’s circadian rhythm.((J Clin Endocrinol Metab.: Ethanol inhibits melatonin secretion in healthy volunteers in a dose-dependent randomized double blind cross-over study.))
Whichever way you look at it, alcohol is bad news for sleep. So, as tempting as that glass of wine may seem at 8 PM, stay away from it. Your reward will be a deep, refreshing sleep.
4. Skip the Evening Cup of Coffee
Who doesn’t love a nice cup of coffee every now and then? Yes, caffeine (in coffee) has a lot of health benefits, ranging from improved focus and energy, to enhanced athletic performance. So, it comes as no surprise that over 90% of Americans take caffeine in one form or the other.((J Am Diet Assoc.: Food sources and intakes of caffeine in the diets of persons in the United States.))
But just like most good things in life, moderation is key when taking coffee, especially one containing caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant, which by definition, means it simulates your nervous system to keep you awake and alert. Or in other words, keeps you from sleeping.
Interestingly, caffeine can remain active in your system for 6 to 8 hours, which means if you take it too close to bedtime, you can kiss your sleep goodbye. In fact, research has revealed that consuming caffeine up to 6 hours before bedtime can significantly worsen sleep quality.((J Clin Sleep Med.: Caffeine effects on sleep taken 0, 3, or 6 hours before going to bed.))
So, what do you do? Keep coffee consumption to mornings and early afternoons. But once it’s 2 PM, say goodbye to coffee for the day. Trust me, you’ll be glad your did.
5. Get a Quality Mattress and Pillow
Have you ever wondered why you feel so much more comfortable and sleep better in a hotel? Well, there’s no magic behind it, it’s mostly about the quality of the bed.((Am J Phys Med Rehabil.: Sleep disturbance in patients with chronic low back pain.))
When you sleep on a comfortable bed, you feel less pain and enjoy better sleep quality. Studies have also shown that a new mattress and bedding can significantly reduce back pain, back stiffness and shoulder pain, thereby improving sleep quality.((J Manipulative Physiol Ther.: Effectiveness of a selected bedding system on quality of sleep, low back pain, shoulder pain, and spine stiffness.))
So, if you haven’t changed your mattress in a while, upgrading your mattress and pillow to new ones may be a great way of improving sleep quality. However, the choice of the “best mattress”((Best Mattress Review: Best Mattress 2019)) is highly subjective, so make sure you do your research before making a buying decision.
6. Don’t Nap Too Long During the Day
Taking a quick nap during the day is great, but if it becomes too long, it’ll most likely affect your sleep at night. Here’s why:
Sleeping for long periods during the day can trick your internal biological clock into thinking it’s night time. And this may lead to trouble sleeping at night, as the body releases “wakefulness” hormones instead of sleep hormones.((Behav Neurosci.: Effects of sleep inertia after daytime naps vary with executive load and time of day.))
Research has shown that the best day-time naps are usually no more than 30 minutes.((Curr Opin Pulm Med.: Good sleep, bad sleep! The role of daytime naps in healthy adults.)) Longer naps tend to have negative quality on sleep quality. That said, if you’re used to daytime napping and you still sleep effortlessly at night, then you have nothing to worry about.((Behav Med. : The prevalence of daytime napping and its relationship to nighttime sleep.))
7. Take a Shower
Never underestimate the power of a shower. Various research studies have shown that people can improve their overall sleep quality by taking a shower before hitting the bed. Even a simple foot bath does the job… especially in elders.((Int J Nurs Stud.: Effect of foot bathing on distal-proximal skin temperature gradient in elders.))
Although the specific mechanism behind this isn’t entirely clear, water does tend to have a relaxing effect on the body and this makes sleep much more enjoyable. Just take a look at How Night Shower Can Help You Sleep Better.
So, if you’re looking for a cheap way of improving your sleep quality, a warm shower before bed isn’t a bad way to go.
8. Empty Your Mind
Sleeping isn’t merely a physical activity, it involves the mind just as much as the body. So, if you want to enjoy your sleep each night, you must learn to empty your mind. And there are different ways of achieving this.
Studies have shown that various relaxation techniques such as reading a book, meditating, listening to soft music and having a relaxing massage, can significantly improve sleep quality. So, you can try various techniques to identify what works best for you. ((Am J Crit Care.: Effect of a back massage and relaxation intervention on sleep in critically ill patients.))
Also, if you’re the type that worries about the next day a lot, it can help to get a diary and write down every task you need to take care of the following day and how you will get it done. This will help to calm your mind and make it easier to fall asleep.
9. Exercise Regularly
If you’ve been skipping exercise, you’ve been doing yourself a great disservice. Apart from the numerous physical and mental health benefits, it has also been shown to improve sleep quality.
For instance, in one study published in JAMA, it was reported that regular exercise significantly reduced the amount of time it took older adults to fall asleep and increased the normal duration of sleep by 40 minutes.((JAMA: Moderate-intensity exercise and self-rated quality of sleep in older adults. A randomized controlled trial.)) Another study reported that exercise was even more effective for insomnia patients than sleep drugs.((J Clin Sleep Med.: Effect of acute physical exercise on patients with chronic primary insomnia.))
As great as exercise is, though, timing is also important. Experts believe that exercising too close to bedtime, can negatively affect sleep. This is due to the stimulatory effect of exercise, resulting from the release of hormones like adrenaline. So, if you must exercise in the evening, make it at least, three hours to your bedtime.
10. Take Sleep Supplements
Remember melatonin? The hormone that tells your body when to hit the bed and relax? Yep, it is available as supplements and you can take it to improve your sleep.
In fact, research has shown that melatonin is one of the easiest means of falling asleep quickly. This is why it is commonly used as a treatment for insomnia.((J Sleep Res.: Prolonged-release melatonin improves sleep quality and morning alertness in insomnia patients aged 55 years and older and has no withdrawal effects.))
Melatonin is a prescription drug in some countries, while in other countries, it can be purchased, over the counter. Either way, it is advisable to check in with your doctor before taking melatonin, since it’s a drug that can alter brain chemistry.
There’re also these 8 Essential Vitamins And Minerals to Help You Sleep Better, depending on your needs.
The Bottom Line
Sleep is awesome! It’s the body’s way of keeping you in tip-top condition at all times. So, if you want to live in resounding health and be maximally productive day-in-day-out, then you need to make sleep a core part of your daily routine.
And while at it, remember to target 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night, as research has shown that the maximum benefits of sleep can be obtained within this time frame.
Okay, that’s it! Start small, start somewhere, pick some (or all) of these tips and incorporate them into your daily life. The result will be a resounding sleep that will open the door to improved health and productivity.