Many of us feel we could do with more sleep. However, the demands of modern life make this dream largely impossible. But there is an alternative. Instead of always wishing we could have time for just a little more sleep, we can improve the quality of what sleep we do get.
The following are my tips for ensuring you get the very best quality sleep possible.
Sleep in Complete Darkness
Think cave, the night refuge of prehistoric humans. Our bodies are physiologically adapted to certain environmental circumstances and our physiology has not changed in close to 100,000 years. Essentially that means you are running around in a caveman or cavewoman’s body. Which also means you body is made to sleep in complete darkness.
It has been shown through scientific research that the release of melatonin is light sensitive. Light inhibits melatonin release whenever it touches skin but the eyes are especially important. Even as much light as produced by a single candle has an effect of reducing nighttime melatonin release. These days melatonin is sold as a sleep aid. But why buy and take a synthetic chemical when you can make your own, all natural, melatonin?
It may also interest you to know that melatonin is the single most potent antioxidant known to man. Our bodies naturally enjoy a nightly melatonin bath but only if you sleep in complete darkness. You should probably also know that it takes a respectable number of hours of melatonin release before other vital hormones become activated. Some of these hormones are needed by your immune system to produce T-cells and killer cells that help you fight off cancer and disease. Sounds important, doesn’t it?
Therefore, when you sleep ensure it is dark enough that you can’t see your hand in front of your face. You will also benefit from turning the lights down a couple of hours before going to bed. This will effectively wind your body down much like dusk naturally would.
Energy from caffeine and refined sugar in processed food is fake energy to begin with. However, it might surprise you that your coffee can cause sleep quality problems up to 12 hours after your last cup. If you must have coffee to help you through the day then don’t have any after lunch. You don’t actually really need it anyway but that is a whole other article. Nicotine is also a stimulant, which will interfere with the quality of your sleep. Smokers can also experience withdrawals during the night, which will mess with your much-needed sleep.
Finally, although it isn’t a stimulant, alcohol also reduces overall quality of sleep. So you might want to rethink that nightcap. Alcohol is also a diuretic which means consumption before bed will increase your likelihood of becoming dehydrated during the night. Sleep is for recovery from the rigors of the day. Being dehydrated while sleeping is obviously not going to result in optimum recovery. More to the point once dehydrated your body acts as if it is experiencing stress. If your body is stressed it produces stress hormones such as Cortisol, which are awakening hormones. Obviously that isn’t going to help your quality of sleep.
Have an Optimal Sleeping Environment
I’ve already touched on sleeping in complete darkness. That is such a biggie that it deserved to be a point on its own. However there are a number of other beneficial things you can do to your sleeping environment that will improve your quality of sleep. This might sounds obvious but do what you can to keep the noise level down. That means turn that television off. Too many people fall asleep with the television on. The sound and the light from the TV are doing your sleep quality no favors. If you live somewhere where there is outside noise such as from traffic then take action to mask it. In my personal experience a fan is perfect. I actually sleep with a fan year round but soothing recordings of natural sounds such as waves or rain will also do.
Another reason a fan is good, even in winter, is it keeps the air moving and fresh. Again think cave. Optimal sleeping temperature conditions are slightly cool with good ventilation. Next ensure you reserve your bed for just two activities – sleep and sex. If you spend time sitting up in bed making notes for work tomorrow your bed becomes associated with thinking about work. This will make it harder for you to wind down and fall asleep.
Lastly, ensure there are no electrical devices within four feet of you. Electromagnetic radiation is bombarding you every day of your modern life. Don’t add every night to that. Your alarm clock, which is probably right near your head when you sleep, is just one source of electromagnetic radiation. Having your mobile phone on the table next to your bed is another. If you are experiencing poor quality sleep, wake up feeling drained and exhausted, try taking a look around your bedroom. If you find a TV, a sound system, electric alarm clock, an electric blanket, a mobile phone, lamps, dimmer switches, and an overhead fan all within arms reach of where you sleep then you may have just found your answer for your troubles. Make some changes and it is likely that not only your sleep will improve but your general level of health and wellbeing will also.
Get Daily Sunlight Exposure & Exercise
As I’ve mentioned above our bodies are sensitive to light and dark. I’m sure you have noticed that there are natural light dark cycles. It’s called day and night. Light is very influential over our physiology. In response to light your hormonal system naturally releases cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone that is released in response to stress. Light is one form of electromagnetic stress. Cortisol release activates the body, preparing it for movement such as combat or flight, whatever is necessary for survival. Thus light helps set your body clock. So when you first wake up open your blinds and get some sunlight or go outside for a few minutes. If you can’t do that turn your lights on. This will stimulate cortisol release and wake you up the way nature intended. You can also see how light at night after the sun has gone down is messing with your body. If work, family and money issues have you stressed don’t add to that through light toxicity. Light toxicity is over exposure to light.
As an aside you actually need about 10 to 15 minutes of sunlight each and every day to get a much-needed dose of vitamin D. That reasonable amount of sunlight is a form of good electromagnetic stress. Vitamin D is proven to help fight cancer, is needed for a healthy immune system and allows for calcium absorption in the gut. You can drink all the milk and eat all the cheese and yogurt you like but without vitamin D your body will not be able to use the calcium contained within those foods.
Finally, regular exercise, aside from the fact that it is good for you, will help you fall asleep at night and enjoy a better quality of sleep. Exercise is best in the morning or spread out during the day as exercising too late in the day has a stimulating effect on the body. A raised body temperature is not conducive to sleep. I’ve personally found stretching, loosening, and range of movement “exercises” helpful for winding down and becoming more relaxed before sleep.
So there you have it. We all want to be healthy and to be healthy requires good quality sleep. If you want to be healthy but don’t feel motivated to do what needs doing to realize that goal then you would benefit from reading my article on how to stop procrastinating, get motivated and achieve. I used the exercise I describe in that article to complete a degree within two years. Previously I had felt nothing but loathing for university studies. All that I have discussed in this article is the product of my own personal health journey. I’ve been forced to learn all about sleep. You see I battled with chronic fatigue and won. You can find my story and exactly how I overcame chronic fatigue on my website.
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This post was written by Stephen Cox of Balanced Existence. Stephen founded Balanced Existence as the medium by which he can positively impact the largest number of people possible. Balanced Existence is a reflection of the philosophy that we should be the change we want to see in the world. By documenting insights produced from his own journey of personal development it is Stephen’s humble wish to aid others, when needed, in their own journey.
Image by Mayr.