If you’d like to get better at sleep (and subsequently life) we have good news: you totally can! Here’s how, according to the sleep experts.
“Within the brain, sleep enriches our ability to learn, memorize, and make logical decisions. It re-calibrates our emotions, restocks our immune system, fine-tunes our metabolism, and regulates our appetite. – Mathew Walker, PhD. Why We Sleep.
A good night’s shut eye is becoming a common cure-all prescription and turning out to be one of the most productive things we can do to build physical, mental and emotional resilience. But we’re not all equally efficient at it, and who knew: our genes are partially to blame for our individual snoozing tendencies.
Until quite recently, we haven’t taken our sleep as seriously as we perhaps should of, often wearing tiredness like a commendable badge of honor; a glorified symptom of hard work and ambition.
But the consequences of sleep deprivation are hardly aspirational: Chronic insomnia is linked to an increased risk of developing hypertension, anxiety, Type 2 diabetes, heart attack, depression, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and premature death.
Scientists are only just beginning to better understand how our bodies deal with sleep and sleep deprivation but health experts everywhere agree that good quality sleep is fundamental to human health and longevity.
If better sleep quality is what you’re after, here’s what the research in the field of sleep medicine suggests:
1. Stick to a sleep schedule. Set an alarm for bed time
A sleep schedule makes for healthier sleep. “Often we set an alarm for when it’s time to wake up but fail to do so for when it’s time to go to sleep” says neuroscientists and director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California Dr. Matthew Walker who says setting an alarm for bedtime to go to sleep at the same time every day is his top tip for healthy sleep (Walker is the author of the international bestseller “Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams.” )
The main thing you can do to get in sync with your circadian rhythm is to fall asleep and wake up at the same times each morning and night (including the weekends!) It takes some experimentation to figure out what your optimal sleep and wake time is, but ideally you want to be getting 7-9 hours a night, and be waking up 5-10 minutes before your alarm goes off. Easier said than done, but worth figuring out so be patient and persist! No good habit was built in a day.
2. Get outside in the morning: The right sunlight exposure makes for deeper sleep
Your brain sets its circadian rhythm through exposure to light. Daylight helps us to regulate daily sleep patterns and morning light is key. Sleep experts recommend getting an hour of exposure to sunlight in the morning for 30-60 mins each day.
BTW: Regular exercise is generally a natural sleep booster but late evening exercise has been associated with trouble falling asleep for some, so morning outdoor exercise is a good 2 birds – one – stone sleep hack.
Via the same circadian-driven mechanism, keeping the lights dim at night and avoiding exposure to blue light (the kind from your screens), especially within 1-2 hours of bed-time, is recommended for better sleep quality. If avoiding screens at night isn’t possible for you, try wearing blue-light blocking glasses or install an app like f.lux on your computer or phone.
Keep your bedroom dark. If needed, use light-blocking black-out curtains/blinds, or a sleep mask. Keep bright gadget lights out of the bedroom (if your clock is bright, dim the settings or cover the light).
3. More than noise, manage your room’s temperature
Research has shown that temperature affects sleep more than noise, showing that we sleep better if the temperature in the room is kept cooler. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the best sleep happens in a room that’s around 60 to 67 degrees F (15 to 19 degrees C) for adults and children, and between 65 and 70 degrees F (18 to 21 degrees C) for babies and toddlers.
As bedtime approaches, your temperature starts to drop to get your body into sleep mode and to settle into REM sleep. A warm room prevents your body from reaching its optimal sleep temperature, causing a restless night sleep and for some, even insomnia.
4. Go easy on stimulants
Coffee is not the only sleep thief out there. In fact, a cup of jo is not the villain we once thought it was. But caffeine is still a stimulant that could get in the way of a good night’s sleep, along with nicotine and certain foods like chocolate and after-dinner sugary snacks as well as alcohol. Although it may feel like a drink or two can help you relax before bed, it does later disrupt sleep quality by reducing stage 5 sleep or REM. Stanford Health Care states that alcohol speeds the onset of sleep, but causes wakefulness in the second half of the night, counteracting the perceived benefit.
5. Establish a personalized night-time routine
Every night, actively prepare your body and mind for sleep. Relaxing activities such as reading or listening to music or taking a hot bath or shower are some good options to try (the drop in body temperature after getting out of the bath/shower may help you feel sleepy).
At least an hour or two before bed, turn the lights down, put away gadgets, and maybe do a meditation, a relaxing stretch or a guided breathing exercise.
Your circadian rhythm is unique to you. Meet your CLOCK genes:
Sleep behavior, circadian rhythms, and sleep quality is largely influenced by our genes. The so-called CLOCK genes, in particular, regulate circadian rhythms that govern not only when we wake and sleep but also when we produce certain important hormones and how we metabolize nutrients.
Our sleep/wake cycle influences whether we tend to prefer mornings or evenings and when we might perform at our best in terms of mental and physical performance.
Disrupted circadian rhythms can increase our risk for weight gain, high blood sugar levels, and other unwanted health outcomes.
Find out if a 3X4 Genetics test could help you make personalized daily choices on your journey to better health.
Genetic testing and knowing your sleep-related gene variants can deepen your understanding of how you might be able to not only optimize the quality of your sleep but also use your natural rhythms to your advantage to meet other personal goals related to your work, weight, workouts, and more!