Sleep. It’s essential for our health and well-being, and it is the cornerstone of performance. Each one of us has a different relationship with sleep (some would probably say complicated relationship), but we all need to be aware of its importance, and take the steps we can to promote quality sleep. Improving our sleep doesn’t just mean considering our nights, but also rethinking our habits during the day, which have a great impact on the quality and quantity of our sleep. Changing lifestyle habits may not be an easy thing to do, but it has the potential to dramatically better our sleep towards more restful nights.
In honor of Sleep Awareness Week, here’s a review of the most imperative actions to take in order to maintain healthy sleep hygiene.
Make your bedroom environment sleep-friendly
Asking yourself how to improve sleep? Start with your bedroom environment. Optimizing your sleep space by putting some thought into its look and feel can help welcome more restful nights. Keep the temperature low, make sure there’s no noise that interferes with your sleep, and keep the bedroom as dark as you can.
During sleep, our body is meant to naturally cool down as part of the normal regulation of the sleep-wake circadian rhythm, and that’s why it’s important to make sure that your bedroom’s temperature is cool enough (between 60F-67F). If you find it too cold, cover yourself with a blanket, as it won’t change the effect on your sleep.
It’s imperative that our sleep environment is silent enough to encourage quality sleep. Noise can interrupt our sleep, causing us to move, shift between stages of sleep, and eventually wake up. If there’s uncontrolled noise around your sleep environment, try using white noise to mask unwanted sounds. These artificial monotone sounds are constant and therefore not prone to waking you up.
As evening approaches and the light in our environment dwindles, the hormone melatonin begins to rise and body temperature falls, both of which help us become less alert and more likely to welcome sleep. Exposure to light during the evening hours delays the naturally timed rise of melatonin, which interferes with the body’s transition to sleep. Try wearing and eye mask to protect against intrusive light, or use curtains and shades on windows to keep light from disturbing your sleep.
Give up gadgets before bedtime
We all have an internal clock that regulates the sleep-wake cycle, as well as many of our body’s functions. It increases melatonin secretion which tells the body that it’s time to go to sleep, sets the time we wake up and even controls when we feel most alert. Spending hours in front of electronic screens such as computers, smartphones or tablets, results in exposure to light in the blue range of the spectrum. While this may not cause any issues during the day time, this blue light limits the production of melatonin. Thus, this blue artificial light coming from your smartphone of laptop interferes with your sleep-wake cycle, reducing deep sleep and causing difficulties with sleep onset. To best prepare for sleep, make sure to limit your evening exposure to blue light. Try reading a book or doing anything else you find relaxing during the hour before bedtime. If you find it too difficult to give up those gadgets, try switching your phone to night-mode to reduce blue light exposure to minimum.
Cut back on caffeine
Sleep onset is regulated by two processes that work in synergy. One of them is referred to as the Sleep Drive, which increases gradually with wake time. We often feel this as daytime sleepiness, which increases across the day and into the night. During this period, a sleep promoting material, called Adenosine, accumulates in the brain as a result of being active. When Adenosine binds to its receptors in the brain, it affects the activity of neurons causing them to slow down, and leads you to feel sleepy.
When we consume food or drinks containing caffeine, it is absorbed from our digestive system into our blood stream and crosses the blood-brain-barrier where it competes with Adenosine, by binding to the same receptors but not producing the same effect, thereby blocking its sleep promoting influence. In fact, sometimes we consume caffeine for that same reason - to keep us awake when we begin to feel sleepy yet need to keep alert. However, caffeine may also harm our sleep by making it harder to fall asleep, reducing deep sleep, sleep intensity, total sleep time, and even worsening our sleep quality. Using caffeine to mask sleep loss can create an unwelcome vicious cycle. For example, you may drink caffeinated beverages because you have trouble staying awake during the day, but it actually keeps you from falling asleep at night and shortening the length of time you sleep.
An upper level 400 mg of caffeine a day appears to be safe for most healthy adults. This is an equivalent of about 4 cups of coffee a day. However, individuals differ in the way they metabolize caffeine and thus is the extent to which is affects our sleep or alertness. As we tend to be more vulnerable to caffeine’s effect with increasing age, lower body weight, women vs. men and as a result of our genetic predisposition, it may be advisable to begin a change in caffeine intake by a gradual change relative to our own habits and caffeine sensitivity.
Dayzz Sleep App constantly guides you on how to sleep better. Get your personalized sleep training plan to master more sleep hygiene essentials; adopt daytime habits which are conducive to sleep, practice various mindfulness exercises to get your mind ready for sleep, stick to a new sleep schedule that’s personalized for you, and much more. Ready? Begin your journey for more restful nights with a quick, personal sleep assessment!