By now i’m sure you’ve grasped the importance of getting enough sleep, if you haven’t then I give up. Hopefully though you have and now you want to know how to get a sound night’s sleep.
The big question is though, what’s causing our poor sleep habits? Because although short sleep duration is bad for us. Obviously we didn’t all just decide to start getting up earlier and going to bed later everyday. The amount of sunlight we have is no different, so what gives?
The answer is our modern lifestyles and to a large extent technology specifically laptops, mobile phones, tablets, televisions and similar devices. Unlike yesteryear when TV’s were only in one room of the house. Checking email required a 10 minute wait for the PC to load and people still used post more than email, this was not a problem. Nowadays though checking emails, watching TV and replying to texts just before bed is completely normal.
Checking email, watching a late-night movie, or responding to a text message in bed seems innocent enough. However the sleep disruption caused by these light emitting devices is significant and potentially harmful to your health.
Research has demonstrated that nighttime light exposure suppresses the production of melatonin. The major hormone secreted by the pineal gland that controls sleep and wake cycles. (8) A reduction in melatonin at night is associated with less tiredness and inability to fall asleep at a reasonable time, meaning we stay awake longer. (9,10) Alas as we already know, poor sleep does more than just make you feel tired sleep. Regrettably, on top of the detrimental effects reduced sleep has, melatonin reduction has its own consequences. These include increasing the risk of cancer, impairing immune system function and increasing our likelihood of type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity, and heart disease. (11,12,13)
With serious consequences like these, preventing melatonin suppression and improving sleep quality should be a top priority.
So let’s have a look at how to improve sleep.
First we need to set some ground rules. Obviously it’s not just about how long we sleep for, but also the quality of that sleep we get. Instead of just saying we want 7-9 hours of sleep, we also want uninterrupted sleep, from the time we fall asleep until we wake up. No getting up in the middle of the night etc…If we do that it’s not good sleep..
Next we want to make sure the sleep we get is nice and deep, so we feel refreshed the next morning. This basically means we need to know our body produces plenty of melatonin when we sleep. This is our key sleep hormone, it helps us relax and is an extremely powerful antioxidant with many benefits.
If we get all these things done properly, we can say we are sleeping well and everything is awesome. So a good night’s sleep should look like this:
- Between 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep, no waking up in the middle of the night
- Sleep must be deep and of good quality
- When we wake up, we feel refreshed and full of energy. Often waking up before the alarm. This shows our cortisol woke us up by naturally raising throughout the night to a peak in the morning.
To do this i’m going to give you a few steps that all help promote deep good quality sleep. With a side effect of helping increase melatonin production, growth hormone production, testosterone levels , decrease cortisol and improve leptin and ghrelin levels. Thus having the huge knock on effect of:
Decreasing hunger cravings, helping you lose weight
Improving your ability to recover and build muscle
Increasing energy levels, concentration and sex drive
Slashing the risk of many nasty illnesses
Along with probably a lot more indirect benefits
- Make your room dark, really dark – Basically your room should be like a cave from the stone age period, no light apart from sunshine can get in. So if you live in a busy street with night lamps, get some black out blinds, turn everything in your bedroom completely off, not on standby, off! This is because even a small amount of light can disrupt melatonin production and hinder quality sleep.(4) So get black blinds, turn all lights off and TV’s off, phone’s off and preferably not even in the same room. If you do this, you’ll sleep far better and reap the rewards adequate sleep gives you.
- Make your room as quiet as possible.
Noise will probably wake you up and disrupt your sleep, so do everything in your power to make your room quiet. That could just be turning your phone off so you don’t receive those 11 or 12pm text messages. It could be taking a loud clock out of your room. However if you live on a busy street, getting some ear plug is another way around things and could be a worthwhile investment.
- Make your room cold – For most people, the ideal temperature for sleep is somewhere between 16 and 20 degrees C. You’ll have to experiment to find what feels good, but the first sign of good sleep is a chilly bed. If you shiver when you get underneath the sheets, you’re good to go.(5)
- Decrease light or more specifically blue light 1 hour before bed – As i’ve mentioned quite a few times by now, light really screws up our melatonin production and hinders the ability to sleep well. However it’s not just during sleep that light affects how well we sleep and of what quality it is. Over exposure to light within the hour or two before we go to bed is also very negative for good sleep. It is not just the release of melatonin during sleep that is vital for perfect sleep. The release of melatonin before we fall asleep is also essential as it assists in making us feel tired and fall into a deep sleep faster meaning we are less likely to wake up, meaning we stay in a deep restful sleep.
Recent research has shown however that it is not just any old light than suppresses melatonin, it is specifically blue light. It seems that orange light, such as that from a fire has very little effect on melatonin production. However blue light from electrical devices and light bulbs suppresses melatonin production a lot. This means when we go off to sleep, we will have very low melatonin levels and either end up lying in bed struggling to sleep. Or fall asleep, but while you sleep for the first 1-2 hours the body is in a sort of catch up where it is actually just winding down, releasing the melatonin it would’ve during the hour before bed if you hadn’t been surrounded by blue light.
This means although you might sleep for 8 hours, it could be that for the first two hours, although you are asleep. It is only a very light sleep while your body starts to produce melatonin. It is only once you’ve released enough melatonin during your sleep that you fall into a deep restful sleep. So you see it could be that every-night you get 8 hours sleep, only 6 hours sleep is deep and restful.
Meaning in a matter of fact, you are actually sleep deprived, explaining why even though it seems you get enough sleep, you’re often still tired during the day.
The question is then, how do you solve this problem and make sure your body starts to produce melatonin within the hour before bed and give you that deep restful sleep linked with decreased food cravings, a better body, more energy and a whole host of other good things?
You decrease your exposure to blue light, as I started to explain before going off on a tangent, blue light such as the type you find emitted from phones, laptops TV’s and lightbulbs has a far better effect at suppressing melatonin than any other form of light, meaning you don’t need to remove all light within the hour or two before bed, just blue light.
This research then gives to an interesting conclusion of how to best reduce blue light and drastically improve your sleep quality. The first option is to turn everything electrical off in the house 1-2 hours before bed. This however for many of us is a bit too extreme. Another option many people use is a device for all your laptops, tablets and smartphones called F.lux or a similar app. Once you download this program it automatically changes the colour spectrum of your device as the day goes on. Once the sun goes down it becomes much softer and produces an orange coloured screen reducing your exposure of blue light, helping you sleep better.
However although useful, this program still doesn’t combat the main culprit which is artificial light. Think light bulbs and TV’s etc…
Luckily since it is predominantly blue light that blocks melatonin production, there is one final option. This option allows you to keep using your phone and everything else electrical right up until before bed. This is to use amber-lensed goggles/glasses as unless you turn everything in the house off by 8pm. It’s impossible not to have some form of light disrupt your circadian rhythms. However when the blue light from these devices is blocked, via amber-lensed goggles melatonin production continues to be released as normal. Meaning even though someone could be surrounded by blue light, blocking it with amber-lensed goggles, you still get a great night’s sleep.
Although wearing amber classes around the house might sound a little idiotic or geeky. The fact of the matter is, unless you go back to living like a cavemen, nothing works better than wearing amber-lensed goggles. Research with randomized trials has proven that wearing amber-lensed goggles to block blue light improves sleep quality and mood.
Amber-lensed goggles are also very cheap and although seem silly, are far easier than turning everything in your house off. Yet they are extremely effective for improving sleep quality. The first time I used amber-lensed goggles from 1 hour before bed I was shocked at hour well I slept. I slept right through the night no problem and woke up naturally feeling refreshed, it was literally one of the best nights sleep I’d had in years.
If you want better sleep I strongly recommend getting some amber-lensed classes and wearing them from about 8-9pm onwards. Keeping them on until you turn all the lights off right before you go to bed. Amber-lensed classes can easily be found on Amazon. I use amber-lensed driving glasses, they work great and only cost £10. Definitely one of the best investments you will ever make.
You could also download F.lux, then if you do wake up and look at your phone or use your laptop and forget your amber glasses, you still have the blue light blocked.
- Relax before bed – Read, write, meditate, listen to calming music. Our stress hormones should be declining before bed and we should be winding down as our day nears to the end. If you want to have the best night sleep possible then you should be aiding this process. One of the best ways to do it, is to focus on relaxing activities before bed.
This is where you should start to make your own sleep ritual. Although everyone is going to be different and what relaxes one person may aggravate another. So find what works for you, try listening to music that helps relax you. Focusing on a few minutes of deep breathing and possibly meditating or reading a book. These are all great habits to help you relax and fall asleep easily.
- Make sleep a priority – This one sounds obvious, yet the point still stands. If you want to get enough sleep, make a point of going to bed at a reasonable time. If you want to get 8 hours sleep and need to be up at 7am, don’t watch TV until 11.30pm. Instead make sure you are in bed by 10.30pm and winding down so you actually fall asleep by 11pm. Simply making sure you are in bed at a reasonable time can be one of the best ways to get enough sleep. Often we fall asleep on the sofa only to wake up a few hours later, this is not a productive sleep pattern.
Take yourself to bed at a time you know will make sure you get enough sleep. If you don’t do this you really cannot expect to get a good night’s sleep. Therefore this step is simple, take yourself off to bed once you know that you need to be asleep. This ensures enough hours of actual sleep.
- Limit Caffeine and other stimulants to no later than 12-4pm.
Caffeine has a half-life in the body of around 5 hours before its effects start to completely wear off. Meaning if you have a coffee at 4pm, you won’t be able to fully relax until 9pm. Therefore it is best to limit the consumption of caffeine containing beverages to no later than 4pm. In general it is better to stop well before this as everyone is affected differently by caffeine. It could quite easily be that 4pm is too late for you. Remember caffeine creates a stress response and elevates cortisol and other hormones. This is not necessarily a bad thing as at certain times cortisol wants to be naturally high.(6)
However cortisol only wants to be naturally high in the morning hours of the day. Therefore drinking things such as coffee later than 12pm will start to upset this cycle and could cause a dysregulation sleep wake cycle. Meaning you start to feel wired in the evening and tired in the morning when you wake up. The total opposite of how it should be.
Limit caffeinated beverages such as coffee, green tea and similar stimulants to the early morning. This will help keep the natural cycle balanced and allow you to wind down and sleep properly. For the best sleep quality avoid stimulants from 4pm at the latest and preferably 12pm.