5 Strategies for Better Sleep Quality: Your "Foundation"
Updated: Mar 23, 2021
Dr. Matt Walker PhD, sleep expert, professor of psychology and neuroscience at U.C Berkeley, and author of "Why We Sleep," explains that sleep is not merely a pillar of health, but its foundation. It is no secret to most people that sleep is highly important, however our society is progressively becoming more and more sleep-deprived and plagued by chronic diseases.
So, you know you need more sleep, you want to get more sleep, but there's just "no time." Although there are often small changes that individuals can make to allow for more time for sleep, the focus of these strategies will be to improve the QUALITY of your sleep. With that said, quantity is still important. Adults should attempt to achieve 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night according to The Sleep Foundation.
1. Winding Down: You often hear about going "0 to 100," but what about "100 to 0?" When life gets busy and stressful, it can be hard to stop working on tasks from the day or worrying about the tasks of tomorrow. Give your mind and body the time to be free of these stressors for 30 minutes to an hour before your bed time. This time can be used for breathing and mindfulness exercises, gentle yoga and foam-rolling, perhaps a bath or shower! The main takeaway is, you need time to wind down and transition into a relaxing night of good sleep.
2. Light Management: Before you get too many ideas and start to "wind down" on Instagram... you should consider the light sources you are exposed to in the evenings. Your circadian rhythm, that regulates your sleep cycles, is impacted by light sources and is naturally meant to be in tune with sunlight. Many have heard of "blue light" and how it is bad for our sleep. However, this is only part of the story. Blue light occurs in sunlight and is a big reason why most of us want to be awake during the day. Blue light is also emitted from many of our electronic devices (cellphones, laptops, monitors, etc.) and when used in the evenings, can have negative impact on your sleep. Many phones and laptops have a "night mode," or "blue light filter" that can be set to turn on in the evenings. Some people wear "blue light blocking glasses." Watching TV in bed is generally avoided for the best sleep, but if necessary, use a sleep timer to turn off the TV when you're in dreamland.
3. Double Dipper... Food & Caffeine: Late dinners are not always avoidable, but pre-bed snacks usually are. Eating too soon before bed can negatively impact sleep. Try not to give your body too much of a "to-do list" while sleeping and try not to eat within the last 2 hours of your bed time. This will give your digestive system the head-start it needs and allow your body temperature to normalize when it's time for some z's. When it comes to caffeine, we love it, but it remains in our system for hours after the buzz has gone away and can still impact our sleep quality. Try not to consume caffeine within 8 hours of your bed time!
4. Temperature Regulation: This one might strike a chord with you, as it can be quite the struggle for some of us. Our body temperature needs to decrease slightly to fall asleep and maintain quality sleep. If it makes sense to do so, keeping your bedroom cooler with fans, open windows, or air conditioning can be helpful. It may seem obvious, but changing your bedding (lighter blankets and sheets for example) can be an easy variable to change. Wearing lighter pajamas (or no pajamas, when able) is yet another change you can make to help your temperature decrease. Although it may seem counterintuitive, taking a warm bath or shower before your bedtime promotes blood flow to your extremities and skin, this can actually help you cool off more efficiently when you go to bed. Another thing to consider is not elevating your body temperature too soon before bed time, this is why you may want to avoid a prolonged hot-tub or sauna session that will elevate your core temperature more than a brief bath or shower would. Eating and exercising both temporarily elevate your body temperature as well and can make it difficult to fall and stay asleep if the thermal effects linger into your sleeping time.
5. Exercise: "But you just said exercise was bad!!!!! Right?" WRONG! EXERCISE GOOD! Sorry, my inner-caveman came out temporarily. Anyway, exercise is crucial to your health in so many ways, just like sleep. But, how are they related? There is evidence to support that people who exercise regularly tend to report having better sleep than those who do not exercise regularly. Regular exercise may also help you fall asleep faster. Now, there are still ways to "exercise" closer to bedtime that will promote better sleep and not elevate your body temperature excessively. As mentioned previously, breathing exercises, gentle yoga, stretching and foam rolling all feel great and can help you wind down and relax.
Bonus Strategy: Dr. MacNeill's Deluxe Pre-bed Routine:
Setting: Living room, dimly lit, yoga mat on floor, soft and relaxing music playing, candles optional
10 Minutes: Foam Rolling and Lacrosse Ball Myofascial Release (Usually neck, shoulders, hips, and abdomen [not safe for everyone, stay tuned for instructional video]
10 Minutes: Relaxing Yoga Poses (Child's Pose, Pigeon Pose, Frog Pose, Corpse Pose)
10 Minutes: 4-7-8 Diaphragmatic Breathing (lie on your back with your feet on the ground and your knees bent, place one hand on your chest and another on your stomach, breathe through your nose, "into your stomach" for 4 counts so that your hand on your stomach rises first and furthest and the hand on your chest moves minimally, after a 4-count inhale, hold your breath for 7 counts, then exhale through your nose for 8 counts. You should be exhaling for the entire 8 counts. To add a "mindfulness component," count the numbers in your head and repeat the 4-7-8 cycle for the entire 10 minutes. When your mind drifts, come back to "1,2,3,4...1,2,3,4,5,6,7...1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8"