Unless you’ve been living on a remote island (in which case you probably get great sleep already), you have probably heard about how important sleep is for our health and how the majority of us are not getting enough quality sleep.
We spend about one-third of our time on Planet Earth asleep. That’s about 16 hours a night as infants, 9 hours as teens and 7 to 8 hours as adults. Along with eating, drinking and breathing, sleeping is one of the pillars for maintaining good mental and physical health. Ultimately, we would die if we did not sleep.
So you know the importance of quality sleep, just like you know the importance of a good diet for your health. But knowing and doing are two different things. Simply knowing isn’t going to make it happen, you need to put simple strategies in place to enable you to sleep optimally.
Sleep is definitely one extremely important aspect of my health that I have a personal battle with. Routinely I set my alarm for 4.30am to wake up for work, and I don’t get to bed until after 11pm. Its easy to make the excuse that I have too much work to do, I have to juggle two jobs, I need to go to Crossfit etc. If I am honest with myself however, I find it really hard switching off and unwinding, relaxing is certainly not my forte. I have a ‘type A’ personality and if I feel like something needs to be done, sleep comes second.
I’m still a work in progress for being able to stop working and get to bed early, but I’ve found several factors that really improve my sleep quality and make it easier to fall asleep quickly.
How to create the perfect sleep environment
If you look at it statistically, you can see that we spend as much or more time in our beds as we do anywhere else, so it is important to make sure that your sleep environment is promoting sleep rather than hindering it. Remember, your bedroom is your sanctuary from the stresses of the day you want to make sure you create the best environment for sleep.
Loose the light
Research has demonstrated that night-time light exposure suppresses the production of melatonin, the major hormone secreted by the pineal gland that controls sleep and wake cycles. So you can see how the presence of even a small amount of blue light in the bedroom at night can reduce vital melatonin levels and disrupt sleep.
I bet many of you think that you are sleeping in darkness, but what about the mini light sources like digital clocks, mobile phones charging, TV lights and other tiny light sources. I bet you forget about those!
Why should you be concerned?
It seems crazy but melatonin suppression has far worse consequences than simply poor sleep outcomes: it has also been shown to increase the risk of cancer, impair immune system function, and possibly lead to type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity, and heart disease. With serious consequences like these, preventing melatonin suppression should be way up there in your priorities for a healthy lifestyle.
What to do:
- Make sure that your bedroom is a dark as possible.
- Cover light sources and remove any unnecessary electronics
- If you have artificial light outside, invest in some blackout curtains to cover windows
- For added effect wear an Eye Mask
Get your geek on
From the information stated above you can see how badly blue light exposure can affect your health, however it is not just blue light exposure in your bedrooms. Using products such as tablets, smartphones, and other devices with self-luminous electronic displays in the hours before bed are major sources for suppressing melatonin at night, thereby reducing sleep duration and disrupting sleep.
What I have to toss out my iPhone?
In a nutshell no, since it is predominantly the blue light that is most affective in melatonin suppression, it makes sense that blocking this light should be enough to significantly reduce, or even eliminate the melatonin-suppressing effects of night-time light exposure.
So what are the possible solutions for reducing your exposure to blue light at night?
- lux, is a program that makes the colour of your computer’s display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day. This program can be installed on computers, iPads, and iPhones, and may have a significant effect on your melatonin secretion when using these devices at night. The best part about this program is that it turns on automatically in response to the daylight in your particular time zone, so there’s no need to remember any adjustments to the screen.
- Wear amber-lensed glasses once the sun has gone down, they way seem geeky but they work wonders! Chris Kresser has done tonnes of research in this area and says:
“These blue-blocking lenses are highly effective in reducing the effects of blue light exposure, and in most cases completely eliminate the short-wavelength radiation necessary for nocturnal melatonin suppression. (22, 23, 24). These goggles have been shown to improve sleep quality as well as mood, simply by blocking blue light and simulating physiologic darkness. The main reason I recommend using these goggles is because normal room light alone is enough to suppress melatonin at night, and unless you’re shutting off all the lights in your house when the sun sets, you’re still at risk for disrupting your melatonin-driven circadian rhythms. (25)”
So be a geek, amber-coloured glasses are one of the only tools available to completely eliminate all blue light exposure at night, without turning off the power of your entire house after 7 PM.
There are two excellent (and cheap!) options for amber-lensed glasses on Amazon. The cheapest and most popular option is the Uvex brand, but if you wear eyeglasses you’ll need to get a wraparound pair like the Solarshield brand. If you can get over the geekiness factor, you may find they make a big difference in your sleep quality, and perhaps even your general health and wellbeing as well.
Keep your room cool
The temperature of your bedroom also affects sleep. Your body temperature naturally cools slightly during sleep, and this occurs most easily when your bedroom is at certain temperatures. A bedroom that is too hot or too cold can affect sleep quality and can even reduce the quality of REM sleep. Most people sleep best in a slightly cool room (around 65° F or 18° C) with adequate ventilation.
What to do:
- Make sure that you keep your bedroom cool at a temperature that is right for you.
- Wear bed socks if you feel like you get chilly throughout the night.
- Use cotton sheets.
Make sure your bed is comfortable
It may seem obvious, but many of us keep with the same mattress or pillow for years, even if we often wake up with a sore back or aching neck! I know that I used to be one of them, I would constantly moan about how un-comfy my bed was but it took me a long time to do something about it.
What to do:
- Look at investing in a new mattress or a trying a different pillow. Experiment with different levels of mattress firmness, foam, and pillows that provide more or less support. Finding the right mattress can be a long and expensive road, so make sure you do your research!
- Try putting a pillow between your legs and one behind your back. I know that this has transformed the way that my boyfriend now sleeps!
Keep noise down
If you can’t avoid or eliminate noise from other people in your household, noises outside, barking dogs or loud neighbours, what can you do about it apart from investing in a white noise machine or some ear plugs?
Instead you can make sure you have the right kind of noise. There is fantastic app called Sleep Genius, which provides soothing ambient noise without the high-pitched white noise frequencies found in most sound machines and apps.
There are two options for this:
Sleep Genius App (inexpensive): Sleep Genius makes this simple app that provides the correct frequencies of ambient noise that won’t raise cortisol or impair mental function and that help the brain sleep more restfully. Be sure to turn your phone on airplane mode at night (to avoid call/text interruptions and the wi-fi and mobile phone mast signal).
Sleep Genius Sound System: This system has speakers and an iPod shuffle loaded with the Sleep Genius tracks. It is wired and does not require a smart phone.
Put Your Feet Up…
This is actually done before bed, I find it a free and effective hack that can really improve sleep quality and help you to fall asleep more quickly.
How does this work?
The theory is that since most of us are sitting or standing for the majority of the day, blood and lymph fluid can collect in the legs and this can actually affect cortisol patterns. To counteract this putting your legs up at a 90-degree angle before bed can help this fluid drain and can also help balance cortisol levels.
What to do:
For about 30 minutes before bed, lay on a flat surface and put your feet up on a couple feet higher at a 90-degree angle. What I find most comfortable is when reading in bed I stack pillows under my legs, or I lay on the floor with my legs and feet up on the sofa. Essentially, it should look like you are in the sitting position, but with your back on the bed or floor.
Get some air
The air that you breathe at night will also have a big impact on your ability to get a good night’s sleep. Many people do not realise that indoor air is often up to 70 times more polluted than outdoor air. The Harvard School of Public Health found that poor indoor air quality increased the risk of sleep disorders, including sleep apnoea, which is one of the fastest growing sleep disorders. Indoor air pollution and the resulting sleep disorders may also increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. This makes sense because we are sedentary and indoors at night, and are breathing more indoor air.
What to do:
- If you live out of a city sleep with your window open at night (or at least slightly open) so that you can breathe fresh air at night.
- Invest in some house plants. Research shows that house plants are an effective way to clean indoor air, NASA used plants to purify air in space facilities. The great thing is that plants are nice to look at and some research shows that just like spending time in nature, seeing plants on a regular basis can help reduce stress and improve mental outlook.
- Air filters, three inexpensive ways to clean indoor air are Bamboo Charcoal bags, Salt Lamps and Beeswax Candles also.
- The most effective options are air purifiers like the Fellowes Allergy UK Approved AeraMax DX55 Air Purifier with True HEPA Filter. It Captures 99.7% of airborne particles, including pollen, house dust mite allergen, and cat and dog allergens. Endorsed with the Seal of Approval from Allergy U.K . You can also get cheaper ones like the HoMedics HEPA Professional Air Purifier.
I hope that some of these tips will be as helpful to you as they are to me. I hope that you will experiment and figure out how to make your own perfect sleep environment ensuring you sleep optimally.
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