6 Ways to Ensure More Restful Sleep
Studies monitoring people's body weight have shown that poor sleep or sleep less than seven hours a night regularly, can lead to and result in unwanted weight gain in both children and adults. Poor sleep quality and short nights sleep have also been shown to increase hunger by not rebalance our body's hunger and satiated hormones over night. A bad night's sleep can also leave us tired, unrested and less focused during the day, this can leave us hunting for that quick fix dopamine release which we can get from eating sugary foods, increasing our overall calorie intake which results in that unwanted belly fat creeping upon us slowly. How many times have we all felt too tired to exercise? Another problem for our waistline from not getting enough sleep.
So how do we fix this? Here are six ways to ensure a better night's sleep regularly to help us not only with our physical body composition but also a happier, healthier mindset overall.
1) Non–Negotiable Eight Hours Sleep
Many sleep studies have shown that eight hours of sleep is the magic number for more restful sleep and a happier, healthier mindset. So like our parents forced us to stop what we were doing and go to bed when we were younger, we often need to parent ourselves to go to bed on time if we ever hope for the recommended magic eight hours sleep. Often this means getting up off the sofa an hour or so earlier in the evening in order to get our last minute washing up done or emptying the washing machine. Perhaps we need to iron that shirt and get our following day organized before our favourite show finishes because waiting until it's over consumes the first hour or two of that precious eight hour block.
2) Regularity of Sleep and Waking Times
After we block off eight hours of sleep and protect it from distractions, the next thing we can do to ensure great “sleep hygiene” is to practice sleep regularity. This means we go to bed at the same time each evening and wake up at the same time each morning. Easy, while lots of us use the weekdays to execute our routine and follow strict regimes, the catch is this includes the weekend!
The weekend is when we stay up as late as we want, binge watching tv shows or go socialize with friends, (we’ll get to alcohol a little later). But for the sake of what our circadian rhythm, (our internal operating clock) we need to install regularity so our brain knows when to begin the releasing the sleep onset hormones like melatonin and when to begin activating our waking up mechanisms. If we start the day at the same time, we begin to enjoy a cycle of regular timings, bathroom needs, when we get hungry and when we should eat. Strict dieters often have a daytime schedule for eating food, so the addition of a nighttime schedule for sleeping and waking will only enhance the benefits of our regular routines.
3) Manipulate the Darkness Around Us
Before electricity gave humans ever lasting brightness, we were evolving to recognize the darkening environment caused our hormones to prepare us for sleep. Now, surrounded by light from overhead bulbs and tv screens, our melatonin release is reduced. This hampers of one of primary sleep activators, and reduces the ability for our brains to drift into our deeper stages of sleep, what is called REM and NREM sleep.
We should dim the lights that surround us in the hour or two before we go to bed and switch off the overhead brighter lights for dimmer, softer bulb sidelights. Tv and laptop screens should also be kept to a minimum in the hour before we go to bed so that bright light doesn’t penetrate our vision and trick our brain into thinking it is still daytime. Most smart phones and newer laptop screens have a function for dim light screens that reduce emission of “blue light” which also prevents the release of melatonin. So check your technology and ensure you’re not being kept awake by your screens, even after you’ve turned them off.
4) 18 and Half Degrees
In colder climates there’s nothing better than jumping into a warm bed with a loved one or getting cosy with an electric blanket heating the sheets beneath us. But did you know that an optimal temperature for us to get restful sleep is about 18-19 degrees Celsius? Our brain and body together need a cooler environment to activate and sustain restful sleep, so a drop in about one degree Celsius or between two and three degrees Fahrenheit is required for optimal restful sleep, something that can prove difficult when we’re sharing a bed. Most people will agree, the hotter the room is, the more difficult it is for us to sleep.
5) Avoid Alcohol & Caffeine
When thinking about the classic nightcap to help us forget our worries and drift off, we must remember that it is deep restful sleep processes that we want our brains to cycle through overnight. When alcohol enters the brain it acts like a sedative rather than a sleep-stages enhancer and by shutting down the cortex it reduces our brain’s ability to actively cycle through REM sleep.
With the objective to wake up restored, rested and feeling energized for the day, alcohol will hamper the processes during our sleep that we need to wake up feeling good and energetic for the next day. Not only hindering these process required for restful sleep, our REM sleep is vitally important for dreaming or dream sleep. Our dream sleep is crucial for emotional and mental health to be restored over night, so a disruption in dream sleep (REM sleep) can lead to issues in these areas, that may not be immediately associated with those couple of glasses of wine we drink each evening before bed time.
When we think about caffeine, we think of a stimulant, something to wake us up and make us more alert. For most this one is a no-brainer, caffeine before bed and they’ll be awake all night. But this is not the case for everybody; many enjoy an evening cup of coffee, and find no problem falling asleep. Falling asleep after caffeine may not trouble some but when caffeine circulates through our system it is the depth of our deep sleep that is reduced. This leads us to having less restful night’s sleep and waking up in a bit of a slumber. What’s a solution? A morning cup of coffee! And so the cycle of dependency begins and continues throughout the day as more and more caffeine is recruited to help improve alertness. A better strategy would be to reduce the caffeine altogether and let the brain rest properly over night and sustain better levels of focus and energy throughout the following day.
6) Get Up & Read and a Book
Should we have the misfortune of not being able to sleep, and regularly find lie in bed counting sheep as the old wives tale dictated, well instead of staying in bed, a better practice here has been shown to be getting up and changing setting. The act of staying in bed, teaches the brain that our bed is a place where we lie down and think about stuff, not where our hormones and chemicals should trigger sleep. So instead of counting sheep (which has been shown to actually keep people more awake), keeping the rooms dimly lit and reading a book in a comfortable chair or sofa has been shown to kick-start the process of falling asleep. So as the brain begins to drift off, gently put your book down and slip off back to bed for a beautiful night’s sleep.