Most of us have experienced a lack of sleep at some point in our lives – from staying up late studying for exams, to job commitments, or a newborn baby. Though we may prove to be resilient by making it through the day with little sleep, this type of long-term habit is detrimental to health.

Today I’m writing about:

The Importance of Sleep

Sleep is an important physiological function that maintains the integrity of the immune, endocrine, and nervous systems. It’s also important for memory function – with beneficial effects on the brain’s process of crystallizing recent memories into long-term memory called memory consolidation. Short naps have also been shown to improve cognitive performance and alertness.

Lack of sleep can result in numerous detrimental effects:

 
The consequences of sleep loss are preventable by taking care of our bodies and allowing ourselves adequate rest time. By following the 10 tips on how to sleep well, we can allow our natural circadian clock to trigger the appropriate hormone responses that let us fall into a deep and restful slumber. Try implementing one or a few of the tips and see how well rested you wake up tomorrow.

How to Sleep Well: 10 Tips for Better Sleep Tonight

#1. Dim the lights 1 to 2 hours before bedtime

Studies have shown that the exposure to room light before bedtime suppresses melatonin levels, the key regulating hormone of the sleep-wake cycle in humans. Turn off the big room light and instead spend the last couple of hours before bed relaxing to candlelight or low lighting.

#2. Read before bed

Reading in a relaxing environment is a good way to prepare the body for sleep. Reading takes the mind away from the day’s events or from planning what you have to do the next day. This in turn allows you to fall asleep quickly to be energized for the next day.

 
 

#3. Reflect on the day a few hours before bed

As soon as our head hits the pillow we tend to think about the day’s events, stress over deadlines, or plan what we need to get done tomorrow. Instead of leaving these tasks for the end of the day, plan to think about these things earlier in the evening. Set aside 10-20 minutes a few hours before bed to allow yourself to just reflect on your day and plan your to-do list. This way, when you’re ready to doze off you can sleep with ease without having so many things on your mind.

#4. Spend some time in the outdoor daylight

The main regulator of the sleep-wake rhythm of the human body is the hormone melatonin. This hormone is secreted by the pineal gland, which is directly influenced by light. During the daytime melatonin secretion is suppressed, whereas at nighttime melatonin levels are high. These secretions and the circadian clock work closely together to promote sleepiness and restful sleep. Thus exposure to natural light not only ensures a regular circadian rhythm, but also wakes us up and makes us feel energized in the mornings.

#5. Reduce caffeine consumption in the afternoon

Many people consume coffee or other caffeinated drinks due to the effects on increasing energy availability, decreasing fatigue, enhancing cognitive performance, among other stimulating effects. Though these benefits may be useful in the mornings, reaching for that afternoon cup of coffee may be preventing you from falling asleep faster or staying asleep throughout the night. If you feel like you need a boost of energy in the afternoon, instead try to do some light exercising or going for a walk. This will increase the blood flow throughout your body, especially if you are sitting for long periods of time during the day.

#6. Regular exercise

Exercise has an amazing effect on the quality of sleep. Studies have shown the effectiveness of exercise in helping promote sleep, as well as on improving sleep quality and reducing daytime sleepiness. Make an effort to fit in some physical activity at least 3 days a week to experience the benefits of exercise on sleep.

#7. Do not eat right before bed

Research has shown that eating close to bedtime negatively impacts sleep quality. To avoid hunger pangs when you’re trying to fall asleep, opt for a light snack containing tryptophan (an amino acid) 1 – 2 hours before bed. These foods include dairy products such as cheese and yogurt, nuts and seeds, poultry and seafood, and legumes such as beans, peanuts, and lentils. Studies have shown that consumption of tryptophan is helpful in promoting sleep.

 

#8. Maintain a sleep schedule

Another great way to start sleeping better is by maintaining a regular sleep schedule by getting up and going to bed around the same times everyday. This will ensure that you’re getting enough sleep every night, and not trying to make up for lack of sleep during the work week on the weekend.

#9. Take a warm bath

The warming effect of a relaxing hot bath has a positive influence on the quality of sleep. Studies have shown that hot baths promote significantly deeper and more restful sleep. Unwinding with a bath after a long or stressful day is a great way to help you relax and obtain good quality sleep.
 

#10. Ensure complete darkness in the room

Even the smallest source of light from a street post into the bedroom can disrupt restful sleep. This also includes any flashes or glows from electronic devices such as a TV or cell phone. Make sure to eliminate all sources of light by using thick blinds or curtains and keeping electronics out of sight.

The Bottom Line

As you can see, many of these tips are quite simple and can easily be implemented for better sleep tonight. Let me know in the comments below which one(s) you try out and how well it worked for you!

References

Gómez-González B, Domínguez-Salazar E, Hurtado-Alvarado G, Esqueda-Leon E, Santana-Miranda R, et al. (2012) Role of sleep in the regulation of the immune system and the pituitary hormones. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1261:97-106.

Nere A, Hashmi A, Cirelli C, Tononi G. (2013) Sleep-dependent synaptic down-selection (I): modeling the benefits of sleep on memory consolidation and integration. Front Neurol. 4:143.

Mulrine HM1, Signal TL, van den Berg MJ, Gander PH. (2012) Post-sleep inertia performance benefits of longer naps in simulated nightwork and extended operations. Chronobiol Int. 29(9):1249-57.

Faraut B1, Boudjeltia KZ, Dyzma M, Rousseau A, David E, et al. (2011) Benefits of napping and an extended duration of recovery sleep on alertness and immune cells after acute sleep restriction. Brain Behav Immun. 25(1):16-24.

Laila AlDabal and Ahmed S BaHammam. (2011) Metabolic, Endocrine, and Immune Consequences of Sleep Deprivation. Open Respir Med J. 5: 31–43.

Luca Imeri and Mark R. Opp. (2009) How (and why) the immune system makes us sleep. Nat Rev Neurosci. 10(3): 199–210.

Paula Alhola and Päivi Polo-Kantola. (2007) Sleep deprivation: Impact on cognitive performance. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 3(5): 553–567.

Touma C, Pannain S. (2011) Does lack of sleep cause diabetes? Cleve Clin J Med. 78(8):549-58.

Joshua J. Gooley, Kyle Chamberlain, Kurt A. Smith, Sat Bir S. Khalsa, Shantha M. W., et al. (2011) Exposure to Room Light before Bedtime Suppresses Melatonin Onset and Shortens Melatonin Duration in Humans. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 96(3): E463–E472.

G M Brown. (1994) Light, melatonin and the sleep-wake cycle. J Psychiatry Neurosci. 19(5): 345–353.

West KE1, Jablonski MR, Warfield B, Cecil KS, James M, et al. (2011) Blue light from light-emitting diodes elicits a dose-dependent suppression of melatonin in humans. J Appl Physiol (1985). 110(3):619-26.

Glade MJ. (2010) Caffeine-Not just a stimulant. Nutrition. 26(10):932-8.

O’Connor PJ, Youngstedt SD. (1995) Influence of exercise on human sleep. Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 23:105-34.

Cibele Aparecida Crispim, Ioná Zalcman Zimberg, Bruno Gomes dos Reis, Rafael Marques Diniz, Sérgio Tufik, et al. (2011) Relationship between Food Intake and Sleep Pattern in Healthy Individuals. J Clin Sleep Med. 7(6): 659–664.

Peuhkuri K, Sihvola N, Korpela R. (2012) Diet promotes sleep duration and quality. Nutr Res. 32(5):309-19.

Dorsey CM, Lukas SE, Teicher MH, Harper D, Winkelman JW, et al. (1996) Effects of passive body heating on the sleep of older female insomniacs. J Geriatr Psychiatry Neurol. 9(2):83-90.

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