There’s an Irish proverb that goes, “A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures for anything.” I would add diet and exercise to that, but was recently in Ireland and I have a feeling that Guinness and Rugby would just result in more injuries! Hangovers and concussions aside, the proverb brings up a good point – sleep is extremely important for our health and wellbeing.
Sleeping less than seven hours per night is linked to an increased risk of obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, frequent mental stress, and all-cause mortality (1). A lack of sleep impairs cognitive performance, which may lead to reduced productivity and an increase in the likelihood of car accidents, medical error, etc.
Lack of good shut-eye is detrimental to short and long-term health. On the contrary, getting solid Z’s on a regular basis will promote health and mental functioning. There are numerous things you can do to set yourself up for a good night’s rest. Here are my top seven tips for great sleep:
- Stay Cool: It’s widely suggested that people sleep best when the thermostat sits somewhere between 60-68 degrees Fahrenheit. I think we’ve all experienced how unpleasant it is trying to sleep when it’s hot and muggy, so make a point to keep it cool. Turn down the heat in the winter, crack a window in the spring/fall, and use AC or a fan in the summer.
- Quiet Time: A quiet sleep environment is best. However, if you live on a busy street, or your upstairs neighbor is a particularly active night owl, there are things you can do to limit outside noise. Ear plugs are one option. Another option is to use “white noise” to drown out any external noise. White noise is basically the static sound you hear while flipping between radio stations (in an older car). There are phone apps and websites that play white noise for the purpose of helping you sleep. You can also turn on a fan, or play recordings of a babbling brook or rhythmic ocean waves to lull you into a deep slumber (recordings of these can be found online – I use Spotify).
- Daytime Habits: What you do during the day can influence how you sleep at night. Exercising during the day is known to help promote sleep at night. Getting outside in the sunshine or bright light during the day will help encourage sleep once it gets dark. And, as a good rule of thumb, avoid caffeine after lunch and alcoholic beverages after dinner – both can negatively impact sleep.
- Bedtime Ritual: Having a regular bedtime ritual will help your mind and body ease into “sleep mode”. Taking a warm bath, meditating, or reading are all good options. Drinking a cup of chamomile tea or taking a few whiffs of lavender will encourage a relaxed state. I try to stick to the following ritual: have a cup of chamomile tea, take the dog out, dim or turn off any unnecessary lights, spray a little lavender water mist around the room, then read (from a book, not an electronic device) until sleep starts tapping me on the shoulder.
- Into the Darkness: We’ve evolved to get sleepy as the sun goes down. Darkness stimulates the release of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep. Knowing this, turn off or turn down any unnecessary lights in your home 1-2 hours before bedtime. It is also important to keep your sleeping environment dark during the night. In fact, studies show that people living in areas with high outdoor nighttime light exposure, report delayed bedtime, delayed wake time, shorter sleep duration, increased daytime sleepiness, and more dissatisfaction with sleep quantity and quality, compared to people living in areas with low outdoor nighttime lights (2). If you live in an area with a lot of nighttime light, make sure you have good shades (blackout shades would be ideal) or use a sleep mask – whatever works to make your sleep environment dark.
- Ixnay Electronics: The use of electronic devices, such as cell phones and computers, in the 1-2 hours before bed is associated with poor sleep. People who use electronics before bed tend to stay up later, which may be due to a variety of reasons, including the type of light emitted by electronics. Compared to natural light, electronics emit more “blue light”, which appears to be really good at inhibiting the production of melatonin (remember that hormone that makes you sleepy). And electronics don’t just delay sleep, they also disrupt it. Who hasn’t been woken up by a cellphone buzzing, beeping, or lighting up? Do yourself a favor and avoid using your phone, computer, or TV in the 1-2 hours before bed. Also, keep your phone out of the bedroom, or put it on “do not disturb” mode while you sleep. Your phone doesn’t have feelings and it won’t be offended. I promise.
- Be Consistent: If you’ve ever had jet lag, you know what it feels like to throw off your body’s circadian rhythm (your body’s natural sleep/wake cycle that’s guided by the daylight/darkness cycle). Having a regular bedtime and wake time can be extremely beneficial, as it solidifies your circadian rhythm. Set a bedtime and wake time that allows at least seven hours of sleep and stick to that schedule. In time, you may not even need an alarm clock!
Humans and bats prefer similar sleep environments (except the whole nocturnal thing). We like an environment that is cool, dark, quiet, and free of distractions. Following these seven tips will put you in the position to get an undisturbed, restful night’s sleep, which in turn will boost your day-to-day and long-term health.