I recently read the book Sleep Smarter, which prompted me to write about the importance of quality sleep. Growing up, I would normally take at least 20 mins or longer to fall asleep. I never slept on planes or cars naturally. I was a terrible napper, I would set my alarm for 15 min nap, and never nap during that time. I would be envious of my brother who could literally sleep anywhere, at any time, including some hilarious situations in which he was standing up! I used to think that to have good sleep meant having and good mattress and fluffy expensive pillows but I’ve come to learn its much more than that.
When your sleep suffers, there are major consequences to your mental, emotional and physical performance:
- Your key relationships suffer from being irritable and impatient,
- Your work productivity declines,
- Your cortisol (a key stress hormone) levels are higher,
- You increase the risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, depression, Alzheimer’s disease,
- And you lose less weight and fat – the list goes on!
There was a point in my life, that I didn’t want my sleeping issues to affect my health. I decided I needed to wake up earlier (like, 5am early) – so I realized in order to start that habit, I will need to start going to bed earlier and that’s when I started my quest to find a better way to sleep.
Here are a few of the changes I made to improve my sleep quality:
Ideal Hours of Sleep: I started by understanding how much sleep is ideal. Sleep cycles are typically 90 mins and repeat 4 to 6 times a night. I learned that even if you get a full 8 hours of sleep, you can feel groggy because you wake up mid-cycle. Sleeping through the full cycle, you will find you are more refreshed when you wake up and even wake up naturally. Knowing this, I started by adjusting my cycle to going to sleep at 9:30pm (whichever time zone I’m in) in order to wake up at 5 am which would be about 5 sleep cycles (7.5 hrs sleep).
Total Darkness: Sleep experts suggest that it’s important to have your room pitch dark, even the light from your clock can impact your sleep and melatonin production. Studies have shown that exposure to light when you’re sleeping can suppress melatonin levels by 50%. You can either invest in blackout curtains or get a quality sleep mask, like I do. I will admit it took some time getting used to the darkness and I still wake up many mornings with the mask off my face but it helps!
Calming Pillow Spray: Research shows that essential oils can provide relief for disrupted sleep and improve sleep quality in adults. In the beginning, I rubbed some lavender oil on my wrists and temple of my head. I would rub a little in the palm of my hand and take some deep breaths in my hands. More recently, I have been using a pillow spray from a UK company called This Works. The pillow spray is an aromatherapeutic super blend of lavender, vetiver and camomile. They conducted small study of 200 subjects and found – 89% of users fell asleep faster than normal and 92% of users felt more refreshed in the morning. I can truly say, THIS WORKS!
Limit Coffee Intake Time: I usually have one coffee a day, but there are days I may feel like a second cup and I ensure its never after 2 pm. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, scientists from the Sleep Disorders & Research Center at Henry Ford Hospital and Wayne State College of Medicine found that participants administered of coffee anywhere from zero to six hours before bed all experienced significant measurable disruptions in their sleep. Experts suggest having your last coffee of the day before 2 pm to allow your body to remove the majority of it from your system before bedtime. If you’re struggling with cutting a coffee later in the day, try drinking a decaf coffee which I have found to work for me.
Reduce Screen Time: Cutting out screen time at night before bed is said to be the number one thing you can do to improve your sleep quality. The artificial blue light that is being emitted from your device can impact the time it takes to fall asleep, the length of REM sleep, and suppressed the release of melatonin. I understand that is easier said than done given how attached we are to our devices. I try to use my last hour before bed reading an actual book. I have my app limits and do not disturb mode turn on at 9 pm, to avoid being on my phone. And for the times I just can’t give up my screen time before bed, I have invested in a pair of blue blocking glasses, which helps to encourage the body to produce more melatonin at night.
High quality sleep balances your hormones, boosts your metabolism, increases your energy, fortifies your immune system and improves your brain function – it gets you set for your next day. It is worth trying some of these tips to improve your quality of sleep for the benefits it can result in.
If you want to learn more about sleep, I would highly recommend the book I recommended at the start of this blog – Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson.