World Sleep Day (Top Proven Ways To Get A Better Night's Rest)
Nothing starts the day off like waking up in the morning from a poor night’s sleep, hoping it’s the weekend, and then realizing it’s only Tuesday. Mercifully, this year’s World Sleep Day (March 16th), an annual event to raise awareness of sleep disorders, falls on a Friday.
It’s no secret that getting a good night’s rest is crucial for overall health and the ability to produce a somewhat intelligent-sounding sentence. Even so, many of us have bad habits that are majorly affecting our quality of sleep, e.g., sleeping with our phones under our pillows, browsing Reddit at 4am, drinking caffeine too close to bedtime, and not having consistent bedtime and wake-times. Here are some top proven ways to get a better night’s rest.
1. ELIMINATE BLUE LIGHT.
I’ll admit, for a awhile I brushed this one off as new-age nonsense. However, the negative effects of artificial light (including LEDs, fluorescent, and incandescent light) on sleep are very real. Research shows that exposure to blue light produced by cell phones and laptops suppresses the production of melatonin in the body. Melatonin is the hormone that signals to the body that it’s time to sleep. While it would be impossible to eliminate all blue light in this day and age, you can switch on the “Night Shift” setting on your iPhone or Mac, or download the simple software for your laptop called f.lux. Both of these will adjust your devices to a warmer hue after sunset, to preserve your circadian rhythm. Alternatively (and in my opinion, the least fun option) is to stop using light-producing tech 30-60 minutes before bedtime.
2. STOP WITH THE LATE-AFTERNOON COFFEE.
I can’t “espresso” how much I love coffee. And bad puns. Most people know that caffeine is terrible for sleep. So bad, in fact, that consuming caffeine 6 hours before bedtime may reduce total sleep time by an entire hour.* It’s best to avoid caffeine after 2pm, and to limit consumption to about 300-400mg/day (3-4 8oz cups of coffee). If you enjoy a cup of coffee in the evening to aid in digestion, try replacing it with non-caffeinated herbal tea (particularly ones with ginger). If that bores you to tears, you could always relive your college days by throwing back a shot of Jägermeister, which originated in Germany as a digestif. Additionally, drinks that are great before bed include: tart cherry juice, almond milk, and bone broth.
3. KEEP IT QUIET, BUT NOT TOO QUIET.
I have several friends who fall asleep watching Law & Order SVU, and there’s an entire subreddit dedicated to people who fall asleep watching Futurama (r/Futurama_Sleepers/). It’s debatable whether or not this is a healthy habit.* Some say that because watching TV is a passive activity, it serves as a good distraction from autonomic arousal (things like heart rate, anxiety, and muscle tension) that may occur when you’re faced with your own racing thoughts. If you’re not big on adult cartoons or violent crime TV, I’d recommend falling asleep to a white noise app, such as White Noise Lite for iOS, or White Noise Generator for Android. Keep your device at a distance (blue light!) and listen with a pair of bluetooth headphones, like the Rowkin Bit Charge Stereo. Oh, and if you’d like to conquer those racing thoughts, I’d suggest writing a prioritized list of tasks to accomplish the next day, to clear your mind of any mental clutter.
4. EXERCISE BEFORE BED, BUT NOT RIGHT BEFORE BED.
Exercise has been proven to increase time spent in deep sleep and reduce stress and anxiety (which can hinder the body’s ability to fall asleep). It can also be a great natural therapy for people suffering from insomnia and sleep apnea. 15-45 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on a daily basis should be sufficient. To stay motivated during an intense workout, I recommend getting a great pair of sport headphones, like the Rowkin Surge, and downloading an upbeat playlist. We’ve put a great one together for March Madness. Check it out below!
While exercise can improve sleep, timing is everything! Your core body temperature drops as you prepare for sleep. If you exercise too close to bedtime, your core body temperature will reverse that downward shift in body temperature, making it more difficult to fall asleep.* Therefore, it’s best to avoid aerobic activity before bed, and stick to gentle exercises like stretching or yoga. Set the thermostat to 60-67F for an additional way to regulate your core temperature, and to help you sleep through the night.
5. USE A WAKE-UP LIGHT.
Too much light will affect sleep quality at night, but too little light in the morning affects your ability to wake up. Ideally, one should wake up to gradual exposure to light, at the same rate the sun is rising. In response to sunlight, the brain’s levels of melatonin are reduced, and serotonin is increased, snapping you out of that morning grogginess stage. Unfortunately, if you block out all the sunlight in a room with thick blackout curtains, you won’t have the advantage of waking up with the sun. You can combat this issue by installing a wake-up light in the morning, such as the Phillips Wake Up Light, that will mimic a sunrise by gradually increasing the brightness in your room over a period of 30 minutes.
6. TRY USING A MEDITATION APP.
You may have heard about meditation apps like Headspace and Calm. Mindfulness meditation typically involves focusing on your breathing and shifting your thoughts to the present, which will evoke a relaxation response. Both of these apps are helpful guides for this process. Meditation has been clinically proven* to remediate sleep problems in the short-term, and reduce sleep-related impairments in the daytime. This is because meditation can decrease stress, melatonin’s biggest enemy, as well as strengthen the part of the brain responsible for the REM phase (deep sleep).
Magnesium salt-baths (similar to Epsom salt baths) are a great way to reduce stress before bedtime. Magnesium binds to and stimulates GABA receptors in the brain*, the neurotransmitters that puts the “brakes” on brain activity.* The more GABA in the brain, the less stressed you are. Accordingly, people who are anxious typically have low levels of GABA. If you’re not into long baths, (and let’s face it, who has time for baths anyway?), magnesium can also be applied topically in the form of an oil, gel, or moisturizer. Like all worthwhile things, there’s a subreddit dedicated to magnesium, if you’d like to investigate further.