Improve Your Sleep Using These 6 Methods
How to optimize your sleep for improved health and a happier life.
We’re a chronically sleep-deprived society. We sleep way less than we should, and when we are asleep the quality is not nearly as good as it could be. Sleeping pills in the US make up a $1.6 billion industry. It’s evident that there is a problem.
Sleep underpins everything; if you’re not getting enough quality sleep, you’re going to start to suffer across all areas of your life. You need sleep to clean metabolic waste from your brain, to recover physically and mentally, regenerate tissues, among myriad other functions. A lack of sleep leads to reduced immune functioning, increased systemic inflammation, increased blood pressure, and weight gain, among many other detrimental consequences.
But there are ways to improve your sleep quality and get more restorative sleep, without the use of sleeping pills. This article outlines the top 6 ways you can optimize your sleep.
1. Keep a consistent schedule
I recently wrote an article about the importance of maintaining a consistent sleep schedule. While length of sleep is important, what is even more important is going to bed and getting up at the same time. This will allow your body to get accustomed to going to sleep at a certain time, and waking up at a certain time, allowing you to maintain a regular circadian rhythm.
This is so important if you want to get a good sleep. The circadian rhythm determines when to start making melatonin, the sleep hormone; when to stop making it; when to start making cortisol, the awake hormone; and essentially when to turn on and off all sorts of functions of the body. By telling your body, “This is when I want to go to sleep and this is when I want to wake up,” it will know when to turn off or on each of these functions. This will make your sleep much more sound and restorative.
2. Reset your circadian rhythm every morning
Even if you engage in a consistent wake/sleep schedule, your circadian rhythm may still need to be reminded regularly that it is time to be awake. This is especially important if you’re unable to keep a consistent sleep and wake up time, and even more important when you’re traveling across time zones.
You can do this in many different ways, but the most effective ways are light and movement. When you wake up, first make sure you hydrate, as you will be well dehydrated after no water for at least 7 hours, and you will not feel good exercising when dehydrated.
Then, expose yourself to light. Ideally natural sunlight, as this is the most effective light for resetting our circadian rhythm, but any bright light will do. If you can get outside and get sun on your skin, even better.
Then, move. This doesn’t have to be a workout. This doesn’t even have to be considered exercise. Just move. This morning, I did 10 kettlebell swings, about 7 goblet squats, then walked downstairs to feed my cat. Some mornings, I’ll walk around the block. If I’m feeling extra motivated, I’ll walk down 400 stairs to the ocean and back up. But this can really be anything. Move however you want to move. This movement should leave you feeling better than you did before you started, so make sure you enjoy it.
Morning exercise can actually shift your circadian rhythm, which is important in a society that causes our circadian rhythms to always be off. Aubrey Marcus, founder and CEO of Onnit, and author of Own The Day, Own Your Life, explains that moving in the morning is vital for optimizing the circadian rhythm and setting the tone for the day to ensure that you own the day, rather than the day owning you.
Movement releases cortisol and endorphins and increases your core temperature as well as circulation, all of which are going to make you feel more alert, full of energy, and ready to focus.
“To optimize circadian rhythm for performance, you need to add light and movement to the first 20 minutes upon waking up.” — Aubrey Marcus, Own The Day, Own Your Life
3. Engage in grounding
This practice is beneficial at any time of day and I highly recommend that you do it as often as possible. But it has increased effects when done in the morning. In fact, in my very first article on Medium, I wrote about grounding.
Placing your bare feet on the earth, whether it be grass, sand, rocks, or in the water (the ocean is especially efficient), allows the negative ions produced by cellular metabolism in your body to be absorbed by the earth. This is a result of the earth’s magnetic field. Grounding or earthing, as this practice is known, helps improve sleep quality and regulates our circadian rhythm, as well as helping with recovery and jet lag. A build up of these negative ions can lead to inflammation in the body, which has myriad consequences.
4. Improve the air quality in your bedroom
This may be a less obvious one. But we breathe 12–15kg of indoor air per day, so it’s vital that this air is of good quality. I recently got a schefflera plant for my bedroom, and have had an aloe vera plant for years. Both of these are among the dozens of plants you can keep in your house which will purify the air. They remove toxins from the air, as well as converting carbon dioxide to oxygen. You can see NASA’s list of air purifying plants from their Clean Air Study here.
Ventilation is also highly important. If possible, open your windows during the day to allow your room to ventilate. Even better, leave a window cracked open while you sleep to keep the air circulating all night.
5. Stay active all day
Starting your day with morning movement, and engaging in low level activity throughout the day will have myriad benefits, not only for your sleep but also for your health in general. I recently wrote an article about hacking your fitness, and regular low level activity was one of the three tips I gave.
Incorporating low-level activity throughout your day is important for so many reasons. Firstly, we all know that sitting for prolonged periods is bad for us. It’s important to break up periods of sitting with movement. Ideally, for every 25–30 minutes that you sit, you should move for 5 minutes. But at an absolute minimum, get up every hour.
Modify your environment to make incorporating low-level activity throughout the day easier.
Low level activity mimics how our ancestors would have lived, spending much of the day walking, foraging, hunting, and building, among other things. They rarely sat down for long periods of time. We were not built to sit. I like this quote by Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar, author of Change Your Schedule, Change Your Life.
“A sedentary life causes you to breathe only shallowly, and this strains the heart and starves the brain… You think you are fatigued or bored at the end of a day of sitting, but it’s really more than that. Your brain is starved of oxygen, and so are the tissues in your body.”
Exercise has consistently been shown to improve sleep quality, by decreasing time to fall asleep, increasing time spent asleep, and increasing the amount of deep sleep.
There are numerous supplements you can take to support your sleep quality.
One of the better known supplements is magnesium, known for its effects on stress and tension. Being sleep deprived and chronically stressed can actually decrease magnesium levels in the body, making it even more important to supplement with it. Supplementing with magnesium can increase deep sleep and decrease cortisol levels (the stress hormone). It will help you wind down and lower anxiety levels, making it a lot easier to fall asleep.
Tryptophan is an amino acid which is a precursor to melatonin, so is important to have in your diet if you want to sleep well. Eat foods high in tryptophan before bed, such as turkey and chicken, eggs, nuts and seeds, and seafood.
Another amino acid, L-Theanine promotes feelings of calm and helps you fall asleep. It’s also a good remedy for anxiety. L-Theanine increases alpha brain waves in the brain, the kind that occur during meditation.
An adaptogen is a natural substance that helps your body adapt to stress and return to, or maintain, baseline physiological levels.
This is one that I have found has really improved my sleep quality. I use Four Sigmatic’s adaptogen blend before bed, mixed with raw cacao and some MCT oil powder. I have found that it has greatly increased the amount of deep sleep I get and my overall sleep score, compared to when I haven’t taken it before bed. While this blend has myriad adaptogens in it, one of particular note is ashwagandha. This herb has been shown to decrease anxiety and stress, as well as helping people fall asleep.
Functional mushrooms are great. While technically considered an adaptogen, I think they deserve their own category. Functional mushrooms have so many benefits, from immunity to increased physical and cognitive performance. Something else they are good at is helping with sleep. Reishi, a type of functional mushroom, is especially helpful with sleep. It has been shown to increase total sleep time and sleep quality. Again, I use the brand Four Sigmatic.
Sleep is vital. We cannot live without it. But with our busy lives, constantly being switched on, and the chronic stress that we all experience from time to time, sleep is getting harder to come by.
In order to optimize your sleep, remember:
- Keep a consistent sleep and wake time,
- Reset your circadian rhythm every morning with light and movement,
- Engage in grounding as often as possible,
- Improve your bedroom air quality with plants and ventilation,
- Stay active all day long,
- And use supplements to take your sleep quality even further.