The science of sleep: 10 tips for better quality sleep and more energy
In this fast-paced world, we tend to overlook the importance of sleep. In reality, a good night’s sleep is everything–it’s one of the core foundations of a life well lived.
Improving your quality of sleep won’t just make you feel good, it’s a fundamental part of our overall well-being.
Think about it: the body is like a machine, it can’t constantly be running on an empty battery. We need to rest, rejuvenate, and recover from the everyday stresses of life.
You see, when you sleep, the body undergoes repair and growth processes, reviving muscles, and tissues, and boosting your immune system.
Sleep also plays a role in memory consolidation, balanced hormone regulation, and even emotional regulation. In short, getting quality sleep is a form of healing.
In this article, I’ll go through 10 scientifically backed tips for better sleep. Once you get the idea, you can gradually start adopting these habits.
Quality sleep is just a five-minute read away. Let’s get it!
1) Keep a regular sleep schedule
Like anything, once you develop a routine, your body will make the necessary adjustments.
If you sleep at 3 am one night and 5 am the next, your circadian rhythm will go haywire, unable to properly align itself with the sunrise and sunset.
At this point, you’ll need to start making a genuine effort to start sleeping and waking up at (more or less) the same time every day.
This will enhance your sleep quality over the longer term.
Don’t overwhelm yourself. Take it a step at a time.
If you’re used to waking up at noon, for instance, start setting the alarm at 10 am first, then after a week, go even earlier.
Eventually, you’ll get into a rhythm. By sleeping and waking up earlier, you won’t feel deprived.
In fact, you’ll feel more energized and productive throughout the day, which leads to greater overall morale and well-being.
Dr. Charles Czeisler, a professor of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School, says,
“Keeping a regular sleep schedule—even on weekends—maintains the timing of the body’s internal clock and can help you fall asleep and wake up more easily.”
2) Create a sleep-friendly atmosphere
It’s easy to take sleep for granted given how constant it is. Instead, you should start considering bedtime a ritual.
Therefore, your sleeping quarters should be a peaceful, dark, and cool area. If you live in a noisy area, consider earplugs.
If, for whatever reason, your place of sleep isn’t as dimly light as you’d like, consider an eye mask.
Having lived in a hectic city all my life, it’s my experience that a white noise machine can work wonders.
The grainy, gentle static from the white noise machine is not only soothing, but it also helps mask background noise and tune it out.
And if possible, make an investment in a quality mattress, pillows, and bedding. Once your bedroom becomes a sanctuary that you can respect, exceptional sleep will eventually follow.
3) Limit the use of devices before bed
You might want to think twice about mindlessly scrolling through that tablet before slumber.
Exposure to light at bedtime can impede the body’s production of melatonin.
So it’s wise to avoid your devices (whether smartphone, tablet, or laptop) for at least an hour before you doze off.
If you can’t accomplish this, then the next best option is to use a blue light filter on your screens.
When I’m on my phone right before bedtime, I notice that I can’t sleep as easily.
Imagine: you have a device in your hand that literally has access to every bit of information in the history of civilization.
Not exactly an ideal tool to help with insomnia.
I now make a conscious effort to avoid my devices when I’m readying myself for sleep.
Also, I keep my phone at a comfortable distance away from me throughout the night so I don’t get tempted to use it when I wake up for the occasional bathroom break.
I know from experience that checking my phone at night can lead to disrupted sleep, something I actively try to avoid, as I need to preserve energy for the day.
Dr. Mariana Figueiro, Program Director at the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has noted: “We found that those who had access to an iPad had reduced secretion of melatonin, a hormone which is a marker of our biological clocks.
So if you’re using [an iPad] to read at night in bed, then it can delay your circadian rhythm and make it more difficult to fall asleep.”
4) Avoid stimulants after a certain hour
We all love a freshly brewed cup of coffee (decaf for me), but there’s a reason you’re supposed to take it in the mornings.
Stimulating substances like caffeine, sugar, and even nicotine can certainly interfere with the quality of your sleep.
If possible, avoid consuming these things for a good five to seven hours before you plan on retiring to bed.
I had a Coke with dinner a few weeks ago, and couldn’t get to bed well past two in the morning.
As I tossed and turned for hours, I came to the realization that imbibing a drink that has both caffeine and sugar at that hour wasn’t a particularly great idea.
Dr. James Morin, a sleep medicine specialist has spoken about caffeine in detail: “Caffeine has the potential to keep you awake at night, reduce the quality and quantity of your sleep, and subsequently lead to daytime fatigue.
While moderate consumption might not have significant effects for some, individuals sensitive to caffeine can experience prolonged sleep disruption.”
5) Be active
Being active throughout the day, such as participating in regular exercise, can make you fall asleep faster and longer.
Think about it: when you’re doing things during the day, your body naturally becomes tired, producing some key hormones that aid in getting those much-needed forty winks.
Just try not to exercise too close to bedtime as the chemical reaction within your body can actually keep you awake.
Dr. Sandra Reynolds, exercise physiologist and sleep specialist says: “Regular physical activity can act as a natural sleep aid. Exercise not only helps you fall asleep more quickly but also enhances the quality of your sleep.
It does this by boosting the effects of natural sleep hormones such as melatonin. However, timing is crucial; engaging in vigorous exercise too close to bedtime can have a counterproductive effect due to the stimulatory effect of exercise.”
6) Make an effort to manage stress
If you’re prone to stress and anxiety as I am, it’s worthwhile taking measures to counteract those negative feelings.
Techniques like meditation, mindfulness, deep breathing, and yoga all help you stay grounded and focused on the present, resulting in better sleep.
Instead of Disney Plus, try meditation or reading a few chapters of a compelling book.
Try to avoid stressful media content too. For example, if I watch a heavy film or a disturbingly gory true crime series before bed, chances are I won’t fall asleep in a timely fashion.
So guys, save Requiem for Dream for the daylight hours.
According to the late, great Dr. Herbert Benson, a pioneer in mind/body medicine and author of “The Relaxation Response”: “A variety of relaxation techniques help your body relax and reduce stress before bed, including simple activities such as reading, listening to calming music, or practicing mindfulness meditation.”
7) Avoid long daytime naps
This one is a no-brainer. At least for some.
Taking lengthy naps in the daytime will give you an excess of energy in the evening, at a time when you’re supposed to be winding down.
While short naps can be a great thing, long and irregular naps are just plain counterproductive.
As much as I enjoy a solid nap, it’s still something I generally try to avoid unless I’m sick or unusually tired.
In the rare times that I have napped midafternoon, I wouldn’t get to sleep at night until the wee hours.
My brain was left overstimulated as the world around me settled down.
From my experience, this “quiet time” is also a fertile breeding ground for anxiety, intrusive thoughts, and things of that nature. Remember, an idle mind is a devil’s playground!
I learned my lesson: no long naps. Like most of you, I have things to do in the morning too.
Dr. Matthew Walker, sleep scientist and neuroscientist has spoken extensively about the ills of napping: “Daytime napping can be a double-edged sword. While a short ‘power nap’ can help to improve mood, alertness, and performance, long or frequent naps can interfere with nighttime sleep.
If you have trouble sleeping at night, try to limit daytime naps or make them earlier in the afternoon.”
8) No late-night eating
As much as possible try not to consume massive amounts of food close to bedtime.
Not only will this likely cause indigestion, flatulence, and hyperacidity (particularly if you’re over 30), but it will also disrupt your body’s natural rhythm.
So avoid the temptation of a midnight snack or a late-night fast food run, your body will thank you for it later.
In the process, you’re also teaching yourself discipline and self-control.
Take it from Dr. Susan Mitchell, gastroenterologist, and sleep specialist: “Eating a large meal close to bedtime can interfere with the quality of your sleep. Digestive processes can keep the body in ‘active mode,’ making it harder to fall asleep.”
9) Have an established bedtime routine
Here’s the thing: having a nightly bedtime routine will communicate to your body when it’s time to hit the sack.
Incorporate activities into your routine that promote relaxation and comfort such as reading, taking a warm bath, or putting on a tranquil soundtrack (leave the Metallica and EDM for when you wake up.)
As per Dr. Lawrence Epstein, past president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, “Having a set bedtime routine can enhance your ability to sleep by preparing your mind and body for sleep. Just like a child, adults need a bedtime routine too.”
10) Get plenty of natural light during the day
It’s science: exposure to natural light, particularly in the morning, plays a critical role in regulating our sleep patterns and maintaining a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
So try to get outside in natural light for at least thirty minutes a day, preferably in the morning.
That natural light will tell our bodies to hold back on the melatonin, make us alert, and set our internal body clocks.
As the evening comes around, our melatonin levels rise, which prepares us for sleep. Not enough natural light can interrupt this process, which, in turn, can lead to sleep problems.
So, make it a point to spend a bit of time outdoors during your waking hours.
Even if you work in an office, try to go outside every now and then; or at the very least, make sure your working or living environments have an ample amount of natural light brimming through.
So, to sum things up, getting better quality sleep isn’t merely about getting enough exercise, sticking to the same sleep schedule, or ditching late-night meals.
It’s about changing your entire perspective towards sleep and good sleep–that it isn’t just a luxury but a highly important, non-negotiable facet of a healthy, well-balanced life.
Mentally investing in improving your sleep habits will pay off.
In this frenetic life, rest may not always be easy, but taking the appropriate steps to regularly get a good night’s sleep can make a huge difference down the line.
Not only are you getting the energy to conquer your daily tasks but you’re getting healthier overall.
Let’s face it, we’re all a little happier after eight hours of sleep. I know I am.