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Exercise, diet, and sleep – the “holy” triad of health.
In theory, that is.
In reality, most people talk about their diet and exercise but neglect their sleep. Heck, some even brag how long they’ve gone without sleeping!
But the truth is, sleep is just as important as exercise and nutrition.
According to research, poor sleep has a negative impact on almost all aspects of your health – including hormones, cognitive function, memory, heart function, and exercise performance. (30, 31, 32, 33)
What’s more, lack of sleep leads to weight gain and even diabetes in extreme cases. (33, 34)
You can diet and train all you want. But if your sleep sucks, you won’t be able to stay in good shape and health.
By contrast, quality sleep helps you maintain lean muscle mass, lose fat, stay energetic, and be healthier in general.
With that in mind, here’s the list of 7 best ways to improve sleep – backed by scientific evidence.
Have a look:
#1 Skip That Afternoon Coffee
Let’s start with the biggest sleep killer, shall we?
Yes, it’s caffeine.
There are many things on this list that can severely disrupt your sleep.
But caffeine is the worst of them all.
Studies show that when consumed late in the day, coffee disrupts your body’s natural ability to relax at night.
In fact, drinking coffee up to 6 hours before bed can dramatically impair your sleep. That’s what this study showed. (1)
To quote the study:
“The magnitude of reduction in total sleep time suggests that caffeine taken 6 hours before bedtime has important disruptive effects on sleep and provides empirical support for sleep hygiene recommendations to refrain from substantial caffeine use for a minimum of 6 hours prior to bedtime.” – PubMed.gov
This makes sense, considering that caffeine stays in your system for 6-8 hours. So if you drink your last cup of coffee at 5 PM and go to bed at 11 PM, you have a chance of spending your night staring at the ceiling instead of sleeping! (2, 3)
If you really crave a cup of coffee later in the day (or evening), choose decaffeinated coffee instead of the regular one. That should do the trick.
#2 Avoid Blue Light at Night
Exposure to daylight is essential to our survival and health as a species.
The blue light from the sun keeps our cardiac rhythm in check and controls many other bodily processes.
However, light exposure during the night does the exact opposite – it messes your biological clock up. (4, 5)
When you look at bright TV screens or other artificial light at night, you trick your brain into thinking it’s still sunny outside. As a result, the production of melatonin stops. (6, 7)
Melatonin is a sleep hormone. Without enough of it, you’ll find it very hard to fall asleep.
Computers, smartphones, TVs, and other electronic devices all emit blue-light. This is the worst type of light to expose yourself to at night. It has a short wavelength and causes eye strain. So not only does your sleep suffer but so do your eyes – and overall health.
Ideally, you’d want to turn off your smartphone and all electronic devices at least 1 hour before bed. Preferably 2 or more hours. But if you can’t stick to this rule, then try some of these methods:
- Wear blue-light blocking glasses
- Install apps on your PC and smartphone that block blue light
- Dim your screen brightness on all electronic devices
Again, these are all preventative methods from exposing yourself to too much blue light. But the truth is, these still don’t block all the blue light completely.
As a result, your melatonin production will still suffer to a degree. That’s why I can’t stress enough the importance of turning off all electronic devices at least 1 hour prior to going to bed.
#3 Meditate, Stretch, or do Yoga Before Bed
Have you ever gone to bed feeling extremely stressed?
It usually goes like this… you lay in bed, trying not to think about the thing that’s stressing you out. But as usual, you end up ruminating for several hours, unable to fall asleep due to an influx of relentless and never-ending thoughts.
Don’t worry – we’ve all been there.
When you’re stressed, your body pumps hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones send you signals such as: “Let’s go! It’s time to act!”.
As a result, this makes it impossible to fall asleep.
Doing relaxation techniques can be of great help to counter this. (8, 9, 10)
These include yoga, massages, meditation, deep breathing, and other similar techniques.
For example, meditation is shown to drastically reduce stress, and subsequently, cortisol. (11)
Try it out for a few weeks and see if it has a positive effect on your sleep.
#4 Get Sunlight Early in the Day
Circadian rhythm is your body’s natural clock. It doesn’t just affect your wake-sleep cycle but also your brain, body, hormones, and overall health. (12)
Exposing yourself to natural bright light from the sun helps to keep your circadian rhythm in check. In turn, this improves your energy during the day and sleep quality at night. (13)
People who suffer from insomnia usually have a lot of trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep. However, when you expose them to natural bright light in the morning, their sleep duration and quality improve tremendously. What’s more, they also fall asleep faster, according to research. (14)
A study found that two hours of daylight exposure prolonged the participants’ sleep by 2 hours and sleep efficacy by 80%. (15)
If getting this amount of daylight isn’t practical for you, consider investing in artificial devices that mimic the natural bright light.
#5 Create a Bed Routine
In order to improve your sleep, there are several rules you should follow before going to bed. These include:
- Go to sleep at the same time every night – Irregular sleep patterns are shown to mess up your circadian rhythm along with impairing the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. This ultimately makes it hard to fall, and stay asleep. (16) By going to sleep at the same time every night, you give your body the chance to adjust it’s a wake-sleep cycle.
- Cool your room down to 19-21 Celsius or 66-70 Fahrenheit – According to research, bedroom temperature plays an important role in how well you’ll sleep. It’s better to be in a colder environment than a hot one. (18)
- Block Out Noise and Light – Use an eye mask and earplugs to block any sounds and light from disrupting your sleep. Studies show that external noise, especially from traffic, causes long-term sleep impairment and health issues. (17)
- Avoid tobacco and alcohol – That nightcap might make you more relaxed and help you fall asleep easier, but the quality of your sleep will be severely diminished. Alcohol induces sleep apnea, snoring, blocks melatonin production, and disrupts deep sleep. (19, 20)
Running, or any other form of exercise is one of the best ways to improve sleep. (21, 22, 23)
Over the years, exercise has been successfully used to treat insomnia.
In fact, a study showed that in people who had severe insomnia, exercise improved their condition more than almost any pharmaceutical sleeping pill. Exercise reduced their anxiety by 15%, awakenings throughout the night by 30%, and the amount of time to fall asleep by a whopping 55%!
On the other hand, exercise helped these people increase the total duration of their sleep by 18%. (24)
One caveat, though – don’t exercise too late in the day.
Since exercise stimulates your body and nerves, some people find it harder to fall asleep when they exercise before going to bed.
That said, some studies show that certain people have no problems with falling asleep after exercise. (25)
If you want to be on the safe side, though, don’t exercise 3 or more hours before going to bed.
#7 Check Your Adrenals
If you have adrenal fatigue, you’ll likely also have problems with sleep.
And even with the best bedtime routine in place, you’ll still have trouble falling asleep if your adrenals aren’t working properly.
There’s a simple reason for this.
Adrenals are responsible for hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.
As we’ve already discussed, when these hormones get out of whack, your sleep suffers.
So, if you have adrenal problems, there’s no better way to improve your sleep than treating the root cause – your adrenals.
#8 Bonus: If Nothing Else Works…
If nothing from the above works for you, then here are a couple of other ways to improve sleep:
- Take supplements that are shown to improve sleep: melatonin, magnesium, valerian, l-theanine, and lavender.
- Avoid drinking any liquids or eating a heavy dinner before bed
- Take a relaxing shower
- Avoid taking naps during the day
- Find and treat the underlying cause of your sleep issue (rule out a sleep disorder such as apnea, test your hormones, etc.)
Sleep is essential for your health and well-being.
If you don’t sleep enough, you increase your risk of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and mental disorders. Your hormones suffer too. Men who have sub-optimal sleep also have lower testosterone levels. (26, 27, 28)
To conclude: If you’re looking to have optimal health, you should make sure to get enough sleep. On average, people need 7-9 hours of sleep per night. (29)
If you have a problem falling asleep or staying asleep, or both. Consider trying some of the tips from above. Let us know in the comments if they worked for you.
Caffeine effects on sleep taken 0, 3, or 6 hours before going to bed. (source)
Actions of caffeine in the brain with special reference to factors that contribute to its widespread use. (source)
Caffeine and nutrition. (source)
Light at night increases body mass by shifting the time of food intake. (source)
Effects of playing a computer game using a bright display on presleep physiological variables, sleep latency, slow wave sleep, and REM sleep. (source)
Exposure to Room Light before Bedtime Suppresses Melatonin Onset and Shortens Melatonin Duration in Humans. (source)
The impact of light from computer monitors on melatonin levels in college students. (source)
A comparison of relaxation techniques with electrosleep therapy for chronic, sleep-onset insomnia a sleep-EEG study. (source)
A preliminary study comparing sleep restriction and relaxation treatments for insomnia in older adults. (source)
The effect of music, therapy, and relaxation on adrenal corticosteroids and the re-entrainment of circadian rhythms. (source)
Effects of the transcendental meditation technique on trait anxiety: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. (source)
The Circadian Cycle of Sleep and Wakefulness. (source)
Blue-enriched white light in the workplace improves self-reported alertness, performance and sleep quality. (source)
Alleviation of sleep maintenance insomnia with timed exposure to bright light. (source)
Bright light treatment improves sleep in institutionalized elderly--an open trial. (source)
Circadian preference, sleep and daytime behavior in adolescence. (source)
Effects of nighttime low-frequency noise on the cortisol response to awakening and subjective sleep quality. (source)
Relative and combined effects of heat and noise exposure on sleep in humans. (source)
Alcohol, snoring and sleep apnea. (source)
Ethanol inhibits melatonin secretion in healthy volunteers in a dose-dependent randomized double-blind cross-over study. (source)
Aerobic exercise improves self-reported sleep and quality of life in older adults with insomnia. (source)
Exercise training improves sleep quality in middle-aged and older adults with sleep problems: a systematic review. (source)
Effects of exercise on sleep. (source)
Effect of acute physical exercise on patients with chronic primary insomnia. (source)
Effects of vigorous late-night exercise on sleep quality and cardiac autonomic activity. (source)
A meta-analysis of Short Sleep Duration and Obesity in Children and Adults. (source)
Sleep duration predicts cardiovascular outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. (source)
Effect of 1 Week of Sleep Restriction on Testosterone Levels in Young Healthy MenFREE. (source)
Recommended Amount of Sleep for a Healthy Adult: A Joint Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society. (source)
Impact of sleep and sleep loss on neuroendocrine and metabolic function. (source)
Role of sleep and sleep loss in hormonal release and metabolism. (source)
The effects of poor quality sleep on brain function and risk taking in adolescence. (source)
Sleep disturbances, body fat distribution, food intake and/or energy expenditure: pathophysiological aspects. (source)
Sleep Duration as a Risk Factor for Diabetes Incidence in a Large US Sample. (source)