So you’ve heard about how important sleep is to a healthy lifestyle, but let’s face it, getting more sleep is easier said than done. Many factors come into play when evaluating your sleep quantity and sleep quality. Your daily routines—what you eat and drink, the medications you take, how much time you spend outside in natural daylight, and how you spend your evenings right before heading to bed—have an impact on your sleep quality. Even your bedroom environment can either promote or prevent a good night’s rest. If you want to improve your sleep hygiene—healthy habits that promote adequate, high quality sleep—consider following these tips!
Create a relaxing sleeping environment.
Your bedroom should be a place of comfort and relaxation. Although this may seem obvious, it’s easy to overlook the small details in your bedroom, from the quality of your bedding to the temperature of your room. Choose quality sheets, blankets, pillows, and a mattress that feel inviting for sleep for you. This is all a matter of personal preference, there really isn’t a right answer on what kind of bedding is best for sleep quality. Some people prefer a firmer mattress and others prefer a softer mattress. However, your mattress and pillows should be comfortable; if you’re waking up from aches and pains during the night because of your bedding, then you may want to consider switching out your mattress or your pillows. Even the appearance of your bed can affect how inviting it feels for sleep. Remember, your bed should be personalized to you!
If you’re tossing and turning in bed because your body feels like it’s in an oven, or if you’re constantly waking up in the middle of the night starving for warmth, then the temperature of your bedroom could be a distraction to your sleep. Although the ideal temperature can vary based on the individual, research supports a temperature of 60 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit for quality sleep. Did you know that the fabric composition of your bedding can either help you sleep warmer or cooler? It may be important to change out your bedding based on the seasons. And if you consider yourself a “warm” sleeper, try looking into bedding that doesn’t retain as much heat.
Although you’ve probably heard this plenty of times, do not work in bed! In order to make your bed the most ideal, relaxing sleep environment, it should be used for relaxing and sleep only. The idea of working tends to carry negative connotations and many people do not want to associate their bed with work; we want our sleeping experience to be a positive one as much as possible!
Expose yourself to natural light early in the day and limit light exposure at night.
The human circadian rhythm is an internal cycle that helps control your daily schedule for sleep and wakefulness; it works with our body’s internal clock to regulate sleep patterns. Light has two effects on the circadian clock: 1) it shifts our circadian clock and 2) it suppresses the release of melatonin—the sleep hormone. Natural daylight outside has been shown to advance the timing of sleep to earlier hours, improve sleep duration, and improve sleep quality. Exposure to daylight increases sleep duration by advancing sleep timing. For each additional hour spent outdoors, sleep is advanced by 30 minutes—in other words, you’ll fall asleep earlier! Beyond this, sleep quality is also related to light exposure during the day. Studies have reported that daytime exposure to white light is associated with increased evening fatigue, improved sleep quality by increasing slow-wave sleep (deep sleep), and decreased sleep-onset latency (the amount of time it takes to transition from full wakefulness to sleep). However, the timing of light exposure does matter for sleep as later exposure can result in sleeping later and decreased deep sleep. To summarize, daylight at high intensities is most beneficial for sleep.
Many of us are guilty of spending time on our phones right before trying to go to sleep, but light can also suppress the release of melatonin, preventing us from falling asleep. Studies have suggested that light from LED screens interferes with sleep by increasing sleep onset latency, delaying evening sleepiness, delaying our biological clock, and reducing melatonin secretion. (Blume, Garbazza, & Spitschan, 2019). Before you hit the pillow, try to refrain from using your phone, going on your computer, or watching TV at least 30 minutes before bed.
Analyze your food intake throughout the day and near bedtime.
The kinds of food you eat throughout the day and right before heading to bed can affect your sleep quality. Although caffeine intake is typically the first inhibiting factor that pops up in our minds, other dietary components such as glucose, sodium, or ethanol (alcohol) are capable of phase-shifting circadian rhythms. In addition, your diet can influence sleep by modifying the secretion of melatonin. Melatonin has been detected in notable amounts in tomatoes, olives, barley, rice, and walnuts. Making sure that your diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains can increase melatonin levels and ensure a good night’s rest. (Peuhkuri, Sihvola, & Korpela, 2012).
Other studies show that a higher saturated fat intake throughout the day was associated with less deep sleep at night. In addition to food intake throughout the day, the kind of food consumed right before bedtime also influences sleep quality. A carbohydrate-rich meal in the evening can delay circadian rhythm and reduce nocturnal melatonin secretion. In contrast, increased fiber intake, along with reduced intake of sugars and other non-fiber carbohydrates during the evening, improves sleep quality. (St-Onge, Roberts, Shechter, & Choudhury, 2016).
This sounds like a lot of information and it can be overwhelming to take in, but keeping a food diary can help! Note foods eaten throughout the day while paying special attention to your dinner or pre-bedtime snack, and note how your sleep was that night. Also note the timing of your meals—late night meals mean that your body has to stay up working to digest that meal and can sometimes trigger acid reflux. Many of us know that caffeine and alcohol consumption in the evenings can negatively affect sleep, but we tend to overlook the timing of consumption. By understanding what works and what doesn’t work for your body, you can place time limits on certain foods. Maybe that 5pm coffee or that 9pm beer isn’t working out after all; try pushing it to an earlier time so it doesn’t affect your sleep!
Develop a soothing bedtime routine.
It’s hard to fall asleep when you’re stressed and have a lot on your mind. Winding down for at least 30 minutes before bedtime can make it easier to doze off and help calm down those anxiety-inducing thoughts. Try finding a relaxing activity that you enjoy, while making sure to avoid going on your tablet, phone, and TV. Some examples of ways you can get into the right frame of mind for sleep are quiet reading, low-impact stretching, listening to soothing music, taking a relaxing bath, and relaxation exercises (examples include mindful meditation, controlled breathing, guided imagery, and progressive muscle relaxation).
If you find yourself turning back and forth in bed during the past hour and getting frustrated that you still can’t fall asleep, get out of bed and do something relaxing in low light. Try to get your mind off of your struggle to fall asleep for a few minutes before returning to bed. Take some time to clear your mind; you want to avoid associating your bed with your frustration from sleeplessness.
Follow a regular sleeping schedule.
Going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day, even on the weekends, can help you establish a consistent sleeping schedule. If you find yourself sleeping in until 12pm and staying up until 1am on the weekends, only to have trouble sleeping the night before the work week starts again, then you may want to reconsider that weekend sleeping schedule. Those extra hours sleeping in or those extra hours staying up late can disrupt and shift your sleeping schedule. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t sleep in on the weekends or stay up late once in a while; remember, balance and moderation is key! Know how much sleep your body needs and know how much sleep is too much for you. Avoid napping in the late afternoon or evening if you can, and try to limit naps to no more than 30 minutes if you find naps to be a disruption to your sleep.
Sleeping problems can be complex and require a consideration of multiple lifestyle factors. What works for one person, may not work for someone else; try different approaches to see what works best for you! Consider keeping a daily sleep journal to keep track of your sleep quality and to identify any factors that may be hurting your sleep. If you find that your sleep problems are worsening or persisting, it’s recommended that you speak with your healthcare provider or with a sleep specialist.
Blume, C., Garbazza, C., & Spitschan, M. (2019). Effects of light on human circadian rhythms, sleep and mood. Somnologie : Schlafforschung und Schlafmedizin = Somnology : sleep research and sleep medicine, 23(3), 147–156. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11818-019-00215-x
Peuhkuri, K., Sihvola, N., & Korpela, R. (2012). Dietary factors and fluctuating levels of melatonin. Food & Nutrition Research. https://doi.org/10.3402/fnr.v56i0.17252
St-Onge, M. P., Roberts, A., Shechter, A., & Choudhury, A. R. (2016). Fiber and saturated fat are associated with sleep arousals and slow wave sleep. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 12(1), 19-24.
A Good Night's Sleep. (2016, May 01). Retrieved October 26, 2020, from https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/good-nights-sleep
How to Sleep Better. (2020, October 09). Retrieved October 26, 2020, from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/healthy-sleep-tips
Cindy Bui holds a bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology with a specialization in fitness. She holds certifications such as Certified Group Fitness Instructor, Certified Gravity Ball Instructor, and Certified Remedial Exercise Consultant. Cindy hopes to share her passion for health and fitness by shedding awareness on evidence-based nutrition and exercise.