The verdict is in and it’s unanimous… if you’re trying to improve your general health, lose weight, build muscle, perform better at work, or just generally level up in any area of your life, getting adequate good quality sleep each and every night is a non-negotiable.
Unfortunately, for most of us, both the quantity and quality of sleep we get on a consistent basis is less than ideal.
Poor sleep not only puts the hand brakes on whatever you are trying to improve at, but also contributes to some pretty serious negative effects on your hormones and overall brain function.
So it turns out that Bon Jovi’s “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead”, while a classic track, is probably not something we should be taking literally.
Let’s take a look at what contributes to the quantity and quality of our sleep before taking a deep dive into 5 Sleep Hacks that we can incorporate immediately to improve our sleep.
Understanding The Circadian Rhythm
Circadian rhythms are physical, mental and behavioural processes that follow a 24-hour cycle. Quite simply, your Circadian rhythm is your body’s internal natural time-keeping clock, helping you to stay awake during the day and telling your body when it’s time to sleep at night.
One of the fundamental regulators of your Circadian rhythm is exposure to bright light. Exposure during the day, whether it be from natural sunlight or just bright lights indoors, can help keep your circadian rhythm healthy, resulting in improved daytime energy as well as improved nighttime sleep quantity and quality.
In fact research shows that people with insomnia who were exposed to daytime bright light experienced improved sleep quality and duration. This also had an impact on the time it took to fall asleep with an astounding reduction of 83%. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8340561/)
A similar study showed an 80% increase in sleep efficiency, with an increase in the amount of sleep by 2 hours in older adults who were exposed to bright light for a period of 2 hours or more during the day. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12789673/)
Avoiding Night-time Light Exposure
But it’s not all sunshine & rainbows when it comes to sunshine & bright lights.
In fact, the exact same exposure to bright lights during the day that improves sleep, can wreak havoc on sleep when the exposure occurs at night.
This is because bright light exposure at nighttime tricks your brain into thinking it’s still daytime, which short circuits your Circadian rhythm and reduces the production of melatonin, the hormone your body relies on to help you relax at night and achieve deep sleep.
The worst type of bright light to be exposed to at night? Blue light, which is emitted from smartphones screens & computers monitors, the devices that most of us use almost religiously every night.
Want to get your Circadian rhythm back under control? Reduce your exposure to blue light for about 2 hours before heading to bed. Sound unrealistic? At the very least grab yourself a pair of blue light blocking glasses, or at the very very least install a blue light blocking app on your smartphone.
You can also invest in supplements to reduce the impact that blue light has on your Circadian rhythm. Our top pick is Ambrosia Night Owl.
Consistency Is Key
Keeping in mind that your Circadian rhythm operates on a continuous 24 hour loop, it makes sense that you should aim to be as consistent as possible when it comes to your sleep and wake times. In fact the more consistent you are, the more consistent your long-term sleep quality will be. This means going to sleep and getting up at the same time every day, day in, day out, including weekends.
We know, we know… we all love a good sleep-in on that Saturday or Sunday morning, but the more that our weekend/weekday sleep schedules differ, the harder it is for our body to keep in sync with its natural sleep-wake cycle, and the harder it is for us to get consistently good sleep.
In fact, studies have shown that participants who have irregular sleeping patterns, from going to bed late on weekends, reported poor sleep. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12220314/)
It’s also been demonstrated in other studies that irregular sleep patterns can alter your Circadian rhythm and levels of melatonin. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10849238/)
What About A Quick Nap?
If you find yourself needing to make up for lost sleep from a late night, then napping, rather than sleeping in, is a better way to pay off your sleep debt without impacting your natural sleep-wake cycle.
However, nappers beware! Whilst napping for short periods of time can be beneficial and have a positive impact on your overall sleep quality, napping for too long can have the opposite effect, negatively impacting your sleep. This is because sleeping, rather than napping, during the daytime can actually throw off your Circadian rhythm, causing you to struggle to sleep at night. You may even end up feeling more tired than you were before taking your daytime nap if your nap turns into a full blown sleep session.
So what’s the magic number? The best time to nap is shortly after the midpoint of your day (for most of us that’s going to be just after lunch) and the best nap length is about 20 minutes.
In fact, studies have shown that napping for less than 30 minutes can enhance daytime brain function, however anything longer than 30 minutes can have negative effects on the quality of your sleep as well as your overall health. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17053484/)
5 Sleep Hacks You Can Start Using Today
Circadian rhythm. Check. Nighttime light exposure. Check. Consistency. Check. Napping. Check.
Now that we’ve covered the basics of achieving good quality sleep, let’s take a deep dive into 5 Sleep Hacks that we can incorporate immediately to improve the quality of our sleep.
Avoid Caffeine Later In The Day
Most of us love our caffeine. Whether it’s from natural sources like coffee or tea, soft drinks, energy drinks or supplements, caffeine is consumed by most of us one way or another every day.
And we all know why… caffeine has some pretty epic effects. Increased energy, enhanced mental focus and improved physical performance just to name a few.
However, consuming caffeine later in the day stimulates your central nervous system and may inhibit your body from naturally relaxing at night. Caffeine can stay in your bloodstream from between 6 to 8 hours, depending on the source of caffeine and what else it is consumed with, while the pharmacological mean half life of caffeine is about 5 hours. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK223808/).
And not surprisingly, consuming caffeine within about 6 hours of going to bed is going to have a negative effect on the quality of your sleep. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24235903/)
Sleep Hack 1: Avoid Caffeine Later In The Day
Still want to have an afternoon or nighttime coffee or tea? Switch to decaf.
Train in the afternoon or at night and still want to use a pre-workout or a fat burner? Switch to stim free. Here’s a few suggestions:
Exercise Early In The Day
Daily exercise can help you fall asleep faster at night and sleep more solidly, but performing exercise too late in the day may actually have a negative effect on the quality of your sleep.
This is due to the stimulatory effects that come from exercising, which increases alertness and the release of stimulatory hormones like epinephrine and adrenaline.
Sleep Hack 2: Exercise Early In The Day
Late night exerciser? Flip your day around so that you are exercising first thing in the morning, rather than last thing at night. This is going to take some time and a lot of focused effort, but it will certainly be worth it when it comes to maximizing your sleep quality.
Create A Pre-Bed Routine
The lead-up to bedtime plays a critical role in relaxation and preparing your mind & your body to fall asleep quickly and effortlessly.
Try to create a night-time routine that you can follow with as much consistency as possible. This will help reinforce healthy habits and signals to your mind and body that bedtime is approaching. Here are a few different ideas that you may want to start putting into practice.
- Dim the lights.
- Disconnect from electronic devices (smartphones in particular).
- Read a book.
- Take a warm bath or shower.
- Listen to relaxing music.
- Practice meditation. Headspace & Calm are 2 popular apps that can help you learn proper meditation techniques.
- Incorporate deep breathing techniques.
Sleep Hack 3: Create A Pre-Bed Routine
Pick 3 or 4 items from the list above and start implementing them into the hour before you plan to go to bed every night this week.
It can take time & effort to replace your current pre-bed habits with new habits that promote relaxation, but it is worth it. A solid pre-bed routine is one of the best ways you can immediately improve your quality of sleep.
Optimize Your Bedroom Environment
While your pre-bed routine plays a major role in preparing you for sleep, once you are ready to head to bed, the environment you step into in your bedroom can make or break your sleep preparation efforts. You can be as relaxed as possible, but if you step into a bedroom that is too hot or too cold, too bright or too noisy, your sleep quality is going to suffer.
Sleep Hack 4: Optimize Your Bedroom Environment
The optimal bedroom environment to promote sleep is dark, cool and quiet.
Eliminate any outside light by closing your blinds. If your blinds aren’t dark enough, or if your bedroom has street lights that shine straight into it, you may want to consider wearing an eye mask to bed.
Eliminate any inside light by turning off any light emitting electronic devices in your bedroom, including TVs, digital picture frames, and night lights.
A bedroom that is too hot or too cold can interfere with your sleep. Most people sleep best in a slightly cool room with proper ventilation. If your bedroom is too hot and you have access to an air conditioner, consider sleeping with the air conditioner on, or at least using the air conditioner to cool your bedroom before you plan to go to sleep. If you don’t have an air conditioner, a fan is your next best choice. Don’t have a ceiling fan? A pedestal fan will do.
On the other hand, if your bedroom is too cold, consider sleeping with an extra blanket or quilt to keep you warm while you sleep.
Excessive noise may not only interrupt your sleep during the night, but may make it very difficult to get to sleep in the first place. If you can’t avoid or eliminate noise from outside disturbances then try masking it with white noise like a fan, or alternatively use a white noise app. If worst comes to worst, consider sleeping with earplugs to block out all sound altogether.
Finally, it is important that your bed is comfortable. Your bed covers should leave you enough room to stretch and turn comfortably during your sleep. You may also want to experiment with the firmness of your mattress and pillows if you find yourself waking up constantly with a sore back or aching neck.
Invest In A Sleep Supplement
Let’s face it, sometimes we need a little extra help to prepare our mind and body for sleep. Fortunately, there are some exceptional supplements that will do just that.
Sleep Hack 5: Invest In A Sleep Supplement
A good sleep supplement will not only help you relax, wind down, and get to sleep, it will also help to keep you asleep and increase the amount of high quality deep sleep you achieve each night.
So there you have it! Everything you need to know about improving your sleep quality all wrapped up in one simple article.
Now it’s up to you to start putting it into practice.
Goodnight, and sweet dreams!