If you are not sure how to get a good night of rest, look no further. To optimize sleep and wake up feeling refreshed, start by tackling some of the following tips.
Experimental evidence has suggested that exercise may be associated with better sleep quality. One study that evaluated exercise in patients with insomnia showed that an acute bout of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise about 3 hours before bed reduce sleep onset latency, total wake time and pre-sleep anxiety, while increasing total sleep time and sleep efficiency.
2. Limit use of artificial light during evening hours.
Blue light influences secretion of melatonin, which is a neurotransmitter that makes us sleepy and regulates our circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythms regulate nearly all of the body’s processes, from metabolism and immunity to energy, sleep, mood and cognitive function. Unfortunately, computer screens, tablets, televisions and cell phones all emit blue light. Many electronic devices have a “night shift” setting that automatically switches your device to a warmer color at a designated time. Set a curfew on the amount of artificial light exposure to get a better night of quality sleep. Also try to avoid checking your phone in the middle of the night if you wake up. As soon as the blue light from a screen hits the retina in the eye, the effect of melatonin is immediately reversed and actually promotes a state of wakefulness over sleep.
3. Avoid caffeine and alcohol 5 hours before bed.
Caffeine is the most popular drug in the world. While it is very beneficial to improve performance in workouts and keep us alert during the day, caffeine does not replace sleep. After consuming caffeine, its effects can occur within 15 minutes and take up to 5 hours to die down. Considering this timeline, caffeine should not be consumed 5+ hours before bed in order to avoid a restless night.
Consuming alcohol close to bedtime can also increase your heart rate and keep you awake. While alcohol is commonly used to aid a person’s ability to fall asleep, it can interfere with quality of sleep. Alcohol blocks REM sleep, which is the most restorative type of sleep. Alcohol consumption also affects the normal production of neurotransmitters and increases tendencies to wake up in the middle of the night.
4. Calm your mind.
Your body and mind need time to wind down and shift into sleep mode before bed. Incorporate a routine, bedtime ritual away from activities that cause excitement, stress or stimulation, will make it easier to fall or remain asleep. Relaxing activities include meditation, a warm bath, reading, foam rolling, stretching or belly breathing. It is best to take work materials, computers and televisions out of the bedroom to strengthen the association between bed and sleep. Checking email or doing work right before bed can also trigger anxious thoughts and make it difficult to fall asleep.
Practicing breathing and meditation exercises before bed can increase parasympathetic response to relax the entire body and decrease your heart rate. Lie down comfortably with one hand on your stomach and your second hand on your chest. Inhale deeply through your nose for a count of 5 while pushing your belly through your hand on your stomach. Then exhale through your mouth for a count of 10 as if you are blowing out candles very slowly while gentle pressing on your stomach to facilitate air exiting. Repeat this 3 to 10 times.
Essential oils have been proven to promote and induce a calmer state of mind and encourage a more balanced central nervous system, which allows us to more effectively prepare for sleep. Essential oils are broken down organic plant molecules that can be very powerful and aromatic. Natural fragrances such as lavender, chamomile, sandalwood, ylang, valerian, bergamot, and cedarwood are often used in the bedroom to infuse the air with calming molecules, relax our systems and encourage deeper breathing.
5. Tailor your sleeping environment.
Evaluate your bedroom to ensure ideal temperature, sound and light. The bedroom should be in the colder temperatures for optimal sleep. Your bedroom should also be free from any noise or extra light that may disturb your sleep. Using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, white noise machines, fans or other devices may help reduce distractions in the bedroom.
6. Have sex!
Experiencing an orgasm during sex has a sedative effect due to the rush of endorphins and other hormones towards the same part of your brain that regulates arousal and sleep-wake cycle. Endorphins are hormones that can activate the pleasure center in your brain and drop cortisol levels, which relate to stress. Additionally, dopamine and oxytocin are both released during orgasm, which relaxes the mind and eases anxiety.
7. Create a consistent sleep schedule
Going to bed early may seem obvious but also difficult to enact. Many of us are guilty of bedtime procrastination, or delaying going to because we didn’t accomplish everything on our to-do list. Sticking to the same sleep and wake time, during the week and on the weekends, will subconsciously regulate your body’s internal sleep-wake clock and help you fall asleep better at night. Life will inevitably interfere, but try not to sleep in for more than an hour or two, tops, to stay on track.
If you are currently going to bed at 11 pm, don’t decide that tonight you will go to bed by 9 pm, because it likely won’t happen. Your internal clock resets at a rate of about one hour per day. Generally, when making behavioral changes, aim to take small steps towards the bigger end-goal. Set a reminder and aim to go to bed 15-30 minutes earlier tonight.
8. Find a comfortable sleeping position.
There is no single sleeping position that works for every person. With that being said, your sleeping position impacts your sleep quality and general feeling the following day in various ways and is therefore very relevant in this discussion.
Some people are most comfortable sleeping on their stomachs and have no issues, but it does put the neck, spine and shoulders in poor positions for blood flow, muscle imbalances and nerve tension. Regardless of your ideal sleeping position, try to strive towards keeping the body in neutral alignment to avoid kinks and imbalances. This is especially important when it comes to the neck position. Pillows that are too soft or bulky, as in the photos, will lack support for the neck or overstretch the soft tissue and likely lead to shoulder and neck aches. Aim to use a pillow that will keep your neck in line with the rest of your spine.
Sleeping on the back is typically the most recommended position, as it allows the body to rest in a neutral position. If this position is uncomfortable on your back, try putting a small pillow under both your knees. Sleeping on your back has also been shown to minimize the formation of face wrinkles. This position may be uncomfortable for people (or their partners) because it usually causes a person to snore more than other positions.
Side sleeping may prevent snoring completely. If you are most comfortable sleeping on your back, use a rounded pillow to support the natural curve of the neck and a flatter pillow beneath the head. Also, having a pillow under the knees will support the low back. In all sleeping positions, avoid using a pillow that is too high and takes the neck out of neutral alignment, as this leads to pain and stiffness the following day. If sleeping on your side, use a pillow between the knees and arms to keep the front body open and supported, promoting optimal body alignment. Side sleeping is recommended for those with sleep apnea. Sleeping on the left side is advised for those with heartburn and acid reflux.
Sleeping on the stomach is very hard on the cervical spine and the remainder of the system as the neck must be turned to breathe in this position and the rib cage doesn’t expand in the anterior direction as it should.
Finally, If you have an injury on one side of the body, it is not advised to sleep on that side.
It may seem difficult and overwhelming to follow all these recommendations right off the bat. Start by identifying the factors that are most disruptive to your own sleep and then focus on altering particular behaviors to overcome those factors. Happy sleeping!
If you haven’t already read our last post on the importance of sleep, you can find it here
Article written by Dr. Jessica Khani, PT, DPT, CSCS
The information provided is not medical advice and is not intended to be used in place of seeking advice from a professional.
“Sleep Duration as Risk Factor for Diabetes Incidence in a Large US Sample.” Sleep Research Society. Sleep. Dec 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2276127/.
“Association Between Sleep Disorders, Obesity, and Exercise: A Review.” Nature and Science of Sleep. Dovepress. March 2013. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3630986/
“How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?” National Sleep Foundation. 2018.