8 Tips to Get a Better Night of Sleep

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.

1. Exercise!
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.

Sources:
“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.

You should be getting at least 7 hours of sleep. Here’s why.

We all know sleep is important, but it is often under-appreciated. Sleep is a low hanging fruit to make progress in almost any goal, no matter what it may be. By tending to our sleep-related needs, we can maximize our productivity throughout the day, enhance immune system function, balance hormones, improve recovery, and overall cultivate a deeper connection with the world around us with the extra boost of energy.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults ages 18-64 years old should sleep 7-9 hours a night. However, every person has a different load of stress and activity in their life. Therefore, an individual’s workload, amount of exercise, underlying sickness, or other stressors influence the amount of sleep required for adequate rest each night.

Regardless of the individual amount of sleep needed per night, if your body learns to function on low levels of energy over the course of a period of insufficient sleep, there will be less energy to facilitate recovery from daily stressors. While caffeine and other stimulants cannot substitute for sleep, but they do help to counteract some of the effects of sleep deprivation. Additionally, the body excels in managing acute damage or stress by utilizing our fight or flight system to allow us to meet challenges while performing at a high level. While it is beneficial that our bodies can adapt and function at low energy levels, chronic stress without recovery is temporary and will lead to burnout and decreased function of all bodily systems.

Not getting enough sleep, while still allowing us to function in a seemingly normal manner, impairs motor and cognitive functions. A person who is sleep deprived will typically experience reduced ability to concentrate, memory lapses, loss of energy, fatigue, lethargy, difficulty with complex thought, delayed response to stimuli, and emotional instability.

Furthermore, chronic lack of sleep has been associated with many adverse health conditions, including chronic fatigue, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and even musculoskeletal injury. Studies in which subjects underwent short-term sleep deprivation to examine the immediate effects of a lack of sleep were found to have heightened blood pressure, lowered blood glucose levels and increased inflammation. It follows that long-term persistence of these symptoms could lead to more deep-rooted dysfunction. Sleep disturbances are also highly prevalent in chronic pain patients and have been shown to deteriorate the pain condition. It has been hypothesized that descending pain control may be compromised by disturbed sleep.

Sleep is the number one recovery mechanism from stress and it affects the way we look, feel and perform on a regular basis. We tend to think of sleep as a time when the mind and body shut down, but this isn’t the case. During sleep, the body is in an elevated anabolic state, meaning that repair mechanisms are used throughout the body when we are resting. Sleep is an active process during which important processing, restoration and strengthening occur.

One of the essential roles of sleep is to consolidate memories. Our brain takes in unlimited amounts of information throughout the day. While we sleep, experiences, memories and skills are processed and stored from short-term memory to long-term memory in more efficient and permanent brain regions. This results in higher proficiency and better recollection the next day.

In addition to improved memory of past information, sleep also helps us synthesize new ideas. While you are sleeping, pieces of knowledge can be pulled together from different experiences and parts of the brain to create novel concepts.

A recent study found that when subjects slept abundantly throughout the night, cellular waste byproducts that were accumulated in the interstitial space were removed. This clearance of toxins also allows the brain to function optimally the next day.

An internal biological clock, known as the circadian clock, regulates the timing for sleep in humans. The activity of this clock is coordinated by light input during the day, which promotes wakefulness, and melatonin secretion during the night, which makes us sleepy. Most hormone secretion is controlled by the circadian clock or in response to physical events.

Sleep is one the events that modify the timing of secretion of certain hormones. Hormone imbalances that occur as a result of sleep deficiency increase the prevalence of mood swings and anxiety and predispose the body to weight gain.

While we are resting, our body stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. Lack of sleep stimulates our fight or flight system instead of the parasympathetic system, which has been associated with greater secretion of cortisol, a stress hormone. Elevations of evening cortisol levels in chronic sleep loss are likely to promote the development of insulin resistance, a risk factor for obesity and diabetes. Additionally, the regulation of leptin, a hormone released by the fat cells that signals satiety to the brain and thus suppresses appetite, is markedly dependent on sleep duration. Decreased leptin levels in individuals who lose sleep may lead to feelings of hunger, despite adequate food intake. One study that examined shorter sleep duration found decreased leptin levels to be significantly correlated with increased BMI.

Another hormone that is influenced by sleep is growth hormone. Growth hormone plays a key role in growth, body composition, cell repair and metabolism, with the highest secretion levels occuring at night. It has been hypothesized that nocturnal growth hormone increases are involved in various tissue repair mechanisms throughout the body.

Studies have shown that sleep deprivation also decreases levels of glycogen, which is the body’s principal store of energy used for mental and physical activity. Because the brain does not typically utilize fat for energy, glycogen is the only source of spare energy for brain cells. During the metabolically active wakeful period, glycogen is exhausted. Glycogen supply takes time and reduced activity to restore. Both muscle and liver glycogen levels have been shown to replenish with recovered sleep, providing our brain with the energy to function optimally.

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 in the blog post next week!

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.

Sources:
“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