Recently, someone asked me to name my favorite hobby. I considered for a moment and then responded, “Sleeping!” You might laugh, but totally I’m serious: My love for sleep is REAL. I’m a huge, unapologetic sleeper and I thoroughly rely on a good nine hours (yes, really) each night in order to feel and be my best. In fact, I would say my ability to get qualitysleep is the single determiner of how healthy, happy, productive, and focused I feel.
Through time, however, I’ve learned that getting great sleep isn’t simply about making the time to sleep; it’s about working to create the right conditions for quality sleep. Ahead, I’m sharing my tips and tricks – most of which are backed up with research. Read on.
While exercise can stimulate and energize you during the day, research has found that it can help facilitate sound sleep at night. This doesn’t mean exhausting yourself with rigorous, punishing workouts, either. Additional research shows that even engaging in low-impact activities like tai chi and yoga helped improve participants’ sleep patterns. I prefer to exercise in the first half of my day, for about 45 – 60 minutes. Do anything you can – even power-walking works!
Did you know that when we sleep our temperature naturally drops? It happens, in part, because when we enter REM sleep(the gold standard for awesome zzz’s) our body loses some capacity for thermoregulation. Further, this drop in temperature – up to two full degrees! – is a natural way for our body to reserve all-important energy for the coming day.
This is why I’ve found that a slightly cooler room is a great way to prep for a good night’s sleep. Other "chill to sleep" tactics I’ve employed include sticking my feet outside of the covers – an utterly game-changing trick I learned from New York Magazine – and taking a hot bath before bed. You might be scratching your head at the bath thing, but by raising your temperature before bed, you’re setting the stage for it to then drop. I know: Mind. Blown.
If meditation seems like a catch-all recommendation for wellness, it's because it is -- it can positively impact nearly every aspect of our lives, including how well we sleep. A recent study showed that participants who in engaged in mindfulness activities over a six week span slept better, had less insomnia, and showed less signs of depression than their control counterparts who didn't participate in similar activities. If you're a total meditation newbie, try checking out our recent poston how to get started. Then get snoozin'.
Ditch stimulants and depressants close to bedtime
Yes, that glass of wine can make you sleepy. But it can also disrupt your ability to enter into REM -- meaning you’re getting low-quality, surface-level sleep. (The expression “passing out” from drinking exists for a reason.) Processing alcohol can also make your temperature go up – which, as you’ve just learned, can inhibit quality sleep.
Along those same lines, a stimulant like caffeine can totally derail your sleep efforts if you’re not careful. I’m serious: it’s not just about saying no to that post-dinner espresso; one piece of research highlighted that even drinking coffee six hours before bedtime can result in a lost hour of sleep. My advice? Stick to coffee in the morning and ditch caffeine altogether no later than 2pm.
Eat tryptophan-rich foods
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that helps do things like regulate our hormones. As such, it's involved with the production of both serotonin (our "happy" hormone) and melotonin, which is the hormone that regulates our sleepcycles. Some research suggests eating more tryptophan-rich foods (such as cage-free eggs, wild-caught salmon, and spirulina) can be helpful in naturally treating insomnia. With that noted, be sure you're not eating too close to bedtime...
Eat dinner earlier
Several years ago, I wrote an article for FirstWeFeast on the science of dreaming and food. Through this fascinating subject I learned that big meals close to bedtime not only disrupt your sleep, they can also be a precursor for nightmarish dreams. This is for two reasons: One, your body’s temperature rises when it is trying to digest food – and we now know that being hot (and bothered) while sleeping is a no-no. Two, certain foods – such as spices – have psychoactive properties, which can influence your brain's functioning. If you’ve ever had a restless night of crazy dreams after a spicy, exotic meal, you know what I’m talking about. Eat as early as possible, allowing your body plenty of time to digest prior to hitting the hay.
Less screens, more books
I’m not the first person who has told you this, but you really should put your phone away before bed. I don’t mean two minutes before bed, either – I’m talking at least a half an hour prior to snoozin'. This is because the blue light emitted by your iPhone, tablet, or even your television disrupts the production of melatonin, the hormone involved with getting you asleep. In lieu of Instagram scrolling, I prefer reading a good-old fashioned book: It’s a meditative, calming activity and it sets the stage for winding your brain down. (Unless, of course, you’re reading some sort of crazy thriller. Maybe pick something else?)
Don’t stress about not sleeping
Perhaps the best piece of advice about sleeping better is to stop focusing on the actual act of sleeping. This is because when you focus on sleep, you only amplify or aggravate existing anxiety, putting undue pressure on yourself. Instead of obsessing over the witching hour that is bedtime, attempt to make the lifestyle changes I’ve detailed out: exercising, early dinners, a better diet, and calming nighttime rituals. I think you’ll find that by focusing on them (most of which happen during the day) you won’t need to think about sleep at night. And, when all else fails, don’t forget to stick your feet outside of the covers!