Do you want to fall asleep when your head hits the pillow, sleep soundly through the night, and awaken fresh and alert? The 7 proven and sometimes surprising strategies in this post will get you there in no time.
First, Why Is Sleep So Important?
The fact is, if you’re not getting enough sound sleep each night, then you’re shortening your lifespan. As sleep expert Matthew Walker stresses, there is no more important thing for reseting overall health than sleep.
You need sleep to regulate your mind, body, and mood. Even your immune system is largely dependent on the quality of your sleep. And for our mental health, we need rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which exquisitely fine-tunes the emotional circuits of our brains and fuels all creative thought.
A Culture of Sleep Sabotage
Despite it’s impact on the quality of our daily lives, most people in the modern world have habits that wreak havoc on their natural sleep cycles. They’re literally sabotaging their own sleep, and losing their health along with it.
If you have a few of these bad habits yourself, don’t worry. The following 7 strategies will help you understand your own sleep cycles really well, so you can take control, sleep like a baby, and awaken each morning feeling refreshed, healthy, and raring to go.
Promote Melatonin, Not Cortisol
Sleep begins hours before bed. Yes, you heard that right. The moment when you actually close your eyes and fall asleep is only the climactic moment of a lengthy hormonal process which actually began several hours earlier.
As the sun sets and darkness falls, our brains begin producing melatonin and adenosine, the two sleep hormones. The build up of melatonin tells your body that it’s getting dark and nearing time to sleep. The other chemical, adenosine, is the one that actually makes you feel sleepy and sends you off into dream land.
Then during the night, as morning approaches, your brains reduce melatonin and instead begin producing cortisol, the awakening hormone. As your eyes and skin sense sunlight, cortisol washes through you, and you come fully awake.
Nurture Your Circadian Rhythm
This natural hormonal cycle is a very healthy process called our circadian rhythm. And it should be nurtured, not interrupted. Most people, however, do many things to unknowingly derail this delicate process each evening.
Bad habits like staring at screens which are emitting blue light, sitting in brightly lit rooms, checking social media, or engaging in other mentally stimulating activities, all either inhibit melatonin or trigger cortisol, or both.
To sleep deeply and well, you must alter your habits. It’s a good idea to enter a ritual an hour before bed. During that ritual, cut out cortisol-promoting activities and partake only in melatonin-promoting activities. You’ll soon begin to experience wonderful results.
Sleep In Total Darkness
Remember that your brain evolved in the ancient past, millennia ago, long before electricity. Back then during the night, we had no light at all, except perhaps the faint glimmer of stars overhead, or the fading glow of a cooking fire.
Any unnatural light at all can be sensed through your eyelids and skin. The human brain doesn’t know it’s manmade light. It mistakenly interprets electrical light as morning sunlight, and so it begins to secrete cortisol to wake you up. If it’s 11pm at night, this is a disaster for your sleep.
So find a way to cut out as much light in your bedroom as possible. Utter darkness is ideal. Light-blocking curtains work well for this. Or you might prefer to buy a good sleep mask to cover your eyes.
Don’t Let Alcohol Disrupt Your REM Sleep
We’ve already mentioned the crucial role that REM sleep plays in regulating our mood and overall mental well-being. REM sleep should take up 20% to 25% of our nights, re-calibrating our emotional circuits.
Out of all the bad sleep habits, the number one known disruptor of REM sleep is alcohol. If you regularly drink a few glasses of wine before bed, you’ll fall into a shallower form of slumber, never quite reaching your proper REM sleep cycles.
Over time, this really takes its toll on your mind, mood, and body. So if deep wholesome sleep is important to you, it’s a good idea to skip the night cap.
Respect the Half-Life Of Caffeine
If you recall, the partner sleep hormone of melatonin is adenosine. This is the chemical which makes you feel sleepy as it builds up, and then actually knocks you out when you’re in bed.
Caffeine is the absolute nemesis of adenosine. When you take a sip of coffee, the caffeine particles block the adenosine receptors in your brain, preventing adenosine from building up and making you sleepy.
Would You Drink Cup of Coffee Before Bed?
You might think that a few coffees in the morning couldn’t possibly affect the depth of your sleep that night, so many hours later. But I’m afraid it most certainly can and does.
Caffeine has a half-life of 6 hours in your body, and a quarter-life of 12 hours. This means that if you drink a single Starbucks coffee at 10am, which has 200mg of caffeine in it, then at 10pm that night, you still have 50mg of caffeine in your body, still blocking adenosine.
That’s exactly the same effect as drinking a quarter cup of Starbucks coffee just before you turn out the lights. Knowing this, it might be wise to cut down on coffee altogether, or at least only drink it very early in the morning.
Set Regular Sleep Hours
We’ve talked about how your sleep depends greatly on your circadian rhythm. Well, there’s one habit which above all others can keep your circadian rhythm healthy and natural.
That factor is regularity. If you simply go to sleep and wake up at the same time every morning and evening, then your circadian rhythm can settle into the routine, produce all the right hormones at the right times, and give you a wonderful, deep, refreshing sleep each night.
Get Sunlight In The Morning
This may seem strange to hear, but what you do first thing in the morning has a dramatic impact on how well you will sleep come nightfall. It’s important to get outside in the fresh air soon after you wake up in the morning. Sunlight on your skin helps your body know it’s morning, time for lots of cortisol.
In this way, you’re helping your body to fall into a healthy rhythm, which will lead to a proper build up of sleep hormones as the evening approaches.
Keep Your Bedroom Cool
We’ve all had the experience of trying to sleep on a hot summer night, tossing and turning, mind awake and whirling away. The truth is, a nice cold room is far more conducive to sleep than a warm one.
If your head, hands, and feet are cooler, perhaps poking out from under the duvet, then your body must send energy out to the extremities in order to warm them up. This redirects energy away from your brain, allowing you to sink down readily into slumber.
If you’re suffering from poor sleep, try out the above 7 very effective, science-based strategies. You’ll soon find yourself sleeping better than ever before.
Link to Matthew Walker’s book, Why We Sleep: amazon.com/Why-We-Sleep-Unlocking-Dreams-ebook/dp/B06ZZ1YGJ5/
Alternative link to a summary of his book: grahammann.net/book-notes/why-we-sleep-matthew-walker