are you sabotaging your sleep?
Sleep is one of the most important factors when it comes to our overall health. Optimal sleep habits can have a profound impact on how you feel mentally and physically, your immune system, your ability to maintain a healthy weight and so much more. And if you don’t get a good night’s sleep, you definitely notice a difference in your ability to be at your best. Not to mention the host of health issues that can come with long term sleep problems; higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, lowered libido, impaired cognitive function, depression… just to name a few.
So if you haven’t been prioritizing sleep, there is no better time than now to start. The first step is to take a look at some of the ways that you may be unwittingly sabotaging your sleep. Once you identify these, it will be easy to make some small, manageable changes to get in those very valuable ZZZs.
Blue light is bad for bedtime
Your circadian rhythm determines when various processes in the body should take place during a 24 hour period, including when you sleep and when you wake. It is heavily influenced by light and dark. Before the invention of modern technology, human’s circadian rhythms were mostly in tune with sunrise and sunset. That’s because the sun emits a vast spectrum of light, including blue light. During the day, blue light can help to increase alertness, performance and attention by suppressing melatonin, a hormone that leads to drowsiness. But what benefits us during the day, can have the opposite effect at night. Our phones, tablets, computers and TV screens also emit blue light. So when the sun sets and that natural blue light recedes, we are still exposed to it through any number of electronic devices. At night, blue light can make our brain believe it is still daytime. Throwing off our circadian rhythm, making it more difficult to fall asleep, or leading to more disturbed sleep throughout the night. Turning off devices 2-3 hours before bedtime, using warm or yellow lighting at night, wearing a sleep mask to block any blue light you can’t turn off in the bedroom, these are all some simple ways to get back in sync with that natural clock.
But first, coffee.
You may want to think twice before having a coffee with your dessert. Although it may be a boon to your morning routine, coffee in the later parts of the day can have detrimental effects on your sleep. Caffeine has a half-life of about 4-6 hours in that body. That means it takes about that long to metabolize just half of the caffeine you consume. Various factors can shorten or lengthen that time frame, but on average that means some caffeine can stay in your system for up to 12 hours. Why does this matter for your sleep? Because caffeine blocks a hormone called adenosine. Adenosine builds up in the brain the longer we are awake, and it leads us to become more and more sleepy. If you consume coffee late in the evening (or any caffeine for that matter), you are blocking this important sleep hormone and potentially disrupting your circadian rhythm once again. Drinking coffee only in the morning or at least cutting it out after 3pm can help to stop caffeine from keeping you up at night.
That nightcap is not helping
While alcohol might help to induce sleep more quickly due to its sedative properties, when it comes to overall sleep quality, alcohol is definitely doing more harm than good. Alcohol has a depressing effect on the central nervous system and can seemingly lead to deeper sleep in the first half of the night. But as your sleep goes on, and your liver continues to metabolize the alcohol during the night, sleep is more likely to be interrupted. Add to that a bigger problem with how alcohol affects your sleep cycle. When we sleep we cycle through four stages going from light, to deep, to rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep is where we dream, consolidate memories and it is thought to be the most restorative stage of sleep. Numerous studies have shown that alcohol reduced the amount of time drinkers spent in this REM stage of sleep. Missing out on minutes in REM leads to daytime drowsiness, difficulty concentrating and overall reduction in the quality of sleep. So what about just one drink? A 2018 study showed that low alcohol consumption reduced sleep quality by 9.3%, moderate consumption (2 drinks per day) reduced sleep quality by 24%, and heavy alcohol consumption reduced sleep quality a whopping 40%. So aside from the many other negative health effects of too much alcohol, keeping your alcohol intake low and keeping it away from bedtime is the best way to avoid these negative effects.
Supplement timing is essential
Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, is one of the most important parts of a supplement routine. When you take this vitamin matters however, as the timing could have a direct impact on your sleep. Vitamin D is believed to suppress melatonin, that all important sleep hormone. So if you’re taking your vitamin D at night, it could be the reason why you can’t fall asleep. Taking vitamin D in the morning or afternoon is ideal. And it’s even more critical when you consider that vitamin D deficiency is also linked to poor overall sleep quality. So don’t skimp on this all important supplement but make sure you take it at the right time of day.
Keep it cool
Nothing is worse than trying to sleep in a hot, sticky bedroom. It is uncomfortable and can even be affecting your overall quality of sleep. As we wind down for sleep at night, the body goes through a process called thermoregulation. As melatonin increases, body temperature decreases and it will drop about 2 degrees through the night before rising again in the morning. The body downshifts it’s temperature by sending heat away from the core to the extremities like the hands and feet. But the temperature of your bedroom plays an important role in this process. If it is too hot, the body can’t cool down. This can lead to restlessness, disturbed sleep, and an inability to fall asleep altogether. REM sleep has also been said to be affected by hot sleeping environments. Research suggests that the best room temperature for sleep is between 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit. This can vary according to the individual. Whether using AC, a fan or appropriate bedding and clothing in the heat, keeping cool is imperative. You can even take a warm bath about 2 hours before bedtime, which has a natural cool-down effect afterwards.
A quick summary of tactics to keep your sleep at it’s best:
Turn off electronic devices 2-3 hours before bedtime
Use warm or yellow lighting in your home at night
Avoid coffee and alcohol too close to bedtime
Take your vitamin D in the morning or afternoon
Keep your sleeping environment as cool as you can
And a bonus tip: keeping your sleep environment quiet, dark and for sleep and sex only, can help your brain to recognize the bedroom as a sleep sanctuary and fast track you to a better night’s sleep.