3 Things That May Be Messing With Your Sleep And How to Fix It
Here are some tips to improve your sleep hygiene for a happier and healthier you!
How many hours do you sleep in a day? 5? 6? 7 on a good weekend?
Science has finally put a number on the recommended number of hours of sleep and for adults starting 18 years old, you should definitely be getting 7-9 hours of sleep a day for optimum health. This is according to the Sleep Foundation, an independent, nonprofit corporation that builds on expert data and sources to provide quality information about sleep health.
Needless to say, sleep is important in the body’s repair and growth. In fact, studies have shown that sleep deprivation tends to leave people vulnerable to attention lapses, reduces cognition, and makes us more susceptible to stress and mood shifts. Lack of sleep has also been linked to medical conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart diseases.
So if you feel like 5 hours a day works out for you, think again. Because some studies suggest that people can develop a sort of tolerance to chronic sleep deprivation. We may not notice it because less sleep feels normal to us, but our bodies and brains may actually be struggling and coping with unnatural deficiencies because we lack sleep.
Apart from the quantity, quality of sleep is also important. This is where sleep hygiene comes into play—the overall quality and ease of going into restful sleep. A good sleep hygiene is key to having higher quality sleep and better overall health.
Do you find it hard to fall asleep? Do you usually toss and turn, or wake up in the middle of the night? Do you suffer from daytime sleepiness? All of these point to poor sleep hygiene, which isn’t helping you get the optimum quality of sleep and rest that your mind and body needs.
So, what is causing poor sleep hygiene and what can you do to improve it? Here are three of the most common culprits that may be messing with your sleep.
Problem: Messed-up circadian rhythm
You’ve most likely heard about circadian rhythm, which is the body’s natural time-keeping clock. This affects your body, brain, and even your hormones, and is essential in giving you cues for when it’s time to wake up or go to sleep.
Some of the things that mess up our circadian rhythm are changes in our body and environment. For example, not getting enough sunlight in the morning or exposing ourselves to too much light at night can throw off our light-dark cycle. Those who work late-night shifts and sleep in the morning are also susceptible to messed-up circadian rhythms.
While it’s tolerable to operate on a messed-up circadian rhythm, these changes can actually cause sleep disorders that may eventually lead to other chronic health conditions.
Blue light has also been notoriously blamed for throwing off our circadian rhythm, especially these days when we use our phones and televisions more well into the night, even before we go to sleep. According to Harvard researchers, blue light is a powerful melatonin suppressant and can shift a person’s circadian rhythm by as much as 3 hours. In case you’re unfamiliar with melatonin, it is a hormone released by your body at night that helps promote sleep. In short, blue lights tends to trick your body into thinking it’s still daytime. So, if you’re fond of using your phone in bed, you’re probably not doing your circadian rhythm much good.
Solution: Fix your light-day cycle
One of the best ways to establish or maintain a good circadian rhythm is to expose yourself to natural sunlight during the day. According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, people with insomnia who were exposed to additional daytime bright light had better sleep quality and duration. It also reduced the time it took for them to fall asleep by 83 percent.
Some ways to achieve this is to set a daily morning walk or jog, opening your windows for maximum sunlight throughout the day, or investing in bright lights inside your room.
At night, it’s best to keep lights dim or warm to keep your circadian rhythm in check. And since we’ve mentioned blue light, one of the best ways to improve sleep hygiene is to stay away from electronic devices like cellphones, laptops, computers, and televisions at least 2 hours before going to bed.
While it’s almost impossible to stay away from gadgets before we sleep—since many of us use our phones to “get sleepy,” another way to go about is to wear blue light-protecting glasses.
Local eyewear provider MetroSunnies are offering their Con-Strain Pro lenses, which are engineered to block blue light. This lens also helps to prevent digital eye strain when using electronic gadgets for a long period of time. This will be very helpful especially at night, when you can’t help but binge a couple of episodes of your current drama on Netflix, or use your phone as an e-reader for your favorite book.
Problem: The things we eat
Good diet and nutrition is probably one of the most underrated things when it comes to anything health-related. When it comes to good sleep hygiene, poor nutrition habits are also usually a culprit, contributing to disturbed sleep.
Did you know that high-carbohydrate meals, for example, can negatively impact your sleep hygiene as it has been shown to increase the number and frequency of waking up at night, which reduces your time for deep sleep?
Caffeine late into the afternoon will also contribute to difficulty in falling asleep. Caffeine is a natural stimulant, so consuming caffeine close to bedtime will throw off your ability to relax and fall asleep easier.
According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, consuming caffeine up to 6 hours before bedtime can significantly worsen your sleep hygiene, because caffeine can stay elevated in your bloodstream for 6-8 hours. And be wary; caffeine comes in many forms, not just coffee. Chocolate, soda, tea, and chocolate snacks usually have caffeine in significant doses.
Solution: Eat better
In general, eating a better and healthier diet will improve not just your sleep, but so many facets of your overall health. Functional medicine nurse practitioner, Maggie Berghoff, MSN, FNP-C, who works with patients experiencing sleep issues, says: "Diet plays a large role in sleep regulation. Decreasing inflammatory foods that spike blood sugar levels such as sugar or simple carbs may improve sleep. Ridding the body of processed foods and items one is intolerant to (these can even be "healthy" foods like lettuce or lemons!) will also improve sleep quality and quantity.”
Many things hinder us from eating better—whether it’s the inability to cook, the lack of time to actually prep and cook, or the lack of knowledge on what constitutes a healthy diet. In these cases, you can either buckle up and make time to learn and cook, or you can turn to the experts to help you eat better and healthier.
Diet meal providers have become popular in the last years for people who would like to cut down on their weight, but did you know that many of them actually function as ways to eat better and healthier, as well?
Daily’s Diet, for example, is a great meal plan delivery service that caters to different health needs and requirements. Their balanced diet meals will provide you with the recommended ratio of carbs, protein, and fat, so that you can eat within your calorie consumption needs, while supplying your body with its needed nutrients.
For those with special concerns—such as those who need a high-protein diet, those who have diabetes, or those who are pescatarians—they also have varied meal plans to meet your requirements.
In terms of regulating your caffeine, it’s best to keep your caffeine intake to before 3 or 4 p.m. in the afternoon. This way, the stimulant effects of caffeine have enough time to subside, and it does not mess with your sleep hygiene.
Problem: Anxiety and stress
The bills are piling up, your to-do list seems unending, your boss berated you again today, and you feel like your future is bleak. When the business of the daytime subsides, at night is when your thoughts would come crashing down, stopping you from getting that restful sleep.
While it’s easy to say, “Don’t stress it!”, it’s usually not that easy.
But the truth is, stress and sleep affect each other more than we realize. According to a study by the American Psychological Association, adults who get fewer than 8 hours of sleep a night tend to be more irritable, overwhelmed, and stressed. Inversely, those who tend to be more stressed with so many things racing on their mind even at night, tend to not get enough sleep as well.
Stress is a stimulus. It activates your fight-or-flight hormones that work against relaxing and sleeping. And at the end of the day, both chronic stress experiences and chronic sleep deprivation will lead to increased risk for many medical conditions.
Solution: Create a sleep routine
While it’s difficult (and almost impossible) to completely rid our life of stress and anxieties, it’s possible to trick our minds into a relaxed state before we go to bed. This is where creating a routine by engaging in relaxing activities leading to bedtime comes in.
Different people have different ways to relax, but some of our suggestions are to have a warm bath to help your body relax, read, meditate, pray, or journal, writing down the things you’re grateful for for the day. Turning these relaxing activities into a nightly routine will help set a “bedtime mood,” so that your body goes into a more relaxed and peaceful state as you get closer to your sleeping time.
When you’re tempted to be miserable about your missed deadlines and your piling worries as soon as you hit the pillow, you can also turn to podcasts that will help distract your mind from wandering or delving on things you can’t control.
One of the most recent sleep podcasts we found on Spotify is Sleeping Pill with Inka, which is dubbed as the first Filipino ASMR sleep podcast created by professional voice artist, Inka Magnaye. If you’re not familiar with her, she is the voice behind the iconic in-flight announcement of Philippine Airlines, and various ads on the radio.
Sleeping Pill with Inka is a podcast featuring Inka’s soothing and relaxing voice, where she reads poems and stories, or some guided meditation. Listening to this podcast may help you keep your mind off stressful thoughts, and help you enter a more relaxed state that’s best for sleeping.
Our suggestion: get a Sleep Timer app, set it on for 30 minutes, and play an episode from Sleeping Pill with Inka. That way, you won’t have to worry about turning your phone off when you doze off to sleep.
Good night and have a restful one!