Guest Post from Moda Health
Ahh, that wonderful feeling of a full night’s rest. You wake up feeling recharged, energized, and ready to take on the day with a clear head and ambitious mindset. Sleep is the foundation of our mental and physical health, and performance in all endeavors. Getting quality sleep is not as simple as closing your eyes and hoping for the best. Fortunately, there are several things that we can be mindful of, and act upon, throughout the day to help support a good night’s sleep. Though sleep is highly individualized, the following tips are likely to positively influence your sleep hygiene.
Components of our diet as it relates to sleep can largely be broken into two groups: sleep “helpers” and sleep “stealers”.
Sleep “helpers” are those nutrients that promote good quality sleep. It’s important to consume a variety of these nutrients, as they contribute to sleep quality in different ways. Some help us relax and fall asleep, whereas others help us stay asleep, and others regulate circadian rhythms.
- Vitamin B-6 helps with the conversion of serotonin to melatonin. Good sources include almonds, honey, herbal tea, banana, salmon, cherry juice, turkey, whole grains, warm milk, kale, walnuts, and dark chocolate.
- Melatonin is a nutrient that helps regulate circadian rhythms. When consumed in a food-form, there might be a synergistic effect (nutrients working together to create a greater health effect and/or improve efficiency), so it’s recommended to try food before supplements. Good sources include tart cherries, milk, nuts, eggs, goji berries
- Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin. Good sources include meats, eggs, cheese, nuts and seeds, and soy products.
- Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D help regulate serotonin. Good sources include fatty fish, cod liver oil, and algae.
Sleep “stealers” are those that interrupt our sleep either by keeping us awake or putting us through that dreaded sleep-wake-sleep-wake cycle, or by disrupting our natural circadian rhythm.
- Caffeine is a stimulant and can make us feel less sleepy, which is why we should be mindful of when it is consumed. Caffeine has a half-life is 5 hours. Everyone is different and has different sensitivities to caffeine. Halt caffeine intake ~10 hours before bed.
- Nicotine is another stimulant and makes it harder to fall asleep and to stay asleep. Nicotine should ideally be avoided altogether, and certainly at least 2 hours before bed.
- Alcohol is a depressant and can make us feel sleepier, but it’s detrimental for sleep. Alcohol is a sedative, and we mistake sedation for sleep. Consuming alcohol too close to bedtime will fragment the sleep you do get and will block REM sleep. It is recommended to avoid alcohol 4 hours before bedtime.
Below are a few additional nutrition tips to help promote restful sleep.
- Avoid having a big meal 2-3 hours before bed, especially if susceptible to indigestion
- Avoid going to bed hungry. A small protein-dense snack before bed will help you to stay satiated through the night. If you’ve recently ramped up your physical activity level or reduced your daily caloric intake, you might find yourself waking up hungry in the middle of the night. Eating a small, protein-dense snack before bed will help you to stay satiated through the night.
- Be mindful of liquid consumption before bed
- Vitamin B-12 (included in B-complex supplements) promotes energy production; might make one restless
Creating your ideal sleeping environment is partially personal preference; however, sleep experts offer these sleep hygiene suggestions backed by research.
- Maintain a routine and go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Without a routine, our internal clock or circadian rhythm doesn’t know when to feel alert or sleepy.
- Sometimes a routine isn’t possible, especially if you work shift work, so focus on the other options within your control to help create a restorative sleeping environment.
- A cooler temperature is more beneficial for sleep since it mimics our body’s natural temperature drop. The natural temperature drop at night is our body’s thermal cue that it’s time to fall asleep. The ideal sleep temperature is between 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Create a dark space so our brain will recognize the natural transformation that it’s time for sleep. We need darkness to release a hormone, called melatonin, that plays a role in our sleep. Artificial light deprives us of the darkness that releases melatonin.
- Keep your sleeping environment as quiet and peaceful as possible. Limit sound exposure or utilize white noise to help mask disruptive noises like car horns or highway traffic. You can also use a fan (which will do double duty by also keeping your room cool), a sound machine, or sleep podcast.
- Try to minimize electronics and screens before bedtime. Bright lights delay our internal clock and make us feel more alert and awake. Before bed try sleep promoting activities such as journaling or reading, instead of watching TV or looking at your phone.
There is a bidirectional relationship between sleep and exercise. In other words, sleep impacts our exercise and exercise impacts our sleep!
Sleep allows our body time to recover. During sleep muscles and tissues strengthen and can help prevent exercise-related injuries. Sleep improves physical activity in terms of perceived rate of exhaustion, output efficiency, voluntary duration, and motivation, among other factors
Now for the other side of the relationship, physical activity improves sleep quality by increasing total sleep time, time in deep sleep, and decreasing the time it takes to fall asleep. Greater physical activity frequency is associated with less fatigue and increased energy throughout the day.
Digging a little bit deeper, we can hone in on exercise timing to really amp up your sleep quality. Aerobic workouts in the morning have been shown to improve sleep quality over those in the afternoon or evenings. Examples of aerobic exercises include walking, swimming, cycling, running, and jumping rope.
Mornings don’t fit in with your daily routine? That’s okay! It’s recommended to finish workouts at least 90 minutes prior to our planned bedtime. This allows time for the body’s core temperature to return to normal and endorphin levels to return to levels favorable for sleep. For more rigorous exercise, such as running or high-intensity interval training (HIIT), it is recommended to exercise more than 2-3 hours before bed. For light exercise timing doesn’t matter as much. Yoga and stretching exercises may be more suitable for evening exercises because they promote relaxation and can improve sleep quality.
Mindfulness is quite the buzzword these days, and for good reason! It’s been shown to help reduce anxiety, stress, and depression. Research also suggests mindfulness practices may improve our sleep quality and decrease awakenings throughout the night. Why? Mindfulness promotes relaxation and calms our nervous system to better prepare for sleep (Sleep Foundation). Though mindfulness practices vary and are highly individualized, the following techniques are most commonly researched as meditation pertains to sleep.
- Guided imagery: “In guided imagery, you intentionally think of a peaceful place or scenario. The goal is to promote a calm state through relaxation and mindfulness.” Information found here.
- Progressive relaxation: “In progressive muscle relaxation, you tense a group of muscles as you breathe in, and you relax them as you breathe out.” Procedure and information found here.
- Diaphragmatic breathing: “Diaphragmatic breathing is a type of relaxation breathing that uses the diaphragm. The diaphragm is the muscle that is below the ribs and above the stomach. In this type of breathing, the diaphragm causes the stomach, instead of the chest, to rise and fall. When the lungs fill with air, the diaphragm pushes down, and the stomach will rise (move forward). When the lungs empty the air, the diaphragm moves back up, and the stomach will fall (move back in). The result is slow, even and deep breathing.” Information found here.
- Body scan: “A meditative practice that involves mindfully scanning your body for sensations of pain, tension, or anything out of the ordinary.” Information found here.
- Apps: An interactive tool, including but not limited to: Headspace, CALM, and Insight Timer.