How to Get Better Sleep - Part 3
Updated: Sep 25, 2019
This is the final part in a 3 part blog post, each discussing a different area of sleep and how to improve it. Read on to see how you can upgrade your sleep quality.
Part 3 - Nutrition, environment and exercise
These things affect every facet of how our bodies work, including how they sleep.
Here are 7 easy ways to further improve your sleep quality.
1. Carbs before bed.
Among those who have trouble falling asleep, some have reported that having carbohydrates before bed can help with sleep onset. Fast digesting carbs seem to work best (see point 4) such as a teaspoon of honey, with a line being drawn somewhere south of anything that will make you feel very energetic e.g. a whole litre of orange juice.
Many people claim (anecdotal, again) that a hot beverage before bed has a similar effect and can be a good vehicle for the carbs e.g. a teaspoon of honey in chamomile tea. I would guess that while this may have a relaxing effect it is most likely due to the ritual imposed (see part 2, point 3) and the association people have with taking time out for a hot soothing drink (which is still a valid effect). I would further caution that this strategy should be chosen or overlooked based on your bladder size, and how likely you are to be woken mid-slumber to go find the bathroom.
This has been found to improve sleep quality, reduce sleep latency, raise sleep duration and improve subjective sleep quality (Majid et al, 2017).
'The sunshine vitamins' as it is known, is synthesised by our skin in response to sunlight exposure, and can therefore be hard to get adequate levels of Vitamin D with our increasingly indoor lifestyle.
If like me you live in Ireland, or a similar area of low sunlight or short days, this will further add to the difficulty.
Supplementing with Magnesium an hour before sleep can help, although it is likely to be of more use to those who are lacking magnesium in their diet. That said, unless someone is making a concerted effort to obtain good levels of magnesium in their diet, it is very common to see a magnesium deficiency.
Lab Door are an independent company who anonymously purchase and test supplements.
Their findings often differ considerably from the manufacturer's label claims.
If buying supplements I always recommend only buying supplements that have been checked for efficacy, quality, safety etc by LabDoor.com.
3. Food before bed
Although this can be comforting and relaxing (see point 1) , too much food before bed can disrupt sleep too. Avoid significant food (a meal) in the last 90mins-2 hours before bed. In particular, lean away from slower to digest foods such as fibrous foods and very fatty foods.
Avoid caffeine in the 10-12 hours (not a typo) before bed.
Caffeine has a half life of approx 5 hours. A fairly standard coffee contains approx 150-200mg caffeine.
A half-life of 5 hours would mean that drinking 200mg caffeine at 2pm means 100mg is still in your system at 7pm, and 50mg at midnight.
Even if you still feel tired at bedtime, having caffeine in your system can negatively impact your quality of sleep.
15-20 celcius is an ideal room temperature for sleeping. Less than you thought, right?
Heating up a cold room is easy enough, but staying cool on a hot night can be tricky.
The following can help:
-Sleep under a sheet not a duvet.
-For extra points, put that sheet in a plastic bag in your freezer 1-2 hours before bed. It won’t stay cold for long but can help to fall asleep on hot nights.
-Fill a hot water bottle with water, and freeze / refrigerate it.
-Use a quiet electric fan
Exercising during the day will often help you sleep at night.
This is anecdotal but, in all the years I have spent as a personal trainer, every client I have trained has reported an improvement in sleep quality, sleep onset, ease of waking and energy levels throughout the day, after as little as one week of regular exercise.
If you can't exercise during the day, night time is fine (despite what you may have heard).
While very high intensity exercise in the hour before bed can disrupt sleep by raising cortisol and disrupting the body's signal to wind down, realistically most people are not training at these intensities, and don't need to. Even fewer do that directly before bed.
7. Tidy space, tidy mind
Keep your sleeping area clear of clutter and electronics.
Put your phone on airplane mode or switch it off, if it needs to be in the bedroom at all.
The more barriers you put between you and checking your phone, the less likely you are to do so. Also, even the potential for distraction of a phone that could be used, is in itself tempting and distracting, and is one more argument you don't need to have with yourself.