No, Your Nightcap Is Not Helping You Sleep Better
Sleep is incredibly essential. In addition to aiding your body in recovering from the day’s activities, sleep has also been shown to perform vital metabolic processes such as the cleanup of toxic proteins in the brain, and helps with the consolidation of short-term memories into long-term memories during the REM portion of sleep.
Research shows that lack of sleep has been associated with a multitude of health issues, such as increased inflammation, impaired focus, impeded fat loss, reduced testosterone production and amplified risk of cardiovascular diseases.
On the contrary, when you manage to get enough quality sleep, it can help you perform better mentally, physically and even in the bed! Well, provided you don’t stay up all night. Wink. On top of all that, you will be pleased to hear that a good night’s sleep also carries the potential to make you a whole lot happier. (Pun intended)
In America alone, more than 30% of adults and 60% of adolescents suffer from sleep deprivation, and if the statistics from Sleep Cycle are to be believed, the rest of the world isn’t doing too well on the zzzs either. So — how can we all improve our slumber experience?
#1 — Avoid bright lights and blue lights
Light helps to regulate the human biological clock (the circadian rhythm) through melatonin, a neurohormone made by the pineal gland — a pea-sized gland located just above the middle of your brain — and its effects in causing and regulating sleep is well known.
Production of melatonin is disrupted by blue light, which is produced by the Sun and also by the screens of our TV sets, computers and smartphones. If you plan on waking up refreshed in the morning, steer clear of your electronics. All that late-night scrolling of Facebook feeds and Instagram posts is only making it harder for you to fall asleep. But if you can’t because your boss just loves those late-night calls and emails, consider installing apps which gradually reduce the amount of blue light emitted from the screens after sunset.
If you want to take it up a notch, you can even wear blue-light blocking glasses a couple of hours before bed-time. Not the sexiest accessory, I know, but at least you’ll get a good night’s sleep! Another pro tip is to make your room dark: bright lights are disruptive to sleep.
#2 — Use earplugs
It turns out that sounds that don’t wake you up still carry the potential of impairing your sleep quality! If you live on a noisy street, or if you have neighbours who are ahem, particularly active through the night and aren’t shy about it, you can consider getting earplugs. Unless, of course, you have a newborn in the house and you need to respond to his or her cries — in this case, please do not get earplugs.
#3 — Sleep in a cool room
Have you ever tossed and turned in bed, soaked with sweat, because it was just too hot? Science can explain why: raised core body temperature has been associated with insomnia — if your bedroom is too warm, you will have trouble going to sleep and are more likely to experience a decrease in your sleep quality.
On the contrary, reductions in core body temperature have been associated with reductions in sleep latency: the amount of time it takes to fall asleep. Therefore, always strive to sleep in a comfortably cool bedroom to minimise the amount of time you spend on trying to hit the sack, and maximise the quality of sleep you’re getting in.
#4 — Avoid alcohol
Do not use alcohol as a Sleep Aid. I’ll say it again: do not use alcohol as a Sleep Aid! As a depressant of the central nervous system, alcohol causes relaxation (and drowsiness) by binding to GABA receptors in the brain and it can help you fall asleep but the effect fades off after a few days!
It’s also important to note that alcohol impairs the quality of your sleep right from the very first night that you use it as a Sleep Aid. Do avoid alcohol after dinner.
#5 — Stay away from caffeine
Ah caffeine — the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive drug. As a central nervous system stimulant, the most noticeable effect of caffeine is alertness.
While many coffee veterans — myself included — can fall asleep with caffeine surging and coursing through our veins, we probably shouldn’t. Even as we slumber, caffeine makes us more alert and in turn, causes our sleep to be more shallow. This is the reason why caffeine should be avoided within 6 hours before bedtime.
#6 — Exercise
Even though scientists and researchers aren’t exactly sure why, physical activity during the day seems to improve sleep quality.
Many people are concerned that exercising at night is “bad”, but as it turns out, nightly exercise is better than no exercise with regard to sleep quality and other health factors. Individual factors play a role though, so if you find that exercising at night disrupts your sleep, you should try to find another workout window.
#7 — Go to bed at the same time, every night
Your circadian rhythm follows a 24-hour schedule, as constrained by the hours contained within a day. An inconstant sleeping schedule throws the circadian rhythm into disarray and impairs the quality of your sleep. Therefore, going to bed at approximately the same time every night can help improve sleep quality and reduce sleep latency.
You can further prime your body for sleep by incorporating a bedtime routine into your life. Your routine should be more soothing — many people find reading to be a suitable winding down bed-time activity. Just, you know, no intense Stephen King or James Patterson books.
#8 — Melatonin, magnesium and lavender
If you have attempted all above tips with little to no success, you can try supplementing with melatonin, magnesium and lavender.
Oral melatonin can improve the quality of your sleep and help fight jet lag, but it’s important to note that as effective as it can be, it is not a magical pill which allows you to change your sleeping schedule at will.
Inadequate magnesium can impair sleep. Before you pop those magnesium supplement pills in your mouth though, take note that magnesium-rich foods (almonds, spinach, cashew, etc. ) are numerous and should be your first option. If you decide to go ahead with supplementing, be aware that 350 mg has been set as the Tolerable Upper Intake Level for magnesium supplementation in adults — adverse effects will be observed when this level is exceeded.
Lavender’s scent has been shown to promote relaxation, alleviate insomnia and improve sleep quality. If stress or anxiety is a big factor which hurts your sleep, then lavender may help.
To sum it all up, sleep is important — you should definitely do more of it. If you’ve tried all the above improvement methods with no observable significant increase in sleep quality, seek a doctor’s help to ensure that you are not suffering from sleep apnea or another sleep disorder.
Thanks for reading! If you want an evidence-based approach to optimizing your lifestyle, I’ve written an article on why sleep is important and how you can improve it. You’ll like it — I promise!