Exercise, diet, and sleep – the “holy” triad of health.
In theory, that is.
In reality, most people talk about their diet and exercise but neglect their sleep. Heck, some even brag how long they’ve gone without sleeping!
But the truth is, sleep is just as important as exercise and nutrition.
According to research, poor sleep has a negative impact on almost all aspects of your health – including hormones, cognitive function, memory, heart function, and exercise performance. (30, 31, 32, 33)
What’s more, lack of sleep leads to weight gain and even diabetes in extreme cases. (33, 34)
You can diet and train all you want. But if your sleep sucks, you won’t be able to stay in good shape and health.
By contrast, quality sleep helps you maintain lean muscle mass, lose fat, stay energetic, and be healthier in general.
With that in mind, here’s the list of 7 best ways to improve sleep – backed by scientific evidence.
Have a look:
#1 Skip That Afternoon Coffee
Let’s start with the biggest sleep killer, shall we?
Yes, it’s caffeine.
There are many things on this list that can severely disrupt your sleep.
But caffeine is the worst of them all.
Studies show that when consumed late in the day, coffee disrupts your body’s natural ability to relax at night.
In fact, drinking coffee up to 6 hours before bed can dramatically impair your sleep. That’s what this study showed. (1)
To quote the study:
“The magnitude of reduction in total sleep time suggests that caffeine taken 6 hours before bedtime has important disruptive effects on sleep and provides empirical support for sleep hygiene recommendations to refrain from substantial caffeine use for a minimum of 6 hours prior to bedtime.” – PubMed.gov
This makes sense, considering that caffeine stays in your system for 6-8 hours. So if you drink your last cup of coffee at 5 PM and go to bed at 11 PM, you have a chance of spending your night staring at the ceiling instead of sleeping! (2, 3)
If you really crave a cup of coffee later in the day (or evening), choose decaffeinated coffee instead of the regular one. That should do the trick.
#2 Avoid Blue Light at Night
Exposure to daylight is essential to our survival and health as a species.
The blue light from the sun keeps our cardiac rhythm in check and controls many other bodily processes.
However, light exposure during the night does the exact opposite – it messes your biological clock up. (4, 5)
When you look at bright TV screens or other artificial light at night, you trick your brain into thinking it’s still sunny outside. As a result, the production of melatonin stops. (6, 7)
Melatonin is a sleep hormone. Without enough of it, you’ll find it very hard to fall asleep.
Computers, smartphones, TVs, and other electronic devices all emit blue-light. This is the worst type of light to expose yourself to at night. It has a short wavelength and causes eye strain. So not only does your sleep suffer but so do your eyes – and overall health.
Ideally, you’d want to turn off your smartphone and all electronic devices at least 1 hour before bed. Preferably 2 or more hours. But if you can’t stick to this rule, then try some of these methods:
- Wear blue-light blocking glasses
- Install apps on your PC and smartphone that block blue light
- Dim your screen brightness on all electronic devices
Again, these are all preventative methods from exposing yourself to too much blue light. But the truth is, these still don’t block all the blue light completely.
As a result, your melatonin production will still suffer to a degree. That’s why I can’t stress enough the importance of turning off all electronic devices at least 1 hour prior to going to bed.
#3 Meditate, Stretch, or do Yoga Before Bed
Have you ever gone to bed feeling extremely stressed?
It usually goes like this… you lay in bed, trying not to think about the thing that’s stressing you out. But as usual, you end up ruminating for several hours, unable to fall asleep due to an influx of relentless and never-ending thoughts.
Don’t worry – we’ve all been there.
When you’re stressed, your body pumps hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones send you signals such as: “Let’s go! It’s time to act!”.
As a result, this makes it impossible to fall asleep.
Doing relaxation techniques can be of great help to counter this. (8, 9, 10)
These include yoga, massages, meditation, deep breathing, and other similar techniques.
For example, meditation is shown to drastically reduce stress, and subsequently, cortisol. (11)
Try it out for a few weeks and see if it has a positive effect on your sleep.
#4 Get Sunlight Early in the Day
Circadian rhythm is your body’s natural clock. It doesn’t just affect your wake-sleep cycle but also your brain, body, hormones, and overall health. (12)
Exposing yourself to natural bright light from the sun helps to keep your circadian rhythm in check. In turn, this improves your energy during the day and sleep quality at night. (13)
People who suffer from insomnia usually have a lot of trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep. However, when you expose them to natural bright light in the morning, their sleep duration and quality improve tremendously. What’s more, they also fall asleep faster, according to research. (14)
A study found that two hours of daylight exposure prolonged the participants’ sleep by 2 hours and sleep efficacy by 80%. (15)
If getting this amount of daylight isn’t practical for you, consider investing in artificial devices that mimic the natural bright light.