Last week at Force of Well we talked about the importance of sleep, so this week I am highlighting a few things you can do to improve your sleep. Not only will I explain what these are and why they are important, but how they work to improve your nighttime routine. So let’s get to it!
Sleep hygiene is important and you can learn more about that in last week’s post. However, in addition to making the same bedtime a habit, it helps to make the activities around bedtime consistent. This helps signal to your mind and body that it is time for sleep. This can also help us reduce our blue light exposure (more about this later) by taking TV, computer, and cell phones out of our before bed activities. For example, the 30-60 minutes before bed could involve preparing clothes, lunch, etc. for the next day along with your nightly hygiene and some light reading.
2. Only use your bed for sleeping.
This probably seems like an odd statement, but many people have a television in their bedroom, and these days we bring our laptop, tablet, smart phone, and everything else to bed with us. Falling to sleep while watching TV is a very common practice, but it is one of the worst things for sleep quality. The flickering light from a television is even worse than just using a smart phone or tablet.
It is also important to not relax in bed throughout the day, because this trains your mind that the bed is not just for sleep. Just like establishing a routine around bedtime, it is important that your routine regarding your bed is just sleeping there.
3. Less Blue light
After poor sleep hygiene, blue light is thought to be the second most common reason for poor sleep. Blue light is emitted from our electronic devices. It is thought to inhibit the release of melatonin and sleepiness. Interestingly, studies have been conflicting on whether blue light causes less restful sleep. However, studies have either shown that people sleep the same or worse after blue light exposure, never better.
One option to decrease this exposure is to utilize functions like Night Shift on the iPhone which filters out the blue light. Similar utilities are available on other smart phones as well as on desktop computers. They often can be configured to begin working at a certain time and turn off automatically. As you might expect, they do alter the look of your screen, but it may be worth it for better sleep. I use Night Shift every night on my phone and no longer notice much of a difference.
In the past five years, essential oils have become one of the biggest fads. One of the most commonly used essential oils is lavender oil due to its calming effects. While many natural and herbal remedies have not been studied, lavender oil has been tested a respectable amount. Like blue light, the studies are conflicting. Another limitation is that most studies have been done using the subjects’ responses as evidence, which is not as reliable as an objective method such as an EEG. (Learn more about EEGs here.)
However, some studies have shown that the groups exposed to lavender oil, often in the form of a patch applied to their skin before sleep, did report more restful sleep when compared to the control groups. While it may not be absolute proof, lavender oil does appear to work for some people and it is a natural solution to help with sleep. It is certainly worth trying if you are having trouble sleeping and want to avoid prescription medications.
Melatonin is a hormone made by the pineal gland located in the brain. Levels of melatonin increase in the evening when the sun goes down, and increase in the morning when the sun rises. Melatonin’s function is to make us feel more sleepy, but some of us do not produce enough or we inhibit adequate melatonin release by getting too much light exposure before bed.
Melatonin is sold over the counter as a supplement and can be used to help those of us that have trouble sleeping. It is recommended that it be taken 30-60 minutes prior to bedtime. However, it is important to consult your health care provider before starting any new medications or supplements, because they can interfere with what you are already taking.
What About Prescription Sleep Medications?
Prescription medications such as Ambien and Lunesta are available for people with severe insomnia. However, these drugs have many adverse effects and may lead to dependence. There have been multiple reports of people sleep walking, sleep driving, and having vivid nightmares because of these medications. This is not to say they should never be used, but it may be better to try some alternatives first.
What is your nighttime routine? Have you overcome trouble sleeping? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below, on social media, or any other platform. Have a great week and be well!
1. Gronli J, Byrkjedal I, Bjorvatn B, Nodtvedt O, Hamre B. Reading from an iPad or from a book in bed: The impact on human sleep. A randomized controlled crossover trial.. . 2016(May 2016):86-92.
2. Heo J, Kim K, Fava M, Mischoulon D, Papakostas G, Kim M. Effects of smartphone use with and without blue light at night in healthy adults: A randomized, double-blind, cross-over, placebo-controlled comparison.. . 2017(87):61-70.
3. Rangtell FH, Ekstrand E, Rapp L, Lagermalm A, Liethof L. Two hours of evening reading on a self-luminous tablet vs. reading a physical book does not alter sleep after daytime bright light exposure. . 2016;23(July 2016):111-118. http://www.sleep-journal.com/article/S1389-9457(16)30081-8/fulltext