The Importance of Sleep

At BB&R, we love to talk about the importance of nutrition and sleep. However, many of us often forget about how much the two are intertwined. Based on the natural sleep/wake cycle of the brain, humans need between 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Sadly, excessive work demands, artificial stimulation like browsing the internet or watching TV sometimes get in the way of an early bedtime. What we are putting in our mouth during the day also affects the quality and quantity of the sleep we get. Foods that take longer to digest, like meals high in fat and protein, can keep your body working late into the night, keeping you awake. For dinner, opt for "lighter" meals like fresh salads, steamed veggies with salmon or healthy soup. Eliminating the afternoon cup of joe is also essential to maximizing your sleep. Caffeine can stay in your system for up to 15 hours and disrupt your sleep cycle. Have your morning coffee and stick with caffeine free beverages for the rest of the day.

Lack of sleep can also disrupt the regulation of important hormones that control your appetite. Getting less than optimal sleep each night can decrease grehlin, the hormone that helps you feel full, while increasing leptin, making you feel even more hungry. Moreover, we have all experienced the feeling of sleep deprivation and hunger. The body craves high-calorie, fatty foods 45% more under conditions of sleep-deprivation, which ultimately, leads to less than optimal food choices.

Finding a suitable sleep strategy that fits your needs and life is an essential part of your self-care routine. Make it a priority just like the rest of your healthy habits and try to be consistent! Sleep is essential to living a long healthy life.

Try the 16 tips below if you want to improve your sleep. What makes them unique is that you do them starting in the morning and continue throughout the day and night. By the time it's bedtime, you'll be asleep before you know it!

Below is the chronological list, starting with when you wake up and continuing until bedtime.

16 Ways to Improve Your Sleep

  1. Open Your Shades. Exposure to bright light first thing in the morning stops production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin and signals to your body that it's time to wake up. Outdoor sunlight is best, so you might even want to take a quick walk outside.

  2. Make Your Bed. This is a psychological trick aimed at making your bedroom less cluttered - and therefore easier to relax in - come bedtime. You can also quickly put away any junk cluttering your nightstand and dresser.

  3. Exercise. Exercise leads to better sleep at night. Many people schedule their full workouts for morning. If you don't have time for a full workout, at least do some quick stretching or bodyweight exercises.

  4. Take a Walk Outdoors After Lunch. Not only will this increase in physical activity help you sleep later, but taking your walk outdoors gives you more exposure to bright sunlight. Light intensity is measured in lux units, and on any given day, the outdoor lux units will be around 100,000 at noon. Indoors, the typical average is somewhere between 100 to 2,000 lux units - about two orders of magnitude less. The brightness of the light matters, because your pineal gland produces melatonin roughly in approximation to the contrast of bright sun exposure in the day and complete darkness at night. If you are in relative darkness all day long, it can't appreciate the difference and will not optimize your melatonin production. This, in turn, can have some rather significant ramifications for your health and sleep.

  5. Cut Off Your Caffeine. If you're a coffee drinker, take your last caffeinated sip in the early afternoon (this applies to caffeinated soda, too). The caffeine can linger in your body for hours, blocking a brain chemical called adenosine that would otherwise help you to fall asleep.

  6. Consider a Nap. According to Rubin Naiman, Ph. D. a clinical psychologist, author, teacher, and a leader in integrative medicine approaches to sleep and dreams, we're biologically programmed to nap during the daytime, typically in the middle of the afternoon. The key is to avoid napping for too long, as this may disrupt your circadian rhythms, which would hurt your sleep instead of help it. The ideal nap time for adults appears to be around 20 minutes (any longer and you'll enter the deeper stages of sleep and may feel groggy when you wake up).

  7. Exercise in the Early Evening (If You Haven't Already). The importance of exercise for sleep cannot be overstated, so if you didn't fit in your workout in the morning, be sure to do so later. There is some debate over how close is too close to bedtime to exercise. For some people, exercising too close to bedtime may keep you awake, but for others even late-night exercise seems to help (not hinder) sleep. One poll by the National Sleep Foundation found that 83 percent of people said they slept better when they exercised (even late at night) than when they did not, so even if it's late, you may still want to exercise.8 Let your body be your guide.

  8. Take 15 Minutes to Unwind. If you're stressed, it's harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Taking 15 minutes (at least) each day to relax may help your sleep significantly. You may try listening to music, journaling, meditation, chatting with a loved one. Do whatever works best for you.

  9. Eat a Light Dinner and Stop Eating Three Hours Before Bed. If you eat a heavy meal too close to bedtime, your body will have to devote energy to digesting your food when it should be recharging during sleep.

  10. At Sundown, Dim Your Lights (or Use Amber-Colored Glasses). In the evening (around 8 p.m.), you'll want to dim your lights and turn off electronic devices. Normally, your brain starts secreting melatonin between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m.

  11. Turn Down the Volume. In the evening hours, you'll also want to keep noise to a minimum. Noise louder than a normal conversation may stimulate your nervous system and keep you awake. You may want to use a fan or other form of white noise to drown out noise disturbances while you sleep. The exception is listening to soft, soothing music, such as classical, which may actually help you to sleep.

  12. Take a Warm Bath About 1.5 Hours Before Bed. Thermoregulation - your body's heat distribution system - is strongly linked to sleep cycles. When you sleep, your body's internal temperature drops to its lowest level, generally about four hours after you fall asleep. Scientists believe a cooler bedroom may therefore be most conducive to sleep, since it mimics your body's natural temperature drop. This is also why taking a warm bath 90 to 120 minutes before bedtime may help you sleep; it increases your core body temperature, and when it abruptly drops when you get out of the bath, it signals your body that you are ready for sleep.

  13. Adjust Your Bedroom Temperature. While there's no set consensus as to what temperature will help you sleep the best, in most cases any temperature above 75 degrees Fahrenheit and below 54 degrees F will interfere with your sleep.10 Some experts suggest 65 degrees F is ideal for sleep.

  14. Sip a Cup of Chamomile Tea. Chamomile has sedative effects that may help with sleep, which is why chamomile tea is often sipped before bed. One study found that people with insomnia who took a chamomile supplement had improvements in daytime functioning and potential benefits on sleep measures as well.11 You may want to try sipping a cup prior to bedtime to see if it helps you sleep.

  15. Get Ready for Bed. A nightly ritual of washing your face, brushing your teeth and getting into your pajamas signals to your mind and body that it's time for bed. Try to stick with the same hygiene ritual, at the same time, each night.

  16. Sleep in Complete Darkness.