The Best Ways to Improve Your Sleep Beyond Reducing Your Coffee
It's more than likely that you’re not getting as much sleep as you should be. According to a 2011 survey by the Sleep Council, nearly half of us get six or less hours of sleep per night. Considering the recommended length of time to spend under the covers is seven to nine hours, six or less is extremely far from optimal.
“But it’s not my fault! I get into bed at the right time and my body just wants to stay awake.”
To a degree, this is very true. It’s very common for your body to want to stay awake at night if you’re leading a poor sleep lifestyle.
Why do we need to sleep that long anyway?
Well, apart from just to remove the bags under your eyes, getting a good night of rest is extremely important for your health and wellbeing; probably more than you think.
Various studies have now associated sleep quality and body fat levels. Essentially, the less that we sleep, the more likely our body is to store or keep hold of fat. This is particularly important for those who are trying to lose weight. When we lose weight, we’re actually trying to lose fat specifically. Weight can come from water, muscle, bone, and other areas of the body; fat is really what we want to lose. When in a calorie deficit, poor sleep can mean that more of the weight we lose comes from muscle than it does fat. Similarly, when trying to gain muscle, more of the weight we put on will be fat opposed to lean tissue. Not good.
Not to mention that poor sleep also increases our hunger. One German study from the Christian-Albrechts-University in Kiel, where healthy women had their sleep restricted found that they experienced a 20% increase in voluntary calorie intake and gained 0.4kg in just over 4 days!
We all know that a bad night of slumber can make us tired and irritable. This is because lack of sleep can actually cause similar brain patterns to what is seen with depression. It also limits our cognitive abilities, making it harder for us to focus and solve problems.
As well as all this, sleep deprivation can lead to a decrease in our insulin sensitivity which can lead to resistance, hypertension, diabetes, and obesity.
Lastly, we have something that many people will be able to relate to. Poor sleep means that we require more caffeine in order to function. A coffee when we’re already wide awake can make us feel on top of the world, but a coffee after a bad night of sleep means we’re just trying to get back to baseline. Over time, we require more and more caffeine in order to just feel ‘normal’, then when we don’t get our caffeine we feel even more tired than normal. If you have had a bad night in the land of nod and feel like you want a coffee, try to refrain from having it straight away. Allow your body to wake up first after one to two hours, then have a coffee. This will mean that your body doesn’t rely on caffeine in order to wake up, and instead uses it as the boost it should be.
How do we improve our sleep?
OK. So now you know why you need sleep above and beyond reducing your coffee expenditure, how do we get more of it?
The key to getting better sleep is understanding something called the ‘circadian rhythm’. Simply put, this is our body’s natural wake and sleep cycle that’s ideally in tune with the sunlight. This explains why you feel more tired in winter when the days are shorter and more awake in summer as the days get longer. There are certain signals that our body relies on to make sure we stick to this pattern.
The first and most obvious solution is to get into bed earlier. There will be a definite adjustment period, but getting your body into the routine of sleeping when the sun goes down will mean that you’ll gradually feel more tired.
Next, when you get into bed, don’t sit on your phone for the next two hours scrolling through Facebook. Blue light from screens (phones, tablets, laptops, etc.) tells our body that it should be awake. Instead we need to be looking at softer orange glows that simulate the setting of the sun. You can filter out the blue light by downloading apps and programs onto your devices or wearing orange tinted sunglasses, but the best idea is to put your phone away for the night and read a book.
Engaging in an activity that settles your brain and stops it stressing will be a massive help to everyone who has trouble winding down at the end of the day. If you’re the type of person who can’t sleep because they’re worrying about what they need to do the next day, write a to-do list right before bed. Lay out exactly what you need to in a numbered list from most important to least. Not only do you have your day organised, but you’ll feel calmer knowing that everything’s in order. One of the reasons why are mind constantly thinks about things we need to do is because it thinks that otherwise you’ll forget. Therefore, making a to-do list ensures you won’t forget and your mind can stop worrying.
There’s something extremely therapeutic about getting what’s inside of our heads, outside onto paper. In a similar fashion to a to-do list, keeping a diary helps us to relieve many of the stressors that plague our modern lifestyle. Before bed you can purge your thoughts and get whatever’s on your mind down on paper. This helps your mind to deal with frustrating subjects as it feels like it doesn’t need to hold onto it.
Finally, limiting caffeine in the hours before bed is vital for not only feeling tired, but getting a higher quality of sleep. Not many people know this but caffeine stays in your system for up to 6 hours. Try not to have any caffeinated beverages after 4pm to help you get sleepy around 10. Caffeine comes in many different forms from coffee to coke, so make sure you read the ingredients of anything you’re drinking in the later hours.
Not many people know the true effects sleep can have on their body composition and overall lifestyle. We all know how good we feel after a good night of rest, but staying up to watch that extra episode on TV is just a little too tempting sometimes. Hopefully, you’ll now do the sensible thing and hit the hay a little earlier so you can feel more productive, happy, and vibrant the next day.
Author: Alex Reader MSc