Getting high-quality sleep is incredibly important. Research has shown that consistently getting sufficient high-quality sleep leads to better memory, improved mood, higher cognitive performance, and increased health & energy.
Essentially, a night of good sleep is at the foundation of a highly productive day.
Yet, according to the American Sleep Apnea Association, about 1 in 5 adults suffer from chronic sleep deprivation. And many more regularly suffer from the negative effects of not getting enough sleep.
According to Dr. Malcolm von Schantz of the University of Surrey, “chronic sleep deprivation has been reported to be associated with greater mortality via a large number of negative health outcomes, including obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease”.
Furthermore, insufficient sleep has been linked to depression, memory issues, daytime fatigue, lack of focus, and lower productivity. All in all, you want to make sure to get a good night sleep consistently. That’s why, in this post, I’ll share 8 scientifically-proven steps you can take to improve the quality of your sleep right away.
Step 1: Avoid Screens One Hour Before Bedtime
Nowadays, most of us live with all types of screens around us — whether it’s our smartphone, TV, laptop, or tablet. The problem is that these devices emit blue light, which studies have shown to negatively impact sleep quality.
In the past, we had no artificial light from devices or lamps. Thus, the body used natural sunlight as guidance for when it needed to fall asleep and wake up.
When it starts getting dark outside, an area of the brain called the hypothalamus signals to the body to drop the body temperature and to start creating melatonin, an essential hormone required for falling asleep.
In the morning, when light is sensed, the brain signals the body to warm up and to produce hormones like cortisol in order to wake up. This the natural process of the ‘circadian rhythm.’
Nowadays, however, this rhythm is influenced by all the artificial light we have in our homes, including the screens of our smartphone, computer, and TVs.
Because of the artificial light, the body’s natural rhythms become confused, suppressing melatonin production. Because of this confusion, the body doesn’t know when to get ready for sleep.
According to research, the light emitted from devices — blue light — is the most harmful to our natural sleep rhythm.
Unfortunately, most of us are glued to our devices even to the point where we’re already lying in bed. This continuous exposure to blue light is what causes so many people to have trouble getting a good night’s sleep.
A study by the Dutch Institute for Neuroscience showed that, on average, frequent screen users took 30 minutes longer to fall asleep and reported more disturbances during the night compared to non-frequent screen users.
That’s why Dr. Robert Oexman, director of Sleep to Live Institute, said “to prevent sleeping problems, avoid any exposure to blue light 30 to 60 minutes prior to bed. That means, no TV, tablets, computers or smartphones.”
Another option is to invest in a pair of blue-light blocking glasses from a high-quality brand. A study by the University of Toronto found that those who wore glasses that blocked blue light produced more melatonin and slept on average 40 minutes longer than those who didn’t wear them in the evening.
Tip: Personally, I use the blue-light blocking glasses from BluBlox. Feel free to check them out!
Step 2: Go Easy On Sugar
We all understand that sugar is bad for us, but staying away from sugar isn’t easy. I have a serious sweet tooth, so I understand the struggle. Yet, if you want a night of high quality, deep sleep, it’s essential to limit your sugar intake.
According to Sleep.org, the more sugar you eat during the day, the more often you’re going to wake up in the middle of the night. Even if you don’t fully wake up, the sugar in your system can pull you out of a deep sleep, making you feel exhausted the next day.
Furthermore, a study showed that those who consumed more sugar spent less time in deep, slow-wave sleep. This sleep stage is essential for the body’s physical restoration, as well as for maintaining a healthy metabolism and immune function.
Those who ate more sugar also took longer to fall asleep and experienced more restless sleep, with more frequent awakenings throughout the night.
All in all, avoid consuming too much sugar (especially later in the day) if you want to sleep well.
Step 3: Go Easy On Caffeine
I love coffee, I truly do. However, coffee can have a significant influence on sleep quality if consumed in excessive amounts or when consumed in the evening or late afternoon.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, caffeine can temporarily make us feel more alert by blocking sleep-inducing chemicals in the brain and increasing adrenaline production.
Furthermore, it takes about 6 hours for one half of the caffeine to be eliminated from the body. In other words, caffeine continuous to have an effect long after it has been consumed, which is precisely why it negatively impacts the quality of our sleep.
A study by Christopher Drake, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at Wayne State University School of Medicine, showed that people who drank coffee six hours before bed lost at least one hour of sleep.
Therefore, I recommend you consume a maximum of two cups per day and avoid coffee after 15:00. This way, you do get to enjoy your daily coffee and experience the cognitive enhancing benefits, while avoiding most of the bad stuff.
Step 4: Cool Down Your Room
Your body temperature is one of the key elements that has a significant impact on your sleep quality. Since your body temperature is usually determined by the temperature of your environment, it’s essential that you cool down your bedroom.
Studies have proven that the optimal room temperature for sleep is at around 15.5–20 degrees Celsius (60 to 68 Fahrenheit). Anything too far above or below this number will make it harder to fall asleep.
Therefore, cool down the temperature of your room or use a device like the ChilliPad to get cool on warm days.
Step 5: Black-Out Your Room
Researchers at Brown University discovered that light in your bedroom, whether coming from the outside or inside of the room, interferes with your sleep. In fact, it can suppress melatonin levels by more than 50%.
This is because your skin actually has receptors that can pick up light and send signals to the brain that it’s time to wake up (it’s not just your eyes that pick up light, but receptors in your entire body). Rather, sleep in total darkness, which is something that our genes expect us to do.
Get some blackout curtains, cover your alarm clock if it emits light (or get an alarm clock with a dimmer adjustment) and dim the lights more and more as the evening progresses. This way, the light won’t disturb your sleep.
Step 6: Calm Down Your Mind
Thoughts racing through the mind is another reason why a lot of people have trouble falling asleep. To this day, it’s something that I keep struggling with. Thoughts, worries, and ideas just keep running through my mind while I’m trying to fall asleep.
I’ve found that journaling significantly helps with reducing my inner chatter late at night. By writing down my thoughts, worries, experiences of the day, and tomorrow’s to-dos, my mind calms down, and I’m able to fall asleep much easier.
In fact, a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology showed that people who journaled right before bed fell asleep faster than those who didn’t. I can totally relate to these findings, as I fall asleep much quicker whenever I capture the inner chatter into my BestSelf Journal.
Next to journaling, you can also meditate for a few minutes to decrease the inner chatter, helping you fall asleep faster.
Step 7: Exercise Regularly (But Do It Smart)
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that people who had trouble sleeping experienced a radical improvement in sleep quality when they followed a consistent exercise routine. The results are stunning:
- 55% faster time of falling asleep
- 30% decrease in total wake time during sleep
- 18% increase in total sleep time
- 13% increase in sleep efficiency
However, avoid exercising late at night, right before going to bed. If you exercise too close to bedtime, your body temperature will be too high to fall asleep. And, as we’ve discussed in step 4, it’s critical to keep your body temperature cool if you want to get high-quality, deep sleep.
Step 8: Use Your Bedroom ONLY For Sleep And …
There are only two things you should use your bedroom for…
Sleep and sex.
Anything else has no business in your bedroom.
Yet, most people now have a TV in their bedroom and check their smartphone late at night from the comfort of their bed. Not only is this problematic because of the emitted blue-light that we discussed in step 1, but it also creates the wrong neuro-associations between your bedroom and what it’s actually meant for.
Every time you watch TV or check social media in your bed, certain neurons in your brain (linked to entertainment) will fire. If you do this over and over again, your brain will start to link your bedroom to a place of entertainment, and the neurons related to entertainment will automatically fire as soon as you enter your bedroom.
In other words, your brain will become more active and anticipates entertainment by merely entering your bedroom. Your brain is confused and doesn’t know whether to wind down or get excited. This conflict makes it hard to fall asleep.
Therefore, make your bedroom a true sleep sanctuary and develop a strong neuro-association between your bedroom and sleep. Remember, if you want entertainment, simply go to the living room.
Now Do It
Change comes from action, not from just knowing. Therefore, I highly encourage you to follow at least 3 of these steps as soon as possible.
For the sake of your health, productivity, and happiness, make sure you consistently get high-quality, deep sleep. It might just transform your life.
To Your Personal Growth,
Founder Personal Growth Lab