When we sleep we recover, it’s that simple! So how can we expect to regenerate, rebuild and restore all of the bodily functions we require our body to do on a daily basis if we don’t give it the ability to rest properly.
Sleep is not just an arbitrary number of hours we close our eyes for each night but instead should be referred to based on its quality and therefore its ability to facilitate complete physiological restoration. Sleep quality when compared to sleep quantity is a far better indicator for improving health markers (1).
Now before you brush off the simplicity of saying “you need to sleep more to be healthier” take a look at some of the proposed negatives of sleep deprivation that are currently backed up by clinical research:
- Decreased blood glucose control
- Increased frequency diet adherence failure
- Increased risk of cardiovascular disease
- Increased risk of weight gain (indirect)
- Increased release of ghrelin (increased hunger)
Pretty morbid when you think about it isn’t it? Poor sleep can lead to you living an unhealthier lifestyle, cause greater metabolic dysfunction than normal and will lead to a reduced lifespan both directly and indirectly due to its effects on metabolic issues (2,3,4). So not only will you live less by sleeping less but your quality of life will also be reduced as well.
That great thing is though, we can all improve sleep quality. You are only limited by the choices you make, so whether we choose to find the time to improve sleep quality or not is owned solely by you. The quality of your sleep is not controlled by your environment, workplace, job or any other external factor that may currently appear to be impeding your ability to change. While those factors may currently be a speed bump getting in your way of sleep quality, they are by no means a limitation when compared to the power of having a choice.
So you can either choose to let external factors effect your sleep quality or you can make a conscious change.
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.
So how can we improve sleep quality?
Below are my 5 go-to steps to ensuring sleep quality is maximised:
- Reduce roof lighting
- Minimise pre-bed interruptions
- Remove electronic sources
- Practice mindfulness
- Supplement with magnesium and GABA
Ever tried to sleep in a room fully lit and then compared it to a room with dimmed lights that aren’t above your head? More than likely we have all done this indirectly but if you were to actively try and sleep through either scenario, generally speaking, you will find the dimmed light below head level sleep is higher quality when compared to the roof lighting.
Both rooms are lit, yet one yields higher quality sleep. But why?
Throughout human evolution, it has been suggested that the natural circadian rhythms of the body are controlled predominantly by the rise and setting of the sun as these are direct indicators for when we should be awake and active (sunrise) and then conversely when we should be asleep and resting (sunset). As a response to sunset, the body releases melatonin, which is regulated in response to the daily onset of darkness, which is then responsible for the onset of sleep.
In essence, the release of melatonin begins the hormonal cascade designed to initiate sleep.
1hr from your estimated sleep time, remove all fluorescent lights and lights above head height throughout the home as these are essentially providing an artificial light similar to that of the sun.
Keep lights dimmed and ‘warm’ in colour while ensuring minimal lighting is on and that all lights are low to the ground to mimic sunset.
By simply removing bright light and utilising warm, low to the ground light, the release of melatonin can begin its release and start the sleep-inducing process.
We all do this!!
You eat your dinner, have your desert and then sit on the couch, the computer or you may read a book. Then as you begin to get tired, you realise you need to take your pre-bed vitamins, wash your face and brush your teeth. All of which then wake you back up before you get into bed and then can’t sleep because your mind is racing again.
Prior to getting into bed or sitting in a reading chair prior to going to sleep, ensure all tasks are completed prior to ‘winding down’.
- Take your vitamins
- Clean down the kitchen
- Wash your face
- Brush your teeth
Then get into your comfort zone and allow your body to wind down naturally before heading to bed.
This is a relatively new factor to consider as it is mainly a 21st-century issue, however, it has now consistently been shown that the interaction of ‘blue light,’ which is what our phones, Ipads and computer screens emit, effect the quality of sleep. More specifically, blue light has been linked to a delayed sleep phase, whereby a person's ability to fall asleep is inhibited or delayed in the presence of blue light (5).
Remove blue light 1-hour before bed to minimise its negative effects on allowing the sleep process to begin.
If you are unsure of what mindfulness is, check out my write up on it here.
Being able to sit down, take a moment to reflect and just relax is a great new aged way to meditate, putting you in the perfect frame of mind before heading to sleep. It also takes you away from manic thinking and instead clears your thoughts so that you can appreciate the sounds around you and the things that matter most to you as well.
Take a moment to practice mindfulness just before sleep. This is a time to shut down your thoughts and reflect on what you are grateful for.
Embrace the quiet, appreciate your surroundings and allow your mind to relax.
This is the final step for enhancing sleep quality and should be used for those who have issues shutting down their thoughts even in the presence of steps 1-4 or anyone who is outside the norm of a standardised sleeping pattern. Shift workers, in particular, have been shown to have circadian rhythm dysfunction due to the irregularity of their sleep patterns and will find it much more difficult to achieve high-quality sleep as their body can not follow its natural rise and fall of sleep-inducing hormones.
Utilising supplements such as Magnesium and GABA are two great options to try and enhance the process of sleep as both act as precursors to the functions of the brain and nervous system responsible for sleep. However the one caveat of GABA is it can cause shortness of breath and potential skin tingling in some users, so for this reason I recommend using Phenibut, which is a derivative of GABA but has the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier more effectively and has no side effects.
Both Phenibut and magnesium will help reduce the excitation of the nervous system, while GABA is also known as a neurotransmitter inhibitor, which has been shown to induce sleep.
Sleep plays a vital role in total body recovery and is critical in ensuring optimal health is achieved or maintained. By creating an optimal sleeping environment by removing external lighting, shutting down electronics and removing distractions, you are giving your body the best chance of shutting down naturally.
Try and ensure your room is dark and if possible allow some natural light to come through in the morning, as this will allow a natural sleep pattern to be generated as well.
Finally. learn to wind down at night and you will feel far better in the morning as well as throughout the day once sleep quality is achieved.
Pilcher, J., Ginter, D., Sadowsky, B. (1997). Sleep quality versus sleep quantity: relationships between sleep and measures of health, well-being and sleepiness in college students. Journal of Psychosomatic Research. 22(6). Pp. 583-596.
Cappuccio, F et al. (2010). Quantity and quality of sleep and incidence of type 2 diabetes: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Diabetes Care. 33(2). Pp414-220.
Cappuccio, F et al. (2010). Sleep duration and all-cause mortality: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sleep. 33(5). Pp 586.
Cappuccio, F et al. (2011). Sleep duration predicts cardiovascular outcomes: A systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. European Heart Journal. 32(12). Pp 1484-1492.
Esaki, Y et al. (2016). Wearing blue light-blocking glasses in the evening advances circadian rhythms in the patients with delayed sleep phase disorder: An open-label trial. Chronobiology International. 20. Pp 1-8.