5 Actions That Will Help You Sleep Better

Lack of quality sleep is a real issue in the world today. Let’s be honest! It has probably always been an issue, but we know more than ever before and are able to gather information that informs us better than at any previous time in history. We are simply more aware these days that a lack of quality sleep is a real health concern and that it is so prevalent. So what can help us get better sleep, more sound sleep and a higher quality of sleep?

Here’s what the research tells us:

1. Get 150 minutes of exercise each week

People report feeling more alert and less sleepy during the day when they accumulate 150 minutes of physical activity each week. We all know that the recommendation for vigorous exercise is closer to an hour each day for optimal health and physical fitness, but it seems that we need much less than that if our goal is solely to feel more awake and energetic during the day. 150 minutes a week ends up being right around 22 minutes of physical activity each day. Not a bad place to begin if you live a mostly sedentary lifestyle. The study producing this information was conducted by Dr. Paul Loprinzi, an assistant professor at Bellarmine University while he was a doctoral student in 2011.

Here I am being silly with my friend on our daily 6AM walk/jog session. We go for about an hour each day and get to see the sun come up. I admit that I do sleep like a baby at night.

2. Burn some calories early in the day

The sun just came up behind me as I walk toward downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The sun just came up behind me as I walk toward downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Dr. Scott Collier at Appalachian State University, overseeing a thesis by Kimberly Fairbrother conducted a study to determine the effects of aerobic exercise timing on sleep architecture. She used participants with no sleep disorders who also took no medications. She has participants exercise at 7AM, 1PM and 7PM and they wore a monitor while sleeping that provided the researcher with key information needed to assess sleep patterns. As it turns out, people who exercised at 7AM had 75% more light sleep, 85% more deep sleep and 12% greater sleep cycles than those that walked at other times of the day. This research indicates that doing aerobic exercise such as walking, early in the morning could provide individuals with longer, deeper and more restful sleep than if they exercised at a later time in the day. This is pretty cool because you can get up, drink some water to hydrate your body, hit to road for a nice brisk walk and do 20 or more minutes each morning and the research says you stand a much better chance of having more restful sleep and being less sleepy during the day. I like your chances!

3. Beware of alcohol in any amount if you have problems sleeping

Surely I would never drink that! Okay, maybe just one, maybe.

Surely I would never drink that! Okay, maybe just one, maybe.

A 2013 study looked at all known research published on the topic of the effects of alcohol on sleep among healthy people. The collective research found that “at all dosages, alcohol causes a reduction in sleep onset latency, a more consolidated first half sleep and an increase in sleep disruption in the second half of sleep.” All bad stuff! Turns out any dose of alcohol could be associated with taking longer to go to sleep and a lower quality of sleep. I guess people who drink alcohol regularly must be pretty tired.

4. Turn off that phone and shut down that computer an hour before bed

Caught my cute little Mom getting some screen time walking in Cusco, Peru.

Caught my cute little Mom getting some screen time walking in Cusco, Peru.

From a previous post called Unplugging From Technology – Why It Needs to Be a Priority – Lack of sleep may pose even more significant risks to young people. New research out of Norway suggests that more than 90% of girls and 80% of boys ages 16-19 report cell phone usage right before going to bed with laptop use also being common. This is strongly associated with “sleep latency” in this group of people which simply means it takes them longer to go to sleep. It is also associated with shorter sleep durations. So not only does use of technology through screens make young people get to sleep later, it also disrupts their quality of sleep and keeps them from sleeping longer. All around bad news for young, developing minds and bodies. And don’t fool yourself! This research is being conducted using teenagers, but if you’re like me and past your teen years, you can tell that your sleep quality and duration is also compromised on nights when you’re sitting in front of a computer doing whatever it is you do. To keep it simple, we might think of this phenomena as self-induced insomnia. It turns out that people with insomnia have greater levels of both anxiety and depression than people who do not have insomnia. Additionally, these people are “9.82 and 17.35 times as likely to have clinically significant depression and anxiety, respectively (Taylor, et. al. 2005).” Even more reason to unplug hours before bedtime and get that restful sleep your brain and body need.

5. Get regular sunlight exposure to sleep better

Sun going down during a long hike in the desert near Tuscon, Arizona.

Sun going down during a long hike in the desert near Tuscon, Arizona.

A research study looking at office workers who have windows facing the outdoors versus those who work in offices without outdoor-facing windows found that those with office windows providing exposure to sunlight had more sleep, a higher quality of sleep and reported feeling a greater sense of vitality overall. The sun governs all life on Earth in one way or another. The same is true of us. It appears that getting exposure to sunlight early in the morning, regularly during the day and before it sets at night all contribute to better balance of our internal clock that tells our body when it’s time to sleep. This is really great because if you were to adopt the practices described in #2 above and ensure you get at least the amount of physical activity prescribed in #1, you would be assured of getting a good amount of sun exposure first thing every morning which could have a really positive effect on the rhythm that your body has for its sleep patterns. Get some sun each day, even just a few minutes here and there and your chances of having improved sleep quality seem to be much higher.

These 5 actions are pretty cool, relatively simple when you break it all down and a couple of them piggyback on one another so that you can’t help but achieve some of these by doing just one of them. Give these a shot my friends. Sleep quality is necessary, it’s absolutely essential to having a refreshed mind and body and I sincerely hope your are getting a good night of rest each and every day.

To your health!

References

1. Loprinzi, P., Cardinal, B., (2011). Association between objectively-measured physical activity and sleep, NHANES 2005–2006. Mental Health and Physical Activity 4(2):65-69.

2. Fairbrother, K., Cartner, B., Alley, J., Curry, C., Dickinson, D., Morris, D., Collier, S. (2014). The effects of aerobic exercise timing on sleep architecture. Vascular Health and Risk Management 10:691-698.

3. Ebrahim, I., Shapiro, C., Williams, A., Fenwick, P. (2013). Alcohol and Sleep: Effects on Normal Sleep. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 37(4):539-549.

4. Hysing, M., Pallesen, S., Stormark, K., Jakobsen, R., Lundervold, A., Sivertsen, B. (2015). Sleep and use of electronic devices in adolescence: results from a large population-based study. BMJOpen. 5(1).

5. Taylor, D., Lichstein K., Durrence H., Reidel B., Bush A. (2005). Epidemiology of insomnia, depression, and anxiety. Sleep. Nov; 28(11), p. 1457-64.

6. Boubekri M., Cheung I., Reid K., Wang C., Zee P. (2014). Impact of windows and daylight exposure on overall health and sleep quality of office workers: a case-control pilot study. J Clin Sleep Med;10(6):603-611.

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