A good night’s sleep is just as important as regular exercise and a healthy diet.
Research shows that poor sleep has immediate negative effects on your hormones, exercise performance, and brain function. It can also cause weight gain and increase disease risk in both adults and children. In contrast, good sleep can help you eat less, exercise better, and be healthier. Over the past few decades, both sleep quality and quantity has declined. In fact, many people regularly get poor sleep. If you want to optimize your health or lose weight, getting a good night’s sleep is one of the most important things you can do.
1- Increase bright light exposure during the day
Your body has a natural time-keeping clock known as your circadian rhythm. It affects your brain, body, and hormones, helping you stay awake and telling your body when it’s time to sleep. Natural sunlight or bright light during the day helps keep your circadian rhythm healthy. This improves daytime energy, as well as nighttime sleep quality and duration. In people with insomnia, daytime bright light exposure improved sleep quality and duration. It also reduced the time it took to fall asleep by 83%.
A similar study in older adults found that 2 hours of bright light exposure during the day increased the amount of sleep by 2 hours and sleep efficiency by 80%. While most research involves people with severe sleep issues, daily light exposure will most likely help you even if you experience average sleep. Try getting daily sunlight exposure or — if this is not practical — invest in an artificial bright light device or bulbs.
2- Reduce blue light exposure in the evening
Exposure to light during the day is beneficial, but nighttime light exposure has the opposite effect.
Again, this is due to its effect on your circadian rhythm, tricking your brain into thinking it’s still daytime. This reduces hormones like melatonin, which help you relax and get deep sleep.
Blue light — which electronic devices like smartphones and computers emit in large amounts — is the worst in this regard.
There are several popular methods you can use to reduce nighttime blue light exposure. These include:
- Wear glasses that block blue light.
- Download an app such as flux to block blue light on your laptop or computer.
- Install an app that blocks blue light on your smartphone. These are available for both iPhones and Android models.
- Stop watching TV and turn off any bright lights 2 hours before heading to bed.
3- Don’t consume caffeine late in the day
Caffeine has numerous benefits and is consumed by 90% of the U.S. population. A single dose can enhance focus, energy, and sports performance. However, when consumed late in the day, caffeine stimulates your nervous system and may stop your body from naturally relaxing at night. In one study, consuming caffeine up to 6 hours before bed significantly worsened sleep quality. Caffeine can stay elevated in your blood for 6–8 hours. Therefore, drinking large amounts of coffee after 3–4 p.m. is not recommended, especially if you’re sensitive to caffeine or have trouble sleeping.
If you do crave a cup of coffee in the late afternoon or evening, stick with decaffeinated coffee.
4- Reduce irregular or long daytime naps
While short power naps are beneficial, long or irregular napping during the day can negatively affect your sleep.
Sleeping in the daytime can confuse your internal clock, meaning that you may struggle to sleep at night. In fact, in one study, participants ended up being sleepier during the day after taking daytime naps.
Another study noted that while napping for 30 minutes or less can enhance daytime brain function, longer naps can harm health and sleep quality.
However, some studies demonstrate that those who are used to taking regular daytime naps don’t experience poor sleep quality or disrupted sleep at night.
If you take regular daytime naps and sleep well, you shouldn’t worry. The effects of napping depend on the individual.
5- Try to sleep and wake at consistent times
Your body’s circadian rhythm functions on a set loop, aligning itself with sunrise and sunset. Being consistent with your sleep and waking times can aid long-term sleep quality. One study noted that participants who had irregular sleeping patterns and went to bed late on the weekends reported poor sleep. Other studies have highlighted that irregular sleep patterns can alter your circadian rhythm and levels of melatonin, which signal your brain to sleep. If you struggle with sleep, try to get in the habit of waking up and going to bed at similar times. After several weeks, you may not even need an alarm.
6- Consider taking supplements
Melatonin is a key sleep hormone that tells your brain when it’s time to relax and head to bed. Melatonin supplements are an extremely popular sleep aid.
Often used to treat insomnia, melatonin may be one of the easiest ways to. In one study, taking 2 mg of melatonin before bed improved sleep quality and energy the next day and helped people fall asleep faster.
In another study, half of the group fell asleep faster and had a 15% improvement in sleep quality.
Additionally, no withdrawal effects were reported in either of the above studies. Melatonin is also useful when traveling and adjusting to a new time zone, as it helps your body’s circadian rhythm return to normal.
Start with a low dose to assess your tolerance and then increase it slowly as needed. Since melatonin may alter brain chemistry, it’s advised that you check with a healthcare provider before use.
You should also speak with them if you’re thinking about using melatonin as a sleep aid for your child, as long-term use of this supplement in children has not been well studied.
Shop for melatonin supplements online.
Several other supplements can induce relaxation and help you sleep, including:
- Ginkgo biloba: A natural herb with many benefits, it may aid sleep, relaxation, and stress reduction, but the evidence is limited. Take 250 mg 30–60 minutes before bed.
- Glycine: A few studies show that taking 3 grams of the amino acid glycine can improve sleep quality.
- Valerian root: Several studies suggest that valerian can help you fall asleep and improve sleep quality. Take 500 mg before bed.
- Magnesium: Responsible for over 600 reactions within your body, magnesium can improve relaxation and enhance sleep quality.
- L-theanine: An amino acid, L-theanine can improve relaxation and sleep. Take 100–200 mg before bed.
- Lavender: A powerful herb with many health benefits, lavender can induce a calming and sedentary effect to improve sleep. Take 80–160 mg containing 25–46% linalool.
Make sure to only try these supplements one at a time. While they’re not a magic bullet for sleep issues, they can be useful when combined with other natural sleeping strategies.