How to Get the Most Out of Your Sleep

Photo by Quin Stevenson on Unsplash

We all need sleep to help us properly recover and take on the challenges of life. Sleep plays a vital role in so many functions of the body. Many people know that they should get more sleep but don’t know how to improve the QUALITY of their sleep. In this article I will discuss how sleep effects the body and how to improve your sleep.

What happens during sleep?

Contrary to what you may think, our bodies are continuously working hard during sleep. There is so much that goes on while we sleep that further emphasizes why it is so important to get sufficient sleep. There are two different classifications for sleep. You have your rapid eye movement or REM sleep and non-REM sleep. Every 90 minutes or so you go through a cycle of non-REM to REM sleep. These cycles vary depending on several factors. Earlier in the night, you will be getting proportionally more non-REM sleep. Later in the night, you will be getting more deep REM sleep.

During sleep, your brain and body repair/build so many functions. Your immune system is strengthened and begins repairing cells, your heart and blood vessels rest from working all day, your muscles and organs begin to repair, you store memories, your brain rids unnecessary thoughts, hormones are produced/decreased(increase in growth hormone, decrease in cortisol, etc.), and many other vital functions. As we would assume, a lack of sleep messes with all of this and more. Your energy levels decrease, your memory worsens, you are more likely to gain weight, etc.. So, the question becomes “What can I do to improve my sleep?”.

How can I optimize my sleep

The first and most obvious point is to get a sufficient amount of sleep. Most people know that they should get around 7-9 hours of sleep so I’m not going to touch on why the quantity of sleep is so important. Just know that sleep doesn’t work like a bank. You cannot owe yourself 2 more hours of sleep Monday through Friday and expect to make it up by sleeping in on the weekend. You must consistently get enough sleep.

Next, I want to talk about having a good sleep schedule. Your body has an internal process, known as a circadian rhythm, that regulates when your body wants to sleep. This rhythm can be improved if we go to bed and wake up at consistent times. If the rhythm is good, our bodies will know when to wind down and wake up, improving our sleep. Circadian rhythm is mostly influenced by light but also temperature, exercise, and social activity. During the day, light causes our body to create signals of alertness. Similarly, the absence of light causes our body to produce melatonin(a chemical that promotes sleep). This is why it is important to get sun early in the day to begin your circadian rhythm and avoid artificial light(TV, phone, lamp, etc.) as you are getting ready to sleep. I suggest keeping your room as dark as possible and avoiding screens at least 1 hour before bed.

Temperature is also important with sleep. Your body prefers a cooler temperature(drop in core temp. by 2-3 degrees F) when it is sleeping. A cool room, about 65 degrees, will improve your sleep quality and circadian rhythm. I suggest using light blankets and sleeping with a fan.

In my last article I discussed how popular and useful caffeine is. The problem is that consuming caffeine too close to bedtime will prevent you from getting good sleep. I suggest cutting off caffeine 6-8 hours before bedtime if not earlier.

Another factor that not many people consider with sleep is overall stimulation of the brain. For example, if you are working on homework or a project, your brain will be highly stimulated. Another example of this would be horror films. People often watch horror movies late at night. This causes a firing of tons of excitatory neurotransmitters in your brain that will only keep you up. Because of this, I suggest avoiding any work that requires critical thinking 1-2 hours before bed. This will help your brain relax and fall asleep better.

Another factor with sleep is the amount of food and liquids that you consume prior to sleep. Eating too much food close to bedtime will force your body to digest the food which can disrupt your sleep. Drinking too much liquid can also disrupt your sleep cycle and damage your heart. Additionally, it may force you to wake up in the night to use the bathroom. I suggest avoiding large amounts of food 2 hours before bed. As for liquids, taper your consumption as you get closer to bedtime.

Finally, I suggest utilizing power naps early in the day if possible. You do not want to nap too late in the afternoon because it could throw off your circadian rhythm. However, taking a 15-30 minute nap early in the day can help you feel refreshed. If you want to learn more about getting the most out of your nap, I suggest reading the following article: “How to get the most out of napping” from the may clinic.

We should all practice good sleeping habits in order to optimize our performance and long-term health. If you can develop a good sleeping schedule and follow the sleep tips listed above, you will notice that you feel better and are more productive.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: