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Last Updated on December 18, 2020

How to Sleep for Improved Health and Productivity

How to Sleep for Improved Health and Productivity

Have you ever wondered why your brain feels foggy and your body feels weary after days of burning the “midnight oil”? Well I’ve got just two words for you — inadequate sleep.

Believe it or not, a good night’s sleep is just as important (if not more) as healthy eating and regular exercise, if you’re looking to live a maximally healthy and productive life.

In this article, we’ll be looking at why sleep is so important, how much of it you need and simple science-backed tips on how to sleep that will help you make the most of sleep every night.

So, sit back and relax as I take you on this life-transforming journey to improved health and productivity.

Why Is Sleep so Important?

There are so many health benefits that stem from getting a good night’s sleep. Contrary to what you may think, your body doesn’t actually “sleep” when you sleep. Rather, it is uses this period to carry out some serious “housecleaning” processes that help the mind and body function at maximum efficiency.

Specifically speaking, though, here are some amazing benefits of a good night’s sleep:[1]

  • Help manage the appetite, thereby aiding weight loss
  • Boost the immune system
  • Help to lay off stress
  • Reduce the risk of certain cancers such as colon and breast cancer.
  • Promote memory, focus and proper brain functioning
  • Maintain a healthy heart by regulating the cholesterol levels and blood pressure
  • Reduce the risk of diseases such as diabetes, myocardial infarction and stroke[2]

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

Okay, now that it’s crystal-clear that you need sufficient sleep to keep ticking, just how much sleep is sufficient?

Well, as far as sleep experts and research studies are concerned, you need 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night before you can reap maximum benefits from sleep.[3]

You can learn more about how much you should sleep in this article: Quality or Quantity? Why Don’t You Sleep On It

How to Get the Best out of Sleep Every Single Night

Here’re 10 simple yet power ways to help you sleep well:

1. Stay Away from Blue Light at Bedtime

Exposure to bright light during the day can be a good thing… but at night? Not so much. Research has shown that excessive light exposure prior to bedtime can disrupt sleeping patterns and affect overall sleep quality.

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How exactly does this happen?

There are two mechanisms behind it. First off, there’s something called the circadian rhythm. This is the body’s biological clock that regulates sleeping and waking up. However, during excessively bright nighttime conditions, (or under exposure to blue light from smartphones and laptops), the brain gets tricked into thinking it’s still daytime, therefore it reduces the production of sleep hormones.

And that brings us to our next point — melatonin. Melatonin is also known as the sleep hormone, as it helps the body to relax and fall into deep sleep. And as earlier stated, the production of this hormone is significantly reduced under exposure to blue light generated by smartphones, TV and other electronic gadgets.

So, if you’re used to playing video games, answering emails or tweeting late into the night, you need to put an end to that.[4] In addition, set an earlier bedtime for your electronics. Preferably, try and put your gadgets to sleep two hours before you hit the bed.

However, if you must use these gadgets closer to your bedtime, then wear glass shades that block blue light or download applications like f.lux that can block blue light from laptops or smart-phones.[5]

2. Practice Sleeping and Waking up at Regular Times

Okay, listen up, if you want to get the best out of sleep, then you need to keep things consistent. That means you go to bed at a set time every single day and wake up at the specific time each morning. Research has shown that consistency with sleeping and waking up times greatly improves sleep quality.[6]

Why is that so, you may ask?

Well, as earlier stated, your body has a biological clock and that clock is linked to sunrise and sunset. So, maintaining a consistent bedtime every single day (including weekends) enables your body to release the necessary hormones at the perfect time. This enables you to enjoy a sound sleep through the night and wake up fresh and full of life.

And while on the topic, you may want to consider saying goodbye to movie night, game night and all other nights that will hinder you from sticking to your bedtime. And yes, sleeping-in on weekends is totally off the cards, too, as it can lead to poor sleep.[7]

Now, here’s a challenge — for the next 8 weeks, practice sleeping and waking up at the same time. By the end of the challenge, you might not even need an alarm clock any longer.

3. Stay Away from Alcohol

Okay, listen up, if you want to enjoy a sweet, deeply-refreshing night rest, then you need to steer clear of booze… especially close to bedtime.

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Why on earth would I say that? Well, technically, I’m not the one saying it… it’s all science.

According to a study published in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, it was reported that alcohol consumption at night induced sleep apnea and intense snoring in the tested subjects.[8]

Another study reported a disruption in sleeping patterns among participants who took alcohol before sleep.[9] Other studies have also found that nighttime alcohol consumption affect s the production of melatonin, which consequently affects the body’s circadian rhythm.[10]

Whichever way you look at it, alcohol is bad news for sleep. So, as tempting as that glass of wine may seem at 8 PM, stay away from it. Your reward will be a deep, refreshing sleep.

4. Skip the Evening Cup of Coffee

Who doesn’t love a nice cup of coffee every now and then? Yes, caffeine (in coffee) has a lot of health benefits, ranging from improved focus and energy, to enhanced athletic performance. So, it comes as no surprise that over 90% of Americans take caffeine in one form or the other.[11]

But just like most good things in life, moderation is key when taking coffee, especially one containing caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant, which by definition, means it simulates your nervous system to keep you awake and alert. Or in other words, keeps you from sleeping.

Interestingly, caffeine can remain active in your system for 6 to 8 hours, which means if you take it too close to bedtime, you can kiss your sleep goodbye. In fact, research has revealed that consuming caffeine up to 6 hours before bedtime can significantly worsen sleep quality.[12]

So, what do you do? Keep coffee consumption to mornings and early afternoons. But once it’s 2 PM, say goodbye to coffee for the day. Trust me, you’ll be glad your did.

5. Get a Quality Mattress and Pillow

Have you ever wondered why you feel so much more comfortable and sleep better in a hotel? Well, there’s no magic behind it, it’s mostly about the quality of the bed.[13]

When you sleep on a comfortable bed, you feel less pain and enjoy better sleep quality. Studies have also shown that a new mattress and bedding can significantly reduce back pain, back stiffness and shoulder pain, thereby improving sleep quality.[14]

So, if you haven’t changed your mattress in a while, upgrading your mattress and pillow to new ones may be a great way of improving sleep quality. However, the choice of the “best mattress”[15] is highly subjective, so make sure you do your research before making a buying decision.

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Here’s Your Essential Guide To Buying The Right Mattress and 10 Best Pillows To Choose For A Good Night Sleep

6. Don’t Nap Too Long During the Day

Taking a quick nap during the day is great, but if it becomes too long, it’ll most likely affect your sleep at night. Here’s why:

Sleeping for long periods during the day can trick your internal biological clock into thinking it’s night time. And this may lead to trouble sleeping at night, as the body releases “wakefulness” hormones instead of sleep hormones.[16]

Research has shown that the best day-time naps are usually no more than 30 minutes.[17] Longer naps tend to have negative quality on sleep quality. That said, if you’re used to daytime napping and you still sleep effortlessly at night, then you have nothing to worry about.[18]

7. Take a Shower

Never underestimate the power of a shower. Various research studies have shown that people can improve their overall sleep quality by taking a shower before hitting the bed. Even a simple foot bath does the job… especially in elders.[19]

Although the specific mechanism behind this isn’t entirely clear, water does tend to have a relaxing effect on the body and this makes sleep much more enjoyable. Just take a look at How Night Shower Can Help You Sleep Better.

So, if you’re looking for a cheap way of improving your sleep quality, a warm shower before bed isn’t a bad way to go.

8. Empty Your Mind

Sleeping isn’t merely a physical activity, it involves the mind just as much as the body. So, if you want to enjoy your sleep each night, you must learn to empty your mind. And there are different ways of achieving this.

Studies have shown that various relaxation techniques such as reading a book, meditating, listening to soft music and having a relaxing massage, can significantly improve sleep quality. So, you can try various techniques to identify what works best for you. [20]

Also, if you’re the type that worries about the next day a lot, it can help to get a diary and write down every task you need to take care of the following day and how you will get it done. This will help to calm your mind and make it easier to fall asleep.

9. Exercise Regularly

If you’ve been skipping exercise, you’ve been doing yourself a great disservice. Apart from the numerous physical and mental health benefits, it has also been shown to improve sleep quality.

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For instance, in one study published in JAMA, it was reported that regular exercise significantly reduced the amount of time it took older adults to fall asleep and increased the normal duration of sleep by 40 minutes.[21] Another study reported that exercise was even more effective for insomnia patients than sleep drugs.[22]

As great as exercise is, though, timing is also important. Experts believe that exercising too close to bedtime, can negatively affect sleep. This is due to the stimulatory effect of exercise, resulting from the release of hormones like adrenaline. So, if you must exercise in the evening, make it at least, three hours to your bedtime.

10. Take Sleep Supplements

Remember melatonin? The hormone that tells your body when to hit the bed and relax? Yep, it is available as supplements and you can take it to improve your sleep.

In fact, research has shown that melatonin is one of the easiest means of falling asleep quickly. This is why it is commonly used as a treatment for insomnia.[23]

Melatonin is a prescription drug in some countries, while in other countries, it can be purchased, over the counter. Either way, it is advisable to check in with your doctor before taking melatonin, since it’s a drug that can alter brain chemistry.

There’re also these 8 Essential Vitamins And Minerals to Help You Sleep Better, depending on your needs.

The Bottom Line

Sleep is awesome! It’s the body’s way of keeping you in tip-top condition at all times. So, if you want to live in resounding health and be maximally productive day-in-day-out, then you need to make sleep a core part of your daily routine.

And while at it, remember to target 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night, as research has shown that the maximum benefits of sleep can be obtained within this time frame.

Okay, that’s it! Start small, start somewhere, pick some (or all) of these tips and incorporate them into your daily life. The result will be a resounding sleep that will open the door to improved health and productivity.

Featured photo credit: Rafal Jedrzejek via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Diet Fitness King: 7 Reasons Why Getting More Sleep Is Good For Health
[2] PLoS One.: Association of Sleep Duration with Chronic Diseases in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)-Potsdam Study
[3] Science Daily: World’s largest sleep study shows too much shut-eye can be bad for your brain
[4] J Sleep Res.: Effects of playing a computer game using a bright display on presleep physiological variables, sleep latency, slow wave sleep and REM sleep.
[5] Neuro Endocrinol Lett.: The impact of light from computer monitors on melatonin levels in college students.
[6] J Sleep Res.: Investigating the interaction between the homeostatic and circadian processes of sleep-wake regulation for the prediction of waking neurobehavioural performance.
[7] J Sleep Res.: Circadian preference, sleep and daytime behaviour in adolescence.
[8] Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatrye: Alcohol, snoring and sleep apnea.
[9] Am J Med.: Alcohol increases sleep apnea and oxygen desaturation in asymptomatic men.
[10] J Clin Endocrinol Metab.: Ethanol inhibits melatonin secretion in healthy volunteers in a dose-dependent randomized double blind cross-over study.
[11] J Am Diet Assoc.: Food sources and intakes of caffeine in the diets of persons in the United States.
[12] J Clin Sleep Med.: Caffeine effects on sleep taken 0, 3, or 6 hours before going to bed.
[13] Am J Phys Med Rehabil.: Sleep disturbance in patients with chronic low back pain.
[14] J Manipulative Physiol Ther.: Effectiveness of a selected bedding system on quality of sleep, low back pain, shoulder pain, and spine stiffness.
[15] Best Mattress Review: Best Mattress 2019
[16] Behav Neurosci.: Effects of sleep inertia after daytime naps vary with executive load and time of day.
[17] Curr Opin Pulm Med.: Good sleep, bad sleep! The role of daytime naps in healthy adults.
[18] Behav Med. : The prevalence of daytime napping and its relationship to nighttime sleep.
[19] Int J Nurs Stud.: Effect of foot bathing on distal-proximal skin temperature gradient in elders.
[20] Am J Crit Care.: Effect of a back massage and relaxation intervention on sleep in critically ill patients.
[21] JAMA: Moderate-intensity exercise and self-rated quality of sleep in older adults. A randomized controlled trial.
[22] J Clin Sleep Med.: Effect of acute physical exercise on patients with chronic primary insomnia.
[23] J Sleep Res.: Prolonged-release melatonin improves sleep quality and morning alertness in insomnia patients aged 55 years and older and has no withdrawal effects.

More by this author

Richard Adefioye

Richard has a unique passion for healthy living and productivity.

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Last Updated on April 20, 2021

5 Best Guided Morning Meditations for Energy And Motivation

5 Best Guided Morning Meditations for Energy And Motivation

Do you wake up feeling fatigued, depressed, or unmotivated? Adding a simple morning meditation for energy may help. Practice one of these guided morning meditations for increased energy and motivation daily, and you will wake up refreshed and ready to take on each day!

The benefits of meditation are hard to ignore. Meditation is a long-held tradition in Eastern cultures that has recently become popularized in Western culture, using science to back its effectiveness. Meditation has been proven to decrease stress, depression, anxiety, and pain. It has also been shown to increase motivation and attention.[1]

What is Meditation?

First, let’s explore the different forms of meditation before diving into specific guided morning meditations for energy and motivation.

There are a few different forms of meditation that we will explore:

  • Moving Meditation
  • Mindfulness Meditation
  • Mantra Meditation

Moving meditation combines gentle exercises, breathing, and focus. Examples of moving meditation include walking meditation, yoga, tai chi, or qigong.[2]

Mindfulness meditation involves present-moment awareness of whatever action you are taking. It can be practiced as you move through your day simply by bringing your awareness to your breath, mind, and body.

Mantra meditation is similar to using positive affirmations. It incorporates repetition of sounds, words, or chants as a focal point for meditation. Mantra is thought to shift stuck energy from the body. Certain mantras (or sounds) have been shown to synchronize both hemispheres of the brain. This can help oxygenate the brain, decrease blood pressure and heart rate, and calm brainwaves.[3]

While this is certainly not an exhaustive list, it provides a general introduction to the several forms of meditation. For a more comprehensive list check out: 17 Types of Meditation (Techniques and Basics) To Practice Mindfulness.

How Does Meditation Increase Energy and Motivation?

Meditation increases endorphins in the brain, which is the chemical responsible for a runner’s high. However, when compared with runners, master meditators show higher levels of endorphins than runners post-meditation.[4] Long-term meditation practices are also associated with increased melatonin, which is responsible for regulating sleep.[5] Over time, consistent sleep patterns increase overall wellbeing and energy levels.

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Other long-term effects of meditation include an increase in the grey matter in the brain. Meditation has also been linked with increased cognitive function, memory, and attention.

The long-term impacts of stress contribute to feelings of exhaustion, burnout, and fatigue. Meditation has been shown to decrease the impacts of the sympathetic nervous system (commonly referred to as the fight or flight response). A regular meditation practice may assist in relaxation by decreasing heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing. [6]

However, meditation is not just for relaxation. The Buddhist tradition where mediation originated focuses on remaining alert during mindfulness. Seasoned meditators show increased alertness and awareness in brain functioning compared to non-meditators.[7]

5 Best Guided Morning Meditations for Energy and Motivation

Now that you know how meditation can help increase energy and motivation, here are the 5 best guided morning meditations you can try.

1. Wake Up With a Sun Salutation for Increased Energy

Yoga practices that focus on breathing have been shown to increase energy and attention.[8] Starting your morning with a Sun Salutation is one excellent way to increase energy and motivation in the morning for lasting results.

A Sun Salutation is a sequence of yoga poses strung together in a specific way. A focus is placed on moving mindfully with the breath through the postures. If done mindfully, one can enter a flow-like state while practicing a Sun Salutation.

Practicing Sun Salutation Type A

Inhale and reach the arms up overhead. Exhale and fold forward with a slight bend in the knees. On your next inhale, place the hands on the thighs while straightening the spine. Exhale and melt down into a forward fold once more.

On your next exhale, place your hands on the mat and step your feet into a plank pose. Lower down from straight legs or bent knees with your triceps just grazing your rib cage. Your whole body will be flat on the mat. As you inhale, keep your hands on the earth and lift your head, neck, and chest off the mat. Exhale and press back into downward-facing down.

On your next inhale walk your feet back to the top of the mat and hang in a forward fold. Roll your body up letting your head and neck come up last. You can choose to finish your practice here or flow through the sequence once more.

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If you are new to yoga, practice alongside a trained instructor or find a yoga video that walks you through the correct alignment to ensure you do not injure yourself as you practice. Allow yourself to be guided through the practice so you can focus on your breath as you move from one pose to the next.

2. Practice Walking Morning Meditation

Another way to combine movement and mindfulness is through walking meditation. Walking meditation involves slow, mindful steps with a focus on the breath. Exercising outdoors can help to boost serotonin and increase endorphins. This can be a wonderful way to start the day with increased energy and a positive mood.

Step slowly and mindfully, as if you are walking on thin ice. Slowly begin to inhale through the nose and count the number of steps you take. Then, slowly exhale and count your steps. As you walk, keep counting your steps on each inhale and exhale. Try to keep your pace even while focusing your attention on your breath and body.

Try to avoid busy areas with lots of people or traffic to reduce distraction. A walking path with lots of open space is ideal. Once you have finished you can bring your attention to the sights around you and mindfully breathe in and out as you slowly return to a normal pace.

3. Let Your Stress Melt Away During a Mindful Morning Shower Meditation

One of the easiest ways to practice meditation is by adding it into activities you already do. The trick is to bring your attention to the present moment. Choosing activities with lots of sensory input can help heighten the experience of mindfulness.

Examples of mindfulness activities can include chores like doing the dishes or sweeping. It may also involve routine activities like exercise or showering.

If you shower in the morning, you can easily incorporate mindfulness into your routine. It is best to remove any distractions while you shower but if you would like you can play gentle, instrumental music in the background. Focus on the sensation of the water running over the crown of your head and down your entire body. Imagine the water is cleansing stress, tension, and worry from the body and mind.

Bring your attention to the five senses. This can aid in grounding for decreased stress and anxiety, which will improve long-term energy and focus. Notice the temperature of the water and the air. Smell the different soaps and shampoos as you wash. Allow yourself to indulge in the moment by closing your eyes as you stand under the water. If you get distracted come back to one of your senses.

This shower meditation is a form of mindfulness. It does not take any extra time from your day. It is simply one way to incorporate present-moment awareness into your routine.

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4. Practice Bellows Breath for Increased Energy

Deep breathing is another way to increase energy and attention. There are several forms of breathing exercises utilized in yoga and meditation. Breath of fire or bellows breath is one exercise for increasing energy and vitality.[9]

This breathing exercise can cause dizziness or light-headedness. Discontinue practicing if you experience any negative side effects and return to normal breathing.

Begin by inhaling through the nose. With a forceful exhale, contract the diaphragm as you breathe out through the nose. Inhale and allow the belly to expand and then exhale and allow it to contract.

When first starting, it can be helpful to go slowly. Reverse breathing, where you expand the belly on the exhale and contract on the inhale, is common but should be avoided.

Once you have the rhythm down, you can move quickly through the breathing exercises. An emphasis is placed on the inhale while the exhale is forceful and contracted. The inhale and exhale should be similar in duration.

Aim for three breath cycles a second. Do not practice for more than 15 seconds without taking a break when you are first starting. As you become more advanced you can add 5 seconds, working your way up to a minute of practice.

5. Practice Mantra Morning Meditation for Increased Energy

Science suggests that repeating the mantra “OM” can result in increased alertness and sensitivity to sensations (pronunciation of “OM” sounds similar to “A-U-M”). In spiritual traditions, it is considered a primordial sound, which created all other sounds[10].

When “OM” is chanted aloud, it vibrates at 136.1 Hertz. This is the same frequency as everything in nature.[11] Scientific studies have uncovered evidence to suggest that chanting OM may be related to vagus nerve activation, which assists in the rest and digest response in the nervous system.[12]

If you are new to chanting, it can be helpful to practice reciting “OM” aloud. The sound of “OM” is similar to “A-U-M” with the word being drawn out for several seconds on the exhale. More seasoned meditators may choose to focus on the word internally.

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To begin, simply inhale, and on you exhale, chant “A-U-M.” You may choose to set a timer on your phone for as long as you have to practice.

Another way to practice mantra or chanting is to use mala beads. Mala beads come from the Hindu faith and are a string of 108 beads with one larger bead at the end. Hold the mala in your left hand and begin with the first bead between the thumb and pointer finger. Each time you chant OM, move your fingers to the next bead until you reach the largest bead, also known as the guru bead.

Once you have finished, take a few moments to sit in silence and observe any new thoughts or sensations that arise.

Incorporate Morning Meditation into Your Routine

Now that you know the 5 best guided morning meditations for energy and motivation, where do you begin?

Follow these tips for forming a new habit:

  1. Set realistic and sustainable goals
  2. Practice at the same time, every day
  3. Weave the practice into your current routine

Ten weeks may be a realistic time frame to commit to a consistent practice, despite the adage that it takes 21 days to form a habit.[13] Choose one of the morning meditations for energy and motivation that fits your current schedule. Keep it simple and try to build it into your already established routine.

Choosing to practice at the same time every day will make it easier to practice consistently. Instead of looking at this like something you have to do, choose to view it as something you get to do. This should be an enjoyable activity that you look forward to each morning.

Doing one of these activities each day can assist with increased energy and motivation, not to mention the variety of established physical and psychological benefits of meditation. Practice these guided morning meditations for energy and motivation every day for ten weeks and you might just become a morning person, after all.

Featured photo credit: Sage Friedman via unsplash.com

Reference

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