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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 October 5, 2020

Intermittent Fasting Weight Loss (The Ultimate Weight Loss Hack)

Intermittent Fasting Weight Loss (The Ultimate Weight Loss Hack)

Intermittent fasting weight loss is a type of diet that’s rapidly growing in popularity and becoming the way to lose weight. Scientists and nutrition experts like it, too. New books and articles on the topic are being published daily. Intermittent fasting is also popular with followers of the Paleo diet since our ancestors appear to have eaten this way for thousands of years.

I’ve been following this type of diet myself for 2 years. Doing so helped me lose and keep off 70 pounds without ever having to count calories, limit carbohydrates, or eat 6 to 7 meals a day.

This article teaches you all about intermittent fasting weight loss and details why it is one of the best weight loss diet hacks around. Once you finish, you will be able to implement into your diet and experience the benefits it offers almost immediately.

What Is Intermittent Fasting?

As you may have figured from its name, intermittent fasting weight loss is a diet plan where you set fasting periods during the day. This is usually between 16-20 consecutive hours, but it can be as little as 12 hours or as much as 24 hours (or even 36 hours).

While fasting you can eat and drink low calorie or calorie-free foods. Think coffee, tea, water, and vegetables.

The more time you spend fasting every day, the better your results. You can do these fasts as often as you like. Again, the more often you do so, the better[1].

Getting Started With Intermittent Fasting

Following this diet plan is super simple. All you have to do is choose a period of time during the day that you will fast. This should be between 16-20 hours.

The longer you fast each day, the better. Don’t worry about calorie restriction or measuring carbohydrates. Just focus on going about your day until it’s time to eat.

It’s best to choose a set period of time to conduct your fast. I like to fast from 8 PM to 4 PM the following afternoon. I’ll then have my first meal of the day and a snack or two a few hours later. Once 8 o’clock rolls around, it’s back to fasting.

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My experience with intermittent fasting is that it’s best to start with a 16 hour fast (i.e. 8PM one evening to 12PM the next day) for the first 1-2 weeks. Once you are comfortable with this schedule, you can increase the amount of time you spend fasting. Do this by adding 30 minutes to each fast until you get to where you are fasting for 20 hours at a time.

You don’t have to fast every day in the beginning either. You may be more comfortable breaking in slowly with 2 or 3 days per week, or trying alternate day fasting. Add additional days of intermittent fasting as you become more comfortable with this style of eating.

Tips To Make Intermittent Fasting Easier

1. Drink Plenty of Water

Squeeze a little lemon or lime juice into your water to help get rid of any cravings you experience. You can also drink coffee, tea, or other calorie-free beverages. After a few weeks, you will find that intermittent fasting keeps you from craving sugar entirely.

2. Take in Caffeine in the Morning and Early Afternoon

The caffeine in coffee and tea may actually make intermittent fasting weight loss a little easier since it’s good for curbing your appetite. Be careful not to overindulge as this may lead to you feeling a little too wired. I also recommend these natural energy boosting tips to keep you going during the day.

3. Avoid Artificially Flavored Drinks

One type of calorie-free drink that should be avoided are diet sodas and other beverages that use artificial sweeteners like Splenda and Sweet & Low. Studies show that the can actually stimulate your appetite[2] like a drink that contains sugar and cause you to overeat.

4. Don’t Gorge at Your First Meal

The first meal after your fast should be the amount of food you typically eat. Binging will only make you feel awful and diminish the benefits you get from the fast.

To avoid this, try creating meal plans, at least for the first few weeks. This will help you get into the rhythm of eating regularly portioned meals during your eating window.

5. Minimize Processed Carbohydrates and Sugars

While intermittent fasting does make it possible to eat a little looser than normal, you should still eat as little bread, pasta, rice, etc. as possible.

Focus instead on eating protein from beef, fish, or pork, carbohydrates from vegetables, fruit, and sweet potatoes, and healthy fats from foods like almonds, avocados, fish, and olive oil.

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You can find some carb sources that will aid your weight loss journey here.

How Intermittent Fasting Helps You Lose Weight

Eating this way has many benefits with regard to weight loss. The first is that when you’re fasting, your body will be forced to use its stored body fat for energy. Burning calories this way, instead of from the food you’re eating throughout the day, will help you experience significant weight loss, but specifically lose weight from any excess body fat you’re carrying.

This means that you won’t just be thinner, but you will also look better and be much healthier than if you lose weight the old-fashioned way[3].

Intermittent fasting can help optimize the release of the key fat-burning hormones in your body. This is especially true for the two most important hormones: human growth hormone (HGH) and insulin.

Human growth hormone plays a key role in turning on your body’s fat-burning furnace so that it gets the calories you need to work and play from stored body fat. Studies show that fasting can significantly increase the production of HGH[4].

The influence intermittent fasting weight loss has on insulin is just as impressive and possibly more important. Keeping your insulin levels low and steady is key to losing excess fat and keeping it off.

Diets that are rich in processed carbohydrates (bread, pasta, rice) and simple sugars (candy, cookies, and soda) have the opposite effect. They cause your insulin levels to rapidly spike and then crash every time you eat one of these foods. The net result of this phenomenon is that your body will store more of what you eat as excess body fat instead of burning it off as energy.

Chronically elevating your insulin levels like this can also lead to the development of type II diabetes, obesity, and other chronic health problems. Intermittent fasting easily solves this problem.

One study found that men who participated in intermittent fasting had “dramatically lower insulin levels and significantly improved insulin sensitivity”[5].

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This happens because you’re not giving your body food, so it will not produce insulin, allowing insulin levels to balance out until you eat again. This helps your body stay in a calorie and fa-burning state. You’ll also find that it gives you more energy throughout the day.

Another great weight loss benefit of intermittent fasting is that hunger pangs and cravings that may normally plague you throughout the day will be reduced, if not altogether eliminated. This is probably due to its ability to balance your insulin and blood sugar levels and, in turn, help correct other hormonal imbalances.

Intermittent Fasting Weight Loss FAQs

Now that you know what intermittent fasting is and how to get started, it’s time to answer your other questions.

Below are answers to the questions frequently asked about intermittent fasting. These answers should help you and make getting started a lot easier.

How Much Weight Will I Lose?

The amount of weight you lose with fasting is determined by how often and long your fasts are, what you eat afterward, and other factors. Fasting for 16-20 hours a day can help you safely lose 2-3 pounds of fat every week.

While losing this much weight every week is great, it’s how it makes it happen that’s really cool. Losing weight with intermittent fasting means that you will never have to count calories or plan and prepare several meals a day.

Can I Work out While Fasting?

Yes, you can. In fact, doing the right type of workout while fasting will help you lose weight faster and even build muscle.

The best workouts to do while fasting for weight loss are 3-4 intense strength training workouts weekly. This means anything from standard strength training to kettlebell or body weight workouts.

Focus on doing 3-4 total body exercises per workout with as little rest as possible between sets. Doing this will help you burn more calories during and after your workout. You’ll also build muscle, which will help you look and feel better as the weight comes off.

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Won’t I Lose Muscle When I Fast?

First of all, you aren’t fasting long enough for your body to start breaking down muscle for energy. You have, perhaps, hundreds of thousands of calories from your stored body fat to use before that will begin to happen. Studies actually show that even after fasting for 3 days, no muscle is lost.

Is Fasting Safe?

As long as you are healthy, not pregnant, and aren’t taking medications, fasting is safe. Like all diets, you should discuss it with your doctor before beginning an intermittent fasting style of dieting.

I also feel that it may not be smart to follow this type of diet when you’re especially stressed. Since this diet can be a little stress-inducing at first, doing so when your ability to be relatively stress-free and rested probably isn’t a good idea.

Are There Any Supplements I Can Take to Make Fasting Easier?

As with any other weight loss plan, it’s a good idea to take a few nutritional supplements to ensure that your daily requirements are met. This includes a once or twice daily multi-vitamin, fish oil, and vitamin D.

I’ve also found taking 10 grams of branch chain amino acids before and after my workouts really helps, too. They’re great for giving you more energy during your workout and decreasing post-workout muscle soreness.

For supplements to specifically help with digestion, check out this article.

Conclusion

Now you know what intermittent fasting is and how it can help you lose weight quickly, safely, and pretty much effortlessly.

If you want to give it a try, find a fasting schedule that fits with you lifestyle and give it a go.

More About Intermittent Fasting

Featured photo credit: Toa Heftiba via unsplash.com

Reference

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