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Published on June 12, 2019

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 August 20, 2019

How to Control Your Thoughts and Be the Master of Your Mind

How to Control Your Thoughts and Be the Master of Your Mind

Your mind is the most powerful tool you have for the creation of good in your life, but if not used correctly, can also be the most destructive force in your life.

Your mind, more specifically, your thoughts, affect your perception and therefore, your interpretation of reality. (And here’s Why Your Perception Is Your Reality.)

I have heard that the average person thinks around 70,000 thoughts a day. That’s a lot, especially if they are unproductive, self-abusive and just a general waste of energy.

You can let your thoughts run amok, but why would you? It is your mind, your thoughts; isn’t it time to take your power back? Isn’t it time to take control?

Choose to be the person who is actively, consciously thinking your thoughts. Become the master of your mind.

When you change your thoughts, you will change your feelings as well, and you will also eliminate the triggers that set off those feelings. Both of these outcomes provide you with a greater level of peace in your mind.

I currently have few thoughts that are not of my own choosing or a response from my reprogramming. I am the master of my mind, so now my mind is quite peaceful. Yours can be too!

Who Is Thinking My Thoughts?

Before you can become the master of your mind, you must recognize that you are currently at the mercy of several unwanted “squatters” living in your mind, and they are in charge of your thoughts. If you want to be the boss of them, you must know who they are and what their motivation is, and then you can take charge and evict them.

Here are four of the “squatters” in your head that create the most unhealthy and unproductive thoughts:

1. The Inner Critic

This is your constant abuser who is often a conglomeration of:

  • Other people’s words; many times your parents.
  • Thoughts you have created based on your own or other peoples expectations.
  • Comparing yourself to other people, including those in the media.
  • The things you told yourself as a result of painful experiences such as betrayal and rejection. Your interpretation creates your self-doubt and self-blame, which are most likely undeserved in cases of rejection and betrayal.

The Inner Critic is motivated by pain, low self-esteem, lack of self-acceptance and lack of self-love.

Why else would this person abuse you? And since this person is actually you– why else would you abuse yourself? Why would you let anyone treat you this badly?

2. The Worrier

This person lives in the future; in the world of “what ifs.”

The Worrier is motivated by fear which is often irrational and with no basis for it. Occasionally, this person is motivated by fear that what happened in the past will happen again.

3. The Reactor or Trouble-Maker

This is the one that triggers anger, frustration and pain. These triggers stem from unhealed wounds of the past. Any experience that is even closely related to a past wound will set him off.

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This person can be set off by words or feelings, and can even be set off by sounds and smells.

The Reactor has no real motivation and has poor impulse control and is run by past programming that no longer serves you, if it ever did.

4. The Sleep Depriver

This can be a combination of any number of different squatters including the inner planner, the rehasher, and the ruminator, along with the inner critic and the worrier.

The Sleep Depriver’s motivation can be:

  • As a reaction to silence, which he fights against
  • Taking care of the business you neglected during the day
  • Self-doubt, low self-esteem, insecurity and generalized anxiety
  • As listed above for the inner critic and worrier

How can you control these squatters?

How to Master Your Mind

You are the thinker and the observer of your thoughts. You must pay attention to your thoughts so you can identify “who” is running the show; this will determine which technique you will want to use.

Begin each day with the intention of paying attention to your thoughts and catching yourself when you are thinking undesirable thoughts.

There are two ways to control your thoughts:

  • Technique A – Interrupt and replace them
  • Technique B – Eliminate them altogether

This second option is what is known as peace of mind!

The technique of interrupting and replacing is a means of reprogramming your subconscious mind. Eventually, the replacement thoughts will become the “go to” thoughts in the applicable situations.

Use Technique A with the Inner Critic and Worrier; and Technique B with the Reactor and Sleep Depriver.

For the Inner Critic

When you catch yourself thinking something negative about yourself (calling yourself names, disrespecting yourself, or berating yourself), interrupt it.

You can yell (in your mind), “Stop! No!” or, “Enough! I’m in control now.” Then, whatever your negative thought was about yourself, replace it with an opposite or counter thought or an affirmation that begins with “I am.”

For example, if your thought is, “I’m such a loser,” you can replace it with, “I am a Divine Creation of the Universal Spirit. I am a perfect spiritual being learning to master the human experience. I am a being of energy, light, and matter. I am magnificent, brilliant, and beautiful. I love and approve of myself just as I am.”

You can also have a dialogue with yourself with the intention of discrediting the ‘voice’ that created the thought, if you know whose voice it is:

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“Just because so-and-so said I was a loser doesn’t make it true. It was his or her opinion, not a statement of fact. Or maybe they were joking and I took it seriously because I’m insecure.”

If you recognize that you have recurring self-critical thoughts, you can write out or pre-plan your counter thoughts or affirmation so you can be ready. This is the first squatter you should evict, forcefully, if necessary:

  • They rile up the Worrier.
  • The names you call yourself become triggers when called those names by others, so he also maintains the presence of the Reactor.
  • They are often present when you try to fall asleep so he perpetuates the Sleep Depriver.
  • They are a bully and is verbally and emotionally abusive.
  • They are the destroyer of self-esteem. They convince you that you’re not worthy. They’re a liar! In the interest of your self-worth, get them out!

Eliminate your worst critic and you will also diminish the presence of the other three squatters.

Replace them with your new best friends who support, encourage, and enhance your life. This is a presence you want in your mind.

For the Worrier

Prolonged anxiety is mentally, emotionally and physically unhealthy. It can have long-term health implications.

Fear initiates the fight or flight response, creates worry in the mind and creates anxiety in the body.

You should be able to recognize a “worry thought” immediately by how you feel. The physiological signs that the fight or flight response of fear has kicked in are:

  • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, or surge of adrenaline
  • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
  • Muscles tense

Use the above stated method to interrupt any thought of worry and then replace it. But this time you will replace your thoughts of worry with thoughts of gratitude for the outcome you wish for.

If you believe in a higher power, this is the time to engage with it. Here is an example:

Instead of worrying about my loved ones traveling in bad weather, I say the following (I call it a prayer):

“Thank you great spirit for watching over _______. Thank you for watching over his/her car and keeping it safe, road-worthy, and free of maintenance issues without warning. Thank you for surrounding him/her with only safe, conscientious, and alert drivers. And thank you for keeping him/her safe, conscientious, and alert.”

Smile when you think about it or say it aloud, and phrase it in the present tense; both of these will help you feel it and possibly even start to believe it.

If you can visualize what you are praying for, the visualization will enhance the feeling so you will increase the impact in your vibrational field.

Now take a calming breath, slowly in through your nose, and slowly out through the mouth. Take as many as you like!

Replacing fearful thoughts with gratitude will decrease reactionary behavior, taking the steam out of the Reactor.

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For example:

If your child gets lost in the mall, the typical parental reaction that follows the fearful thoughts when finding them is to yell at them.

“I told you never to leave my sight.” This reaction just adds to the child’s fear level from being lost in the first place. Plus, it also teaches them that mom and/or dad will get mad when he or she makes a mistake, which may make them lie to you or not tell you things in the future.

Change those fearful thoughts when they happen:

“Thank You (your choice of Higher Power) for watching over my child and keeping him safe. Thank you for helping me find him soon.”

Then, when you see your child after this thought process, your only reaction will be gratitude, and that seems like a better alternative for all people involved.

For the Trouble-Maker, Reactor or Over-Reactor

Permanently eliminating this squatter will take a bit more attention and reflection after the fact to identify and heal the causes of the triggers; but until then, you can prevent the Reactor from getting out of control by initiating conscious breathing as soon as you recognize his presence.

The Reactor’s thoughts or feelings activate the fight or flight response just like with the Worrier. The physiological signs of his presence will be the same. With a little attention, you should be able to tell the difference between anxiety, anger, frustration, or pain:

  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure; surge of adrenaline
  • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
  • Muscles tension

I’m sure you’ve heard the suggestion to count to ten when you get angry—well, you can make those ten seconds much more productive if you are breathing consciously during that time.

Conscious breathing is as simple as it sounds; just be conscious of your breathing. Pay attention to the air going in and coming out.

Breathe in through your nose:

  • Feel the air entering your nostrils.
  • Feel your lungs filling and expanding.
  • Focus on your belly rising.

Breathe out through your nose:

  • Feel your lungs emptying.
  • Focus on your belly falling.
  • Feel the air exiting your nostrils.

Do this for as long as you like. Leave the situation if you want. This gives the adrenaline time to normalize.

Now you can address the situation with a calmer, more rational perspective and avoid damaging behavior.

One of the troubles this squatter causes is that it adds to the sleep depriver’s issues. By evicting, or at least controlling the Reactor, you will decrease reactionary behavior, which will decrease the need for the rehashing and ruminating that may keep you from falling asleep.

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Master your mind and stop the Reactor from bringing stress to you and your relationships!

For the Sleep Depriver

(They’re made up of the Inner Planner, the Rehasher and the Ruminator, along with the Inner Critic and the Worrier.)

I was plagued with a very common problem: not being able to turn off my mind at bedtime. This inability prevented me from falling asleep and thus, getting a restful and restorative night’s sleep.

Here’s how I mastered my mind and evicted the Sleep Depriver and all his cronies.

  1. I started by focusing on my breathing—paying attention to the rise and fall of my belly—but that didn’t keep the thoughts out for long. (Actually, I now start with checking my at-rest mouth position to keep me from clenching.)
  2. Then I came up with replacement strategy that eliminated uncontrolled thinking—imagining the word in while breathing in and thinking the word out when breathing out. I would (and do) elongate the word to match the length of my breath.

When I catch myself thinking, I shift back to in, out. With this technique, I am still thinking, sort of, but the wheels are no longer spinning out of control. I am in control of my mind and I choose quiet.

From the first time I tried this method I started to yawn after only a few cycles and am usually asleep within ten minutes.

For really difficult nights, I add an increase of attention by holding my eyes in a looking-up position (Closed, of course!). Sometimes I try to look toward my third eye but that really hurts my eyes.

If you have trouble falling asleep because you can’t shut off your mind, I strongly recommend you try this technique. I still use it every night. You can start sleeping better tonight!

You can also use this technique any time you want to:

  • Fall back to sleep if you wake up too soon.
  • Shut down your thinking.
  • Calm your feelings.
  • Simply focus on the present moment. 

The Bottom Line

Your mind is a tool, and like any other tool, it can be used for constructive purposes or for destructive purposes.

You can allow your mind to be occupied by unwanted, undesirable and destructive tenants, or you can choose desirable tenants like peace, gratitude, compassion, love, and joy.

Your mind can become your best friend, your biggest supporter, and someone you can count on to be there and encourage you. The choice is yours!

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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