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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
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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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Published on July 15, 2021

Shift Work Disorder: 17 Ways to Manage it Better

Shift Work Disorder: 17 Ways to Manage it Better
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Are you having trouble sleeping? Or do you feel like you can barely stay awake when you need to? Are you left tired and irritable, lacking the joy and motivation that life once brought? If these complaints are tied to your long or rotating work schedule, you may be suffering from shift work disorder—a common ailment among professions with schedules outside the typical 9 am to 6 pm range.[1]

Why does it matter? Let’s be honest—being tired stinks. It feels terrible and leaves you vulnerable to many health risks that well-rested people aren’t as susceptible to. Not only that, but it can also wreak havoc on your relationships and quality of life.

The good news is that there are plenty of ways to help manage this, and you can start trying them out today! Some of the solutions may not be what you expect. For instance, you might have linked improved sleep to exercise, but did you know that being compassionate with yourself can also have an impact?

Who Are Affected by Shift Work Disorder?

Twenty-five million people are shift workers in the country, so you are far from alone if you are struggling with this. Shift work disorder is a condition frequently affecting anyone who works a job where their schedule is outside standard business hours. Nurses, police officers, firefighters, and factory workers are common examples of professions with schedules that rotate around the clock.

Rotating shifts naturally leads to a change in one’s schedule, including sleep. As your sleep schedule becomes more chaotic, your body is unable to adjust and regulate itself and can result in having difficulty falling or staying asleep. This inevitably leads to less sleep, which is where some big problems can arise.

What Are the Symptoms?

Sleep is one of the most important (and underrated) aspects of our lives. Enough sleep and good quality sleep are critical to our emotional, mental, and physical health.

Insufficient sleep can lead to a significantly increased risk of physical health problems, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and gastrointestinal disorders. Mentally, being tired contributes to having scattered concentration, difficulty processing information, and being more likely to make mistakes or have an accident. Emotionally, the fallout of being chronically exhausted is linked to poor emotional regulation including being irritated more quickly, as well as an increased likelihood of developing anxiety and depression.[2]

Any of this sound familiar? If so, keep reading for some scientifically-based tips to help you manage your sleep better and get your life back.

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17 Ways to Manage Shift Work Disorder Better

Quality sleep, or the lack thereof, impacts us physically, mentally, and emotionally. The most impactful plan of attack against shift work disorder and to regain quality sleep must also reflect that.

I suggest reading through all of the tips and formulating a plan based on what you think will work for you. Start by trying out one thing and build from there as you are able. Remember to construct a plan that addresses your physical, mental, and emotional health.

Let’s start in the most obvious place first:

Your Job

1. Make Your Schedule the Best It Can Be

Randomly rotating shifts has been found to have the worst impact on our health.[3] If you have to rotate your schedule, request to rotate shifts in a clockwise fashion.

For example: work the day shift, rotate to the nights, then to the early morning shift, then start back on the day shift. Sounds silly? It’s not. Studies show that our bodies more easily adjust to changes in schedule when completed in a clockwise manner.[4] This is because of something called our circadian rhythm—24-hour cycles that are part of the body’s internal clock that carry out essential functions. The most commonly known of these is sleep. It has been discovered that our circadian rhythm adjusts forward more easily than it does backward.

2. Speak to Your Manager About Keeping Your Workplace Bright

Special lights have been designed to assist with circadian rhythm. It turns out that absorbing bright light that is most similar to sunlight can positively impact regulating our circadian rhythm.[5]

3. Avoid a Long Commute to and From Work

Having a long drive home after working a rotating shift is statistically not in your best interest. It’s been shown that fatigued/sleepy employees are 70% more likely to have a workplace accident and 33% more likely to be involved in a traffic accident.[6]

To avoid putting yourself at risk by driving when you’re not at your best, catch a nap before leaving work, pull over to sleep, or stay at a friend’s house nearby.

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4. Speak to Your Manager About Your Concerns

Many companies that operate around the clock are willing and able to make accommodations to those working alternative shifts. Whether it’s helping you find a schedule that works best for you or connecting you with other programs designed to support your well-being, being in good communication with your employer is to everyone’s benefit.

Sleep Attitudes and Environment

5. Change Your Perspective and Start Prioritizing Sleep

Here’s the deal: despite some pretty well-known dangerous effects of not getting enough sleep, somewhere along the line, our society began to think of sleep as a luxury. Some even consider it a badge of honor to “power through” without much (or any) sleep. People have been made to feel embarrassed or lazy if they get the recommended amount of sleep each night.

Here’s the bottom line: sleep is not a luxury.

Let me repeat that—sleep is not a luxury, and getting a consistent and healthy amount does not make you a slacker. Sleep is actually when our body does a lot of repair work on itself—blood vessels, muscles, and other organs. Sleep also boosts our immunity.

If we could help people feel as proud about sleeping as we do about them working out regularly or sticking to a healthy diet, people might be a lot healthier.

6. Make Your Sleep Space as Conducive to Rest as Possible

This means tweaking your environment so it’s as enticing as possible for your body to go to sleep. Keep the room dark using blackout blinds, reduce the temperature (our body rests best when slightly cool), limit interruptions (phone calls, visitors, noise), and remove electronic devices.[7]

Set yourself up for success by supporting yourself through your surroundings. If you wanted to lose weight, you wouldn’t frequently surround yourself with cookies, cake, and ice cream, right? Same idea here.

Personal Habits and Choices

7. Stick to a Regular Sleep Schedule as Closely as Possible—on Workdays and Days Off

This is obviously difficult when your schedule changes on the regular, but the more consistent you can keep your bedtime, the easier time your body has getting to sleep and staying that way.[8]

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8. Allow Yourself Time to Catch Up on Sleep

Having enough days off to rest and recuperate is an important aspect of protecting your health. You wouldn’t expect to be able to drive across the country on one tank of gas, right? Filling your own personal gas tank is just as important.

9. Take Naps, but Don’t Overdo It

It’s recommended by the Cleveland Clinic to take a 90-minute nap just before starting your shift and then a 30-minute nap during your “lunch break” at work.[9] Again, this is all about keeping some gas in your tank and not allowing yourself to get to the point where you are running on fumes. Short naps will help you stay refreshed and alert on the job.

10. Limit Caffeine to the Start of Your Shift

Most of us love a good hit of caffeine, especially when we are tired. But overdoing it or having caffeine too late in your shift can negatively impact your ability to get to sleep when you finally have the time to do so. Moderate your intake to help yourself get some quality sleep.

11. Avoid Alcohol Before Bed

Unwinding after work with a drink can be tempting. It can make you drowsy, which many people mistakenly believe will help them get better sleep. Unfortunately, alcohol will actually keep you awake (or wake you up later). This obviously impairs your ability to get the quality of sleep you are looking for.

12. Don’t Smoke

Much like alcohol, people turn to nicotine to “calm their nerves” or help them relax. Also, like alcohol, nicotine has been shown to disrupt sleep.[10] Cut back or cut this habit out as able.

13. Eat Well and Eat Smart

Choose convenient nutritious meals and snacks. Nutritious food is the foundation from which our body creates the needed chemicals for quality sleep. Foods high in saturated fat and sugar have been shown to have the worst impact on sleep.[11]

Also, timing is everything as they say. Eating too much or not enough before your shift can cause you to feel tired.

14. Get Regular Exercise

According to numerous studies, exercise can be as effective in treating sleep disorders as prescription medication.[12] Yes, you read that correctly—regular exercise is the bomb!

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This one can be tricky to convince people to do, especially if they are already tired and short on time. If you don’t have the time to hit the gym, take a brisk walk, dance around your living room to your favorite song, or mow your lawn. Despite feeling tired, getting up off the couch and moving around (moderate to vigorous exercise) is best for reducing the time it takes to get to sleep and improving the quality of sleep.

Mental and Emotional

15. Establish Consistent Practices That Help You Relax Before Bed

This can include yoga, deep breathing, a warm bath, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, meditation, and hypnosis. These are designed to reduce physical tension and quiet your mind from thoughts that are keeping you awake. There are lots of great apps and free videos that can help you with this.

16. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT as it’s known, works by helping you to identify thoughts and behaviors that make sleep worse and then developing new habits consisting of thoughts and behaviors that promote sleep. There are psychologists and life coaches who are specially certified in CBT that can help you with this.

17. Show Yourself Some Compassion

Sounds silly? Well, it’s not. A seven-year study conducted at the University of Mannheim concluded that the daily practice of self-compassion positively impacted people’s quality of sleep.[13]

The concept of showing ourselves compassion is foreign (and uncomfortable) to many of us. Try going easy on yourself for being grumpy, and give yourself some credit for the efforts you are making in tough circumstances. What would you say to your best friend if they were struggling with the same situation? I routinely ask my clients this question as it’s sometimes easier to be compassionate to others than ourselves. This tip might take some practice, but the effort could result in a better night’s sleep.

Final Thoughts

Okay, there you have it—17 different ways you can help yourself manage shift work disorder, feel more rested, more like yourself, and enjoy life again. To get started with your plan, pick out a few tips that you can implement today, but remember to choose a well-rounded approach—addressing the physical, mental and emotional.

Be patient with yourself. It takes time to build new habits. And show yourself some compassion and kindness—you might just be able to sleep better when you do.

Featured photo credit: Yuris Alhumaydy via unsplash.com

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Reference

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