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Published on June 25, 2021

8 Natural Ways to Improve Your Sleep Quality Tonight

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8 Natural Ways to Improve Your Sleep Quality Tonight

Good sleep is essential. Those who consistently get high-quality sleep are rewarded with enhanced mental and physical health, better concentration, improved autoimmune response, and a host of other benefits.[1] The rewards of consistently good sleep are so great that if they were to be used to advertise a health care product, people would think that it’s exaggerated.

Despite all the terrific advantages that come with quality sleep, many people have a hard time enjoying a good night’s rest. They lay awake unable to fall asleep, or waken multiple times throughout the night, or simply never drift off into a restorative deep slumber. Waking up each morning then becomes a trial. Just getting out of bed can take Herculean effort, and the first ten minutes spent stumbling around the house looks like a warm-up for Night of the Living Dead.

If this describes you, fear not, there is much you can do to get your sleep mojo back. And if you already sleep well but would like to sleep even better, the same advice just may level up your REM game as well.

The following eight suggestions can be tried individually or in combination (selecting two, three, or all of them to use at once). In whatever way you decide to approach it, use common sense and consult with your physician if you’re uncertain about how best to implement any of these recommendations.

1. Early Sunlight

Andrew Huberman, a neuroscientist at Stanford University, recommends getting early morning sunlight as a means of improving your sleep quality. The reason this is helpful is that the “master circadian clock” (suprachiasmatic nucleus) located just above the roof of your mouth uses sunlight to synchronize the release of the hormone melatonin (from the pineal gland) later in the evening.[2]

Melatonin, in turn, helps create a sense of drowsiness and prepares you for sleep.

But how does a brain structure (the suprachiasmatic nucleus) receive sunlight? It is, after all, buried within the skull. The answer is that photosensitive retinal ganglion cells located largely in the bottom portion of the retina connect to the master circadian clock (the suprachiasmatic nucleus). When these retinal receptors are stimulated by early sunlight, they send signals to the master circadian clock.[3]

It’s basically like a morning wake-up call at a five-star resort—a sweet voice letting you know it’s time to get things started for the day. The circadian clock, in turn, begins to go through a checklist of biological “To-Dos” (release cortisol, change internal temperature settings, adjust downstream circadian clocks, etc.).[4] One item on the checklist is sending a signal to let the adrenals know to release melatonin in approximately 12 to 14 hours.

To make the most of this process, it is a good idea to spend five to ten minutes out in the early morning light (no sunglasses preferred). During the first few hours of daylight, the sun is low on the horizon, and the specific frequency of light that occurs during this time is ideal for stimulating the photoreceptive retinal ganglion cells.

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There’s no need to look at the sun (in fact, that would be counterproductive as it would eventually cause a loss of vision, so let’s not go overboard). Just get out in the early light, stimulate the circadian clock, and then move on with your day.

2. Bedtime Routines

Habits make for improved performance. Great musicians, surgeons, athletes, actors, and others rely on habits to perform at their best.

The professional boxer, for example, who has trained himself to reflexively slip under an opponent’s right cross and counter with a left hook to the midsection, followed by a left hook to the head, cannot think through every step of this response. Through rigorous repetition, it has become automated—a habit. He created this helpful automated response through a routine—by intentionally practicing each step of this counterattack again and again until he no longer needed to consciously guide the process.

Your evening routine has the same sort of impact on your sleep. If your routine is a mash-up of animated phone calls, a little TV, a splash of work, and a shower thrown in at the end on random nights, then your sleep will suffer.

To make the most of your evening routine, it should be kept consistent, and like a jumbo jet descending for a landing, everything should be geared toward hitting the tarmac called your bed. This means that in the two hours preceding bedtime, you should begin to unwind with relaxing activities. Turn off the computer, unplug from social media, turn on relaxing music, and avoid bright overhead lights.

Use the last 30 minutes to engage in those activities you find most inducive of sleep. This might be meditating, taking a shower, or planning your day.

When starting out, it is a good idea to try a routine for two to four weeks before changing it up. Routines take time to work, so you’ll need to give each iteration of a routine a little room to prove itself.

3. Get Dark and Chilly

For the best sleep, it’s a good idea to turn off all the lights in the bedroom.[5] Yep, all of them, even that unique nightlight you got when traveling to The Gnome Reserve in West Putford, England. As a matter of fact, let’s leave no stone unturned and have you turn your digital alarm clock so it faces away from your bed.

The ideal for most people is to have the room entirely darkened and the temperature between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit.[6]

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4. Lose the Caffeine and Alcohol

There are several stages of sleep (what some call sleep architecture). For our purposes, we can divide these between REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep and non-REM sleep. Although this is a broad generalization, within REM sleep, brain functioning is restored whereas, with non- REM sleep, your body is the focus of restoration (cells are replaced, injuries healed, etc.).[7]

Caffeine consumption late in the day not only impairs one’s ability to fall asleep, but it very well may impair the quality of REM sleep that takes place as well. If that evening cup of coffee tastes so good that you just have to have it, I suggest you switch to decaffeinated when the clock reads 3:00 pm.

Interestingly, alcohol also appears to interfere with REM sleep. For many people, alcohol causes them to have lighter sleep, a shorter sleep, and often can also result in coming to a state of wakefulness throughout the night (even if they do not remember in the morning due to the amnesiac effect of alcohol).

As with caffeine, the key is to limit alcohol consumption.[8] For most, a glass of wine in the evening is not going to significantly impact the quality of sleep obtained. But more than one glass may be too much. Be aware of how much caffeine and alcohol you consume, track how impacts your performance the following day, and then make informed decisions about your caffeine and alcohol intake.

5. Evening Exercise—In Moderation

There are a lot of opinions about exercising before bedtime. Some extol its virtues, others swear it will usher in an age of insomnia like the French greeting allied soldiers.

Some recent research suggests that there is little truth to each of these claims—that is, high-intensity workouts that occur less than one hour before bedtime make it more difficult for people to fall asleep. People in this group also have diminished sleep quality.

On the other hand, non-high intensity workouts seem to have either no effect on sleep or in facilitating sleep onset and deeper sleep. Your mileage may vary, but these two different outcomes should be kept in mind if you want to experiment with fitting in one last workout before bedtime.[9]

6. Meditate

Meditation improves sleep. A meta-analytic study that examined 18 different meditation trials involving a total of 1,654 participants concluded that meditation (specifically mindfulness meditation) was equally effective at promoting sleep as standard evidence-based sleep treatments.[10]

This is a remarkable claim because, unlike the formal sleep treatments, meditation requires no therapist/teacher, has no fees attached, and can be performed in several settings. What’s more, there are several other benefits that accrue from meditation.

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Thus far, there is no good evidence regarding a dose/effect relationship between the amount of time spent meditating and the degree of benefits derived therein. But a good guideline is to spend ten to twenty minutes a day meditating. Many guides and websites are available to get you started.

7. What You Sleep On Matters

Don’t be cheap, buy a good mattress and pillow. Mattress quality impacts sleep quality.[11] No degree in physics is required to und understand that relationship.

But I hear you groaning “New mattresses are expensive.” My answer is, yes, that’s often true. But there is no evidence that one type of mattress produces better sleep than another type. So, the field is wide open to finding a mattress that fits both your budget and your sleep.

The key is to test drive a mattress for a couple of weeks to see how it works for you. Find a store that allows you to do this, and return the mattress if you are not satisfied.

Can this be a bit expensive? A little, but well within most people’s budget. Don’t tell me you cannot afford it. I know you are spending way too much for shoes that are not even comfortable (but they make a fashion statement, right?) or that Tommy John underwear you think is worth 35 dollars a pair just to provide a little comfort for your backside.

Trust me, you’ll get a lot more bang for your buck with a good mattress and pillow. Will the expense be worth it? Let’s put it in context.

Most people buy a new mattress every ten years and expect to spend about 1,100 dollars.[12] That comes out to 110 dollars per year or about 30 cents a day.

Now, compare those numbers with what the average consumer in the US spends on coffee each year: 1000 dollars. That comes to roughly 2.75 cents a day. Think about it. The annual drain on your wallet taken for the coffee that is intended to keep you awake because you had a subpar sleep on your dingy old mattress is about nine times as much as you would spend to replace your mattress. Over the course of the lifetime of your 1100.00-dollar mattress, you will have spent 10,000.00 dollars on coffee.

For crying out loud, reduce your coffee budget for a year and get a good mattress (go big and buy some nice sheets and a quality pillow).

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8. Schedule Your Worries

Many people find that they are, in some sense, too busy throughout the day to spend much time being anxious about decisions and potential troubles that lay just over the horizon. So, when they lay down to sleep with the day’s hectic pace behind them, these concerns begin to crowd into their thoughts.

Staring at the ceiling, they wait for sleep. Instead, their mind turns to reviewing the problems that have not been given attention earlier in the day. These anxieties are like bill collectors that have patiently waited in line and now insist upon being let in to your home to discuss your debt.

All of this is a recipe for a poor night’s sleep. Not only does it cause you to stay awake later, but it will also cause you to have a less restful sleep.[13]

The solution is to carve out time for your worries earlier in the day.[14] Give them an appointment, put it on your schedule, and give them a fair hearing during that specific time of day. Also, keep a list of your top three or four concerns. These are the ones who get your time during your appointment. Others have to wait until one or more of these top concerns gets resolved.

When you know that you have time each day to figure out solutions to your most pressing problems, it is easier to put them aside at night when going to bed. You simply remind yourself that you already worked on that stress point today, and you have it on your schedule tomorrow. Eventually, you’ll work it out, but for now, you get to sleep.

Conclusion

Although you have no choice but to include sleep as a major part of how you spend your life, you do have a lot of influence on how to improve the quality of your sleep. By taking control and implementing one or more of the suggestions just described, you can drastically improve your sleep. The potential benefits of increased energy, sharper mental focus, brighter mood, and better health are just waiting for you to take the first step.

More Tips on How to Improve Sleep Quality

Featured photo credit: Kinga Cichewicz via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Forrest Talley

Forrest is a Clinical Psychologist who has been helping adults, teens and children for over 30 years.

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Last Updated on January 18, 2022

How to Improve Digestion: 6 Ways For Stressful People

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How to Improve Digestion: 6 Ways For Stressful People

Does your digestive system seem off lately? Or has it been like that for a while? Have you been experiencing feelings of stress or burnout? If the answer to both these questions is yes, it could be the stress that’s driving your digestive system out of whack. You might also be wondering how you can improve your digestion.

Studies show that your stress levels can wreak havoc on both your mind and body.[1] One of the biggest ways that stress can impair your body’s condition is by disrupting the performance of your digestive system, resulting in a variety of adverse health consequences.

How Stress Affects Digestion

Some of the most common digestive issues caused by stress include heartburn, acid reflux, ulcer, diarrhea, and indigestion. Stress can also indirectly trigger the development of irritable bowel syndrome by affecting your immune system.

Researchers have also shown that individuals already suffering from IBS tend to have frequent flare-ups of systems when they are under considerable stress.[2] Conditions such as IBS and other gastrointestinal tract diseases are considered stress-sensitive disorders. Effective treatment usually entails the patient learning to cope with and manage their stress levels.[3]

A scientific review also discovered that there could be a strong correlation between high levels of stress and eating disorders, such as overeating and obesity.[4] When an individual is experiencing stress, their adrenal glands release cortisol, which is also known as the stress hormone. This hormone is known to increase appetite, leading to overeating and other related eating disorders. People with high cortisol levels are more likely to consume foods with high fat and/or sugar content, resulting in more digestive issues and weight gain.

Effectively reducing your stress levels can help reduce inflammation in your gastrointestinal tract and lower the sensitivity of your gut. Moreover, lower stress levels contribute to easing any gastrointestinal distress you may be experiencing, while at the same time optimizing nutritional uptake.

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If you find that your stress levels are high affecting your digestion, here are some tips that can help heal your gut.

1. Increase Your Level of Physical Activity

One way to boost your digestion and, at the same time, lower your stress levels is by engaging in moderate physical activity regularly. Physical activity helps increase blood flow to the different parts of your digestive system, which makes it easier for food to move along the digestive tract while improving the efficiency of the digestive muscles.

This movement of food along the digestive tract is known as peristalsis. Common signs that your peristalsis is not working optimally include constant constipation and diarrhea, and in some extreme situations, motility disorder.

Movement and exercise are also important in triggering the release of endorphins, which help relieve tension and are considered natural pain relievers. Endorphins are also quite effective at boosting one’s sleep quality, which is essential in combatting high levels of stress.

Physical activities that are known to improve digestion include regular running, walking, and biking. Yoga poses that focus on improving posture and alignment are also helpful in easing and eradicating gastrointestinal distress and act as a potent stress reliever.

2. Consider Foods That Are Natural Stress Relievers

Scientists have also discovered that some foods naturally contain mood-boosting properties. Consuming such foods can help relieve your stress symptoms while still providing your body with critical nutrients for optimal health.

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Almonds, for instance, contain high levels of magnesium, a mineral that has been proven to help manage cortisol levels in the body. Almonds also contain high levels of vitamin B, which, together with magnesium, help in increasing the production of serotonin, a powerful mood stabilizer and feel-good hormone.

Moreover, low levels of serotonin in the body have been linked to the development of irritable bowel syndrome, GERD, and duodenal ulcers, as well as episodes of bloating, cramping, constipation, and diarrhea.[5]

Dark chocolate is another type of snack that can help boost your digestion and bring down your stress levels. It is considered a highly efficient mood booster, but it also has a direct impact on your body’s digestive system. For starters, dark chocolate has a high concentration of flavonoids, a major antioxidant agent.

This chocolate also has high fiber content, mainly because of the cocoa used in production. When the gut bacteria ferment the antioxidants and fiber contained in the dark chocolate, anti-inflammatory compounds are released.[6] These compounds are not only essential in fighting inflammation within your digestive system, but they also play a crucial role in improving cardiovascular function and combatting inflammation-related disorders throughout your body.

Cocoa has also been shown to trigger the production of more healthy microbes in the colon, a further boost to your digestive system. It is also highly recommended to eat foods that are rich in probiotics and prebiotics. These compounds are critical in the production of good gut bacteria.

The abundance of good bacteria in the gut is essential for proper digestion of food and controlling inflammation within your digestive system and other parts of the body. Examples of foods rich in probiotics include yogurt, kombucha, kefir, tempeh, and natto.[7] Fruits and vegetables rich in prebiotics include the likes of onions, asparagus, garlic, and bananas. Consider making these gut-boosting foods part of your regular diet for enhanced digestive performance.

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3. Try Probiotic Supplements

Probiotics can also help improve your digestion. If you find that you don’t like probiotic foods or find them difficult to obtain, try a probiotic supplement instead. Research has shown probiotics to have remarkable effects on digestion, stress levels, immunity, and much more.[8]

Look for a probiotic that uses time-release tablets as these are more likely to deliver the probiotic bacteria safely past your stomach acid. Most probiotics in capsules are damaged or destroyed before they reach your intestines.

4. Avoid Foods That Can Impair Digestion

Just as there are good foods that can help improve digestion and simultaneously provide stress relief, there are foods that can wreak havoc on your digestive system.

Remember, when you are experiencing high levels of stress, your appetite increases, and you are more inclined to consume foods with a lot of (added) sugar and fats. Both these things are known to increase inflammation in people’s digestive systems, resulting in a variety of GI issues like constant bloating, diarrhea, and excessive gas.

Other major food culprits that can disrupt your digestive function include processed bread, white chocolate, coffee, and highly acidic foods.

5. Identify and Avoid Your Stress Triggers

An examination into what triggers your high-stress levels can help you identify these factors, and allow you to mitigate their impact on your physical and mental well-being.

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Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of therapy that helps you uncover the source of your negative thinking as well as the triggers that cause your stress levels to elevate. CBT has been shown to reduce stress in individuals with IBS. Consequently, these individuals suffered fewer IBS symptoms. This demonstrates the effectiveness of therapy in minimizing stress, which then directly boosts the digestive health of the individual.[9]

Meditation and mindfulness are also powerful techniques that can help you ease your stress levels. Studies have also shown that these practices can also help ease inflammation across the body, including along your gastrointestinal tract. Meditating as well as doing some breathing exercises before eating can help relax you, which in turn allows your digestive system to function optimally.

6. Quit Smoking and Excessive Consumption of Alcohol

Our stress coping techniques can also significantly impair our digestive function. If you are using cigarettes and/or alcohol to cope with your stress, you are inadvertently introducing a host of dangerous chemicals that will affect your digestive health.

Smoking and alcohol consumption have been linked to a variety of GI diseases including heartburn, gastroesophageal reflux disease, peptic ulcers, gallstones, pancreatitis, liver diseases, and Crohn’s disease.[10] It’s imperative that you look for healthier stress coping mechanisms, such as meditation and exercise to avoid exposing your digestive system to dangerous compounds.

Final Thoughts

If you’re wondering how to improve your digestion, the first thing you should know is that your stress levels actively impact how well your digestive system functions. Addressing your stress triggers, through exercise, therapy, and physical activity will help bring down your stress levels and allow your body’s digestive system to function optimally.

Moreover, consume foods that are good for your digestion, including foods rich in magnesium, vitamin B, serotonin, fiber, and antioxidants. Lastly, avoid stress coping mechanisms that put your digestive system in jeopardy, like smoking or excessive consumption of alcohol.

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More Tips on How to Improve Digestion

Featured photo credit: Eugene Chystiakov via unsplash.com

Reference

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