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Published on June 25, 2021

8 Natural Ways to Improve Your Sleep Quality Tonight

8 Natural Ways to Improve Your Sleep Quality Tonight
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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

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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 July 22, 2021

How to Quit Drinking for a Healthier Body and Mind

How to Quit Drinking for a Healthier Body and Mind
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Has anyone ever suggested that you should cut down on your drinking or, for that matter, quit drinking alcohol out of your life completely? Have you ever felt that way on your own, especially after waking up super late for work with a pounding headache and blurred vision the day after a long night out on the town or getting down in the club?

Let me start by saying that I am not trying to demonize the consumption of adult alcoholic beverages. I’m the last person to judge you or anyone else for making a conscious decision to drink alcohol responsibly. Instead, as a licensed mental health counselor and certified master addiction professional, I have a professional responsibility to help my clients take greater control over their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors by gaining insight into the underlying issues that have negatively impacted their lives.

Is Drinking Alcohol a Problem for You?

First things first. Is drinking alcohol a problem for you? Since alcohol has been known to impair your judgment, you may not even realize that it is.

According to the 5th Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or more commonly referred to as the DSM-5, the universal reference guide used by mental health and addiction professionals to diagnose all substance abuse and mental health disorders, alcohol use disorder is defined as a “problematic pattern of alcohol use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress.”

It is manifested by experiencing at least two of the following symptoms within a 12-month period:[1]

  1. Alcohol consumed in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended
  2. Persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control the use of alcohol
  3. A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain, use, or recover from the effects of alcohol.
  4. Craving or a strong desire or urge to use alcohol
  5. Recurrent alcohol use results in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, and home.
  6. Continued alcohol use despite persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused by or exacerbated by the effects of alcohol
  7. Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced.
  8. Recurrent alcohol use in physically hazardous situations
  9. Alcohol use is continued despite the knowledge of having persistent or hazardous physical or psychological problems likely caused by alcohol.
  10. Tolerance is present in which there is a need for markedly increased amounts of alcohol to achieve intoxication.
  11. Withdrawal, as evidenced by experiencing any combination of both physical and psychological discomfort following cessation after a period of heavy or prolonged alcohol use.

Nevertheless, just because you may not meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder, does not mean that you should not quit drinking alcohol. Although you may appear to be able to handle your alcohol on the outside, excessive alcohol use has been shown to negatively impact your overall health. Just like nicotine, alcohol is a habit-forming drug.

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However, unlike the stimulant properties found within nicotine, alcohol is classified as a depressant. It essentially slows down your central nervous system’s ability to effectively process feelings, emotions, and information.

With your defenses down, alcohol can make you feel more emotionally sensitive, sad, vulnerable, and depressed—for example, with regard to bringing back feelings associated with past traumas that you may have worked hard to overcome, or perhaps those in which you may have never had the time to properly address at all.

A study published by the National Institute for Health showed that alcoholics were somewhere between 60 and 120 times more likely to complete suicide than those free from psychiatric illness.[2]  Additionally, although having a couple of cocktails may make it easier for you to talk to a stranger as it lowers your inhibitions, it can also negatively impact your judgment—for example, by drinking and driving.

Additionally, alcohol has been known to make people more argumentative and belligerent, especially when they are confronted about the issue. A study published by the World Health Organization estimates that approximately 55% of domestic violence perpetrators were drinking alcohol prior to the assault and that women who were abused were 15 times more likely to abuse alcohol.[3]

When it comes to your physical health, there is an overabundance of ways in which excessive drinking is bad for your body. Since alcohol provides little or no nutritional value and is often combined with high-calorie mixers, it can lead to obesity.

People who drink alcohol in excess are generally less physically active, thereby increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.[4] Additionally, excessive drinking inflames the pancreas, making it more difficult for it to secrete insulin, thereby contributing to diabetes.

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Furthermore, excessive alcohol use can lead to liver damage, such as cirrhosis, in which the body is unable to properly remove waste products from the blood leaving the stomach and intestines. As a result, people with cirrhosis of the liver may appear jaundiced, swollen, and confused. A recent study published by Forbes indicated that even moderate drinking tracked with decreases in both grey and white brain matter, essentially interfering with brain functioning as it alters the brain’s chemistry and composition.[5]

With all of that being said, if you feel that alcohol use may be getting in the way of being able to maintain a healthy lifestyle, I recommend that you take a moment to consider these six simple ways to quit drinking alcohol to achieve a healthier mind, body, and soul.

1. Stay Away From the Bottle

If you happen to be a recreational drinker—someone who has a couple of drinks here and there, every so often or once in a blue moon—and you want to quit drinking alcohol altogether, the easiest way to quit drinking alcohol is just to stay as far away from it as possible. I mean it’s really that simple, isn’t it? Not so fast! Alcohol is everywhere, from the supermarket to the soccer field.

Even with all of the potential risks, people continue to drink alcohol at any number of social gatherings, business meetings, and even religious ceremonies, activities that are in many cases almost impossible to avoid completely. Sporting events, for example, all seem to be sponsored by sleek, sexy, and, at the same time, remarkably socially conscious breweries.

Nevertheless, although alcohol is everywhere, the next time you go out with your friends to your favorite hotspot, try ordering tonic water with lime, or perhaps even the virgin version of your favorite cocktail instead—like a pina colada or strawberry daiquiri—so you can keep the umbrella and just get rid of the rum.

2. Set Expectations With Others

Unless you are prepared to cut ties with all of your friends and family members who like to drink alcohol, be prepared to set certain expectations with them when it comes to drinking when you are around them.

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First, let them know that you are not judging them but rather, making a personal choice not to drink alcohol. Then, set clear boundaries with them by letting them know whether or not you are comfortable being around them when they choose to drink. Remember, you are the most powerful gatekeeper of everyone and everything that surrounds you.

3. Own Your Issues!

The first step to quitting alcohol—or quitting the use of any habit-forming mood-altering substance for that matter—is to first admit that you have a problem with it, whatever the problem may be. I suggest that you first start by identifying how alcohol has either already affected your life, or how it could do so in the future if you continue to drink.

Take a personal inventory of everything important to you, such as your relationship with your family and your faith, as well as the condition of your health and your personal finances. Then, carefully consider how alcohol could be negatively impacting each item. Set aside some personal quality time to journal all of your thoughts in black and white to help you see the situation from a more objective point of view. Take it from me, it’s not easy to admit that you have a problem, but once you do, it can be a very liberating feeling.

4. Ask for Help

Once you have admitted to yourself that you have a problem with alcohol, you can then admit it to someone else, preferably someone who can help you process your feelings and concerns in a safe, constructive, and non-judgmental way.

Although family and friends may be very supportive, you may want to work with a therapist who can offer a more objective perspective along with a variety of tools to not only help you stay sober but also process and ultimately work through any underlying issues that may have caused you to drink in the first place.

Furthermore, in the unfortunate event that you have become physically dependent on alcohol to make it through the day, medical supervision may be needed to help you manage any combination of withdrawal symptoms, including restlessness, anxiety, chills, nausea, and even potentially life-threatening seizures.

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5. Join a Support Group

When you are trying to defend yourself against a cunning, baffling, and powerful opponent, there is usually strength in numbers. Beyond reaching out for professional help to address any underlying issues that may be holding you or anyone else back from staying sober, joining a support group is an excellent way to strengthen your foundation for recovery from alcoholism.

Although caring friends and family may be able to provide you with unconditional love, members of your support group may also be able to offer a much more objective step-building approach for long-term sobriety. Fortunately, there are support group meetings available all over the world, you just have to look for one that meets your needs.

6. Make a Commitment to Stay Sober

After you have owned your issues and learned the tools to stay sober, the next step is to commit yourself to actually staying sober. Breaking a bad habit does not usually happen overnight. Typically, it’s a process that requires time and tenacity. There is no exception when it comes to quitting alcohol.

Nevertheless, many people find themselves frantically trying to stop drinking after any combination of unfortunate, uncomfortable, and sometimes unforgiving events, such as being fired from a job, having an argument with a loved one, getting caught driving under the influence, and experiencing medical complications associated with alcohol use, such as liver failure.

Final Thoughts

In the end, If you truly want to quit drinking, make an open and honest commitment to yourself that you will not only put away the bottle but that you will also take out the tools every day to stay mentally, physically, and spiritually sober.

More on How to Quit Drinking

Featured photo credit: Zach Kadolph via unsplash.com

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