Sleep quality matters – 8 steps to higher quality sleep

We spend almost 1/3 of our lives sleeping, so we might as well use that time wisely and for optimal recovery. While many of us have trouble getting enough rest every night, at the end of the day (or in this case night) quality of sleep matters more than quantity.

Here are 8 recommendations to help you get better quality sleep:

Plan your sleep

For adults, research suggests that sleeping between 6.5 – 7.5 hours per night is optimal for longevity, happiness and productivity. Both sleeping less than 6 hours or more than 8 hours on a regular basis has been shown to have negative health effects.

I personally plan my sleep in terms of 90 minute sleep cycles, where the first 30-45 minutes are light sleep and the second 45-60 minutes of the sleeping cycle are deep sleep. If you set your alarm so that you wake up at a time where you’re in deep sleep, you will likely feel more tired than if you woke up earlier in a phase of light sleep, even though you slept longer. Thus, you might feel less rested getting up after 7 hours, than if you had set your alarm to wake you after only 6 hours. To have an easier time setting your alarm clock to wake you at the right time the next morning, you can use an app called SleepyTime (AndroidiOS) on your smartphone.

I remember when I first heard about sleep cycles I was blown away by the positive impact planning my sleep had on how rested I felt during the day. Before, I used to believe that I always needed 8 hours of sleep or I would feel cranky, wouldn’t be able to get any work done the next day and might get some random headaches from too little sleep. When I started to plan my sleeping time according to sleep cycles, I couldn’t believe how good I felt after sleeping for 6 or even 4.5 hours after a night of going out (I don’t drink, which certainly helps a lot!). Right now, I rarely sleep only 4.5 hours, and when I do, I usually try to take a short 30 minute nap in the afternoon as I found out that I would otherwise get tired a little earlier than usual in the evening. Generally, I still try to aim for either 6 or 7.5 hours of sleep per night as I discovered that gives me the most energy throughout the day.

Develop a bedtime routine

Something that can really help you relax and fall asleep faster is developing a bedtime routine that you use at least one hour before bed.

  • Stop doing anything work-related or productive (yes, this also includes reading books about productivity and self-improvement) so you don’t end up lying in bed awake thinking about work.
  • Take a warm shower – this will help you relax and lead your body to cool down afterwards, which makes you sleep better.
  • Open your bedroom windows to cool down the room and let some fresh air in.
  • Dimm the lights and turn off the TV, turn off your smartphone/tablet or put it on airplane mode to stop notifications etc.
  • Turn off your ‘screens’ – stop using all electronics and either turn them off or put them into airplane mode.

Go to bed at the same time each day

Changing your sleeping times by more than an hour regularly can have a significant negative impact on your sleep quality by breaking your circadian rhythm. Therefore, if possible, it’s probably best to stick to approximately the same bedtime each day. I personally discovered that I feel more energized after a couple of days of sleeping at the same time, after giving my body some time to adapt.
Studies also suggest that going to sleep before midnight positively influences your sleep – you’ll feel more rested if you sleep from 10 PM to 5.30 AM than from midnight to 7.30 AM, as that’s also more in line with your natural circadian rhythm.

Reduce your caffeine intake

Caffeine can have a serious impact on sleep quality. A good rule of thumb is not to drink coffee & caffeinated drinks after 2 PM in the afternoon or 8 hours before going to bed, whichever of the two comes first. If you’re sensitive to caffeine, stop drinking coffee at around lunchtime or cut it out completely and observe the effects on your sleep.

Turn off the lights

Your goal should be to make your room as dark as possible. Get blackout curtains for your windows to block street lights from entering – if you can’t, get a sleep mask for your eyes. Try to cover all bright LED lights as they can also have an impact on your sleep quality. Your hand should be invisible in front of you.
Next, avoid bright lights and use blue light filters on your phone, tablet and computer (I recommend F.lux & Twilight) starting two hours before bedtime, as the blue light emitted from these devices acts like caffeine for your eyes and will keep you from falling asleep and reduce the time you spend in a deep, restorative sleeping state that night.

Don’t exercise at least two hours before going to bed

Apart from the fact that you’re probably going to have to get up to make a visit to the bathroom in the middle of the night from the water you drank during and after your evening workout, exercise is too energizing and raises your cortisol levels, which interferes with sleep.
On workout days, I typically sleep the best when I stop working out about three to four hours before I head to bed.

Reduce your EMF exposure

Consider unplugging the Wifi and other electronics that are close to your bed, to reduce your exposure to electro magnetic fields (EMFs), which can disturb your sleep. The same applies to your smartphone – put in on airplane mode when you go to bed, especially if you keep it close to you. If you need it to be on during the night in case of emergencies, then put it as far away from the bed as possible, but so that you can still hear it when somebody calls. I personally always unplug the Wifi and switch my phone to airplane mode when I set my alarm for the next day.

Try magnesium & chamomile tea

I typically take around 500 mg of Magnesium (Citrate, Malate, Orotate, Glycinate, Threonate etc., not Oxide of which only 8% is absorbed) before bed as it helps me relax and also helps prevent leg cramps. I highly recommend taking it anyway on a daily basis, as most people are magnesium deficient and it’s one of the most important supplements you can take for your health, right after Vitamin D3.
Also, try drinking a hot cup of chamomile tea – it really helps to make you more sleepy.

I’m sure you’ve heard most of these tips before. Still, most people don’t implement them into their life. You might be surprised by how big of an impact they can have on how rested you will feel the next day. Please let me know if I was able to help you and also feel free to share any other important things you feel I left out on the list.

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