For more on the Science of Sleep, check out my FUELED Wellness + Nutrition podcast where I’m joined by behavioral neuroscientist Erin Hanlon, PhD, discussing all things related to the impact of sleep on our weight, mood, energy and cravings.
Here are nine key strategies for a better night’s sleep, focusing on our bedrooms, lifestyle improvements, and our transition time from daytime to sleep.
BEDROOM: Create a sleep sanctuary
Unplug. Separate from electronics, says Arianna Huffington , author of The Sleep Revolution (April 5, 2016, Penguin Random House). Not only do our gadgets stimulate our brain, making it easier to procrastinate sleep, the blue glow inhibits our body’s production of the sleep hormone melatonin.
As a rule, put away all electronics at least 30 minutes before you turn off the lights. And simply switching the setting to “sleep mode” is not enough – Huffington insists that smartphones must be kept out of the bedroom while we sleep. “It’s not just the bright screens that are the problem,” she said. “It’s also what’s on them. Our entire lives are on these devices.”
Darker is better. Light suppresses our production of melatonin, so it’s important to take measures – even before we get into bed – to turn down the lights and make our environment calming, quiet and dark. Use low-wattage bulbs in your bedroom. Invest in good shades or black-out curtains. Consider sleeping with an eye mask. Cover any tiny lights with opaque tape. “Keeping it dark” also includes nixing the digital alarm clock, iPad, iPhone or laptop – all of which of course are all sleeping on a charger in another room.
Cool it down. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 65 degrees as the ideal sleeping temperature. Temps above 75 or below 54 degrees can disrupt our sleep.
Declutter. Create a peaceful, serene environment: Make the bed in the morning. Clear clothes and work from the room. Declutter your nightstand, and add relaxing elements of a meaningful photograph, a candle, and a pretty lamp with low light.
LIFESTYLE – Changes to daily routine
Exercise – but time your workouts right. There’s a direct correlation between exercise and sleep. Exercise reduces stress, which naturally helps with sleep, but if we exercise too close to bedtime, it can make it harder to fall asleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends leaving at least three hours between exercise and bedtime – but physical activity is so beneficial to our overall health, we realize that we sometimes need to just fit it in whenever possible.
Ease up on caffeine. Caffeine can linger in our system for six to eight hours or more, so that afternoon pick-me-up can be causing us problems when it’s bedtime. While the exact best timing is different for each of us, our “caffeine cutoff” time should begin well before evening.
Rethink alcohol. Alcohol may make it easier to fall asleep, but it makes it harder to stay asleep. It interferes with the deep, high-quality sleep that our bodies need. This doesn’t mean that you have to skip alcohol altogether, but limit it to one or two drinks and try to have it at least two hours before bedtime.
Snack right. As Huffington puts it, “eat right, sleep tight. Eat wrong, up all night long.” Large meals and spicy foods can interfere with sleep. But going to bed hungry can also make it harder to fall asleep. If it’s been a while since dinner, a light protein-rich snack may be beneficial. My favorites include casein-rich cottage cheese with fresh berries, or a scoop of casein protein powder in unsweetened almond milk. The slow-digesting casein helps to curb hunger pangs through the night, and the steady release of amino acids can also help to repair and build muscle tissue while we sleep.
Herbal sleep remedies. Supplementing with 160 mg valerian extract plus 80 mg lemon balm, two to three times daily, may improve quality and quantity of sleep. Passionflower – as supplement or tea – may improve symptoms of anxiety; one cup of passionflower tea before bed has been shown to improve sleep quality
Molly Kimball, RD, CSSD is a registered dietitian + nutrition journalist in New Orleans, and founder of Ochsner Eat Fit nonprofit restaurant initiative. Tune in to her podcast, FUELED | Wellness + Nutrition and follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at @MollyKimballRD. See more of Molly’s articles + TV segments at www.mollykimball.com.