Sleep is one of the most cleansing habits for human health yet, when managing a busy schedule or studying for exams, it’s one of the first things that gets pushed to the back burner. The increased use of technology, electronic devices and social media are also major contributors to sleep deprivation in the United States. Sleeping less in order to achieve more or engage in technology does not come without consequences. Insufficient sleep is directly associated with an increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and cravings. Lack of sleep increases the hunger hormone, ghrelin and decreases the satiety hormone, leptin which leads people to make more impulsive food choices that are more likely to be high glycemic foods. Sleep deprivation is also associated with neurological health, pointing to sleep as one of the most important lifestyle habits for memory, optimal mood, and even a decreased risk of neurodegenerative diseases. A 2017 study published in the journal, Brain found that just one night of sleep deprivation led to a 10% increase in amyloid beta levels which are a protein associated with Alzheimer’s Disease.
As Americans pack more activities into the day and engage more in television and social media, they struggle to get restorative sleep for the recommended seven to nine hours per night. A survey from Gallop found that four in 10 adults fall short on the sleep recommendations. If you struggle with getting solid, restorative sleep, you are not alone. The good news is that with establishing a routine with sleeping, eating, and exposure to daylight, you can increase alignment with your circadian rhythm, which is your internal body clock that regulates sleep and wake cycles. Your internal clock determines when your body will produce various hormones, increase blood pressure, increase insulin secretion, lower body temperature and more. Follow these tips that will ensure that you are in alignment with the optimal circadian rhythm and help optimize your quality and duration of sleep at night.
1. Save 30 Minutes to Unwind Before Bed
Unwinding before bed can look like stretching, meditating, reading, praying or even having sex. Try to make this apart of your nighttime routine at least 30 minutes before bed. Consumer Reports did a survey of almost 9,000 people who reported having few sleep difficulties. In addition to going to bed and waking up at a set time, they were also more likely to unwind for 30 minutes before going to sleep and engage in sex before bed. For optimal relaxation, it’s best to avoid all electronic devices prior to bed including computers, phones, and television. Electronic devices emit blue light which act as a stimulant and can interfere with restorative sleep.
2. Align your Sleep with the Schedule of the Sun
It’s important to align your sleep with the schedule of the sun—sleeping during darkness. This helps your body align to your natural body clock or circadian rhythm. There’s a few things that are known:
- Exposure to daylight during the daytime helps to improve alertness and reset our clocks and that includes blue light. Melanopsin is a blue light sensor that suppresses sleep and improves mood and it’s stimulated by exposure to blue light. People need approximately one hour of bright light exposure to suppress melatonin which then can interfere with sleep. According to a 2011 survey from the Sleep Foundation, 90% of participants used some kind of electronic devices within 60 minutes of bedtime. Approximately eight in 10 adults reported watching television a few times per week within one hour of going to bed. Researchers have established that avoiding blue light from television and cell phones is critical for aligning our circadian clock with the day-night cycle. When it is nearing bedtime, it’s important to shut off the devices. For optimal results, get a real alarm clock and avoid bringing your phone into the bedroom.
- Less light in the evening is best—that means turning lights to dim and avoiding bright lights.
- It’s ideal to sleep in 100% darkness.
While it’s not always easy to do, it’s best to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day.
3. Incorporate Relaxing Nutrients At Night
- Drink hot tea before bed—preferably one that can help you wind down like Nighty Night Tea which includes passionflower, chamomile, spearmint, lemon peel, and other ingredients that help calm the nervous system or SleepyTime tea which also includes chamomile and spearmint in addition to other soothing herbs.
- Try Taking the Adaptogen, Ashwaghanda. This is an Ayurvedic herb that has demonstrated the ability to lower cortisol levels and reduce chronic stress and anxiety. Ashwaghanda may also protect against neurodegenerative diseases and has been associated in research with improved memory. An animal study also showed that Ashwaghanda can improve insomnia and increase levels of restorative sleep.
- Start Taking a Magnesium Supplement. Magnesium is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the American diet. Try taking Magnesium Glycinate in the evening for a higher level of absorption. If you struggle with constipation then try adding Magnesium Citrate.
- Consider Taking Melatonin. Melatonin is an established hormone that helps regulate sleep-wake cycles but the proposed mechanism was not understood until recently. Researchers from the University of Missouri School of Medicine just discovered the proposed mechanism in a recent animal trial. Identified single receptor, MT1, as the mechanism via which melatonin acts to inhibit the specific orexin neurons that wake you up.
- Snack on Tryptophan. This is an essential amino acid that the body cannot produce on it’s own. Tryptophan is used to aid in the production of serotonin which is converted to melatonin. A small tryptophan-rich snack may include a handful of nuts, hard boiled egg, organic turkey slices, or organic turkey jerky.
4. Find the Best Time to Workout
Different genetic profiles will determine if the body does better with activity in the morning or in the evening. Generally speaking, mid afternoon is when athletic performance potential peaks. Research on the circadian clock demonstrates that the body’s natural schedule is based on the following:
- 2:00-3:00am: deepest sleep
- 4:00am: lowest body temperature—starts to rise
- 6:00-7:00am: melatonin secretion stops & blood pressure increases
- 8:00-9:00am: stress hormones (cortisol) increases
- 10:00-12:00pm: high alertness
- 4:00pm: athletic performance peaks
- 8:00-9:00pm: melatonin rises
- 10:00pm: body cools down
While there are differences with genetics, many individuals will reach their greatest muscle and cardiovascular strength in the late afternoon. The other benefit of exercising in the afternoon is that physical activity helps promote movement of glucose transporters to the surface of cells which makes the cells more sensitive to insulin and more likely to pick up glucose from the bloodstream. This allows the glucose to be used for energy. As the day goes on our insulin sensitivity is reduced. Working out in the afternoon can help stimulate more insulin sensitivity.
A few other important considerations include the foods that you are eating for breakfast, how to create the best breakfast, habits around coffee and whether you incorporate intermittent fasting in your routine. More information coming in the next article!
Contributor: Nichole Bencie, Dietetic Intern at the Cleveland Clinic