Sleep is probably the most underrated aspect of both physical and mental health. Superior sleep has been associated with a better mood, improved libido, enhanced cognition, and improvements in sporting achievement.
It’s not just a question of how long you stay in bed for though, it is also about the quality of sleep that you are getting. With that in mind, here are five tips on how to sleep well through the night.
Tip #1. Stay Active Throughout the Day
It is probably no surprise to anyone that tiring yourself out with exercise can help you to sleep better. Studies have repeatedly shown that not only can exercise help improve sleep in people who already sleep well, but that it can improve sleep quality in people suffering from insomnia or similar sleep conditions.
A 2003 study published in Sleep found that moderate intensity exercise and stretching helped to improve the sleep quality of sedentary, overweight, and post-menopausal women. A similar study on adults aged over 40 found that a combination of resistance training and cardio led to improvements in sleep quality and a significant reduction in the amount of time it took to fall asleep (known as sleep latency).
A study in 1997 looked at adults who suffered from minor sleep complaints. It found that moderate-intensity exercise was able to improve the quality of sleep each night and the duration. Another study, this time performed on people with chronic insomnia, found that aerobic exercise was an effective treatment.
As you can see, 30-40 minutes of aerobic exercise appears to be enough to improve your sleep quality and help you sleep through the night. Resistance exercise (lifting weights, using machines etc) also appears to help improve sleep quality and duration. The trick is to be consistent, exercise every day – even if it is just walking a little bit more than you usually would, or taking the stairs instead of using a lift.
Tip #2. Create a Sleep Routine
You’re going to see the phrase “consistency is key” (or something like it) a lot in this article and in any article on fitness, nutrition, or sleep. There is a good reason for this, your body LOVES consistency. A 2010 study found that following a consistent daily routine led to improved sleep quality in the elderly, a demographic that is particularly prone to poor sleep.
Eating your evening meal at the same time each evening, exercising at the same time each day, going to bed at the same time each night, and waking up at the same time each morning will all help create a routine that will improve your sleep quality and reduce sleep latency.
Obviously, it is not always possible to lead the same daily routine for weeks on end. Particularly if you work shifts, have children, or have a packed social calendar. However, all is not lost. You can still create a sleep routine.
You may not be able to go to bed at the same time each night, but you can follow a pre-bed routine aimed at improving your sleep quality. Whatever time you plan on going to sleep (9pm or 3am) have a thirty-minute pre-bed routine that you can follow. This can involve eating certain foods or taking certain supplements (more on both of these in a bit), avoiding tablets or phones that can affect sleep.
The latter is particularly important as the blue light produced by LEDs, computers, laptops, tablets and telephones directly interferes with the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone.
According to Harvard Medical School, blue light wavelengths can improve mood, boost reaction times and attention – which is great for the daytime, not so good at night. Studies suggest blue wavelengths boost alpha wavelengths which promote alertness and suppress the sleep-inducing delta wavelengths.
The shorter wavelengths in blue light are thought to explain why blue light suppresses melatonin more than any other form of lighting.
Melatonin is the hormone that signals to the body that it is time to go to sleep, and its production – unfettered by blue light – typically increases as it gets dark and falls in the morning. Exposing yourself to light just before going to bed, however, is counterproductive and hampers the melatonin production.
Too little melatonin and you may find it hard to get to sleep, and to stay asleep.
You could also spend 10 minutes meditating which has also been shown to improve sleep.
Tip #3. Eat the Right Foods Before Bed
Do you remember as a kid you’d get a glass of milk before going to bed? Because your parents (and let’s face it cartoons) had led you to believe that it would help you sleep better. Well guess what? It does! Milk and other dairy products contain an amino acid called l-tryptophan which has been shown to reduce sleep latency and increase sleep quality.
It’s not just dairy products that contain l-tryptophan though, so do soy products, nuts, eggs, fish, meat, seeds, bananas and several other foods. But you have to remember that the time of night should influence what foods you are likely to want to eat. Not many people are going to fancy cooking steak and eggs thirty minutes before bed!
A glass of milk and a banana is a great choice; bananas also contain potassium and magnesium which can help sleep while milk contains whey protein which is good for sleep too. If you have worked out during the day then mixing in some casein protein powder could not only help your muscles recover but also help you sleep even better.
Tip #4. Avoid Stimulants in the Evening
While very few people would be crazy enough to down a black coffee before jumping into bed, you’d be surprised how long a stimulant can stay in your body and keep you awake. Caffeine can stay in your body for several hours after ingestion. You may not be knocking back coffee, but how many people drink a pre-workout just before their evening workout?
A lot of the ingredients in pre-workouts are stimulatory and can stay in your system for upwards of 4-6 hours! This will clearly affect sleep latency, sleep quality, and sleep duration. Avoid all stimulants after 6pm (or a suitable time that reflects your bedtime) and consider non-stimulatory supplements.
Tip #5. Consider Natural Sleep Aids
A final consideration, natural sleep aids are another excellent way to improve your sleep quality throughout the night.
There are many single-ingredient natural sleep aids that you could consider: l-tryptophan, magnesium, or tart cherry (a natural source of melatonin). But a better choice would be to find a supplement that combines many useful ingredients that complement each other.
Why find a supplement with Montmorency tart cherry instead of melatonin?
Well, consuming melatonin directly can cause side effects such as headache, short-term depression, daytime sleepiness, dizziness and stomach cramps.
As a result, we recommend choosing a natural sleep aid containing Montmorency tart cherry instead. As it’s a natural source of melatonin, it’s much safer and will ensure you don’t consume ‘too much’ – to keep you safe from potential side effects.
So what is Montmorency tart cherry?
It’s an all-natural source of melatonin, the aforementioned ‘sleep hormone’. Melatonin tells your body when it is time to sleep, but as we mentioned, its production can be negatively influenced by light, especially the blue light from tablets, telephones and computers. Taking an independent source of melatonin helps to ensure your levels remain adequate for sleep. The melatonin in Montmorency tart cherry, therefore, has been shown to help you fall asleep quicker and stay asleep. Melatonin has also proven effective at treating jet lag.
Stay away from synthetic supplements
We’ve recommended that you choose a sleep aid containing Montmorency tart cherry instead of melatonin directly. But there’s more to it than that.
In our honest opinion, it’s very important to choose a supplement that is 100% natural, free from synthetic additives. As well as being GMO, soy, gluten and allergen-free too.
For the vegans out there, focusing on these things will usually help you find a safe, natural and vegan-friendly option as an added bonus.
So, there you have it. Five tips on how to sleep through the night. You may be surprised at how easy they all are to implement. That’s the beauty of sleep, it is relatively easy to do. It’s just about getting your priorities in place and addressing anything that may negatively affect your sleep quality. Creating a routine is the most important thing that you can do, provided that it is possible.
Try to exercise every day, prepare for bed 30 minutes before you want to be asleep, take an effective natural sleep aid, avoid caffeine and other stimulants, and if you’re going to snack – aim for something that is high in l-tryptophan. Doing so will help you fall asleep quicker, stay asleep throughout the night, and wake up fresh and energised in the morning.