If you’ve ever had trouble sleeping, you’ll know that the quality of your sleep impacts every aspect of your life, not least your health. If you’re trying to overcome chronic illness, good sleep is crucial. Here are five free things you can do to naturally improve the quality of your sleep so that you can wake up feeling refreshed, energised and ready for the day ahead!
1. Start Your Day with Sunshine
The first step to a good night is to start with a good morning. When light enters your eyes and hits your skin, your brain perceives that it is daytime. As a result, your body starts to produce serotonin, a “feel-good” hormone that helps you feel energised for the day ahead. At the end of the day, serotonin gets converted into melatonin, a different hormone which you need for a good night’s sleep. So, make sure you get your serotonin production started each morning with some natural sunlight (or if you’re up before the sun, get outside and grab some when it arrives)!
2. End Your Day with Darkness
In order to produce melatonin — that all-important sleep hormone — you need darkness. Nature provides this for us when the sun goes down, but thanks to modern technology our days don’t stop when the sun suggests they should. We’ve made it all too easy to ignore nature’s rhythms and simply switch the lights on. Even worse, the LED lights in your computer screen, smart phone, tablet and TV that you probably continue to stare at after sunset produce light that is mostly in the blue spectrum. This is a problem for your sleep quality because blue light is particularly detrimental to melatonin production. The solution: reduce your exposure to artificial lighting as much as possible after sunset and avoid screens for at least two hours before you want to sleep. If you’re not ready to spend your evenings reading by candle-light, you can “hack” your lighting by making it red. Red light is far less detrimental to your melatonin production compared to blue light, so investing in a red night light or some blue-blocking glasses could be helpful. Also, some screen-based devices can be adjusted in the ‘settings’ menu to reduce the amount of blue light they emit, or you can use apps such as f.lux and Iris for further customisation.
3. Avoid Stimulants
Are you one of the countless people who start their day with a cup of coffee? Whether you drink coffee for enjoyment or you use it to keep awake and alert during the day, there’s a good chance it’s damaging your sleep, regardless of the time of day you drink it. Unless you have an unusually fast metabolism, it will take your body more than 24 hours to completely metabolise a hit of caffeine. So, even though you might not feel the same “buzz” after a few hours, that cup of coffee you had in the morning will still be influencing your physiology when you want to go to sleep. And, if you’re having caffeine daily, there’ll most likely be some caffeine left in your system from the previous day, so it gradually accumulates over time. Energy drinks create the same problem – in fact, they often have an even stronger effect than coffee. So if you’re struggling to get some shut-eye and you value your sleep, it’s best to lay off the caffeine and other stimulants.
4. Minimise Exposure to Non-Native Electromagnetic Frequencies (nnEMFs)
Non-Native EMFs are essentially the electromagnetic radiation that is produced by all of our electronic devices. Many people report that their sleep improves when they take steps to reduce their EMF exposure, especially during the night. There are many ways to do this – some requiring more effort than others – but here are a few simple steps to get you started. Switch off your wi-fi router at night. A timer on the powerpoint can make this easier — just set and forget. Switch your phone to aeroplane mode, especially if you keep it in your bedroom during the night. Switch off powerpoints that aren’t in use. For a thorough assessment of the nnEMFs present in your environment, you may wish to consult a building biologist.
5. Parasympathetic (Relaxation) Breathing
If you’re having trouble sleeping, there’s a good chance your body-mind is “stuck” in a state of stress. Have you noticed that your breathing pattern differs when you’re relaxed versus when you’re stressed? This is because your stress response and your breathing are both regulated by your autonomic nervous system (ANS). There are two divisions to your ANS — sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic division up-regulates physiological processes associated with stress. In contrast, the parasympathetic division up-regulates physiological processes associated with rest, relaxation and healing. Why is this important? Well, breathing in is under sympathetic control and breathing out is under parasympathetic control. So, you can increase parasympathetic activity (which is what you want at night in order to sleep) by increasing the amount of time you spend exhaling relative to the time you spend inhaling (i.e. breathe in quickly and out slowly). For example, breathe in for 3 seconds, then out for 6 seconds. Doing this for a few minutes before bed each night can help create calm and relaxation in your body-mind and set you up for a good night’s sleep. (Be sure to take it easy to start with, find a relaxed rhythm that works for you, and don’t continue if you start to feel dizzy or light-headed.)
Remember that improving your health is all about habits, so if you don’t notice any difference immediately, don’t lose heart. Keep persisting with your new healthy habits and you’ll soon be enjoying the rewards!