Recently, the significance of healthy sleep hygiene has garnered a lot of attention from the media and scientists alike. Sleep is a fundamental physiological process that is VITAL for proper cognitive function, immune system health, recovery, and much, MUCH more. The National Sleep Foundation recommends at least 8 hours of sleep per night for adults. However, recent research suggests that a high percentage of adults walk—better said, trudge—around in a sleep-deprived state, getting 6 or fewer hours of sleep per night.
The negative effects of sleep deprivation are daunting and include impaired learning and cognitive function, increased pain perception, reduced insulin sensitivity and glycemic control, increased appetite and cravings, inflammation, and more. Additionally, it has been reported that sleep deprivation may weaken the immune system and actually increase the risk of developing chronic deadly diseases (1).
How can you improve sleep quality?
While the negative health effects of sleep deprivation are severe, the good news is that there’s been quite a bit of research shedding light on methods that improve sleep quality. One of the most commonly prescribed tips for improving sleep quality is to reduce caffeine and alcohol intake. While caffeine is a large part of many people’s daily routines, it is not a sleep aid; in fact, it can literally “block” sleep and impair sleep quality. While this should come to no one’s surprise, many people do not respect the power of caffeine.
You see, research has shown that high levels of caffeine may increase the difficulty of falling asleep and impair the body from entering into deep REM cycles, which is where the majority of the restorative sleep occurs. Additionally, alcohol may also negatively affect sleep quality as it creates fragmented sleep and limits REM sleep. Therefore, reducing your caffeine (e.g., no caffeine at least 6 hours prior to bedtime) and alcohol (e.g., no more than 1 – 2 drinks; fewer may be better) content may help improve quality of sleep (2,3).
TIP 1: Reduce caffeine and alcohol consumption prior to going to sleep.
Light is perhaps the most critical factor regulating the sleep-wake cycle. As you may notice, exposing yourself to sunlight at the beginning of the day is a great way to wake up, increase energy, and boost alertness . Believe it or not, artificial light (from light bulbs, phones, computers, tablets, TVs, etc.) at night-time can have a similar effect, suppressing your melatonin production and making it harder to go to sleep! Therefore, the next recommendation for improved sleep is to take advantage of blue-light-blocking apps (such as night shift and f.lux) on your electronic devices. Generally speaking, try to remove yourself from screens and artificial light for 60-120 minutes prior before going to bed (4).
TIP 2: Limit exposure to artificial light before bed and utilize blue-light-blocking apps on your devices.
Another area of research that has been gaining a lot of attention lately is the practice of mindfulness, or meditation. In fact, a variety of mindfulness practices have been reported to decrease symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression. Additionally, meditation has been shown to improve sleep quality in adults dealing with occasional sleep disturbances. How does meditation work? Research suggest that there may be a variety of mechanisms at play. For instance, meditation may increase feelings of relaxation and decrease the central nervous system activity, making it easier to fall asleep (5,6).
If you want to try this at home, there’s more than a handful of apps that make guided meditation extremely easy. Some of my favorites include Headspace, 10% Happier, and Calm.
TIP 3: Try meditating before bed
Quality sleep is essential for overall health. As obvious as that sounds, sleep deprivation, which may cause serious health concerns when maintained for extended periods of time, is the unfortunate norm. Therefore, proper sleep habits—often referred to as sleep hygiene—are extremely important for maintaining a happy, healthy life. Try reducing your caffeine and alcohol content, removing yourself from artificial light, and meditating before bed to improve your overall sleep quality!
- Sanchez, S. M., & Newman, L. (2006). Caffeine and Sleep.
- Singleton, R. A., & Wolfson, A. R. (2009). Alcohol consumption, sleep, and academic performance among college students. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 70(3), 355-363.
- Kessel, L., Siganos, G., Jørgensen, T., & Larsen, M. (2011). Sleep disturbances are related to decreased transmission of blue light to the retina caused by lens yellowing. Sleep, 34(9), 1215.
- Ong, J. C., Manber, R., Segal, Z., Xia, Y., Shapiro, S., & Wyatt, J. K. (2014). A randomized controlled trial of mindfulness meditation for chronic insomnia. Sleep, 37(9), 1553.
- Ong, J. C., Shapiro, S. L., & Manber, R. (2008). Combining mindfulness meditation with cognitive-behavior therapy for insomnia: a treatment-development study. Behavior therapy, 39(2), 171-182.