One of the biggest ways to improve your productivity and energy levels during the day is to improve your quality of sleep at night. It isn’t just the amount of sleep that matters, it’s also the quality. We have all had nights where we get five or six hours of sleep and wake up feeling refreshed and ready to go. Yet we have also experienced nights when we get eight or nine hours of sleep and wake up feeling groggy and tired. If it was purely about the length of time we are asleep, then this wouldn’t happen. Obviously what goes on during sleep has a big impact. Since we spend roughly a third of our lives sleeping, it is well worth the time spent learning how to improve it.
Your internal biological clock, or circadian rhythm, plays a huge part in regulating your sleep-wake cycle. I could do an entire article discussing circadian rhythms, but for now I’ll just summarize how it impacts our sleep. It is mainly regulated by light, which controls our body temperature. Our body temperature fluctuates by as much as two degrees throughout the day, with its highest point during late afternoon, and lowest point around twelve hours later. As you can see, it starts rising around sunrise, and falling around sunset. This is most likely due to evolution, since our ancestors would spend their days outside, being directly influenced by sunlight. This is why we feel tired on rainy, cloudy days when we aren’t getting as much sunlight. It is also why our sleeping patterns can become disrupted when we spend all of our time indoors under weak artificial light. All you need to take away from all of this is that getting plenty of daylight is a key to getting quality sleep at night. If you have harsh, cold winters like I do, consider investing in a light therapy lamp. I have this one, and it is a great way to wake up in the morning when it is too cold to be outside.
Being properly hydrated is another key to getting optimal sleep. Water is vital to having a healthy body. It flushes out toxins and helps transport nutrients to your cells. If you are dehydrated, these processes don’t work as smoothly. Try to get at least eight cups of water per day. If this is a huge increase, it will take your body a few days to adjust, and you will find yourself needing to urinate often. Don’t worry, as this will pass after the first few days. Avoid caffeinated drinks after lunch, as caffeine can stay in your system for up to ten hours. And if you plan on drinking alcohol, don’t plan on getting quality sleep that night.
Getting enough exercise can greatly improve your sleep. Exercise raises your body temperature, which stops the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. The higher your body temperature peaks during the day, the lower it will drop at night, resulting in increased melatonin. This is why people who exercise regularly are able to fall asleep faster, and stay asleep longer. Just make sure you don’t exercise within the few hours before bedtime, as this will delay the drop in body temperature.
A proper diet can have a big impact on your sleep. Make sure you don’t eat a big meal within two hours before bed, as this can disrupt your sleep. At the same time, don’t try to go to bed when you are really hungry, since this can keep you from falling asleep. If you start feeling hungry close to bedtime, eat a light snack, such as turkey, yogurt, or a glass of milk. These foods contain tryptophan, which is converted into serotonin, and serotonin is then converted into melatonin.
Another way to help you get higher quality sleep is to maintain the same sleep schedule. This is very hard to do, as it is tempting to sleep in later on weekends. This leads to staying up later Sunday night and feeling terrible Monday morning. While it feels good to sleep in on weekends, you need to decide if it’s worth feeling bad during the week. If you can force yourself to start getting up at the same time every day, soon you will find yourself on a consistent schedule, and feeling better when you wake up.
Take Action Now: Start trying to get more sunlight during the day. If it’s too cold to be outside, invest in a light box. Try to get 20 to 30 minutes of exercise a day, and drink plenty of water. If the weather permits, you could use the exercise as a chance to get outside in the sun. Make sure not to eat a big meal close to bed, and eat a light snack comprised of tryptophan-rich foods. Finally, work on maintaining a consistent sleep schedule. It will take a week or more before you start to experience all of these benefits, but stick with it because your energy levels and productivity will be higher than ever.