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5 Ways to get a Better Night’s Sleep

Lunar libration with phase2

If you had have asked me a year ago I would have said that my sleep was pretty dialled in.

I went to bed at a reasonable hour, even to the point where I would say “nite-nite” mid-movie, amid much hassling about being lame and getting asked if I was “going to be late for my sleep in” by friends who were up for a big night.
I would have said that I don’t have too many issues getting to sleep or staying asleep most nights.
But I did used to wake up in the night feeling like a gorilla was stepping on my bladder and needing to do the midnight shuffle off to the toilet.
I would also find it hard to get up and going in the morning and would wind up punching the snooze button a few times while telling myself it was only because I needed to stop the inane chatter of breakfast radio.

So, even though I thought that my sleep was pretty good, Andrew and I both noticed that our sleep actually improved after “going Paleo”.

Possibly because our blood sugar and insulin levels were becoming more stable, without all of the peaking and crashing that happens on a higher carb, grain-based diet.

Further reading about the benefits of a Paleo diet turned me onto the importance of sleep and the impact that getting enough quality sleep has on so many different aspects of our health and quality of life.

So we started tweaking our sleeping habits.

I now find that I don’t get up to go to the toilet as often in the night and I am more likely to wake up feeling refreshed and ready to go in the morning.
It is definitely both the quantity and the quality of your sleep that is important here.

 

What did we do?

1.  Turn off the lights

I am not talking about snuggly night-lights here, I know (most) of us would have grown out of that by age 5.

Diaries from the pre-electric-light-globe Victorian era show adults slept nine to 10 hours a night with periods of rest changing with the seasons in line with sunrise and sunsets.” – The National Sleep Research Project

After dinner we turn off all of the main lights in the house in favour of switching on warm lamps and lighting candles.
The trick here is to have warm light sources that are low like bedside lamps and candles on surfaces (think setting sun) in preference to overhead lighting (like the sun in the sky). [1]
Check out the previous post for an explanation for how this simple tweak will affect your melatonin production but the upshot is that your body will be more in tune with the day/night cycle so you will get drowsy earlier making it easier to…

2.  Go to bed earlier

Uh duh I know…but this is much easier said than done.
Trust me when I say that low warm lighting will help with this, as will cutting out sugar and processed foods, mainly because you are much less likely to be all hyped up at bed-time.

“An hour before midnight is worth 2 after.” – Sleep Proverb from Mark’s Daily Apple

This comes back to the effect melatonin has on regulating the levels and timing of other hormones in our bodies and melatonin production is at its highest in the couple of hours before midnight. [1]

I try to wind down TV and other activities ½-1 hour before I want to go to bed.
I have a bed routine – wash face, take my magnesium supplement, put up black-out blinds, check alarm, drape coral t-shirt over a low-heat bedside lamp and settle in to read my book for half an hour.
The more boring the book the better, you don’t want something that is too thought provoking before bed!

3.  Sleep in a pitch black room

Anything less and you will be stunting your melatonin production.
It is not just your eyes that are sensitive to the light it is also your skin (so don’t go thinking those sexy eye masks will help you).
Researchers at Cornell University found that even if a subject was in total darkness, when they shined a tiny light on the skin behind the subject’s knee it affected their body temperature and melatonin production. [2]

Tiny luminous rays from a digital alarm clock can be enough to disrupt the sleep cycle even if you do not fully wake. The light turns off a “neural switch” in the brain, causing levels of a key sleep chemical to decline within minutes.The National Sleep Research Project

I found that the only way to ensure that our room is totally dark is to put up black-out blinds and to cover our alarm clock with whatever is on hand.
We are renting so permanently changing the landscape of our bedroom windows was not an option (that and black-out curtains can be pretty expensive), so I decided to make my own black-out blinds.
They are easy to put up at night and take down in the morning, and when we shift out it will be simple to remove the evidence and no-one will ever know they were there.

[I am understandably biased about kiwi ingenuity ...“New Zealanders display a MacGyver-like ability to solve any problem, often using unconventional means or whatever happens to be lying around.”
But aside from that, I am pretty proud of my efforts so next week I will post up how I made my black-out blinds]

4.  Take a magnesium supplement before bed

Chronic stress can reduce our bodies magnesium levels causing leg cramps, restless leg syndrome, irritability, muscle twitching and disrupted sleep.
A magnesium supplement before bed can help to calm nerves and relax muscles making it easier to fall asleep. [3]

I take the Natural Calm magnesium supplement as recommended by Robb Wolf.
I feel that it helps me to relax before bed and is part of my bed-time routine.
Natural Calm is a powdered magnesium citrate so absorption is better than magnesium oxide preparations.  If you are interested, Natural Calm is available on iHerb (use the current iHerb coupon code GUJ900 to get $5 off your first order) or if you are local, you can go down and see Sandy at GNC in Frankston for magnesium citrate tablets.

5.  Install f.lux on your computer and set a time limit for internet surfing

Experts say one of the most alluring sleep distractions is the 24-hour
accessibility of the internet.”
The National Sleep Research Project

Light is seductive. The longer we stay up, the more we learn. – ‘Lights Out! Sleep, Sugar and Sur­vival’ – T.S Wiley & Bent Formby

I installed f.lux on both of my laptops about 6 months ago after seeing a reference to it on Mark’s Daily Apple.
You program your location into f.lux and it calculates the timing of the sunrise and sunset where you are.
When the sun sets your computer screen gets progressively ‘rosier’ so it reduces the amount of blue light you are exposed to after dark.  Don’t panic though, your computer screen will reset to normal blue light in the morning after sunrise.
It does take awhile to get used to it – in fact Andrew still cannot stand looking at one of my computer screens – but  it does make a big difference.  My eyes don’t feel anywhere near as tired and strained when I get up from the computer compared to when I have been playing on the iPad after dark.

I also try to be off the computer by 9pm…it does not always work out that way but I find that if I start out with that intention I am more likely to shut down the computer at a reasonable hour.

So what do you think?   Are you inspired to tweak your own bedtime routine?  Have you already incorporated some of them into your routine?

Please feel free to leave your comments below and to share any other strategies that have worked for you or how any of the above strategies have improved your sleep quality and quantity.

So, until next time…eat, sleep, move and go light some candles!

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Ref­er­ences and Fur­ther Read­ing or Listening:

 

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2 Responses to 5 Ways to get a Better Night’s Sleep

  1. Wilks Wedlock Friday 11 May, 2012 at 10:49 PM #

    I dont really have any trouble in sleeping but it couldn’t hurt to try this one. It might make my sleeping way better.

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