8 Ways You Could Be Improving Your Sleep (Evidence-Based)
In the world of health and wellness, we're always trying to give our body the best chance to perform well. We try to eat well, we include regular exercise, but the one thing we struggle/refuse to implement is consistently good quality sleep. There is plenty of evidence in the literature that ties good sleep with increased cognitive, and physical performance and it seems to be common knowledge, however, we struggle to prioritize sleep in our regular routine. To help you get the best of your sleep schedule, here are some things you can implement as part of your regular routine to improve your gains, improve your focus and improve your athletic and cognitive performance overall. Take five minutes to see how many (if any) of these interventions are you taking towards improving your sleep, and find out how you can get better "zzz's" tonight.
The absence of blue light signals your body to produce melatonin, which in turn signals your body that it’s time to sleep. For that reason, it is important that you avoid blue lights during the two hours before bedtime. Oral ingestion of melatonin may help alleviate insomnia, reduce sleep latency, improve sleep quality, and may also help fight jet lag. That being said, don't imagine that oral melatonin will allow you to shift your sleeping schedule at will, regardless of where you live. When all is said and done, light is still a stronger regulator of your body’s melatonin rhythm (the circadian rhythm of your body’s production of melatonin) and by exposing yourself to increased blue light, especially at night, you are at higher risk for decreased melatonin production.
Wearing Blue Light Glasses at Night
Similarly to the note above, due to the disruption blue light causes to your melatonin production, wearing blue light glasses has been shown to potentially reduce the strain this type of light has on your eyes and could be beneficial in reducing sleep latency due to a reduction of blue light affecting melatonin production. There has been no statistically significant data showing that Blue-Light-Blocking lenses can increase the perceived quality of sleep rating, however, anecdotal evidence shows a potential to reduce sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep).
Time to exercise regularly
A 2014 review reported that better sleep did not lead to more exercise, but that more exercise did improve sleep duration and quality. But exercising at night is bad, right? Technically, yes and no. Physical activity raises your internal core temperature, which we’ve seen has been proven not to be conducive to sleep quality, but that increase in temperature is temporary. Exercising increases your production of epinephrine (a.k.a. adrenaline hormone), but that increase too is temporary and so should only affect your sleep if you jump directly from the gym into your bed, without even taking the time to shower and change. Despite the potential to disrupt your circadian rhythm, one poll run by the National Sleep Foundation shows that even exercising late at night is more beneficial to sleep quality than no exercise whatsoever.
Chamomile Tea Consumption
Two double-blind studies conducted have shown chamomile to be effective for people struggling with anxiety and troubled sleep, however, the mechanisms for this effect remain unknown. Due to a substance in the tea called Apigenin, Chamomile tea can reduce stress, and cause sedation in consumers. While it doesn't directly affect sleep quality, if stress is bringing your sleep quality down, chamomile tea will help reduce the effects on your sleep and therefore improve sleep latency and quality.
Lack of magnesium can impair sleep. If on the lower level/magnesium deficiency is present, supplementation of Magnesium has been shown to help increase the quality of sleep Multiple types of magnesium supplements exist, but magnesium-rich foods are numerous and can fit all kinds of diets: they should be your first option. If your body has enough magnesium already, supplementing with more will not benefit your sleep. Here is a resource to help you find foods that are high in magnesium, in order to get your recommended daily intake. It isn't impossible, and should not be overly difficult to consume an adequate intake of magnesium in the diet from high-quality foods.
Honey Before Bed
A 2018 paper on honey consumption before bed vs. no other treatment showed an increase in sleep quality and a reduction in sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep) in subjects that consumed honey before bed. Also shown promising evidence to reduce coughing symptoms if they exist especially for children before bed. So far all of those individuals that prefer the sweet natural, healing nectar of honey, know that it might help you to know you will get to bed quicker, as well as other properties it may have to better protect your body (i.e. fertility, antimicrobial, antioxidant etc).
As you have probably read thus far, there is no magic potion to help you cram in those 8 hours of rest you need every night. However, stress, as mentioned above, can play a huge role in the amount of sleep you get on a daily basis. While Magnesium supplementation can play a huge role in stress reduction and sleep improvements, another substance with similar properties is Lavendar. Studies on oral supplementation are more recent, and most of them used a proprietary extract: in people with anxiety, Silexan™ was shown to alleviate anxiety, improve sleep quality, and increase sleep duration. Anecdotal evidence emerged showing that lavender oil has estrogenic properties and can cause gynecomastia (enlarged breasts in males). According to the National Institute of Health, prepubescent boys are at higher risk of experiencing gynecomastia caused by lavender and tea tree oils. Although none of the clinical trials referenced has reported gynecomastia among their subjects if you’re male and your breasts become tender, stop using immediately.
Supplemental Vitamin D
One area of study that is always under scrutiny is supplementation and how it affects the body. We know that certain forms of supplementation provide more sound results than others, and are more effective in their respective fields of use. Vitamin D has an interesting role in improving your sleep, or rather, a deficiency in Vitamin D has a role in how it negatively affects sleep quality. Deficiencies in Vitamin D can result in myopathy, decreased immune performance, and bone demineralization just to name a few. All of these lead to a prevalence of pain and fatigue in the body. Increased pain and fatigue in the body lead to a decrease rate of exercise and thus an increase in body weight and prevalence of sleep apnea. It is this mechanism that has led researchers to conduct a double-blind research study for 8 weeks assessing the effects of high doses of Vitamin D and its effects on perceived sleep ratings. Data was able to suggest that when supplementing a higher dose of Vitamin D, patients were getting a higher rating of sleep as per PSQI (Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index) score, which is a fairly accurate form of a screening tool. There is more evidence to suggest that daily supplementation is more effective than weekly or biweekly high dose supplementation.
I hope that this review of some current information in the literature has proven to be interesting to you, perhaps you read something you did not know? This is something to me that is very important, and more than any other independent factor can influence your health. Let me know your feedback and what you think about getting a good 8 hours of sleep. Are you already doing any of these tips to better sleep? Leave a comment and connect on Socials @evidencenutrition.