5 Ways to Boost Sleep Performance
Whether you realize it or not, quality sleep is a superpower. When prioritized, healthy sleep multiplies the effects of the incredible things we’re doing to perform optimally (e.g., exercise, injury prevention, stress management, self-care). But unfortunately, when disrupted or not prioritized, (poor) sleep undermines those same efforts.
Harness the power of sleep and reap benefits in every aspect of your life by avoiding these 5 things before getting some rest.
5 Things to avoid to before going to sleep:
1. Light – and especially blue light (aka your phone!)
- Why should I avoid this? By now, you may have heard that we shouldn’t be on our phones right before bed, but have you ever wondered why? Technology strongly emits blue light, the wavelength of visible light that is highest energy and most disruptive to our circadian rhythms (24-hour cycles). Exposure to light suppresses the secretion of a hormone called melatonin that helps us feel sleepy. As nighttime approaches, our melatonin levels rise – but when we look at screens or bright light, essentially our brain is told that instead of preparing for bed, we should be alert and energized. We also should set up our sleeping environments so that we can walk to the restroom without needing to turn on bright lights.
- How do I implement this? If you feel like it’s impossible to put your phone away an hour before bed, you’re not alone! If that is not feasible, consider making small changes, such as using dark mode (which will reduce the overall light emitted), night mode (which will emit yellow light), or apply a grayscale filter (this may be less enticing, so you’ll put your phone down on your own!). You could also wear blue light-blocking glasses and generally do your best to minimize bright lights as bedtime approaches. Ultimately, however, the best thing to do would be to engage in a bedtime routine that doesn’t involve looking at screens, such as reading a book or listening to music.
2. Caffeine and other stimulants
- Why should I avoid this?
Caffeine (especially when consumed late in the day) is another common enemy to our ability to maintain a routine that aligns with our circadian rhythms. Why? Caffeine blocks the impact of adenosine, a sleep-promoting chemical. Caffeine’s effects are maximal 30-60 minutes after consumption, but did you know that caffeine six hours before bedtime can reduce your total sleep time by a full hour?
- How do I implement this? Let’s try to think twice before taking that afternoon coffee break with friends or coworkers! Also avoid other stimulants, such as nicotine, which has a number of negative health consequences.
3. Eating too close to going to sleep
- Why should I avoid this? Eating within three hours of sleeping leads to a greater number of awakenings, in part due to the digestion of this food competing with our body’s natural sleep processes. Also, certain foods can increase body temperature. This runs counterproductive to the body’s cooling process during sleep, as we’ll soon discuss.
- How do I implement this? You may be able to restructure your schedule to eat earlier in the day, but if you need to eat close to going to when you’re planning to sleep, that’s alright! Simply strive for moderate amounts of food, and do not overeat. Keep in mind that poor food choices and sleep deprivation are a vicious cycle. When we’re tired, we have increased levels of the hormone ghrelin (which promotes hunger) and decreased levels of the hormone leptin (which promotes satiety), with these effects combining to make us reach for high-calorie foods.
4. Not playing it cool (i.e., being too warm!)
- Why should I avoid this? The ideal temperature for optimal sleep is about 65-68 degrees Fahrenheit, assuming you have sufficient blankets and are comfortable. Being in a cold room helps signal that it is time for sleep and these cooler temperatures facilitate our transition into deeper sleep stages. Also, cooler temperatures help us stay asleep by stimulating the production of melatonin.
- How do I implement this? If you cannot control the temperature of your room (or if you have a partner that insists on a warmer environment), there are several innovative technologies that can work to keep you cool while you sleep. For example, you could purchase a mattress pad containing water that can be cooled to your liking, a system that delivers cool air to your bed, or a pillow with cooling beads to help keep your face and neck cool while you sleep!
5. An upset and anxious mind
- Why should I avoid this? We’ve all felt it – despite being exhausted, sometimes we feel our most awake when it’s finally time for bed. There’s nothing worse than lying in bed feeling time tick away, while being so revved up you just can’t fall asleep.
- How do I implement this? Reducing our stress levels is no easy feat, but consider guided mindfulness meditation or deep breathing exercises before bed. You might not be into meditation, but studies have shown those who meditate spend more time in slow-wave sleep, our most restorative sleep stage. Also, if you find your mind racing about things you need to do tomorrow, write it all down! Cognitive offloading – having a physical record of things-to-do, anxieties, and more – can help prevent you from reactivating those thoughts during sleep and therefore lead to a more restful night. Keep a notepad by your bed so that it can keep track of your thoughts, so you can rest easy.
Avoiding these five things before going to sleep will help you realize the profound benefits of quality sleep. The idea of getting at least seven hours of quality sleep every night might feel impossible (and for some it may be impossible, depending on your schedules), but these five tips are a step in the right direction. If we prioritize sleep, sleep will take care of us. Give it the time and consideration it deserves, and watch everything else fall into place.