It took me years before I realized the value of sleep.
Growing up I was a night owl and would consistently go to sleep at 2:00am only to wake up four to five hours later and get on with my day — and I know I wasn’t the only one. The thing is, unless you pay close attention over a long period of time you never notice the effect that sleep deprivation has on your health and performance in daily life.
Your body does an amazing job of hiding the fact that you’re sleep-deprived and this can have a very harmful effect on virtually every aspect of your mental and physical well-being. Over the years I’ve roughly calculated that I’m about 30% less productive when I’m sleep-deprived, and that the work I produce is of a lower quality (and has more mistakes). Considering the effect it has on our ability to reason, focus, think, and function in general, there are few things as important as getting a good night’s rest.
The Best Meditation: 7 Tips for Improving the Quality of Your Sleep
Sleep is the best meditation.
– Dalai Lama (more quotes)
With the mounting research nowadays, it’s hard to deny the importance of sleep for our health.
There are roughly two decades worth of research backing the critical importance of sleep and even some best-selling books written on the subject, like Arianna Huffington’s “The Sleep Revolution.” However, unlike another well-researched activity, physical exercise, the majority of people still don’t live by this knowledge. Our lifestyles haven’t caught up to the decades of proven research.
We need more sleep, but it’s also important to improve the quality of the sleep you’re already getting. This can help you get more from your time to rest without any additional time spent.
Here are seven tips for helping you do just that.
1. Create a nightly routine
This is one of the more important points on this list because most of us don’t have a set nightly routine. This involves creating a short, set routine of activities which you perform every night before bed.
Examples can be meditation, reading a book (preferably fiction as opposed to non-fiction to whisk the mind away from the stresses of the day for a short while), journaling, or creative work like drawing, painting, or writing.
Your nightly routine shouldn’t take more than an hour, which would mean you’ll likely want to pick two-to-three different activities maximum and stick to those. Take some time to customize your nightly routine to your life by experimenting with different activities and make sure to focus on things that will help you wind down.
2. Stick to a set bedtime schedule
One of the single most important things you can do to help improve the quality of your sleep is to aid your internal clock and fit your daily schedule to your body’s rhythm.
This is easy to do because, for the most part, it just involves sticking to a set bedtime. Pick a time to go to sleep and what time you’ll wake and do your best to stick to those times consistently. Just make sure this time fits with your body’s natural rhythm, which is generally waking sometime from around five to seven o’clock in the morning to falling asleep around nine to eleven o’clock at night.
3. Improve your sleep environment
Lastly for the ‘prep-tips’ is to improve your sleep environment. This isn’t anything complicated. It just involves reviewing your physical environment and looking to see if there’s any way that you can alter your environment to help induce calm and aid in sleep.
Things to look out for are room temperature, noise, and sleep comfort level (a new pair of sheets can do wonders for improving sleep). However, in addition, try to reserve your bed for your nightly ritual and sleep time. If you frequently work or sit with your laptop or smartphone and do anything else on a device in bed, this can harm your ability to program the body and mind to go into sleep mode when getting into bed.
4. Physical exercise
Physical exercises, like yoga, cardio, or weightlifting, are great for increasing energy throughout the day, but doing so earlier in the day also helps you sleep. This is partly because exercise helps reduce stress and calm the nerves.
However, exercise does more than just calm the mind and body. It also helps reduce the symptoms of insomnia and sleep apnea and allows you to remain in deep R.E.M. sleep for longer periods, making exercise a powerful sleep aid.
While exercise may or may not already be a part of your daily routine, if it isn’t, this doesn’t have to be complicated. Even fifteen to thirty minutes of high-intensity (HIIT) exercise can do the trick.
5. Don’t eat before bed
Most people don’t realize that your diet and eating schedule plays an important role in the quality of your sleep.
For one, don’t eat several hours before bed as digestion can make it harder to fall asleep. Big meals with acidic foods especially can cause a restless stomach, so try to stay away from eating before bed altogether. Also, try drinking more water throughout the day so you’re not encouraged to drink too much water before bed (a habit I’ve seen a lot of people have), resulting in frequent bathroom trips that interrupt you either falling asleep or being asleep.
In addition to watching your eating and drinking schedule, keep an eye out for consuming too much sugar and refined carbs such as white bread, white rice, and pasta, as that can cause wakefulness.
6. Remove blue light 2 hours before bed
Controlling your exposure to light, in general, is important for sleep quality, but if you’re rising at a reasonable time, get a little sunlight throughout the day, and go to sleep at a reasonable time this isn’t really something you have to worry about.
What should be a real concern, though, is your exposure to blue light which is the light emitted from devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops, computers, and T.V. screens. Exposure to blue light too close to bed can cause a bit of a trick on your brain making it think that it’s still daylight.
Why does this matter? Because of this little trick, blue light halts the brain from producing melotonin, an important chemical which is typically produced when the sun goes down to prepare our body for sleep. Without producing enough melotonin, our sleep quality suffers. So, do your best to stay off of any devices at least an hour, if not two hours, before bed.
7. Calm the mind
Calming the mind is critically important because we carry the weight of our life on our shoulders throughout the day only to take those challenges with us to bed every night. This has a huge effect on every aspect of our sleep quality from our ability to fall asleep, stay asleep, and attain and maintain deep R.E.M. sleep throughout the night.
There are many ways to calm the mind, but in my opinion, I’ve never seen anything work half as well as a regular meditation practice for helping calm the mind before bed. Mindfulness meditation is my ideal practice for helping me step away from the day, calm the mind and body, while not doing so in a fabricated way where we’re just hiding from our challenges. However, feel free to use whatever practice works best for you.
With mindfulness practice, you’re allowing everything to “wash” over you while you remain present of whatever arises. Inevitably, over the course of even ten to fifteen minutes of practice, the mind calms, the nerves settle, and we’re able to then place the challenges of the day on a shelf where we can get a good night’s sleep so that we may pick them up again tomorrow fully rested and ready for whatever may come.
Without a doubt, sleep is important for our mental and physical well-being, but we often don’t notice what a large impact a lack of quality sleep has on our day-to-day performance. If you want to live a healthy life and perform at your best, there’s no question– you need to improve the quality of your sleep.