People often wonder what the silver bullet solution is to getting better sleep. But here’s the thing: the reason most people struggle to find the answer is because they’re asking the wrong question. There is no one single, perfect solution to getting better sleep at night. But there are a set of behaviors that you can change, stop, or start that will contribute to a better night’s sleep. It’s called sleep hygiene, and the more religiously you follow/practice its principles, the greater the quantity and the quality of sleep you’ll get.
Banish Bright Lights in the Evening Hours
One of the main principles of sleep hygiene is getting your body back into its natural circadian rhythm. Much of this rhythm is very closely attuned to the rising and falling of the sun. When the sun rises, the body senses that it’s time to wake up; when the sun sets and you are surrounded by darkness, the body senses that it’s time to sleep. But these days, we’re surrounded by a ton of bright lights. And it’s throwing our daily rhythm way off track.
These lights – especially those which come from the electronic blue lights of our phones, televisions, and computer screens – are contributing to our sleep problems. When you are constantly bombarded by these bright blue lights, your brain stops producing melatonin at night like it should. When you aren’t producing melatonin at night, you aren’t sleeping, end of story. Thankfully, there are some very simple changes you can make that will fix the problem.
Fixing the Bright Light Overexposure Problem
It would be ideal for our quality of sleep if we could go back to the caveman days and eliminate all electronic light from our evening hours. But this simply isn’t realistic. The good news is that you don’t have to stumble around in the dark or by candlelight just to prime your body for sleep. Instead, try doing some or all of the following:
- Mount some blackout curtains over your bedroom window(s), or install a curtain rod and buy some blackout curtains for it if you don’t already have some
- Try and find a blue light filter for your phone and/or other electronic devices
- “Unplug” from all of your electronics and spend at least 30 minutes in bed reading or doing some other type of analog activity
- Use dimmer switches or install them on the lights you use in the evening to simulate a low-light atmosphere. If you don’t have the funds for this mini home remodeling, try using lamps with dark shades to get a similar effect
Make Sure Your Diet and Exercise Routine Work in Tandem With Your Sleep Goals
Sometimes, as frustrating as it may be, our nutrition and fitness goals don’t exactly coincide well with our sleep goals. Furthermore, you could have such a hectic schedule that your lack of a proper diet and exercise routine is also harmful for your sleep. It’s not just about eating the right foods or doing the right exercises. Like managing your light exposure, it’s also very much about timing.
Making Simple Diet and Exercise Changes for Better Sleep
Also, not unlike controlling your light exposure, fixing your diet and exercise routine is fairly simple and great for getting better sleep. Here’s a few tips to start you out:
- Make sure you exercise on a regular basis and at the same time each day. Even something as simple as a lively 30 minute walk a few times a week in the evening can prep your body for better sleep
- Eat most of your calories during the early hours of the day and avoid eating too close to bedtime. If you absolutely must eat, stick to slow digesting foods like high-fiber veggies, protein, and whole grains
- In general, you want to eliminate as many of the sugary foods, processed carbs, and trans fats from your diet as you can – regardless of the time of day
Do Not, Under Any Circumstances, Use the Wrong Sleep Aid
Remember when we talked about searching for a silver bullet solution earlier? The quest for that one solution leads most people down a very specifically wrong path: relying upon a sleep aid in order to solve their problems. Granted, there are certain sleep aids out there which can be effective and safe. Unfortunately, most people aren’t taking those types of sleep aids.
Many people who can afford to do so get a prescription sleep drug from their physician. But this is one of the worst things you can do. Prescription sleeping pills have a ton of dangerous and scary side effects, including performing certain actions like driving or eating while your brain is technically asleep. The drugs may also backfire and make you sleepier in the morning than you would be if you had slept very little or if you had tried to sleep naturally. Furthermore, long-term use (and abuse) of prescription sleep aids damages your brain and can eventually rob you of your ability to sleep naturally. Unless it’s some sort of life or death situation or unless you know you will only be using it for a very short period of time, try to stay away from the prescriptions.
And if you’re thinking that over-the-counter sleep aids must be a better, safer option since you don’t need to go to a doctor to get approval, think again. You’re still getting all of the same problems you would be with prescription sleep aids, albeit with fewer wacky and less extreme side effects. But the basic problems are the same – “a hangover” the next morning, dependence/abuse, and damage to your nervous system over time. Some studies have even shown a correlation between long-term exposure to the main ingredient in over the counter sleeping pills and symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
Picking the right sleep aid is much easier than most people think. Just remember one word: “natural”. If the ingredients aren’t natural, then don’t take it. There are lots of herbal sleep aids out there which contain things like melatonin, 5-HTP, chamomile, and other safe yet effective ingredients that can help you improve your sleep. So give a natural herbal sleep supplement a try, and make sure it becomes a part of your sleep hygiene routine.