A Better Night’s Sleep Starts with Healthy Daytime Habits

The last few months of my life have been a trade off between enjoyable waking hours and comfortable sleeping hours. Such is the life of a non-air conditioned European heat wave survivor. My daily choice became either A) be nocturnal to be more productive or B) get quality sleep while it is still relatively cool. A few nights my fiance and I opted for choice C: camp out on the balcony. 

Thankfully, those sleep choices are 3,981 miles behind me now since I am back in the US and in central air conditioning. Good sleep, however, is still a daily concern. As someone who lives with anxiety, I’ve tried almost everything out there (within my power and budget) to keep a healthy sleep cycle. 

Having the ideal sleep environment is only one step to maintaining healthy habits and rhythm. Some of us sleep too much, some of us sleep too little. At the literal end of the day, getting a balanced amount and good quality of sleep is the best way to maintain a healthy body. 

Even though what works for me might not work for you, I wanted to share a summary of all the research I’ve done on what quality sleep really is and how to get it. In this journal entry, I’ll cover how to customize your sleep environment (aka bedroom) and the helpful habits that promote good sleep. 

What is “Quality” Sleep

Amount of Sleep

The National Sleep Foundation suggests that a healthy adult needs between 7 and 9 hours of sleep. This number is a guideline and target, but should not be fussed over. If you are naturally getting more or less sleep than the target 7-9 hours, that’s a-ok.

Type of Sleep 

The real goal you want to set is to get “quality sleep.” Scientifically, sleep quality is characterized by sleep duration, sleep continuity, and sleep timing. That basically means 1) how quickly you fall asleep and 2) whether you sleep through the night. 

We often throw the terms “REM” sleep and “circadian rhythm” around but what are they exactly?

These cycles are important for maintaining our physical and mental health.  In short, the circadian rhythm is the cycle of waking and sleeping that we go through. This is impacted by our environment and lifestyle. Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is a specific section of our sleep cycle when our brain activity increases and we do most of our dreaming. This type of sleep is important for refreshing our mental energy and processing our emotional wellbeing. 

Better Sleep Through Better Habits

What we do during our whole day impacts our ability to sleep at night. Tons of research has gone into how forming better overall habits will promote better sleep. One impacts the other and vice versa. Below are some proven tips for a better night’s rest that I’ve learned during my research and personal sequence of trial and errors. 

During the Day

  • Increase Natural Light Exposure

Getting healthy doses of natural light boosts our vitamin D intake and  fine-tunes our internal clocks. Our circadian rhythm is most impacted by the light quantity and quality we get throughout the day. Light cues our bodies for when it’s time to be active and when it’s time to rest. 

  • Consistent/Regular Sleep Schedule

Having a bedtime routine isn’t just for kids. To get the right type and amount of sleep, maintain healthy boundaries about your sleep schedule with yourself and loved ones.

  • Regulate Napping

The occasional short power nap can provide a real boost of energy. Irregular or extended napping periods, however, can throw your internal clock out of whack. While sometimes needed, don’t make a habit out of napping more than 30 minutes at once.

  • Caffeine Deadline

Your sleep schedule is dependent on your waking schedule. Cutting off caffeine at the same time every day will clue your body into when it’s time to transition from productivity to rest. Kicking your caffeine habit altogether is also a great option. 

  • Exercise Regularly (But Not Before Bed)

Having an exercise routine is a time proven, research backed way to enhance every aspect of your sleep. That’s because exercise stimulates the primary portion of the mental and physical processes in our bodies. Expending all that energy you’ve stored up will help you sleep faster, longer, and better. If you do find yourself needing a little movement before bed, check out our evening-wind down session.

Right Before Bed

  • Ban Mobile Device Usage 

Many of us have fallen into the routine of an ebook, video, or even short puzzle game right before bed. Staring at our phones is detrimental to good sleep, because it keeps our brains active and sustains our blue light exposure. This reaps havoc on our brain functioning and even reduces the output of sleep related hormones like melatonin. 

  • Clear Your Mind

Our brains are less like light switches and more like dimmers, so pick out the pre-sleep habits that are best for you. Meditation, breathing exercises, and a warm bath or shower are great ways to prepare your brain for sleep. 

  • Avoid Eating & Drinking

Let your body know that it’s time to rest, by first giving it a rest.   Consuming food and liquids, even water, right before bed keeps your physiological processes going. 

  • Try Sleep Supplements

Supplements like melatonin and magnesium are not “quick fixes” for better sleep, but they may be helpful stepping stones. That being said, don’t self-prescribe anything that is of a more medical nature. If you truly think you need chemical help falling asleep talk to a doctor.  

Build a Better Sleep Environment

Where we sleep affects how we sleep. Our minds and bodies use all the signals from what is happening around us to determine whether it’s time to supply relaxation or energy. Here are some tips for customizing the perfect sleep environment for you.

  • Keep A Cozy Bed

A cozy bed means different things to different people. Bedding and the surface it’s laying on are responsible for keeping your body healthy and relaxed while your brain works on being refreshed. Always evaluate whether your pillow, blankets, or mattress are fulfilling your comfort needs. 

  • Manage Bedroom Temperature 

IF possible, take control over your bedroom temperature and maintain it. Extreme temperatures impede good sleep because they keep your mind and body focused on regulating your internal temperature. Experiment with the temperature that’s just right for you and stick to it. 

  • Reserve Bed For Sleep

Our brains get very used to the conscious and unconscious signals we give them. If you play phone games, take calls, or eat while in your bed, then your brain won’t relax once it’s time for bed. Instead, it will expect another game, call, or meal.  

  • Calm the Senses

Two tools for helping your body relax into sleep are essential oils, such as lavender, and white noise. Both stimulate our brain’s in a relaxing, rather than energizing, way.

Main Takeaways

Your daily experiences impact your nightly sleep needs. Establish a wellness routine that includes your preferred exercise and nutritious diet.

Keep a consistent sleep schedule and cut down on both productive and recreational activities in the hour leading up to your bedtime.

The environment in which you sleep can make or break the quality of your sleep. For the best amount and quality of sleep, be intentional about creating a relaxing bedroom experience.