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5 ways to improve your sleeping pattern

Trouble sleeping? Photograph by Andrea Piacquadio for Pexels.

Sleep is essential to maintaining a healthy body and mind. While you are catching those essential z’s, the body and brain work in unison to repair the body and maintain brain function. Modern living and busy work schedules can get in the way of getting those all important hours of sleep. The general consensus is that the average person needs 7 to 9 hours of sleep to function at an optimal level. Sure, we all have that one acquaintance that boasts about needing less than this, but research suggests that any less than the 7 hour benchmark can lead to health and cognitive dysfunction.

Susan Worley, a freelance medical writer, wrote a journal article about the importance of sleep. In this journal, she cites Dr. D. F. Dinges, a professor and Chief of the Division of Sleep and Chronobiology in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. The study shows that cognitive performance and vigilant attention decline rapidly after more than 16 hours of continuous wakefulness.

Furthermore, the study found that sleep deficits from partial sleep deprivation can accumulate over time, leading to the deterioration of one’s alertness.

As a person who struggles to catch those 7 to 9 hours, I can confirm the burden that a lack of sleep can have on cognition. I go through days where I can manage to get maybe 4 hours of unbroken sleep and the mental fog that follows the next day is debilitating. When I finally get a good night’s sleep the benefit of clarity of mind is marked.

Over the years, I have identified ways that have helped me improve the quality of my sleep. This article will list 5 ways to help restore your sleep patterns so that you can function optimally.

1. Get some exercise during the day

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Charlene Gamaldo, the medical director of Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep is a firm believer in exercise as a remedy for curing insomnia. In an article published by John Hopkins Medicine, Gamaldo says, “moderate aerobic exercise increases the amount of slow wave sleep you get. Slow wave sleep refers to deep sleep”

The deep states of sleep are where body and brain rejuvenates itself, making them the most important stages of sleep.

Gamaldo points out that exercising at certain times may either help or hinder your sleep pattern. It is dependent on the individual. Some people report difficulty falling asleep if they exercise in the evening. Gamaldo says that increases in core body temperature could be a signal to the brain to “wake up”, much like a hot shower in the morning. However, some people report later exercise sessions help them fall asleep. Ultimately, it is dependent on the individual.

2. Light and sleep

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An article published by the Sleep Foundation emphasizes the correlation between light and sleep interference. The article lists light as the most important external factor affecting sleep. Light is the body’s signal which it associates with being awake. Light affects the body’s circadian rhythm, the body’s internal clock which coordinates bodily processes, including sleep.

In the days before modern industrialized society, man’s primary light source was the sun. Man’s circadian rhythm became synchronized with sunrise and sunset. Daylight was a signal to the body to be awake, and when the sun set, the darkness was the body’s signal to sleep.

The modern world harnessed the power of electricity to produce additional light sources. These additional sources of light disrupt the body’s natural circadian rhythm.

Light is also directly linked to the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone produced by the body to induce sleep. The pineal gland in the brain initiates production of melatonin in the absence of light. Constant stimulation by light can impact the brain’s ability to produce healthy levels of melatonin which can lead to sleep disorders, such as insomnia.

Doctors recommend minimizing exposure to light sources at least an hour before sleep to help the brain produce melatonin to induce natural sleep.

3. Avoid large meals and caffeine before bedtime

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These are secondary considerations if you are having issues falling asleep. While some people, such as myself, find eating something before you go to bed as helping the sleep process, other people report that eating large meals interferes with their sleep.

Alexis Supan, RD, a registered dietician, argues that eating before sleep interferes with the body’s circadian rhythm. It conflicts with the body’s insulin sensitivity, which regulates glucose levels in the body. Eating late at night can contribute to unhealthy consequences, such as weigh gain. This is because our insulin resistance increases at night, slowing the rate at which the body burns calories.

She concedes that eating later is the only option for many with work schedules that require them to stay up later. If you must eat before bed, she recommends food which is not calorie dense , such as vegetables.

Avoiding caffeine before bed could also be beneficial for some. Some people have a higher sensitivity to caffeine, which increases its stimulating effects. Caffeine affects the brain by blocking adenosine receptors. Adenosine is a chemical associated with sleep and is produced throughout the day while you are awake.

If you find that you are sensitive to caffeine, it might be best practice to avoid it at least 6 hours before catching some shut eye.

4. Stick to a routine

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This step involves incorporating all the steps mentioned above. It is recommended to set yourself a specific hour at night to go to sleep. Work obligations may interfere with this, so setting a timeframe that allows for you to get your work done and get at least seven hours of sleep is ideal.

As mentioned earlier, put away those electronic devices that interfere with your circadian rhythm at least an hour before bed. Drink a warm beverage which doesn’t contain caffeine. Turn off any bright lights and engage in an activity that you find relaxing. Some people cite the benefits of breathing exercises. Others recommend listening to white noise, which are static soothing sounds which have been linked to helping induce sleep.

5. If all else fails, consult your GP

This is the last resort. If you have scoured the internet for possible solutions and have found no advice to be effective, consulting your doctor may provide medical solutions to your issue. While your doctor may have limited remedies he/she is able to provide, they could refer you to practitioners that specialize in treating sleep disorders.

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I hope this article can help any of those restless souls out there. Good night and good luck.

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