Golden Slumber

Improve your sleep hygiene for good health

By Kaushik Talukdar
  • Published 5.08.18
  •  

Sleep is the most important piece of the health and wellness puzzle. If it has a profound impact on both psychological and physical state of our health. We spend one-third of our day sleeping, and studies have reported that seven-eight hours of sleep is positively associated with health and longevity. So, sleep plays a vital role in overall well-being. 

However, we think of sleep in physical terms and often overlook the fact that sleep affects how we feel and think. Research has shown that our most important internal processes such as emotional regulation, decision-making, and moral reasoning, tend to depend on sound sleep.

There are four major stages of sleep. First, non-rapid eye movement or NREM1 (transition period). Second, NREM2, which involves decreased muscle activity, lower heart rates; we spend 50 per cent of sleep time in this stage. Third, NREM3, the regenerative period. Fourth, rapid eye movement REM (dreams, active brain). A healthy sleeper tends to go through the entire cycle in 90 minutes or so. Each sleep stage fulfils a distinct physiological and neurological function. Therefore, when sleep is interrupted we tend to feel tired — even if we have had sufficient sleep — a phenomenon known as ‘sleep inertia’. 

Studies have reported a greater incidence of pain, obesity, anxiety, and Type 2 diabetes with lack of sleep. In addition, lack of sleep is also associated with an increase in alcohol intake and smoking. 

Let us look at some strategies to improve our sleep hygiene. 

Most sleep problems fall into two categories — trouble falling asleep and trouble staying asleep. Factors such as environment, habits, diet, exercise, and exposure to blue lights can all play a role in sleep problems. Therefore, strategies to counteract these factors can help us get better sleep. 

Environment

Keep the room as dark as possible and make sure to keep away all the things that distract you from sleep. 

Ensure there’s no noise in the room. 

Keep the room temperature low but body temperature warm, particularly hands and feet.

Make sure the bed is comfortable and supportive.

Get enough exposure to natural sunlight during the day.

Habits

Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day with maximum one-hour leeway between weeknights and weekends.

Avoid lying on the bed once you are awake.

Avoid naps longer than 20 minutes during the day.

Avoid going to bed with a full stomach.

Minimise the use of electronics before sleep. Blue light emission negatively affects the circadian system (or the 24-hour body clock).

Diet and Exercise

Add foods that contain tryptophan, like bananas, dates, seeds and milk. These foods have a calming effect, fight anxiety and help induce sleep.

Avoid sugar-rich food and limit caffeine intake. 

Avoid foods that have acid reflux and take longer to digest before sleep, like chickpeas.

Do not go to bed on an empty stomach.

Exercise regularly but avoid intense exercise two hours before bedtime.

Add a good recovery session after any form of exercise that includes slow relaxed breathing, and slow relaxed movements. Slow relaxed breathing tends to activate the parasympathetic nervous system that helps us keep calm.

There are times that our sleep will be affected due to changes in our daily lives, such as stress, relationship, job and children. It is, however, important to understand that sound sleep can help us make better decisions. Therefore, sleep needs to be prioritised particularly during the difficult times. Furthermore, taking a proactive stance on avoiding heated arguments and quarrels can help us with anxiety and induce better sleep too. Remember, we cannot make it up for lost sleep time. Getting a good night’s sleep can do wonders.

Kaushik Talukdar is the founder and CEO of Athlete Institute (www.athlete.institute). You can tweet him @coachkaushik

More from Health