- Written by Venkata Buddharaju, M.D., F.C.C.P., F.A.A.S.M. Venkata Buddharaju, M.D., F.C.C.P., F.A.A.S.M.
Sleep should always be considered one of the natural drives, like drinking water when thirsty and eating when hungry.
Most creatures on the planet just follow those internal cues — wake up and be active while awake, sleep when it is time — and follow circadian rhythms set by clock genes.
However, when it comes to humans, we tend not to follow those natural cues and spend more time awake, working longer hours with few or no breaks. We drink caffeinated beverages to stay awake and, stressed out from work, we eat at irregular times of the day.
We also engage in numerous activities, thinking we are more productive.
In fact, it’s exactly opposite: If we spend too much time awake and cut back our required sleep times, we make poor decisions, are prone to making errors at work, and will be less productive.
Below are seven tips to help preserve your natural sleep habits to prevent major health issues and maintain a good night’s rest:
1. Exercise – Aerobic exercise for at least 30–40 minutes a day increases the deeper, or slow-wave, sleep.
It also reduces the of risk stroke, hypertension, diabetes, and weight gain — working out in the morning while still fasting will especially help to lose few pounds. You can exercise any time of day, as long as it’s not too close to bedtime, which may prevent you from falling sleep quickly.
Exercise and a good night’s sleep help reduce anxiety and enable you to handle daily stress better.
If you don’t have time to go to a gym, you can do quick pushups of 50 or 100 as soon as you get out of bed in the morning. You can gradually increase the number of pushups over time by first starting with 10 and increasing over days and weeks to reach your comfortable set.
You can also add few abdominal curls for another five minutes.
2. Diet and hydration – Drink plenty of water and liquids to keep you hydrated, ideally in the morning, and not too close to bedtime to prevent frequent overnight bathroom trips.
Eat a healthy and balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and nuts, especially walnuts and almonds. Tart cherries and kiwi fruit are good sources of serotonin, which promotes sleep.
A clinical study on people eating a Mediterranean diet showed improvement in sleep quality.
Don’t skip breakfast, eat a balanced lunch, and eat a light dinner three hours before bedtime.
3. Avoid or reduce coffee intake, especially six hours before bedtime, to get better sleep at night.
Caffeine inhibits a natural sleep-promoting neurotransmitter called adenosine from accumulating the brain. Over the course of the day, adenosine levels build up while awake to promote sleep at nighttime.
4. Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol – Alcohol can disrupt sleep, especially in the second half of the sleep cycle, and increases risk of snoring and sleep apnea.
Along with smoking’s other bad health effects, nicotine is a stimulant.
5. Sleep surface and pillows – Find a comfortable mattress and pillows that keep you in a restful sleeping position. A good sleep surface is important for optimal sleep.
6. Make your room comfortable – Keep your bedroom a little cooler (67 degrees F), and take a warm shower before bedtime to help cool down the body at sleep onset.
Avoid bright light exposure at night from cellphones, computer screens, TVs, and other devices. Bright light exposure inhibits the production of melatonin from the pineal gland of the brain, which is important in maintaining sleep and circadian rhythm.
Keep your bedroom sleeping environment free of noise.
7. Wind down from your busy day – Promote mental calmness by practicing mindfulness breathing exercises: slowly breathe in and out, focusing on the breath, and count to 10 with your fingers by touching the thumb and fingers of both hands.
Focusing on the breath brings you back to the present moment and relaxes the mind by controlling nerves.
Don’t worry too much what will happen tomorrow or in the future; don’t go back and relive the past because you cannot change it. Just be here and focus on the breath for 10 minutes before bedtime and first thing in the morning after you wake up.
Yoga is also an excellent way to bring that balance of mind and body with focused breathing and body movements.
Listen to your favorite music frequently and prior to sleep. Doing so helps relax the mind and makes you happy.
Take a short nature walk or view nature photos to quiet yourself; connecting with nature calms the stressed mind.
Venkata Buddharaju, M.D., is a board-certified sleep consultant and author of Better Sleep, Happier Life: Simple Natural Methods to Refresh Your Mind, Body and Spirit. A physician at the Albany Medical Center in New York, he is board certified in internal medicine, pulmonary medicine, critical care, and sleep medicine. Learn more at drbuddha.com.