Lack of sleep caused by an irregular sleep routine can gravely undermine your productivity and alertness during the day, with negative consequences for your overall health. According to a study published last November in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, routine disruptions in sleep cycle like sleeping late on the weekend then getting up early for work during the week, increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease.
This is why it’s important to have a healthy sleep cycle. Here are four relatively small lifestyle changes that can drastically improve your sleep cycle.
Get plenty of morning sun
Before artificial light was invented, people woke up when the sun rose and went to sleep when the sun set. With artificial lighting, we can stay up until late at night, probably later than we should. If you go to bed late, you will probably wake up late as well.
You are not getting the benefits of the morning sun if your curtains are not drawn until mid-morning (if not noon). If you want to make permanent positive changes to your sleep cycle, get more in tune with the sun’s natural patterns. Exposure to morning sunlight resets your circadian clock. So as much as possible, take the rising of the sun as a natural cue to wake up.
According to a recent study that was published in Sleep Health journal, office workers who get plenty of sun exposure sleep better at night than those who don’t get much morning sunlight. “Compared to office workers receiving low levels of circadian-effective light in the morning, receiving high levels in the morning is associated with reduced sleep onset latency (especially in winter), increased phasor magnitudes (a measure of circadian entrainment), and increased sleep quality,” the researchers, headed by Mariana Figueiro, wrote.
Don’t eat close to bedtime
If you are having a hard time falling asleep, you might be eating close to bedtime. Ideally, your last meal of the day should be at least four hours before you call it a night. Avoid eating food high in carbohydrates prior to bed as these can cause a spike in blood sugar.
As a general rule, avoid stuffing yourself during dinner. “Do not consume an excessively large meal right before bed, period,” advised Ironman triathlete and biohacker Ben Greenfield. “Push yourself away from the table when 80% full, and consider a 5-15 minute post-dinner walk to assist digestion.”
If you did eat a heavy dinner, Greenfield recommends taking a cold or lukewarm shower before going to sleep to lower your body’s core temperature.
Be sure to move during the day
According to the Sleep Foundation, exercising regularly is one of the best things people can do to get a good night’s sleep. “Vigorous exercise is best, but even light exercise is better than no activity,” it said. “Exercise at any time of day, but not at the expense of your sleep.” The foundation admits that the exact way exercise affects sleep is still unknown but there are many promising theories.
For one, exercise causes an increase in the body’s temperature and the post-exercise drop in temperature can help a person fall asleep. Exercise is also proven to reduce arousal, anxiety, and depressive symptoms, all of which can trigger insomnia. Exercise may also help in resetting our circadian clock. So changing your sleep cycle for the better is another good reason for you to hit the gym.
What about blue light?
Much has been said about how blue light can cause insomnia. But an article came out recently in Time Magazine with the title Forget What You Think You Know About Blue Light and Sleep. In it, James Wyatt, director of sleep disorders and sleep-wake research at Rush University Medical Center, was quoted as saying, “the evidence isn’t strong enough to issue a blanket recommendation on blue light.”
Wyatt adds that personal preference also plays a role. This means that while some people feel relaxed after watching a movie on Netflix, others feel wide-awake after viewing a YouTube video.
Don’t take this as encouragement to use your phone or tablet in bed. Any bright night at night can mess up your circadian rhythm. Instead of using your phone or tablet to put you to sleep, the Sleep Foundation recommends reading an old-fashioned printed book instead. Just make sure you read under a lamp, and not a bright overhead light. An e-book reader that uses e-ink technology is also okay, as it doesn’t produce the same type of blue light as smartphones and tablets.
Following a good sleep cycle is important. If you are not getting enough sleep or if your sleep cycle is erratic, it can gravely affect your performance, productivity, and even your health.