Tired? You’re not the only one. According to a 2016 study by the Centers for Disease Control, one in three adults isn’t getting enough sleep on a regular basis. This statistic is troubling because not only does lack of sleep inhibit your ability to function at work and at home, it’s also linked to serious health problems like heart disease, diabetes and obesity. How can you get the rest you need to perform at your peak? Here are five tips on how to sleep better and deeper.
1. Put down your smartphone.
While it may be tempting to scroll yourself to sleep, you’re much better off putting down your phone/tablet/laptop and picking up a book at bedtime. Looking at your smartphone or other devices before bed takes its toll on your brain and body. According to Dr. Dan Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, the stream of photons coming from your screen tells your brain to hold off on secreting melatonin because it’s not time to sleep yet. As a result, you stay up too late and miss out on the 7-9 hours likely needed for supportive brain cells to clean up the toxins neurons produce. Dr. Siegel suggests giving yourself at least one screen-free hour before going to bed. If you absolutely have to be on a device for work, try turning on your iphone’s “Night Shift” feature. Found under Settings/Display & Brightness, this useful hack will reduce the number of problematic blue light photons your screen gives off in the evening.
Is there anything a good workout can’t do? In addition to keeping you physically fit and reducing stress (which I write about here), exercise also helps you sleep. As reported by CNN, research shows people who struggle to sleep—even those diagnosed with insomnia disorder—sleep better when they exercise regularly. Physical activity can be particularly beneficial for those with sleep apnea, a potentially serious condition where breathing stops and starts throughout the night. In one study, patients with sleep apnea who participated in a 12-week exercise program experienced significant symptom improvement. Just don’t work out too close to bedtime, since intense exercise can amp you up.
3 Supplements, not sleeping pills.
Many different supplements and herbs have been proven to improve sleep. Consider magnesium, a mineral that binds to GABA receptors in your brain and nervous system. GABA is a calming neurotransmitter that helps your brain “switch off” at night, which is key for those kept awake by racing thoughts. In one study where older adults were given either 500 mg of magnesium or a placebo, those in the magnesium group slept better overall. In another study, mice with magnesium deficiency had light and restless sleep patterns. Magnesium can also help ease muscle cramps and restless legs that can disturb sleep. As far as herbs go, nervines like valerian and hops act as sedatives to lessen anxiety and insomnia. Valerian is particularly helpful for sleeplessness that results from an overactive mind.
4. Step into the light.
As reported by Time, science suggests spending time outdoors helps you sleep better by resetting your internal clock. In a study published in Current Biology, researcher Kenneth Wright gave people a device that measured when they woke up, when they went to sleep, and the amount of natural light they were exposed to as well as their melatonin levels. Then he sent them camping for a week and found the study participants’ internal clocks were delayed by about two and a half hours compared to when they were camping. Although it only took a couple days for campers’ internal clocks to reset, Wright told Time you can achieve similar results by exposing yourself to natural light in the morning (he likes to go hiking), cutting down on screen time, and dimming your lights in the evening. Try exercising outside in the morning to kill two sleep-improving birds with one stone.
5. Set the mood.
To ensure a restful night, you need to practice good sleep hygiene. Among other things (like going to bed at the same time every night and avoiding caffeine too late in the day), this means making sure your sleep environment is ideal. The CDC recommends keeping your bedroom dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature. They also suggest removing your TV, so if you’re in the habit of falling asleep watching SportsCenter you may want to establish a new routine. Consider turning on your stereo instead—one study found relaxing classical music was an effective intervention for reducing sleep problems.
Wondering what areas of your health could use your attention? Consider taking my Optimal Men’s Health quiz. It’s designed to help you determine your next best step to getting healthier and closer to winning.
Myles Spar, MD, MPH is the Chief Medical Officer of Vault Health, a national medical practice specializing in care for men, and Is board certified in Internal Medicine and in Integrative Medicine. As a clinician, teacher and researcher on faculty of two major medical centers, he has led the charge for a more proactive, holistic and personalized approach to care that focuses on cutting edge technology and preventative care. Dr. Spar has traveled with the NBA, presented a TEDx Talk, appeared on Dr. Oz, and been featured in publications such as the Men’s Journal and the Los Angeles Times.