How to Improve Your Sleep for Better Health
There are lots of fancy tricks and supplements that are sold to help improve your health. None of these has such a profound effect on your health as sleep does. Sleep is imperative to good health and it should be prioritized before you start worrying about nutrition, supplements, and exercise. There are several habits that can diminish the sleep time as well as quality. These two things will affect the benefits or negative effects from lack of sleep. The goal is to get high-quality sleep for an adequate amount of time.
This article will supply you with several strategies you can try to improve your sleep. If you are doing some of them already then, good job! Try to implement a new habit and see how you feel. Not doing any of the habits above? You might be hampering your health significantly.
What happens when you don’t get enough sleep?
A large study including 1045 people over the age of 65 was conducted by Columbia University. The study participants filled out a detailed questionnaire regarding their sleep habits. The researchers then followed up with the group 3 years later to see how their sleep habits were affecting them. After 3 years 7% of the group was diagnosed with dementia. Within that small group the people that reported that they never got enough sleep had a 40% higher risk of developing dementia. The researchers conclude that more research is needed, however, the link between brain health and performance is connected to sleep. Having trouble staying awake throughout the day was also a risk factor.
We are getting closer to the cold season and sleep can be a great guard against the sniffles. Our immune system is affected by lots of things and it seems like our sleep can either help it or hurt it. A group or researchers exposed a large group of people to a common cold virus. All participants had logged their sleep habits prior to the cold virus exposure. Both better sleep time and efficiency (falling asleep quickly and staying asleep) was a positive safeguard against catching a common cold. They concluded that men and women that sleep more soundly are 3-6 times less likely to catch a common cold.
Weight gain and dieting will also be impacted by your sleeping patterns. A group of researchers from the University of Chicago examined how sleeping patterns would affect people that were on a diet. The subjects followed a planned diet for 2 weeks along with a planned amount of sleep. One group got 8 ½ hours of sleep and the other got 5 ½ hours. The group that got less sleep was significantly hungrier on their diet. Both groups lost a similar amount of weight, however, the sleep-restricted group lost more muscle and less fat.
How to improve your sleep:
Melatonin is one of the most popular sleep aids. It does have some solid evidence for being beneficial. In a Danish study with 81 women, they measured the effect of placebo, 1mg of melatonin, and 3mg of melatonin. The danish researchers focused on measuring their lean mass (muscles, bones, etc) and fat mass. The study lasted for an entire year and they saw some significant differences. The group that received 1mg/3mg melatonin had lost on average 5% of their body fat. Their lean mass also increased by 3%. This change in reduced body fat and better maintenance of muscle could have some very positive health effects for the post-menopausal women in the study group. The danish researchers were not sure whether the melatonin itself provided the benefits or if it was just due to better sleep.
Another tool that can be used to improve your sleep is strength training. Researchers at the Appalachian University examined how strength training affected 12 male and 12 female subjects. They either lifted weights early in the morning or later in the evening. What the study showed was that the group that lifted early in the morning fell asleep quicker. The group that lifted later in the evening woke up fewer times during the night. Both lifting programs had positive benefits on the participants overall sleep. The researcher’s state that -”Short sleep duration and poor quality of sleep have been associated with health risks including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity.”
In my previous article “Healthy Bodies at Any Age: 4 Common Nutritional Deficiencies and How to Solve Them” we touched on the positive benefits of Magnesium. This mineral has also been shown to improve sleep as well. The study included 46 participants with an average age of 65 years old. They filled out a questionnaire that graded their sleep quality and habits. There was a placebo group and the magnesium group was given 500 mg of magnesium. The group that was given the magnesium saw positive results all across the board. They fell asleep faster, slept longer, and felt more refreshed upon awakening. If you do buy magnesium make sure that the form is called magnesium citrate. This form of magnesium is absorbed better by the body.
Here are some tried and true tips to help you sleep better:
Make the room as dark as possible. This will allow for fewer distractions and a better release of the hormone melatonin which is crucial for sound sleep.
- Strength train regularly.
- Eat foods rich in magnesium and melatonin. Cherries, pineapple, and kiwi are good sources of melatonin.
- Catch up on a book instead of watching TV/computer. The light from screens will inhibit the release of melatonin and disrupt the natural rhythm.
Avoid caffeine and other stimulants in the afternoon.
- Find a relaxing routine to follow before going to bed. This could involve reading, stretching, shower, whatever gets you in a relaxed state of mind.
- Keep the bedroom at a cool temperature.
- Be consistent with the time you go to bed.
Melatonin in women – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26352863
Sleep and brain health – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26273244
Sleep and strength training – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25426516
Magnesium and sleep – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23853635
Cold susceptibility and sleep – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19139325
Sleep & diet – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20921542
B.S. Exercise Science from Lindenwood University
Started CrossFit in 2010.
Favorite thing about what I do:
To help and see people improve their fitness and confidence
Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist by the National Strength and Conditioning Association
CF L1 Coach
CF L2 Coach
USAW Sports Performance Coach & club coach