Sleep Series | Part Two: What To Do Throughout The Day To Prepare For Sleep
Nothing is more important to our health, happiness and productivity than getting enough high quality sleep. In this article you’ll find out why prioritising sleep is one of the best ways to ensure optimum health, and also discover what you can do throughout the day to prepare for sleep.
Welcome to the second instalment of our three part sleep series.
I’ve been fascinated by the subject of sleep for years, and this year as part of improving my overall wellbeing, I decided to take a deep dive into the topic and learn the fundamentals and science behind getting a good night's sleep.
There’s lots of advice out there, but I wanted to set up my own personalised sleep routine, especially one that worked in a busy family with young children.
In this sleep series I break down sleep into three parts. In part one, I discuss sleep rituals and the tips that work for winding down and setting myself up for sleep before bedtime. In part two, I’ll talk about what you can do throughout the day to prepare for sleep, including foods to eat to induce sleep and also food and drinks to avoid, and finally in the last post in the series I’ll go through some of the best ways to fall into a deep restorative sleep, and what to do if sleep won’t come.
Over the years I’ve realised that not getting enough sleep is a significant stressor on my body, and that not getting the correct amount of good quality sleep has an effect on almost every area of my life. For that reason, soon after becoming a mum, I’ve had the same bedtime - 10pm, and wake-up time - 6 am (albeit with various wake-up times during the night when they were babies). But setting myself up to ensure I’m getting the best quality sleep has always been a bit hit and miss, which is why this year I made sure to put a proper sleep routine in place for myself, and the benefits have been truly amazing.
In the short term we all know what happens when we don’t get the right amount of good quality sleep. Our energy is low, we feel tired and cranky. We can feel anxious and stressed by things that may not bother us when we’ve slept well. We can even crave unhealthy foods and make bad food choices; who else has traded a healthy lunch or dinner for foods high in fat or sugar after a bad night's sleep?
On the other side of the coin, I can really feel the amazing benefits when I get the correct amount of good quality sleep. I’m more patient, I can problem solve more easily, and I’m much more productive. When I get the right amount of good quality sleep it restores me, and puts me in the best possible mindset to have a calm, fulfilling day. And that’s not only good for me, it’s good for the people around me.
I love the way the wonderful physician and author Dr Rangan Chatterjee sums up its importance, ‘putting sleep at the top of our list of priorities is probably the biggest insurance policy you can take out on your health’. I couldn’t agree more!
So here are 6 things you can do throughout the day to prepare for a restful, good quality nights sleep.
- Get Morning Light
Did you know that preparing for sleep during the day can start as early as we wake up! Your body has a natural time-keeping clock known as your circadian rhythm. It affects your brain, body, and hormones, helping you stay awake and telling your body when it’s time to sleep. Natural sunlight or bright light during the day helps keep your circadian rhythm healthy, and one of the best ways to ensure a good nights sleep is to increase bright light exposure during the day. This improves daytime energy, as well as nighttime sleep quality and duration.
- Foods and Supplements to take to induce sleep
There are a number of foods that may help induce sleep as they they contain sleep-regulating hormones and brain chemicals, such as melatonin and serotonin. Some of these include:
Dairy products, a glass of milk, cottage cheese, and plain yogurt, are all known sources of tryptophan. Milk has been shown to improve sleep in older adults, especially when paired with light exercise.
Banana peels contain tryptophan and the fruit itself is a modest source of magnesium. Both of these properties may help you get a good night’s sleep.
Oatmeal is high in carbohydrates and fiber and has been reported to induce drowsiness when consumed before bed. Additionally, oats are a known source of melatonin.
Melatonin is a key sleep hormone that tells your brain when it’s time to relax and head to bed, for that reason melatonin supplements are an extremely popular sleep aid used to treat insomnia. Melatonin is also useful when traveling and adjusting to a new time zone, as it helps your body’s circadian rhythm return to normal. In some countries, you need a prescription for melatonin. In others, melatonin is widely available in stores or online. It’s recommended to start with a low dose to assess your tolerance and then increase it slowly as needed, and always check with your doctor before use.
Other supplements you can take to help you relax and induce sleep include:
- Foods and drinks to avoid
Coffee and many types of tea contain caffeine. Caffeine is generally safe in moderate quantities but can be harmful in excess or when consumed late in the day. Drinking coffee in the afternoon or evening can also negatively impact sleep.
Caffeine sensitivity varies from person to person. In general, it’s best to avoid caffeine for at least six hours before your planned bedtime to prevent sleep problems.
I’m sure we all know that earlier in the day, caffeine provides a useful pick-me-up; however, it’s important not to rely on caffeine at the expense of a good nights sleep.
I’ve fully switched to decaffeinated drinks during the day, but when I did drink caffeine I rarely had caffeinated drinks after 11 am. Caffeine can stay elevated in your blood for 6–8 hours, so with my 10pm bedtime I aways made sure I avoided caffeine before lunchtime.
- Reduce irregular or long naps
While I used to never take naps I now sometimes take a short nap during the day when I feel really tired. It was after listening to Dan Buettner author of the blue Zones, on the Deliciously Ella podcast, that I learned that a short nap is one of the best ways to significantly decrease cortisol levels in you body - and I can actually feel this when I wake up! I feel much more relaxed, calmer and clearer so I know napping is beneficial for me. However, while short power naps are known to be good for you, long or irregular napping during the day can negatively affect your sleep; and never nap close to bedtime. Depending on your wake-up time the best times to nap are listed below. For me, the best time is after lunch around 1.30pm.
- Avoid alcohol
Did you know that even light alcohol consumption can negatively impact your sleep? As a depressant, alcohol does help you fall asleep faster, but those effects quickly wear away after just a few hours as your body tries to eliminate the alcohol from your system.
According to the national sleep foundation, one explanation for poor sleep after drinking is that the production of adenosine (a chemical in the brain that acts as a sleep-inducer) increases while drinking, allowing you to go to sleep quickly — however, this chemical quickly subsides, making you more likely to wake up throughout the night. Additionally, alcohol inhibits REM sleep, which is often considered the most mentally restorative phase of sleep. (Source)
- Exercise regularly
Regular exercise is one of the best science-backed ways to improve your sleep and health. It can enhance all aspects of sleep and has been used to reduce symptoms of insomnia. Moderate-to-vigorous exercise can increase sleep quality for adults by reducing sleep onset – the time it takes to fall asleep – and decreases the amount of time they lie awake in bed during the night. Additionally, physical activity can help alleviate daytime sleepiness and, for some people, reduce the need for sleep medications.
I hope you found part two of our sleep series helpful! Look out for Part Three, 'What to do if Sleep Won’t Come’, giving tips on some of the best ways to fall into a deep restorative sleep.