7 Steps to a Perfect Night's Sleep
Seven Steps to a Perfect Night's Sleep
I recently had trouble falling asleep — a rarity in my life...
With my work habits, exercise regimen, and nighttime routine, I usually fall into my slumber several minutes after lying down. However, this night I decided to watch Top Gear before going to bed for the first time in a while. It must have been a coincidence.
When I recently moved to Pittsburgh after taking a new job, I had never slept so poorly in my life. Again, usually after I hit the mattress, I am out for the count in several minutes. However, after my new move, I had most of my belongings packed up, except for a new LCD TV that I was watching every night. Again, it must have been a coincidence.
It was not a coincidence...
In fact, with each night it became more and more clear just how much my behaviors were affecting my sleep quality. As insomnia and sleep difficulties remain a major health issue in the US that affect over 60 million people, the link between our habits and how they affect sleep is vital. Keep this in mind the next time you tell a friend, family member, or your doctor that you are having trouble sleeping. Definitely keep this in mind if you are considering taking sleeping pills or a prescription drug. And please keep that in mind if you are one of my patients asking for prescription sleep meds, because I am most certainly going to have a long discussion with you about your sleep habits before prescribing any medications...
Follow these seven steps to a good night's rest in order to increase your sleep health and likely overall health. I personally follow them and have seen large benefits...
1) No TV before bed
I love watching Top Gear and Archer as much as everybody else, but that still doesn’t mean that I am going to let them interfere with my sleep. If you are having trouble falling asleep, yet are watching television before bed, fix that before moving on to number 2.
2) No alarm clock (and definitely no blue light alarm clock)
Why is it necessary to know the time when you are sleeping? The answer, of course, is that it is not. It is as simple as going to sleep until you wake up to your alarm or the sunlight. There is never a reason to know the time throughout the night, as this is more likely to cause anxiety and repeated glances at the clock that further interfere with your sleep.
3) If you must use a computer, use f.lux in the background
When I say must, I mean necessary uses of the computer, not Facebook or other time sinks that often only delay bedtime. F.lux is a program that runs in the background of your computer and gradually blocks the amount of blue light that the monitor emits, therefore simulating the sun setting. At night, all blue light is blocked. You can read more about it here.
4) No cell phone, and if you have to use one, use a blue light blocking program like Twilight
Similar to your computer monitor, your cellular phone emits blue light that signals to your brain that it is daytime and a time for activity, not sleep.
5) No blue lights in the house, use LED bulbs that can change color and put them on red or use incandescent bulbs
Just like 3 and 4 above, night time is when you want to signal to your body that it is time to rest. Allowing blue light, which simulates sunlight, to enter your eyes at night will signal the brain that it should be alert, cutting off melatonin production.
6) No TV in the bedroom — the bedroom is for sleep and sex. Train yourself to get tired when in the bedroom and your brain will associate your bedroom with sleep
This one is self-explanatory…
7) No coffee or caffeine after noon
Caffeine from coffee and other foods takes longer than most would think to leave the body. While it varies based on the individual, it can take over 10 hours to be completely eliminated. As caffeine has an energizing and stimulating effect, clearly we do not want this floating around in our bodies during bedtime. Ideally it is consumed only in the morning, thus allowing adequate time to disperse before bedtime.
You’ll notice that many of these include limiting use of electronics or minimizing blue light exposure during the night, except for the obvious avoidance of caffeine (a stimulant) too close to bedtime. This is because when our eyes encounter blue light, a part of our brain is activated that stops the production of melatonin — the same sleep aid you may have seen on the shelf of your local pharmacy.
While this chemical has many anti-inflammatory and even anti-cancer benefits,1,2 its main benefit is that it can cause us to become sleepy enough for a good night’s rest. Blue light from certain light bulbs, TVs, and cell phones basically stops the body’s natural production of melatonin, thus potentially inhibiting your ability to sleep. If you are having trouble sleeping at night, this should be your first change.
Remember, for the past two million years when the sun went down, it was usually bedtime, and if not, the only light entering the retinas of our eyes was that of an orange-red fire. Our bodies are made for limited light exposure after dark, and television and other electronic devices actually create a physiologically unnatural state, one suboptimal for a good night’s rest. Taking pills or prescription drugs only creates a further unnatural physiologic state, never correcting the initial problem.
The next time you think about asking your doctor for prescription medications to help you sleep try these methods first. Pass on the pills and think about how your body is physiologically made for rest by following these seven simple steps and take the natural path to getting the sleep you need.
To Your Health,
Dr. Colin Champ is a practicing radiation oncologist and nutritional expert. He is the author of Misguided Medicine: The truth behind ill-advised medical recommendations and how to take health back into your hands” You can hear more from him as the host of the incredibly popular Caveman Doctor podcast.
1. Reiter RJ, Melchiorri D, Sewerynek E, et al. A review of the evidence supporting melatonin’s role
as an antioxidant. J Pineal Res. 1995;18(1):1-11. doi:10.1111/j.1600-079X.1995.tb00133.x.
2. Schernhammer ES, Schulmeister K. Melatonin and cancer risk: does light at night compromise physiologic cancer protection by lowering serum melatonin levels? Br J Cancer. 2004;90:941-943.
Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/sj.bjc.6601626.