Part 1: Sleep Hygiene
Sleep. Perhaps the most underrated recovery modality for anyone pursuing physical excellence, intellectual pursuits, or even just wholly productive lives. These next few weeks, we will be talking about how to optimize sleep in-depth in many different ways. There is nothing like a good night of sleep for helping your performance in all manners and through this series, you will get at LEAST one bit of information that can make a huge difference in your sleep quality.
With my personal visual-impairment, I know it can be more mentally taxing to process everything and a bad day of sleep compounds that taxation. Learning to improve (definitely not perfect) my sleep has helped me to have more good days than bad ones. I sincerely hope these tips and practices help you do the same.
Sleep hygiene is a broad term pertaining to your habits and environment shortly before and during bedtime. Have you ever lived somewhere with a lot of traffic outside and had trouble sleeping? How about staying over at a friend’s house and sleeping on the couch and noticed the lights in the room really disturbed your slumber? These are more extreme examples of how poor sleep hygiene can dramatically affect your sleep. Today we will talk about a plethora of factors which can improve your sleep quality in several areas.
First on the docket is bedroom temperature. Some of you may not want to hear this, but cold is better people! Your body is able to have better sleep quality in a colder environment. Think about when people had to live out in the open. Extreme warmth likely meant daylight and activity while cooler weather paired with darkness meant time to relax and recuperate. What about cultures in hot environments who become more active in cooler times of the day? They still find a cool place to sleep during the heat of midday.
Another from natural body rhythms, a colder environment has another benefit you won’t be mad about. The activation of brown adipose tissue (brown fat) occurs with cold exposure and will help your body become a furnace, utilizing white adipose tissue (the bad fat) more readily for energy and heat. So not only will you sleep better in a generally colder environment but you will also build healthier metabolic function.
Now how cold does your room need to be? While there are plenty of numbers thrown out there, it is all relative. Typically you will find 65-68 degrees Fahrenheit as a good range. However, I know I am on fire at those temperatures. I keep my apartment at 58-60 degrees at night to notice significant deep-sleep effects. So what should you do since it depends on the individual? Try lowering the temperature 2 degrees and getting used to that for a nice start.
Related to Circadian rhythms and sleeping in the cooler nighttime is blue light. Blue light is in a wavelength range of light in the visible light spectrum. Without going too into the physics of solar radiation, just know that blue light tells our body the sun is out so we should be rolling! Unfortunately, artificial lights from lamps, phones, televisions, etc. also produce this blue light, so our body may think it isn’t bedtime anytime soon and not produce melatonin. To counter this, blue light blocker glasses and phone or computer apps to filter out blue light are readily available. I recently bought a 3 pack of blue light blocking glasses as a gift for 15 dollars. Blocking blue light 2 hours before bed is a great way for your body to produce the necessary hormonal milieu to get you ready to pass out far sooner once your head hits the pillow.
While we are on the topic of light and its interruption of sleep, let’s fast-forward to dawn (cue Lion King music here). Just as dusk prepares our body to sleep, dawn prepares us to rise. So unless you are a rooster or Ben Franklin fanboy extremist with your early to bed, early to rise habits, you need a way to delay your body thinking dawn has come. A completely blacked out environment is the way to do that. And yes, even if you are completely blind, this premise still reigns true as your body’s light sensitivity remains.
A couple things to consider when blacking out a room are ambient lights and windows. To address this, you can unplug devices which produce a light if they don’t need to be on while you are sleeping. For devices which need to stay on during the night or are a hassle to unplug such as a TV or dehumidifier, just toss a thick tape over the ambient lights. As for windows, there are now many blackout curtains available which you can throw over your windows to wildly reduce the amount of light that makes it into your room after dawn. You will be amazed at how dark and restful your bedroom will feel after you install these, I absolutely swear by them. And if you want to go the extra mile, you can use a wall-friendly adhesive to tape the edges of the curtains to the wall and eliminate small cracks of light which may brighten the room. These techniques may seem like a chore but you will definitely notice a difference no matter your level of visual-impairment.
If you have issues with oversensitivity to noise, particularly due to the body’s adaptations to visual-impairment, you can try ambient noises. The cliché rain noises and other nature tracks are a common go-to. I have used the app "Sleep Sounds" for this purpose, and its timer setting allows me to set a reasonable time for the sounds to play, allow me to fall asleep then shut off. Give this or any other white noise you choose to decrease your sensitivity to outside noises which may minorly alter your ability to get to sleep or stay asleep.
Avoid exercise before bedtime
Exercise (aka a bout of excitability and physical and/or mental stress) soon before bed can impede your ability to calm down for the night. This can be for many reasons. As previously discussed, your body wants to cool down to help trigger sleep, while exercises raise core body temperature and it may take awhile for those thermogenic effects to dissipate. Additionally, the endorphin rush from exercise may leave your body in a more innervated state for a while. The up-regulation of the nervous system in order to produce an effective workout can also cause issues, not to mention the common ingestion of stimulants pre-workout (more on that in Part 3). Everyone differs in these areas so you will have to experiment on yourself and see if exercise affects you and what type causes the most issues. From there, you can address this with schedule shifts or altering how you wind down from workouts more effectively. If you are a morning workout person, you just skimmed through all of this. Keep doing what you are doing, I am certainly not one of you.
Keep other activities like watching TV out of the bedroom
One last tip for today is to keep your bedroom’s purpose very clear to your body. The bedroom is for sleeping. Don’t get used to watching television, eating, working or crocheting in bed as it muddles the stimulus to your body that bed equals sleep time. Knowing your bed means it is time for deep-relaxing sleep and not attentive business will further amplify your ability to get to sleep and stay asleep.
To wrap up, consider which of these areas is the largest weakness in your sleep regime and take steps to remedy the problem. I’m excited for you to reap the benefits and improve your nightly rest.
That’s all for today! Stay tuned for Part Two in the Sleep Series!
Below are some resources on these topics for you to dive deeper if you wish:
A great review study summarizing the importance and approaches to optimize many of the topics we discussed today:
A really cool study summarizing the benefits of temperature control for bedrooms with an architectural twist:
The benefits of blue-light blocking glasses demonstrated with the sweet science: