When bedtime approaches, is your head flooded with things you forgot to do? Are you worried about your finances or an argument you had with a friend or partner? Are you constantly replaying the day’s events in your head? All you want is a good night’s sleep, but you already know it might slip away from you.
While we can’t simply flip the switch on our brains before sleep, having a ritualized sleep hygiene practice can help. This includes both a soothing bedroom environment and daily routines that promote consistent and uninterrupted sleep that is improved in quantity and quality.
Creating the perfect external sleeping environment
Your sleeping environment is the space you visit nightly and should be a sanctuary with a calming ambiance. Designing your bedroom with intention, removing clutter, and using neutral colors can calm the senses – sight, sound, touch, and smell – to promote greater sleep.
Light is the single most important environmental factor affecting sleep. Our bodies follow circadian rhythms, which signal waking hours (when it’s light) and bedtime (when it’s dark). When the environment is bright, melatonin levels stay low, and you stay more alert instead of sleepy. Darkness triggers the brain to slow down and stimulates melatonin, a crucial hormone for sleep.
To enhance darkness, use dimmer switches in your bedroom if possible or use nightlights (they’re not just for kids!). If you need to get up in the middle of the night, avoid turning on any lights because your brain will think daytime has arrived. A nightlight in the bathroom is a great way to avoid having to turn on your main light.
Additionally, you can use a sleep mask or consider blackout curtains. Remember, even a small sliver of light shining through can interfere with your sleep. Limit televisions and other digital devices, which bring unwanted light to the bedroom. Charge your phone in another room, and use blue light–blocking filters on devices to limit your exposure in the evening. If you usually use your phone to set an alarm, buying an alarm clock can be a great alternative.
Your brain processes sounds while you’re asleep. Some sounds are disruptive, while others can be comforting and sleep-inducing. Focus on eliminating, reducing, and blocking the noises in your bedroom that are disruptive.
Use earplugs or a sound machine, which can help you fall asleep more quickly and sleep through noises that might otherwise wake you.
Sliding into a clean and cozy bed outfitted with your favorite sheets enhances the sensory experience of sleep. When selecting bedding, invest in high-quality products and choose materials that will feel good on your skin. Use natural, breathable fibers, such as wool, down, cotton, linen, and silk, and avoid synthetics, such as polyester, which tend to trap heat and moisture. Regulate temperature and humidity as maintaining a moderate to cool temperature is critical to comfortable sleep.
Smell is another sensory tool that plays a role in sleep. A scent can either stimulate alertness or induce calm and relaxation. To control the smell in your bedroom, open the windows to introduce fresh air and clear out pollutants that have collected inside your home. Clean filtered air allows you to breathe more easily and cuts down on the risk of allergy flare-ups and respiratory illnesses, which can interfere with sleep.
You can also consider aromatherapy, using scents conducive to sleep, such as lavender and chamomile. Aromatherapy comes in a range of forms, including massage and bath oils, pillow and linen sprays, sachets, and diffusers.
Creating the perfect internal sleeping environment
Just as your bedroom and surrounding home can affect your ability to fall and stay asleep, how you feed your body can also impact sleep diet can greatly affect sleep quality. Getting the right nutrients during the day can set you up for better sleep at night.
Processed foods and foods high in fat and sugar can interfere with a good night’s sleep. After eating processed food, blood sugar spikes, which can cause drowsiness and interfere with sleep patterns, especially if you end up napping during the day. Avoid eating a heavy meal late in the evening and limit caffeine, alcohol, and stimulants as early in the day as possible.
The hormone melatonin and amino acid tryptophan promote sleep, but there is also evidence suggesting certain dietary styles lead to less sleep disturbance. In a study conducted by the National Institute for Health, researchers found the Mediterranean diet led to greater sleep because a higher intake of plant-based foods rich in nutrients and fiber “relates to better overall sleep quality, higher sleep efficiency, and fewer sleep disturbances.” The pillars of the Mediterranean diet include:
- A higher intake of nuts, legumes, fruits, and vegetables
- Healthy fats, such as olive oil
- Omega-3 fatty acids from sources like fish
- Limiting red meat consumption
- Replacing salt with spices and herbs
This type of diet promotes cardiovascular health, which in turn can improve sleep! Researchers explained: “Green leafy vegetables are also a rich source of nitrates that convert to nitric oxide when consumed; the Mediterranean diet contains significantly higher amounts of nitrate than the typical Western diet. Reduced nitric oxide bioavailability may contribute to endothelial [lining of blood vessels] dysfunction, which has been linked to poor sleep in women. Similarly, legumes are often rich in the amino acid tryptophan, which is a precursor for melatonin.”
Finding the right combination of foods for your body to get the sleep you need is something you and your doctor should decide. Always make sure to consult your physician before starting any new diet regimen.
The bottom line
The question remains whether a healthy and balanced diet rich in essential vitamins and nutrients leads to greater sleep, or if greater sleep leads to a healthier and more balanced diet. The reverse can also be asked: Does poor sleep cause people to eat more unhealthily, or does an unhealthy diet lead to poor sleep?
These are compelling issues Health Coaches can continue to explore as the behavior of sleep becomes increasingly critical to understand. Sleep hygiene and lifestyle intervention are great tools for people who want to improve their sleep, and Health Coaches are the perfect practitioners to guide them as they empower clients to create incremental goals that shift lifestyle and ultimately improve sleep.
Learn more about what Health Coaches do, how they can impact your health, and how you can become a Health Coach by checking out the Curriculum Guide.