Sleep impacts every aspect of our lives. Here are some of the main points you might want to take into consideration in order to get a good night’s sleep.
Good sleep is a topic that is often neglected, but it is a very important aspect of our everyday life. Sleep has been extensively studied and affects our quality of life in many ways — be it our efficiency at work, our endurance when it comes to daily tasks, or the prevention of diseases and maintenance of mental health, just to name a few.
Given the increase in the prevalence of sleep problems in many countries, we have decided to dedicate an article to this topic that summarizes evidence-based advice that can help you to improve the quality of your sleep without having to get a doctor’s prescription.
The advice encompasses topics such as ventilation and temperature, noise, the level of darkness, food, pharmaceutical drugs, mind relaxation, exercise, and helpful bedtime routines. Curious? Read more to find out how to address sleep problems in a natural way.
Sleep is essential to our health. It strongly influences our capacity to recover both mentally and physically, allows us to store memories, influences our mood, and promotes growing in children. It basically impacts every aspect of our life by affecting the way we think, learn, behave, feel, and interact with others.
Poor sleep and sleep deprivation have been associated with cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, impaired mental capacity, and poor motor coordination. Specialists have shown that “healthy sleep” might be the best way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and that there is a strong relationship between sleep and proper functioning of the immune system.
While sleep disorders and the impact of sleep on general health have been extensively studied, the conditions necessary for good sleep, often called “sleep hygiene,” are sometimes overlooked.
Many times we prefer to look directly to pathology and label our sleeping problems as a disease. We turn too quickly to medication and skip the simple yet critical changes we could easily make to get better sleep.
Here are the essential rules for good sleep:
During respiration, we take up oxygen from the air and release carbon dioxide (CO2). Sleeping in closed, small rooms or confined spaces leads to CO2 buildup.
There are many devices on the market that monitor indoor air quality. These can be used to measure the amount of CO2 in bedrooms, offices, cars, and public spaces (e.g., restaurants). A CO2 level of over 2'000 ppm can lead to headaches, poor concentration, increased heart rate, and nausea. A level above 40'000 ppm can cause brain damage, comas, and even death (values established by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health).1
The conditions for good sleep are met when the body doesn’t have to regulate its own temperature, reaching what is called the “thermoneutrality state.” You can achieve this without wearing pajamas at an environmental temperature of 86–90 o F (30–32 o C) or wearing pajamas and covering yourself with at least one sheet at 61–66 o F (16–19 o C).2 Warm blankets may hinder your sleep during the summer, and having cold feet in the winter also makes falling asleep more difficult.
Sleeping in a warm and highly humid environment increases the frequency of wakefulness episodes while low humidity dries out and inflames the respiratory tract.3 Ideally, humidity in the bedroom should be between 40–60 %. To increase humidity, you can use a vaporizer or a humidifier, or simply place bowls of water near the heat sources. The common methods to decrease humidity include promoting air flow (ventilating) and using a dehumidifier or an air conditioner.
Air pollution (mostly associated with traffic) affects sleep by acting upon the central nervous system and the upper airways. This can lead to reduced oxygen levels in the blood, respiratory acidosis, and obstructive sleep apnea. Furthermore, air pollutants can also contain allergens that induce inflammation, which in turn affects sleep quality.4 Air pollution meters usually display the VOC value (volatile organic compounds).
Check this link to descover the level of air pollution in your region (real-time data).
© CC-by 2.0, Collage Catalina Sparleanu, PhD, Foundation Diet and Health
Noises above 50dB will shorten your total sleeping time. Even if you think you have become accustomed to the constant sounds in your environment, your body still perceives these and reacts accordingly.
Low frequency noises (e.g., road vehicles, aircraft, ventilation, and air-conditioning units) may also affect sleep quality by increasing the time it takes to fall asleep and causing you to feel tired in the morning.5
Sleep is governed by light. Our internal clock (a group of cells in the hypothalamus) receives the signals that the eye sends in the presence of darkness or light. In response, it then generates either a state of sleepiness (by increasing the production of melatonin) or alertness (by increasing body temperature and releasing various hormones).
During the night, when the eye detects the slightest source of light (e.g., TV or electric clocks) the production of melatonin is stopped and sleep is affected. Sleeping with a night-light, staying up late in front of the TV or computer screen, and using your phone have all been shown to interfere with sleep.
There is still strong controversy among specialists regarding the impact of electromagnetic fields (physical fields produced by electrically charged objects) on the human body. Some strongly support the idea that Wi-Fi and exposure to cell phone signals leads to difficulties falling asleep6, changes in sleep patterns7, restless sleep, and tiredness in the morning. Others suggest that this might apply only to electrosensitive people, while still other research studies show that electromagnetic fields have no impact whatsoever on sleep patterns.
Even though there are numerous points of view regarding the type of foods that promote a good night’s sleep, these appear to be the most agreed-upon aspects:
|Not only vegans and vegetarians should read this: |
A Vegan Diet Can Be Unhealthy. Nutrition Mistakes.
Drug producers are required to include information about how a medicine might negatively impact your well-being, even if the occurrence of the problem and its severity might differ from person to person.
Drugs that usually cause sleep problems include beta-blockers, medicines for high blood pressure, hormones, steroids, some antidepressants and anxiolytics, drugs for asthma, allergies, and ADHD, and medications containing alcohol and caffeine (e.g., most of the over-the counter medications for coughs and colds).
If exercising right before bed prevents some people from falling asleep because of overstimulation, exercising in the morning or throughout the day definitely increases both the quality and duration of sleep.
A study conducted in 2014 showed that eight weeks of aerobic exercise can significantly increase sleep quality in middle-aged women8 while other studies have shown significant improvement in sleep quality in both men and women when a form of physical activity was performed regularly.
As difficult as it might be, don’t bring your work life, your worries, or the memory of negative events with you to bed. Rumination (repetitively going over the same thought or problem) has been proven to create a negative mood that will impair your sleep.9
Before going to bed, try meditation or mindfulness exercises. Autogenic training is also an easy-to-learn, beneficial method to promote mental and physical relaxation.
Establish a bedtime routine (e.g., reading, walks in nature, and/or meditation) and try to have consistent sleep-wake times (go to bed and wake up every day at the same time). These habits have been shown to improve sleep quality and reduce the amount of time it takes you to fall asleep. Significant improvements have been observed in children10, but studies show similar effects in adults and the elderly11.
Most of the time, people are not aware of their habits and the activities they engage in during the hour before they go to sleep. Nevertheless, these have a significant impact on the quality of their nighttime rest. For example, using smartphones in bed and being exposed to blue light has been associated with longer sleep latency, sleep disturbances, and decreased performance the next day12.
The duration of sleep varies strongly based on individual characteristics and age. Significant changes in sleep duration and deviations from the norm are usually associated with tobacco exposure13, hypercholesterolemia14, screen time15, and body weight 16. Obese children typically experience shorter sleep duration and variable sleep patterns, while TV viewing and the presence of a TV in the bedroom is also associated with shorter sleep duration.
Sleep Duration Recommendations (number of hours on average)
Newborns (0–3 months)
Infants (4–11 months)
Toddlers (1–2 years)
Preschoolers (3–5 years)
Children (6–13 years)
Teenagers (14–17 years)
Adults (18–64 years)
Seniors (>65 years)
Sleep needs depending on age (number of hours on average) according to the National Sleep Foundation US17
Memory foam, buckwheat, down or feather pillows, latex, foam or air mattresses, low beds, box springs, or waterbeds, synthetic, cotton, or wool linen — all of these are advertised as being paramount for promoting better sleep. Even if their influence is not negligible, they can hardly be considered a decisive factor. Moreover, the choice of pillows, mattresses, and a bed is highly subjective, with no one product that will suit everyone. If no special orthopedic problems or other health issues are involved, specialists recommend that the choice is made according to personal taste and budget.
Some people might have their sleep disturbed by their bed partner’s problems and habits, such as tossing and turning, involuntary movements (e.g., restless leg syndrome or periodic limb movements of sleep), snoring and sleep apnea, or nocturia (frequent need to go the bathroom during the night).
© CC-by 2.0, Foundation Diet and Health Switzerland, Foundation Diet and Health Switzerland
Do you have difficulties falling asleep, do you wake up frequently and remain awake, do you feel tired when you wake up, and are you sleepy during the day? Take a look at your state of mind, evaluate your environment and your daily activity and see if there is anything that can be improved.
Share your comments and thoughts below and let us know what your secret is for getting a good night’s sleep!
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15. Cespedes EM, Gillman MW, Kleinman K, Rifas-Shiman SL, Redline S, Taveras EM. Television viewing, bedroom television, and sleep duration from infancy to mid-childhood. Pediatrics. 2014 May;133(5):e1163-1171.
16. Spruyt K, Molfese DL, Gozal D. Sleep duration, sleep regularity, body weight, and metabolic homeostasis in school-aged children. Pediatrics. 2011 Feb;127(2):e345-352.
17. Chaput J-P, Dutil C, Sampasa-Kanyinga H. Sleeping hours: what is the ideal number and how does age impact this? [Internet]. Vol. 10, Nature and Science of Sleep. Dove Press; 2018 [cited 2020 Jul 10]. p. 421–30. Available from: dovepress com/sleeping-hours-what-is-the-ideal-number-and-how-does-age-impact-this-peer-reviewed-fulltext-article-NSS