Why would you want to read a 5000-word article on sleep?
Chances are that if you find yourself reading this article that you (or someone you know) are either not getting enough sleep or you still feel tired after what would seem like a full night of it.
So you already know the importance of sleep without me going into details of what it does and what happens when you don’t get enough.
Insomnia can and does affect peoples lives dramatically.
So I’ll leave that subject alone and get straight into things you can do to improve it.
This is quite a comprehensive list of things you can do and some of them may not apply to you or be useable options.
So try what is easy first and go from there.
*Please consult your doctor if your sleep patterns are significantly affecting your ability to function in life. Nothing here is intended as medical advice but rather idea’s to explore with your doctor.*
In this article, I will outline some of the common and some of the not so common ways of improving your sleep including the use of brainwave entrainment devices such as PandoraStar.
Don’t be overwhelmed at all by the amount of idea’s here. This is about education and choice. And if you have trouble sleeping then ANYTHING is worth considering as an option to improve that.
What can I do to improve my sleep:
“Let me list things here and say a little about them where necessary.
Experiment with all or some of them that are possible for you.”
Total darkness in your bedroom at night.
Melatonin has many functions but for our purposes, it’s best known as a sleep-related hormone. It requires the absence of light to be produced effectively. Even a small standby light in your bedroom can be enough to interrupt this and cause sleep issues. Without Melatonin the body lacks the ability to regulate it’s core temperature, slow down digestion, slow down brain activity, and get you into the deepest Delta states of sleep required for brain and body repair and recovery.
Consider blackout curtains and removing or turning completely off all sources of light in your bedroom.
Use blue light filters on your phone and laptop.
For the same reason as above. Blue light is the main component of the light spectrum that interferes with Melatonin production.
There are apps that you can install on your devices to help cut this blue light out.
At the time of writing, my favourites are the ‘Twilight’ app for phones and F.Lux software for computers.
Both of these are timed to suit the day turning to night and slowly removing blue light from your screens.
Another option is blue blocking glasses that you can wear at night (usually yellow type lenses).
Increase red light before bed:
So if blue light can negatively affect melatonin production close to bedtime, then would the opposite end of the light spectrum positively affect it?
Turns out in some studies that yes it can.
In this study, for instance, saliva levels of melatonin and quality of recovery in sleep were significantly increased by 30 min of red light exposure.
There is less evidence of this positive effect than the negative effect of blue light but it is there, so it is something you can try. A word of caution here though.
There are a number of so-called bedroom lights (red lights) on the market that are designed to be used during the night (esp in babies bedrooms) instead of normal lighting to not interrupt sleep.
Now although it is true that red light has been shown to not suppress or reduce melatonin, it HAS been shown to have the same effect of phase (time) shifting the circadian rhythm or internal time clock as white light does.
Shifting the circadian rhythm on purpose is fine (see point below) but doing so by having ANY light source including red in the bedroom can and does lead to difficulty sleeping.
Certainly red is a better choice than any other light colour but just be aware that prolonged use can be just as detrimental as normal white light to sleeping rhythms.
No technology within an hour of bedtime.
Even with blue light filters using technology such as computers close to bedtime if you struggle to sleep is something to stop doing. That last 60-90 minutes are about winding down and relaxing, not further stimulating the brain.
And that’s not even mentioning the EMF (Electro Magnetic Frequency) waves produced by electronics.
No food within 2-3 hours of bedtime.
Digestion is a big user of energy and if your body has to deal with food close to bedtime you will be delayed in getting into the deep states of sleep and it’s possible you will wake up un-recovered and sluggish.
Go to bed at the same time each night.
Routine and ritual is everything when it comes to sleep. Set the habit of having a regular bedtime (and waking time too) and your mind and body will get used to the routines you set, and getting to sleep will be much easier.
Of course, sometimes you will break that routine, but make those times infrequent.
Other than the actual timing of going to bed, part of your routine or ritual might be to read from a book, meditate, or talk with family or friends. Don’t get sucked into social media though; as stated above, technology close to bedtime is not helpful to sleeping.
There is also a natural spike in melatonin for most people around 10 pm. Try to have 10-11pm as your normal bedtime or you will miss the real reason for this spike and get active again.
Experiment with how long you sleep too. We sleep in approximate 90 min sleep cycles so if possible aim to wake up either at the end of one of those 90 min segments or better still naturally with no alarm clock.
Leave social media alone when you first wake up.
Why? Sleeping well starts with how you start your day. If the first thing you do is reach for your phone you are doing two things that are not useful. Firstly you are becoming part of everyone else’s day, worries, decisions and focus instead of your own; and secondly, research shows that we have a limited amount of decision-making ability for each day without getting overwhelmed and becoming unable to make any more decisions. As you scroll down the list of posts and comments you are causing your brain to make dozens of decisions in a very short period of time about what to pay attention to and depleting or desensitising your levels of dopamine (reward chemical in your brain when you experience something that invokes pleasure) etc. This can lead to being unproductive, demotivated and mentally tired leading to stress at not getting things done and therefore affecting sleep quality.
Make the first half to an hour of each day about you. Meditation, exercise, a good breakfast.
Get natural light, especially first thing in the morning.
Again, what you do in the morning will affect the evening. Serotonin is a hormone produced in both the gut and the brain and is responsible for mood, alertness and activity. What is less known though is that serotonin is required to be converted into Melatonin in the evening to help with the onset of sleep.
Light, and in particular full spectrum light is one of the primary ways the body produces serotonin. Getting such light first thing in the morning (preferably sunrise for 15-30 min) not only triggers serotonin production and gets your body and mind awake and alert, but it also helps set or reset your circadian rhythm (internal body clock) to the timing of nature. This helps your body wind down in the evening at the right time.
Going outside is preferable to light through a window because even on an overcast day the light intensity is far greater than indoor lighting. Also, sunlight contains far more NIR and IR (Near Infra Red and Infra Red) light than most bulbs and there are many peer-reviewed studies showing the healing benefits of that Red end of the light spectrum.
NIR and IR light waves are not significantly affected by cloud cover or pollution. UV light waves, on the other hand, are more affected by cloud etc.
On the subject of UV light; although UV is painted out to be a bad type of light, it does have the effect of killing microbes and germs. Even letting sunlight through an open window (most glass filters out some UV) has been shown to reduce the concentration of bacteria in a room. Something that along with the healing benefits of light, Florence Nightingale instinctively knew many years ago when she started the practice of taking hospital patients outside on a sunny day.
Reset your circadian rhythm.
As I mentioned above, your circadian rhythm is your internal body clock. It is primarily regulated by sunrise and sunset but with modern technology altering when and how much light we get outside of normal hours, this can easily get shifted to be out of synchronisation with nature and cause you to struggle to get to sleep or stay asleep.
One common result is depression where the body and mind never really get going and is often accompanied by sleepless or interrupted sleep nights. Hence the popularity of SAD (Seasonal Affected Disorder) lamps.
I will talk more on this and how PandoraStar can help with this in a dedicated article on circadian rhythms. For now, if you do as suggested above and get natural light first thing in the morning, you will start to reset your internal time clock to be in line with normal sleep/wake cycles.
Limit taking sleeping tablets and drugs if you can.
Now to be clear I’m not giving any medical advice here. I’m just informing you of what your doctor should be informing you of if you’ve seen one about sleep problems.
Sedatives and prescribed medication for insomnia have improved a great deal recently. However, there is still not enough evidence to suggest that the different levels of sleep (EG: Amount of REM and Non REM sleep) can be artificially induced with medication in the right balance. In fact, there is more evidence to suggest that such medication only effects one or the other and can cause rebound effects when you stop taking them.
These drugs will often admittedly give better sleep than no sleep, but still not promoting the recovery and alertness during the day that you would achieve with more natural methods. It’s not a one drug fits all solution and your doctor will have a different option for you to try based on how you feel on one drug at a time.
The same applies to drugs such as Valium (Diazepam), Cannabis, alcohol and other sedating substances. These substances may ‘knock you out’.., but in many cases, this does not lead to deep levels of sleep where recovery, growth and memory consolidation occur. This is why sometimes you can feel like you have a type of hangover the next day from these things. In the case of alcohol, of course, this is literal.
Then there is the desensitising that often occurs over time leading to needing more of the drug to have the same effect and becoming more and more reliant on the drug to sleep at all. Again I’m just informing here.., work with your doctor and/or sleep specialist to find the best solution long term for you.
Limit stimulants like caffeine, especially after midday.
Need I say more? Many teas have caffeine in them too. On the other hand, some herbal tea’s can be quite calming. Be aware also that some painkillers and sports drinks contain caffeine or other stimulating effect herbs such as Guarana.
Caffeine has a long life in the system and can affect your sleep for many hours after last having it.
Do you have sleep apnea
(periods of time that you stop breathing). How can you know if you do or not? It’s not common but it can be tested for. If you snore loudly, wake up during the night feeling short of breath, wake with a sore or dry throat or a headache, or a partner notices you stop breathing for short periods of time, or feel tired during the day, then get yourself checked out by a doctor.
There are various ways this can be treated. From Constant pressure sleep masks and straps that hold your mouth closed, to breathwork practices like intermittent hypoxia training that can help this condition too. See your doctor first before trying any of these. You can purchase a small device called a ‘pulse oximeter’ with recording function that measures both heart rate and blood O2 levels and records them to look at on a graph later which can show signs of this also. Again not a replacement for medical advice, just useful information.
Breathe through the nose, not the mouth.
I will get more into this in another article on breathwork. Breathing through the nose rather than the mouth can have a number of positive effects. Heart-rate, blood pressure and oxygen absorption are in general shown scientifically and subjectively to be better when habitual nose breathing is favoured over mouth breathing.
Mouth breathing can be a contributor to snoring and sleep apnea (see above) also.
In general, cortisol (stress hormone) levels are less with nose breathing too. As with everything here, consult a doctor if nose breathing is difficult for you.
Fresh air in your bedroom.
Your brain uses more oxygen during REM sleep than when you are awake!
Yes, that’s right. Your brain is very active during certain stages of your sleep cycles (each sleep cycle lasts about 90min). I know it gets cold during the winter but try to have a little gap in a window for fresh air if you can.
Have a cool bedroom.
The ideal temperature for sleeping is actually around 18 Degrees C which may actually feel cold to some people. Too warm a room and your core body temperature will struggle to lower and you will miss out on the deepest levels of sleep.
As per Circadian rhythms and Melatonin discussed earlier, the body lowers its core temperature after sunset to bring on sleep and recovery.
Your bedroom is a sanctuary, not an office and storeroom.
This can be a challenge when you have a desk and computer in your room. But if you can put that somewhere else then do so. And make your room as tidy and welcoming as possible with a minimalist look to it if you can.
Messy room.., messy mind. At least if you have to have your desk in your room keep it clear an tidy and shut everything down at night. Better yet have a screen that hides it all. And don’t put your phone next to your bed. You don’t need the temptation, interruption or EMF’s given off.
Meditation, breathing practices, Yoga and stress reduction.
This should be obvious. And this is where PandoraStar and brainwave entrainment can help massively. Calming your body mind and spirit will have a bigger effect on the quality of both your sleeping and waking life more than almost anything else.
It should be no surprise that letting go mentally will help you let go physically too.
And meditation does not have to be sitting cross-legged in complete stillness and silence either. Music, walking in nature, breathwork, yoga, and exercise are examples of things that can have a meditative effect.
Please read the article ‘Maximising the use of PandoraStar for meditation’ for more tips.
Exercise and Sleep.
This deserves its own mention. The benefits of exercise go way beyond physical fitness. The hormones and natural chemicals produced by the body during exercise don’t just aid recovery, growth, strength and flexibility physically, but they have that same effect mentally.
Why would that surprise us?
It’s no secret that exercise helps release stress, relieve depression, avoid age-related brain function decline like Alzheimer’s, and flush out toxins from both the body and brain. It also provides a contrast of active vs passive activity in the body and brain which actually makes switching from one to the other easier.
The timing for exercise is also a factor. Research shows that working out in the morning leads to a significantly better and deeper sleep that night than if you work out later in the day or the evening.
Have more sex.
Haha, guys are like “Heck yeah brother!” But it’s not just guys that love sex. And the benefits of sex to more than just sleep are proven. From the physical exertion, to stress release, to specific natural chemicals released during pleasure and orgasm.
That’s not to say that you should or would get away with treating sex as a tool to get to sleep but if you make it a pleasurable openly talked about shared experience between you and your partner, then you will both sleep and sleep together better.
Finish tasks before moving on to the next one.
This is part of reducing stress. If you have many things going on at once and none of them finished, then your brain is going to find it hard to switch off. Obviously, some things are going to be ongoing and never really finish so they have to be managed with time allocation.
And this isn’t just about mental unfinished business. The body holds on to unfinished actions too. This may seem unusual, but if you finish your day at the desk (for example) by putting papers in a neat pile, unclicking your pen and putting it away, putting things back in drawers and closing them, turning off the printer etc.., then you are actually finishing movements that may be incomplete in the body and making them complete and therefore no longer being part of a pause type state that we often get into. When work stops, you want it to STOP!
Set an intention as you go to bed.
As unimportant as it may sound, if you are currently not sleeping well then chances are you are by default setting an intention to not sleep well.
So why not start setting an intention that “Tonight I will sleep deeply and awake refreshed and energised”. This isn’t a magic bullet, but it’s a target right.
If you wake during the night, be OK with it.
You can either wake up and be frustrated or anxious about it or.., you can wake up and remain relaxed and use the time to focus on slow breathing or positive idea’s and thoughts.
Which habit do you think will help you get back to sleep again faster?
Why not practice lucid dreaming or astral travel.
If you’re going to wake up anyway, why not use that as a positive and learn to play with your dream experiences. And an interesting thing happens when you consciously make the decision to sleep with this type of intention.., you will end up sleeping better.
I’m not going to cover that here but there are some really good teachers out there that can give you tips on this exciting practice. For example, try looking at Todd Acamesis on YouTube for guidance.
Slope your bed.
Studies show that having a 10-30 degree slope on your bed (IE: your head is slightly higher than your lower body) results in less pressure building in the head during sleep by allowing gravity to aid in blood flow from the head back to the heart.
The easiest way to do this is to put a block of wood under the legs at the head end of the bed. Or if like my bed you can’t do that; something like a half a sheet of plywood that goes from the head to your waist with a block of wood making the head end higher works well too.
Buy a quality mattress and pillows.
This is obvious but often overlooked. And what a difference it can make. Especially experiment with pillows and get used to sleeping mainly on your side with a pillow height to keep your head in line with your spine.
I prefer a down pillow with a feather core for a soft but supported feel but there are a number of options.
Have a plant or three in your room.
Not just for looks. Actual blood analysis research shows that plants in a room lower cortisol levels (stress hormone) in your body. Not too many though or it actually has the opposite effect.
Why? This is something still in our old brain from times where access to some plants was good for supplying shade and possible nutrition, but too many plants and there could be a predator hiding in them. [Interesting side note, a view into the distance has the same cortisol reducing effect for the same evolutionary reason of being able to spot threats with plenty of warning. One of the reasons why enjoying a view feels good].
Plants of course also take in CO2 and release O2 into your room. Some plants like spider plants, Ivy, aloe vera, and snake (mother in laws tongue) plants even have the ability to detoxify a room by absorbing toxins and chemicals in the air!
Here’s again where the PandoraStar deep trance light machine comes into play. Using the brains frequency following response which is where a consistent pattern becomes matched by the frequency of neuronal firing inside the brain; brainwave entrainment (BWE) can significantly reduce your stress and help you quickly get into the deep brain frequencies of recovery and rejuvenation.
Within a relatively short period, you can retrain your brain to more easily relax when it’s time to, and be creative when it’s time to be creative. Studies show lasting results of BWE even a long time after stopping it’s use. It’s like a
Not just reserved for those who are older, power naps are almost like a form of meditation. 10-20 min during the day where you just lie down and close your eyes with no expectation other than to relax completely can make a huge difference to your life if your normal sleep time is not enough. Use a timer if you have to as going past 20 min can lead to you going too far into a full 90 min sleep cycle and feeling a bit groggy when you wake up again.
Don’t worry if you fall asleep or not, just enjoy that 10-20 min for yourself. And if you do want to sleep longer than 20 minutes, consider going for a full
Get some contact with earth.
Earthing may seem like
Studies show that both cortisol stress levels and the electric charge of ion’s and amount of free radicals in the body are positively affected by earthing.
Walking barefoot on some grass or earth after a long flight is a great way to help reduce or avoid jet lag too for the same reasons.
Diet and Its A
ffect on Sleep.
I don’t need to go into detail here. You need to be eating healthy if you want to live and sleep healthy. And that includes the good old green leafy vegetables that have so many benefits. Again don’t eat close to bedtime and avoid too many fats and oils due to their inflammatory potential in the body.
Herbs and supplements.
There are quite a few you can try from Magnesium oil for muscle relaxation (can be rubbed into the skin and is known to be useful for stress relief) to various health store products like valerian root and Kava Kava, and even now CBD oil.
Check with your doctor before using these if you are consulting them about a serious sleep issue.
You can also buy a melatonin supplement which can help if you are lacking sun exposure etc. Be aware with taking any supplement especially melatonin, that overuse and regular use can lead to a desensitisation of the effect and a downward spiral of the supplement taking over from the bodies natural ability to produce the effect or hormone (in the case of melatonin) itself.
Always get advice about these and follow the instructions and warnings on the bottles.
There is one supplement I would like to give special mention to though, and that is…
Glycine is an amino acid that is usually partly gained from our diet and partly made by the body from other sources. It can be purchased as a powder inexpensively online. It has a couple of unique effects on the body when taken in a small dose just before bed.
Research shows that Glycine does two things that are helpful for sleep. It helps the body to lower its core temperature which aids in dropping into the deeper levels of sleep, and it regulates the body’s use of insulin in response to glucose in the blood thus helping stop waking from blood sugar levels changing dramatically while you sleep.
Again, speak to your doctor to make sure of taking the recommended dose (about 3g – 2/3rds of a teaspoon in water) is OK for you.
Nothing I have said here is meant as medical advice but as information for you to investigate.
Science has now proven that some smells affect us positively. For instance, Lavender’s effect of relaxation has actually been measured. This is part of making your bedroom more of a sanctuary and a restful place to be. In fact, in the case of lavender, positive effects have been found on a number of nervous system functions.
Be careful not to leave candles lit when you fall asleep.
Your bed is for sleeping.
Of course, there are potential other activities in your bed, haha, but if you have trouble sleeping then remove other activities like reading, looking at your phone or tablet, or even meditating from when you are in or on your bed. Make those activities ones you do in a chair or lying on a mat. Make your body and mind know without a doubt that bed is for sleeping.
Make a list before bed.
This is part of calming your mind before you sleep. If you have many things on your mind that you need to do and haven’t done yet then get them out of your mind and on to paper or a planner. You don’t need to be thinking about tomorrow now. Now is time for sleep. You’ll be surprised how effective this is at quieting the mind to get thoughts written down so that your active memory can relax.
If you can’t sleep, get up and stay up.
This can be extreme but if you find yourself awake and unable to get back to sleep, then get up and make that the start of your day. You will no doubt struggle to get through that day but the pay off can be that the next night you DO fall asleep because you are so tired. And that may just be all you need to break the habit of waking up.
Occupy your mind as you lie in bed.
Try this – Imagine with your eye’s closed a large pendulum-like on a large clock in front of you. Start the pendulum swinging from side to side and notice that in just a few seconds that the pendulum will become automatic and unconscious in its movement. You can then if you desire to add another pendulum or turning cog at a different speed or direction. As this visualisation (with sound if you like) becomes automatic and out of your conscious control notice how your mind can then start to drift. This sort of mental activity can help you fall asleep really fast.
Another idea is to focus your attention on the inside of your eyelids. IE: Notice the blackness and/or slight patterns that are there. This is effective in changing your state because you are focusing on what you can see instead of your thoughts.
Anxious people have no rhythm.
So use this to your advantage. You can’t stay anxious when both hemisphere’s of the brain are engaged. Do an activity that forced both sides of the brain to be active at the same time.
Here’s an example – Take a small ball or an object of a similar size and throw it from hand to hand sideways in a specific way. Watch this short demonstration by NLP and Hypnosis trainer Andrew Austin. Note the specific way he stops one hand as the other moves…
Don’t underestimate the power of therapies aiming at reducing stress and promoting relaxation such as Hypnosis, NLP, CBT, EMDR, EFT and others.
Worth exploring here may be the question of “What do believe will happen if you don’t sleep?” Often there is an element of shame attached to not sleeping or to nodding off and being tired during the day. This belief can be enough to create anxiety and interfere with your sleep.
So there you have it. There is more of course but this is a pretty comprehensive list of proven ways to help you sleep better.
Please do take care and seek medical advice on trying anything involving supplements, drugs, exercise and if you have breathing challenges.
This isn’t about doing ALL of the above but you could.
Try what is easiest to do first.
Funny enough it’s usually the simple changes that have the most profound effect.