Sleep is one of the key factors for good health. Sleep is time for healing and recovery. In average, the optimal sleep duration for improved health is between 7-8 hours a night. (S) Also high-quality sleep (i.e. sufficiently REM, deep sleep and light sleep) predicts health. People who sleep bettereat fewer calories, are slimmer (S), are more productive (S), feel happier, are healthier and have greater life satisfaction (S) and better social relationships (S).
Sleep is restorative. During the night, memories consolidate and harmful toxins are removed from the brain by the glymphatic system. In addition, muscles building increases due to the growth hormone activation and other cell restoration processes. Also the immune system gets boosted. (S)
Problems with sleep are common. Even 30 % of adults have problems with sleeping and almost all people suffer from occasional insomnia. (S) Many factors contribute to how well one is able to fall asleep, stay in the sleep and get adequate amounts of different types of sleep. These include genes, circadian rhythm, diet, environmental signal, and general lifestyle.
Recent scientific literature has shown that sleep quality and quantity can be improved.
There are many lifestyle factors that contribute to good sleep. This post offers you 30 science-based tips and tools that can help you to fall asleep faster and increase your sleep quality and quantity.
Enjoy calming herbs
- Valeriana 150-300mg:
in many studies, valerian has shown to promote sleep (S). Its valeric acid, isovaleric acid and a variety of antioxidants increase GABA activity in the brain (S)
- Chamomile 400-1600 mg:
chamomile is a mild tranquilizer and has an effect on the benzodiazepine receptors in the brain which promotes sleepiness (S)
- Reishi 3 g:
Reishi has shown to have hypnotic (sleep-inducing) effect and has been used traditionally in Asian herbology for its sleep-promoting abilities
- Ashwagandha 500 mg:
Ashwagandha promotes relaxation and reduces anxiety by promoting GABA signaling in the brain (S)
Supplements that support sleep
- Magnesium 250 – 600 mg:
Magnesium regulates melatonin and GABA levels in the brain, which can increase relaxation and help in falling asleep (S) (S)
- Glycine 3 g:
Glycine supplement has been shown to promote relaxation and can improve sleep quality especially for those who have a poor sleep quality (S) (S)
- Tryptophan 200-400 mg:
Tryptophan is the precursor of serotonin which converts into melatonin (“the sleep hormone”)
- L-Theanine 50-200 mg:
L-theanine promotes relaxation and increases alpha activity in the brain
Melatonin is a hormone that pineal gland secrets to signal about sleep. It naturally occurs in the body and supplementing with melatonin has a strong sleep-inducing effect. However, it would be better to optimize melatonin production without taking the supplement (e.g. With precursor supplement or other behavioral sleep hacks). Melatonin can be used occasionally for sleep support or retraining sleep cycle. (S) A recent meta-analysis showed that melatonin decreases sleep onset latency, increases total sleep time and improves overall sleep quality. (S) (S)
Aligning behavior with the natural light and your biological rhythm
- Block blue light 3 hours prior to bed and green light 1.5 prior to bed:
Exposure to blue light waves in the night suppresses melatonin (i.e. the sleep-inducing hormone) production in the night and can delay sleep. In a study of Harvard scientists, blue light suppressed melatonin shifted circadian rhythm by twice as much as green light (3 hours vs. 1.5 hours). (S) (S). For example, you can adjust the computer display according to the time of day (for example wth Flux) and use blue light filter apps for the phone (Blue Light Filter, Twilight)
- Use blue light blocking glasses after 7 pm
- Get red light exposure in the evening:
Red light (below 3000 K, over 850 nm wavelength) does not harm melatonin production (S) In fact, red light exposure in the night can help the body to improve melatonin production over time. In one study 30 minutes, exposure to red light over 14 days increased serum melatonin and improved sleep in female athletes. (S)
- Get sunlight exposure in the morning:
Studies have concluded that sunlight in the morning increases natural melatonin production in the evening. (S) It is important that the light is potent enough; sunlight provides illumination of 20,000 – 100,000 lux. A typical artificial indoor lightning falls between 100-500 lux. Even if it is a cloudy day, going outside in the morning will probably be more helpful considering the sleep/wake cycle than indoor lightning (S) (S). Optionally, you can try a SAD light.
- Follow your circadian rhythm:
Analyze and know your body’s natural circadian rhythm to optimize your sleep/wake cycle. Circadian rhythm disturbances and misalignment are linked to decreased health, fatigue, and mental disorders. (S)
- Measure your circadian rhythm:
- Avoid stimulating lights, foods, noises, and emotions prior to bed
- Don’t drink caffeinated drinks for 4 hours prior to sleep:
Caffeinated drinks can delay sleep. These include black and green tea, coffee, soft drinks, and chocolate bars. If you are a slow metabolizer of caffeine stop drinking caffeinated drinks for 8 hours prior to sleep (if you need a stimulant in the evening that won’t prevent sleep try ginseng, chaga, cordyceps or ginger tea)
Tools for relaxation
- Stop working early enough and at the end of the day list down all the things you need to do tomorrow in order to clear your head
- Go home early enough to ensure your body and mind have time to unwind and relax
- Use noise-canceling headphones, blue light blockers and/or other tools to avoid stimulating sensory signals in the evening if you need to stay out late or work late
- Listen to relaxing sounds to promote relaxation prior to bed time
- Do some relaxing exercise
- Yin yoga
- Hatha yoga
- Practice gratitude:
Gratitude practices have shown to relax and promote sleep. For example, write down 3 things that you are grateful for (S)
- Do a relaxing meditation
- Don’t take your laptop or phone to bed.
If you are used to working in your laptop, the device works as an environmental memory cue and can activate work-related memory traces and make your mind race again (S). Similarly, avoid taking the phone to bed. Instead, put the phone in a flight mode and place is further away from the bed.
- Establish relaxing evening routines that will prime your mind for sleep.
Establishing evening routines will aid in relaxing the mind because you don’t have to plan and make decisions, but you can do your routines on “autopilot”. This can help reducing stress at night and help your mind and body mentally prepare for sleep
- Optimize your bedroom: Make sure your sleep sanctuary is relaxing, soothing and calming by optimizing the temperature, air quality, and the bed.
- Ergonomic bed
- Comfortable pillow
- Ventilate the bedroom, make sure the air quality is good (humidifier can help)
- The optimal temperature for most people is around 18-22 celsius
- More sleep optimization tips:
Biohacker’s handbook (click to store): Get -10 % discount with the code INKA at the checkout
This post was about improving sleep. To optimize your sleep:
- Use proper nutrition
- Avoid stimulation in the evening
- Take time to relax
- Establish evening routines
- Follow your circadian rhythm
I hope these tips help you to sleep better. What are your top sleep optimization tips?
Share in the comments!
- Benke, D., Barberis, A., Kopp, S., Altmann, K.-H., Schubiger, M., Vogt, K. E., … Möhler, H. (2009). GABA A receptors as in vivo substrate for the anxiolytic action of valerenic acid, a major constituent of valerian root extracts. Neuropharmacology, 56(1), 174–181. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropharm.2008.06.013
- Bent, S., Padula, A., Moore, D., Patterson, M., & Mehling, W. (2006). Valerian for Sleep: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. The American Journal of Medicine, 119(12), 1005–1012. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjmed.2006.02.026
- Boomsma, D. (2008). The magic of magnesium. International Journal of Pharmaceutical Compounding, 12(4), 306–309.
- Candelario, M., Cuellar, E., Reyes-Ruiz, J. M., Darabedian, N., Feimeng, Z., Miledi, R., … Limon, A. (2015). Direct evidence for GABAergic activity of Withania somnifera on mammalian ionotropic GABAA and GABAρ Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 171, 264–272. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2015.05.058
- Costello, R. B., Lentino, C. V., Boyd, C. C., O’Connell, M. L., Crawford, C. C., Sprengel, M. L., & Deuster, P. A. (2014). The effectiveness of melatonin for promoting healthy sleep: a rapid evidence assessment of the literature. Nutrition Journal, 13. https://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-13-106
- de Zambotti, M., Rosas, L., Colrain, I. M., & Baker, F. C. (2017). The Sleep of the Ring: Comparison of the ŌURA Sleep Tracker Against Polysomnography. Behavioral Sleep Medicine, 1–15. https://doi.org/10.1080/15402002.2017.1300587
- Goel, N., Kim, H., & Lao, R. P. (2005). An olfactory stimulus modifies nighttime sleep in young men and women. Chronobiology International, 22(5), 889–904. https://doi.org/10.1080/07420520500263276
- Gooley, J. J., Rajaratnam, S. M. W., Brainard, G. C., Kronauer, R. E., Czeisler, C. A., & Lockley, S. W. (2010). Spectral responses of the human circadian system depend on the irradiance and duration of exposure to light. Science Translational Medicine, 2(31), 31ra33. https://doi.org/10.1126/scitranslmed.3000741
- Herxheimer, A., & Petrie, K. J. (2002a). Melatonin for the prevention and treatment of jet lag. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (2), CD001520. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD001520
- Herxheimer, A., & Petrie, K. J. (2002b). Melatonin for the prevention and treatment of jet lag. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (2), CD001520. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD001520
- Ho Mien, I., Chua, E. C.-P., Lau, P., Tan, L.-C., Lee, I. T.-G., Yeo, S.-C., … Gooley, J. J. (2014). Effects of exposure to intermittent versus continuous red light on human circadian rhythms, melatonin suppression, and pupillary constriction. PloS One, 9(5), e96532. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0096532
- Kawai, N., Sakai, N., Okuro, M., Karakawa, S., Tsuneyoshi, Y., Kawasaki, N., … Nishino, S. (2015). The Sleep-Promoting and Hypothermic Effects of Glycine are Mediated by NMDA Receptors in the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus. Neuropsychopharmacology, 40(6), 1405–1416. https://doi.org/10.1038/npp.2014.326
- Laakso, M. L., Porkka-Heiskanen, T., Alila, A., Peder, M., & Johansson, G. (1988). Twenty-four-hour patterns of pineal melatonin and pituitary and plasma prolactin in male rats under “natural” and artificial lighting conditions. Neuroendocrinology, 48(3), 308–313. https://doi.org/10.1159/000125027
- Lee, I.-S., & Lee, G.-J. (2006). [Effects of lavender aromatherapy on insomnia and depression in women college students]. Taehan Kanho Hakhoe Chi, 36(1), 136–143.
- LightLevels_outdoor+indoor.pdf. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.noao.edu/education/QLTkit/ACTIVITY_Documents/Safety/LightLevels_outdoor+indoor.pdf
- Möykkynen, T., Uusi-Oukari, M., Heikkilä, J., Lovinger, D. M., Lüddens, H., & Korpi, E. R. (2001). Magnesium potentiation of the function of native and recombinant GABA(A) receptors. Neuroreport, 12(10), 2175–2179.
- Publishing, H. H. (n.d.). Blue light has a dark side. Retrieved February 13, 2019, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side
- Srivastava, J. K., Shankar, E., & Gupta, S. (2010). Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with bright future. Molecular Medicine Reports, 3(6), 895–901. https://doi.org/10.3892/mmr.2010.377
- Van Praag, C. D. G., Garfinkel, S. N., Sparasci, O., Mees, A., Philippides, A. O., Ware, M., … & Critchley, H. D. (2017). Mind-wandering and alterations to default mode network connectivity when listening to naturalistic versus artificial sounds. Scientific Reports, 7, 45273.
- Wood, A. M., Joseph, S., Lloyd, J., & Atkins, S. (2009). Gratitude influences sleep through the mechanism of pre-sleep cognitions. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 66(1), 43–48. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychores.2008.09.002
- Wright, K. P., McHill, A. W., Birks, B. R., Griffin, B. R., Rusterholz, T., & Chinoy, E. D. (2013). Entrainment of the Human Circadian Clock to the Natural Light-Dark Cycle. Current Biology, 23(16), 1554–1558. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2013.06.039
- Yamadera, W., Inagawa, K., Chiba, S., Bannai, M., Takahashi, M., & Nakayama, K. (2007). Glycine ingestion improves subjective sleep quality in human volunteers, correlating with polysomnographic changes. Sleep and Biological Rhythms, 5(2), 126–131. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1479-8425.2007.00262.x
- Zhao, J., Tian, Y., Nie, J., Xu, J., & Liu, D. (2012). Red Light and the Sleep Quality and Endurance Performance of Chinese Female Basketball Players. Journal of Athletic Training, 47(6), 673–678.
- Zhu, L., & Zee, P. C. (2012). Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders. Neurologic Clinics, 30(4), 1167–1191. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ncl.2012.08.011