A person over age 40 does not usually require as much sleep as a typical teenager. And there are also individual differences in the amount of sleep we need. So quantity is an issue, but even more important is the quality of the sleep you get.
Most people are well aware of the benefits of good quality sleep. But what exactly does that mean? Take this short quiz to check if you are sleeping as well as you should. Count the number of times you answer with a “no.”
- Do you fall asleep easily?
- Do you sleep through the night?
- Do you wake up at the same time each day?
- Do you get at least seven hours of sleep each night?
- Do you need an alarm clock to get up?
- Do you wake up feeling focused, energetic and refreshed?
- Do you remain energetic throughout the day without stimulants?
How many “no” answers did you give?
- 0: Great, you have healthy sleep patterns.
- 1-2: Passable, but some minor adjustments should get you to excellent sleep.
- 3-4: No good - your sleep problems definitely affect your health.
- More than 4: Sleep should be the number-one priority to address in your total health programme.
If you find yourself with a poor score, here are some things you can do to improve your sleep.
Improve your sleep environment by making it cool. There is no consensus on the best sleep temperature, but we do know that temperatures that are too high disrupt sleep. Start with something like 24°C and play around until you find what works best for you.
Improve your sleep environment by making it quiet. The quieter the better. This can be a challenge, especially in a crowded country like Singapore. Unless you live in a bungalow surrounded by a large garden, there will always be neighbors, pets and kids around. If your sleep environment isn’t quiet, use earplugs. Some people find this weird at first, but it’s not that hard to get used to. And the sleep quality benefits are worth it.
Improve your sleep environment by making it dark. In a city environment, it is also hard to make your bedroom dark enough. How dark is dark enough? A simple test is to lie face up in bed and stick your arm straight up over your face. If you can see your hand, it’s probably not dark enough. One solution is thick curtains for your bedroom. To install these in my home’s medium-sized master bedroom cost a few hundred dollars - not a horrible amount. If this is not an option for you, get a traveler’s eye mask or simply put a folded towel over your eyes.
Improve the electronic environment. Switch off all transmitting electronic devices in your room - laptops, phones, routers, etc. You may think these don’t bother you, but our bodies are electrical at the cellular level, so any non-natural frequencies tend to be negative for us.
This can make a big difference for some people. In the last ten years of helping people with their sleep quality, I have noticed a wide variance in the tolerance of people toward electromagnetic waves. You may have noticed this as well. You may have friends who can spend all day talking on their cell phones with few side effects, and others who get a headache after just a few minutes on the phone.
So switch off all your electronics. Or at the very least, turn them to airplane mode and keep them a few meters away from you.
Improve the colors of your lights. At night, try to use yellow or orange lights instead of the usual fluorescent or LED lamps which are balanced for the color of daylight. This goes for your smartphone, tablet or computer as well. For color accuracy for reading, work or photo editing, most monitors also emit blue “daylight” colors. Try using software like f.lux (Mac or PC), Twilight (Android) or the new Night Shift function on iOS. They make the screen yellow once evening approaches.
This kind of light is perceived as mid-day sun by your body. No wonder we can't sleep well at night
This is important because your body uses light color to determine whether or not it’s time to sleep. The default blue light of most devices simulates the midday sun and tells your body that it’s time to stay awake. In response to this, your body will shut down production of the sleep chemical melatonin. This makes it harder to sleep.
Support your sleep nutritionally. Eat enough protein (see Tip #12), because melatonin is made from protein. No protein, no sleep chemicals. Add magnesium as a supplement (see Tip #19). This is the single most beneficial sleep supplement we use for our personal training clients. Finally, consider melatonin supplements. A good starting dose is 3-6mg per day, and at this level it does not have a habituation effect (you don’t get addicted to it). Reduce the amount if you find yourself able to do without it.