How to sleep well to keep feeling on top of the world
Fatigue can be annoyingly persistent throughout the day, but there are definitely ways to deal with it.
This article is part 2 of two articles about taking back control over your energy. Click here for part 1: How to wake up in the morning and feel on top of the world
Picture this: You woke up one day, not feeling bad but not feeling that great either. You mustered the willpower to resist the temptations of your bed. You left to work and spent what seemed like a month there, time moved way too slowly which in turn took a toll on your concentration. In fact, the same happened the day before, and also the day before that.
Fatigue is affecting millions of men, women and children living in increasingly dynamic worlds. Those worlds don’t seem to be stopping anytime soon it seems like that might not be changing anytime soon. But there is good news! Just because your environment doesn’t change, doesn’t mean you can’t adapt!
Feel like you could use a change in pace? What can you do to sleep better? Feel free to read and try out our following tips.
Drink soothing tea
Take naps to stay sharp
Adjusting your diet
How light affects you, day and night
5 easy fixes for better sleep
Drink soothing tea
Tea is the classic choice for soothing yourself to sleep. While the actual, precise benefits of the following herbs are still discussed among scientists, they do have a historical weight and people swearing by them continue to use them anyway today. I like to think their relaxing effects depend on your own enjoyment. If you absolutely hate tea then it would probably beat the point. Either way, if you have trouble sleeping you can try choosing among our top 6 and prepare a nice cup of:
Chamomile is definitely the most popular of soothing teas. Allegedly, not only does it help with sleep, but it also has anti-cold and anti-bacterial properties, helps digestion by lowering gastric acidity and soothes sore throats. Antioxidants? Don’t mind if I do! Chamomile is very common can be found everywhere: Health shops, nature/bio markets, supermarkets, regular markets, online and good old regular tea/coffee shops at all kinds of different prices.
Valerian root tea
Although most herbs are up for debate, like I mentioned before, valerian root is amongst the rare ones with a somewhat conclusive scientific backing. Aside from being used against asthma, headaches, migraines and stomach upsets, it acts as a natural sedative and has commonly been used as a treatment for insomnia. If that’s not enough, it even has muscle and joint relaxant properties and has been used by some women to help cope with cramps!
Lavender is pleasant to look at (I mean, it’s purple. Purple!) and also pleasant to smell. Like Valerian root tea, it has relaxing and sedative properties in addition to helping digestion. If you happen to live in a region where lavender grows you can try to pick a few and make Lavender tea.
To make lavender tea you need:
2 to 3 tbsp of lavender (half if you happen to have dried lavender), or adjust to taste.
2 cups of boiling water
Let it infuse for at least 5 minutes, filter the bits out with a strainer and taste the Mediterranean!
See here our banana tea recipe using banana peels!
Lemon balm is a fragrant plant that resembles mint which has, you guessed it, a lemony taste. Aside from its herbal properties as a potential sleep and digestive aid, it is also used in the culinary world. My favourite use is in pesto, which gives a freshness and lightness to the dish. Interesting fact: Lemon balm attracts bees, making it a useful tool for producing honey.
Lemon balm can be found as an ingredient in brand teas like Yogi, though it is harder to find as the main ingredient for tea. You can always order the herb online and leave it in hot water, just like regular mint.
When it comes to tea bags, I personally dislike general brands and supermarket brands and tend to go for the pricier ones you can most commonly find in health shops (Clipper, Pukka, Yogi Tea…), as I just find them richer and tastier, but any tea brand should work fine. Just make sure to check the ingredients just in case, as time and time again you can find products that put an ingredient on the spotlight only to have something like 3% of the said ingredient.
Taking naps to stay sharp
¡Adopt the siesta! Especially if you feel tired all the time. Naps are immensely underrated. Not only do they address mid-day fatigue spikes, they also help regulate your need for sleep. Despite taking a nap being frowned upon in certain workplaces or schools due to its stigma for laziness, this is slowly changing bit by bit. If you cannot find a way to nap during 9 to 5 style work hours, even after talking about it with your superior, try to build around those hours.
Changing your lifestyle from a monophasic sleep pattern (meaning one, big phase of sleep over 24h) into a biphasic sleep pattern (you guessed it, two phases) could help you be more productive during the day and compact your night without affecting the quality of sleep, as long as you keep to a regular schedule. Be mindful to only take short naps. These naps should be 20 minutes at most, any more and you might summon that pesky sleep inertia again!
Take a power break: Coffee naps
You’d think that coffee and sleep don’t go together. Nobody would blame you either; caffeine is best avoided at night since it will mess with your day/night cycle, you’d find yourself having a harder time going to bed than usual. I’ve written about the power of naps in general, and more and more workplaces start adopting the nap in the work schedule (thankfully), but if you want a real kick to that nap, look no further than coffee.
How on earth does that work? Simply put, the caffeine you drink doesn’t make you feel more awake straight away, contrary to what some people might think. The reason some people might feel active straight after drinking coffee is likely because of the placebo effect, where you’re convinced something is happening to you to the point that you’re actually tricking yourself. If you like The Big Bang Theory, you may perhaps have seen an episode in which Raj, a character who can’t overcome his awkward social incapability of talking women unless he’s had a drink, had discovered his beer was actually alcohol-free all along, stopping his social skills dead on track.
Much like the wine or beer consumed at social gatherings or at home, caffeine actually takes roughly 20 minutes to take full effect. First, it needs to go through your intestines, then your bloodstream before finally arriving at your brain. It just so happens that 15 to 20 minutes is usually the ideal time for a nap! Remember that sleeping for longer periods will make you more likely to enter deeper stages of sleep and therefore wake up with that pesky morning grogginess which would, of course, beat the point of a nap.
Here’s what you need to know: There’s a molecule called Adenosine, which is fabricated by your brain throughout the day and is involved in promoting sleep and energy transfer, in addition to slowing down your neurones (meaning your responsiveness and alertness). In other words, it contributes to fatigue so you can go to sleep easier. However, it’s not very helpful when you need to be performing.
When you drink coffee, the caffeine that arrives in your brain steals the spots in the receptors where Adenosine usually “parks”, thus blocking fatigue. On the other hand that doesn’t mean the Adenosine will disappear. But when you rest, the Adenosine will be naturally cleared by sleep.
The result? You get a successful powernap, and feel amazing! Make sure to drink a small quantity that you can drink quickly like an espresso or even a ristretto cup so that you can head straight for a nap, as bigger cups and mugs take time to be consumed.
Plan a short nap right after waking up
If you know you’re going to wake up overbearingly groggy or tired throughout the day, what I’ve found to be effective is planning a nap right after waking up. The big idea here is to naturally clear grogginess with rest. The trick here is to get up and compromise with yourself. You’re catering to your grogginess which you feel will impact you over the whole day, but you must be telling yourself you’re only taking a light nap. Once again, it’s important to remember to keep yourself in a resting state and avoid entering deep sleep at all costs. Coffee naps are also definitely helpful is this regard.
Adjusting your diet
Sugar crashes & afternoon fatigue
Feeling tired sometime after lunch? Pasta, bread, rice, beans, potatoes, yoghurt, cereals… These foods, which are especially prevalent in Western cultures, are all high carbohydrate foods that typically contribute to this fatigue. To be clear, high-carb foods are far from being unhealthy, they’re classified as a source of long-term energy and actually even excellent for active people. However, when it comes to sitting behind a desk and working 9 to 5, you will likely experience a fatigue wave in the afternoon.
So what can you do?
- The easiest fix for a sugar crash… Is sugar! (call me Sherlock.)
This is the optimal time for a sweet treat to help you compensate for the fatigue caused by eating sizeable amounts of carbohydrate foods. Be mindful, however, to not use that as an excuse to eat sugar snacks too often because quick fixes cannot replace true food.
- Exercise regularly to make good use of those carbs, in addition to keeping your body fit overall and more energised
- Limit your carb intake or try a completely different diet lifestyle for a few weeks. A good start would be substituting fast burning foods to slower ones.
These are all certainly good options, but we do understand that sometimes, a good sandwich, a nice spaghetti with tomato sauce or the ever classic rice & beans is what you need to fill your stomach.
Eat 3 meals at regular times
This is to ensure your body’s energy supply is in sync with your body clock. Over 24h your body will be in energy saving mode at certain times like at night and metabolise faster at other times. If you and your body roughly know when you start to become peckish, your body knows when it’s best to conserve energy and when it needs to perform. Another reason to never skip breakfast!
Eat more foods that bring you iron.
Iron does not give you energy, but it may keep you from fatigue. Iron is essential in keeping your red blood cells alive and your body energised. Yet iron deficiency is the most common deficiency throughout the world, in both industrialised and developing countries. Women between the age of 19 and 50 are especially concerned, as menstruation increases the need for iron to almost twice as much as for men (15.8mg/day for women vs. 8.7mg/day for men).
Iron can be typically found in spinach, beans, nuts, meat, dried fruit and whole grains. Ideally, it is best to switch up these nutrients instead of having too much of one source. Meat, for example, has iron and proteins, which are always useful for your body to have. However, too much meat over time can cause fatigue waves similar to sugar crashes, along with other health risks, so make sure you have a balanced diet!
If you’re a fan of spices, consider not eating heavy, spicy meals 4 hours before bedtime. The element that gives your spice its spice, capsaicin, may mess with your sleep as it will raise your body temperature instead of allowing it to lower. Furthermore, you might get acid refluxes or heartburn which you don’t want in a recipe for good rest.
How light affects you, day and night
I’m not the first to write about this, but it can’t be stated enough: Light plays a crucial role in our sleeping cycle. The earlier the night comes, the drowsier you get. Same thing for the morning, people who live in the very northern hemisphere or on the very southern hemisphere can probably relate to sunrises around 8:50 in the morning and sunsets before 5, what a pain!
Humans are typically day creatures. For thousands of years, we have relied on the Sun to regulate our day/night cycles. But ever since the age of steam and coal, that cycle has been put into jeopardy. Human technology accelerated dramatically: For centuries candles and oil had been the main source of light at night, but the invention of the light bulb had changed the entire game. Mass produced light bulbs barely exist for 140 years, which is nothing on the scale of human history. In the blink of an eye, electricity has spread throughout the world, extending daylight on demand within our homes.
Now as if that were not enough, enter our very unique era: This time human tech has practically jumped to light-speed: Think about the invention of the personal computer in the 80’s or the fact that laptops had only started to become widespread since WiFi and that it’s only been 10 years since smartphones took the world by storm ever since the first iPhone. Now we have screens brighter than the sun available in every bedroom!
Yes, brighter than the Sun. Not in actual temperature of course, but in colour temperature which has an influence on our eyesight:
The impact of colour temperature
As you can see, noon daylight from the Sun also ranges around 5500 Kelvins. Any colour temperature above 3500K is no good for your sleep.
Now bear this in mind:
A TV or computer screen tend to emit a slight blue light. This is because the colour temperature ranges around 6500 Kelvins
A smartphone screen is even more intense: From 7000 to 8000 Kelvins!
So we surround and equip ourselves with things designed to be visible at daylight. However when night falls and as the Sun gets dimmer, our computer, TV and smartphone screens stay the same. This strains our eyes and disrupts our capacity to produce melatonin which regulates our body clock.
Consequently, it’s easy to see why technology disrupts our sleep so much. Even if you reduce the brightness, the colour temperature designed for daylight keeps putting on the same strain on our eyes at night. Not only that, from a biological point of view our bodies have had no time to adapt to the new environment. It is, therefore, important to be aware of light if you want good sleep. Naturally, the tip is to avoid any screen at least an hour before going to bed. But this can be hard when you have to work until late at night, when you really need a series fix or when you’ re just a plain night owl.
5 easy fixes for better sleep
So what can you do to be less tired all the time, aside from optimising your diet and taking naps? The fact of the matter is that if you want to know how to wake up energised, you need to know how to sleep well. Frankly, a good night’s sleep usually does the trick. Yet Americans today sleep less than 7 hours, compared to the average of 8 hours of sleep 75 years ago. If you identify with this, here are some easy things you can do right away to improve your quality of sleep.
1) Blue light filters
Blue light filters do exactly what they describe: They block out most of the eerie blue light projected by screens, which strain your sensitive eyes.
For desktop computers, laptops and tablets: The most popular app is F.lux. This is an amazingly easy, lightweight and nifty background program which adjusts the colour temperature according to the day and night cycle.
For smartphones: If you have an iPhone, you can use the built-in Nightshift. If you’re an Android user, there are many blue light filter apps you can try out like Twilight and the straightforwardly named Blue Light Filter.
These apps are amazing, in every proper sense of the word. This is the sort of once in a while thing where once you start using it, you cannot go back. My friends were thrown off by the old paper-ish background instead of the white they were used to at night, but after a few days to a week they have all come back enthusiastic! I highly recommend this for night owls!
Another great idea is to travel back to a time before electric light bulbs: Use candles. Not only will it give your room quite some charm, but it will introduce sunset conditions your house or apartment. Instead of switching from instant day to night and forcing yourself to sleep, you can transition slowly and more naturally tonight, which is more comfortable.
Try to light candles sometime between after dinner and 1 hour before bed. If you have children, make sure they are out of reach or safe from hurting themselves. I personally recommend stone candles, either solid or translucent which give a lovely touch to the house, in addition to safely cradling the flame.
3) Save and invest in a good mattress
This may come as obvious or biased, especially coming from this health blog, but it really, really is a good idea to save and invest in quality sleeping material.
Just like cars are considered essential by many for lifestyle and work, the right pillow, mattress or mattress topper should be essential for lifestyle and health. You may perhaps relate to a good night’s sleep at a quality hotel. The difference, however, is that those beds are usually considered to be part of a treat, but why? Why should quality sleep be a luxury when it’s more and more of a necessity in today’s noisy and luminous world?
Getting the right mattress can be tricky since it differs per person, not to mention that it’s something you need to actively use for at least one night in order to get an idea of how good the product is. Not to mention it would be quite the effort to return the mattress in case it’s not right. This may be a reason why people resign themselves to buying cheap, low lifespan polyurethane foam mattresses as a way to avoid risk. Personally, a good back support that supports the natural curvature of my spine along with a pillow suited for sleeping on the side would mean the world. Not only is investing in good sleeping material a sleep-health argument, it’s not even expensive if you invest with the long term in mind. A proper mattress should support you and not feel worn out for at least 7 to 10 years.
You could also get a mattress topper as an “upgrade”. A mattress topper is like a slim version of a mattress that tops your existing mattress. This is a great and relatively cheap compromise for those looking for quality and that slight extra comfort as it’s designed with those two factors in mind. As a result, it can breathe back life into an old mattress and keep it in good condition over the years.
Lastly, make sure you love your pillow, and that your pillow loves you back. A great pillow makes sure that your head and neck get the right support so that communication between your head and your spine go smoothly, whereas a much less great pillow forcefully extends the limb and joint of the neck beyond their normal limit. This, of course, depends on whether you’re a belly, back or side sleeper, so make sure you don’t get just a pillow, but your pillow.
4) The 4-7-8 technique
Here’s a surprisingly effective breathing technique you can do in a minute. If done right, you’ll be able to relax and fall asleep in no time!
In a nutshell:
- Touch the upper part of your mouth, behind the teeth with the tip of your tongue and keep it there.
- Breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds. Make sure you breathe in with your lung and not your stomach, your shoulders should rise with your breath.
- Hold your breath in for 7 seconds
- Breathe out with your mouth, in a way that it makes a “whoosh” sound (Remember: Tip of the tongue). Let your lungs deflate by themselves for 8 seconds.
Repeat this twice more, for a total of 3 sets.
You can do this anywhere: on a chair, on a latex mattress, on a yoga mat… The technique is also effective in helping to keep anxiety and stress on a leash. It is also great for a simple nap.
5) Sleep masks and earplugs
Finally, if you live in an area that is noisy and luminous, you could try using a sleep mask and/or ear plugs, which will assist you in blocking light from outside and hopefully enable you to enter deep sleep faster. If you are a side sleeper, just sleep with an earplug on one side and keep your other ear free for your pillow.