The author is former President of a polysomnograph (sleep monitoring) company
Have you ever wondered why you sleep better in a hotel?
It’s hardly surprising: the beds and sheets seem impossibly fresh and comfortable, the pillows perfectly fluffed but firm, and even though I invariably fall asleep to Wolf Blizer on CNN (a no-no of course) I do wake up revitalized and happy.
That’s not true for everyone and the TV effect is bad (in fairness I usually fumble for the off button eventually), but hotels do put increasing emphasis on sleep quality.
They cannot, though, control your behaviour and schedule during the day, so the question is:
How can we ensure we get the best sleep and make our days as energized and productive as possible?
Before we begin: know thyself. Some tips work better for some than others; everything you do and the choices you make should reflect and be optimized for your lifestyle.
Please reference here for a broader and more comprehensive overview of your circadian health.
How to Optimize Sleep Quality
We ran sleep studies every night at my company on self-selected subjects and saw a small cross section of the sleepy population.
Often, the participants turned out to have obstructive sleep apnea; but the majority suffered from other issues:
- poor lifestyle choices
- bad sleeping habits
All 3 of course impact one another, but you can start with some basic tips for your sleep habits – keeping mind mind, per, that proper diet and exercise are the prerequisite and starting point for true sleep optimization.
1) Lights and the blue-light freak-out
It’s all about light and timing, as we discussed here.
Bright light elevates your mood, and energizes you. But at night you are stuck with artifical lights, which all suppress melatonin, your sleepy hormone.
Blue light, the light that comes from your computer and phone, has long been considered evil. It may not be so.
The apparent myth that blue light will rob you of all sleep and joy took on the life of a conspiracy theory it’s so pervasive. However, in December 2020 researchers published a paper which concluded that yellow light actually disturbs sleep more than blue light.
I am sure this latest study will only spur more research and the the jury remains out. There is a scientific basis to the idea that blue light interrupts sleep, since research conclusively shows that blue light suppresses melatonin, but the context of previous studies in terms of how people actually lived their lives has come into question.
In any case, you can always download an appl like f.lux to block blue light on your laptop or computer.
Anecdotally speaking, we never registered a statistically significant difference between participants who were constantly ‘plugged in’ and those who were less digitally-reliant. We never conducted a study of any kind, however, so consider that fact only ”color commentary” 🙂
So what should you buy?
Here are your best options in my opinion, for different budgets.
I use the last one referenced – and recommend it wholeheartedly!
a) Harth Sleep Shift Ready Light
The Sleep-Shift Light Bulb from Harth claims to ”hack” your circadian clock by simulating sunset every night with low blue light output and an amber glow.
The warm glow uses a 7-watt Amber LED light that is rated to last up to 30,000 hours.
The bulb emit specific wavelengths to faciliate natural sleep. Impressive energy savings too!
b) Lohas Night Light
The Lohas slim night light has smart sensors to detect daylight and darkness, uses LED lights, and you can use it any room or hallway. Plus, the design is rather cool and you can choose your colors, from green to white to orange
The sensors turn off or on automatically for night / day settings.
c) Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock
Many of my friends have this one and seem to really love it. With sunset and sunrise simulations, 7 colors, radio, personalized alarm clock, what’s not to like? BUT, it ain’t nuttin’ like the final and best one.
d) Philips SmartSleep
This is the light I use.
It’s what my Dad used to call ‘the cat’s meow’.
It’s pricey – and fantastic, an ”alarm clock” that uses light to wake you up gently and naturally. But it’s more like a swiss army wellness instrument, with additional features like breathing exercises, nature sounds, environment monitoring, sleep tracking, etc. – all customizable.You can even use it as a bedroom speaker, phone charger and of course reading light.
Do you need it? If you don’t have trouble sleeping, maybe not. Do you want it, anyway? Hell, yes.
2) That comfortable bed I referenced?
It doesn’t just make for a happier sleep, it will facilitate healthier sleep.
But the choice is personal. No amount of aggregated data can replace what you know to be comfortable for yourself.
3) Essential oils / lavender
We discovered this by mistake. At the time, I had no idea about essential oils but we noticed some repeat participants nodding off especially soon after being hooked up. One of the lab technicians had been using a diffuser oil in her office – lavender.
See our post on essential oils here.
Melatonin is the hormone that tells your brain when it’s time to chill and get ready for bed.
Often used to treat insomnia, melatonin may be one of the easiest ways to fall asleep more quickly.
Research does show – and anecdotally I can confirm – that a supplement may help people with insomnia fall asleep slightly faster.
5) Napping, yes or no? You decide
The science here is somewhat mixed, so use your common sense and self-understanding. As a rule, ‘power naps’ can be effective, longer naps can disrupt your rhythms and lead to difficulties sleeping at night.
BUT, do not overinterpret and above all, trust your body. When you take naps do you still feel sleepy or are you recharged? Cultures that traditionally enjoyed ‘siesta time’ did not cut back on this practice for health reasons, but in response to a 24/7 global economy.
It’s all a balance :). For example, I probably nap on average 5 times per week. Sometimes it’s 15 minutes. Sometimes it’s an hour. I would say this is not ideal but neither is my schedule and perhaps neither is yours. I sleep when I need to – happily and gratefully.
6) Beware of Booze
Here’s the bottom line: ignore the scare stories and use your common sense. Or to put in the plain english of a peer-reviewed study language, “In healthy people, acute high alcohol doses disturb sleep, whereas in insomniacs, lower doses may be beneficial“.
If you have too much to drink, your REM cycle is suppressed. Interestingly, it will bounce back the next night and compensate accordingly with additional REM.
This applies too if you have been sleep deprived – your REM duration will increase to compensate.
That is, you need to dream.
If you ever went on a bender in your youth, you will know the effect of accumulated alcohol once you stop: terrible sleep filled with nightmares.
We could literally see during the night on the monitor whether a participant had been (likely) drinking that day.
Additionally, be mindful of drinking too much water before bed. Excessive urination during the night affects sleep quality and your energy the next day.
And finally, when in doubt, get a dog
I’m only half kidding. See here for some research on the topic.
“Compared with human bed partners, dogs who slept in the owner’s bed were perceived to disturb sleep less and were associated with stronger feelings of comfort and security”
I’ve slept with a pig (yes, I don’t mean an unpleasant human) and I do NOT really recommend that as much! ( a ”rescue” pig). Because a) they aren’t soft and furry and b) they are more crafty: this pig anyway invariably ended up in the most comfortable position, at my expense.