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1. Bright light exposure in the morning

The blue light spectrum of light acts as important zeitgeber. While this equaled sunlight during most of our history, today not everybody can get sunlight exposure on a daily basis. However, also exposure to artificial blue light in the first part of the day improves mood and sleep quality [2,3,4,5]. This is also an effective remedy for winter depression, which is basically a lack of bright light exposure.

Action steps:

  • Expose yourself to direct sunlight in the morning and during the day: E.g. walk for 15-30 minutes outside when you wake up (without sunglasses).
  • If this is difficult: Use a blue light emitting lamp (>=10k Lux) and expose yourself for 15-30 minutes in the morning. They not only exist as artificial dawn simulator and can replace your morning alarm but also as easy-to-use earplugs (I delight in using both).

2. Wake up gently

During sleep we cycle through different stages of sleep. When woken up during deep sleep we can feel very groggy independent of total sleep time. You feel much more alert and performant when you wake up in a light sleep phase. The so called sleep inertia can be reduced with the following.

Action steps:

  • Use a smart alarm (if you still need to use one) that only wakes you up in a light sleep phase (such as sleep cycle) or one that takes you slowly to a lighter sleep phase (such as an artificial dawn simulator). I personally use this dawn simulator.

3. Consistent meal and workout times

Make sure that your meal and workout times are consistent as sleep quality is impaired by an irregular lifestyle [2].

Action steps:

4. Limit bright light at night

Bright light at night acts similar as bright light in the morning, it keeps you active and suppresses the release of the sleep hormone melatonin. This is not what you want at night as it significantly impairs your sleep quality. Therefore limit bright light after sunset.

Action steps pre-bed:

  • Avoid or minimize the use of blue-light emitting electronics such as computers, smartphones or tablets after sunset due to their disrupting effects on your biorhythm.
  • If you must use them install f.lux on your devices respectively activate “night shift” on your apple products. Both tools decrease the blue light spectrum at nighttime. Set the light intensity at night as low as you find comfortable.
  • Use low-lighting at home instead of bright, fluorescent lighting.
  • Put orange tinted blue light blocking glasses on until you go to bed, as realistically we will all be exposed to some artificial light at night. They impede the effect of blue light on melatonin production [2].

Action steps in bed:

Have your bedroom literally pitch-black. You should not be able to see anything, not even your hand in front your face. Even one night of dim light exposure decreases working memory & brain function.

  • Use blackout curtains.
  • Cover up or remove anything that emits light: Electronics, like phone, alarm or AC. Even the standby light of your TV.
  • Wear a face mask to block light, if you can’t make your bedroom pitch-black.
  • If you go to the bathroom during the night do not turn on bright light or wear blue light blocking glasses.

5. Ditch stimulants

Stop smoking. The consumption of tobacco not only impairs health but also your sleep.

Avoid (excess) alcohol. This one is a slippery slope. It is true that having a drink before bed — a “night cap” — often does help people fall asleep. However, while it makes it easier to fall asleep, it actually reduces the quality of your sleep and delays the REM cycle. So you fall asleep faster, but it’s possible that you’ll wake up without feeling rested. It’s probably best to improve your sleep through other methods before resorting to alcohol to do the job.

Avoid caffeine (at least after noon). Generally, the negative effect on sleep is underestimated. A single double espresso consumed 16 hours before bedtime still negatively impacts sleep quality. That means that the effect of caffeine on sleep exceeds the direct effect, as saliva caffeine concentration is close to zero already at that time point.

6. Prime your bedroom

Create an environment that is beneficial to sleep.

7. Fluids and nutrients pre-bed

Optimize the intake and timing of fluids and nutrients before you go to sleep.

8. Move during the day

Exercise and activity have a tremendous positive effect on your overall well being. Done during day, they also make it easier for your body to calm down at night. However, avoid exercising late and leave a time window of 2 to 3 hours to let your nervous system wire down before bedtime. Detailed recommendations will be covered in a future article, basic recommendations are the following.

  • Intermittent movement. Generally, integrate as much light activity into your day as possible. Stand for half of your day, take a standing break every 30-45 min, aim for walking 10’000 steps a day.
  • Resistance training or other high intensity training: Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week, or 30 sets of highest intensity activity per week, or some combination of the above.

9. De-stress & relax

Stress can impair your sleep to a great extent. It is estimated that more than 50 percent of insomnia cases are emotion or stress related.

10. Nap at midday

Use naps strategically. If you missed sleep at night a midday nap is a good way to reduce your sleep deficit. You even can use it tactically to compensate for little sleep each night.

11. Supplements

There are further measures you might want to consider, if previous action steps are not sufficient to make you fall asleep within 20 minutes.

Try GABAergic supplements, if it is stress that keeps you awake (and meditation is not sufficient to relax you). Supplement with Phenibut or Valerian [2] to induce the neurotransmitter GABA that calms you down.

Try Melatonin, if it is not stress that keeps you awake. Supplementing the sleep hormone melatonin improves sleep quality and reduces sleep latency without any significant side-effects or addiction [2,3,4]. It is especially effective against jet lag and shift work. Do not use melatonin without actually improving your sleep hygiene as e.g. bright light exposure still has disrupting effects on your sleep. The best is to start with a minimal dose and work up to a higher one. The benefits are not dose-dependent – taking more will not help you fall asleep faster.

12. Sleep posture

13. PEMF

14. Essential oils

15. Electrostimulation

16. Gadgets

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