Hey sleep enthusiast,
Thanks for following your curiosity to find out about what you can do to understand and look after your circadian rhythms, as well as the general needs of your body when it comes to sleep. As a sleep coach, people often come to me with questions like ‘when is the best time to drink coffee and still sleep well?’, ‘why do I tend to fall asleep better after a glass of wine?’ or ‘what kind of exercise helps with sleep?’. My answer is ‘it depends’ - because there is no one solution that works for everyone.
We all have different lifestyles and needs, so finding supportive ways to Restful Sleep requires a holistic approach to sleep coaching means reviewing all aspects of a person's lifestyle and habits.
This article shares considerations for how to care for your body: firstly understanding how circadian rhythms impact on sleep and when you will naturally have the most energy (chronotypes), along with considerations for exercise, medication, temporary physical ailments, coffee, alcohol and more. You'll find inspiration for different ways to look after your body when inconsistent sleep is a way of life.
Core concept - circadian rhythms and how they impact the body
Who this guide is for
Maybe you consider yourself to be someone who has struggled with sleep for as long as you can remember. Or you know you tend to go through rough patches with sleep when life gets more stressful. Or it’s just generally inconsistent for you. And that’s just how it is, I get it.
Living with insomnia can be a way of life and you can find ways to get by when you don’t have your full capacity after unreliable sleep. Insomnia itself won't kill you and there are many ways to mitigate the effects of fatigue. The intention of this article inspires you with new ways to consider for looking after your body and supporting your sleep.
If you have a medical sleep disorder
There are some sleep disorders that are best medically supported by a physician. These can include:
Sleep breathing disorders, such as sleep apnea,
Sleep-related movement disorders, such as restless legs syndrome, sleep walking and other behaviours whilst asleep (parasomnias).
Hypersomnolence disorders, which involve excessive tiredness in the day, despite regular sleep,
Sleep-wake disorders, which bring alertness and tiredness at contradictory times of the day.
You can find out more about these conditions in this resource from the sleep foundation. In speaking with your doctor, they can diagnose any conditions you may have and create a treatment plan, along with identifying any medication which may be supportive.
Other medical conditions that can impact sleep
There are also other conditions that can impact sleep. You will likely be aware of how your condition impacts sleep, these can include chronic pain, chronic fatigue syndrome, migraines and persistent headaches, arthritis and more. If you have been diagnosed with one of these conditions, it is best to follow the guidance recommended by a physician so you can care for your specific needs.
With all that said, there are a couple of core concepts that can be helpful to hold in mind when it comes to reviewing bodily factors to improve sleep health.
Core concept - circadian rhythms and how they impact sleep
Circadian rhythms basically support the inner body clock, they regulate different systems in the body to complete many processes and functions. A key circadian rhythm is the sleep-wake cycle, which gives the body cues for sleep and wakefulness patterns. Light exposure during the daytime triggers an alert state. As darkness comes, the body receives signals to release melatonin and become sleepy, these signals are released through the night for the body to stay asleep.
A way to look after the sleep-wake cycle is through having regular routines as part of sleep hygiene. Disruptions occur when we may be indicating to the body, wrongfully, that it’s daytime. This can happen through excessive light at night (LAN), jet lag, ad hoc shift work or an irregular sleep schedule.
The good news is that all of the above can be accommodated thanks to the sleep-wake cycle not being a perfect 24-hour cycle - it comes with a slight drift that takes place if the body is left to function intuitively. This natural drift brings flexibility so that your sleep-wake cycle can even be adjusted to fit with the conditions of your life.
Core concept - chronotypes and how they affect sleep
We all have different chronotypes, these are the inherent preference that each of our bodies has for when we naturally feeling more alert and energised - typically people may be ‘early birds’ or ‘night owls’.
It can be helpful to know about this when looking to make the most of your day in terms of which times will be optimal for your creativity and productivity. That way you can make choices about your lifestyle to focus on tasks when you have a greater chance of getting into flow, rather than working against your body's energy levels.
Even if it’s just how you order different types of tasks in your working day, getting into alignment with your body's processes can bring more fulfilment and energy. Which ultimately leads to more chance of feeling sleepy when it comes to bedtime. To find out more about chronotypes, you can find more in-depth information and quizzes to see where yours may be here.
Working out what kinds of preferences you may have for energy throughout the day is part of the in-depth work that sleep coaching investigates, from there we can look at other choices we make everyday that impact the body and how they can affect sleepiness.
Nutrition and sleep
The link between nutrition and sleep
Have you ever noticed how your sleep can change depending on what you eat? Some foods and drinks can seem to help with sleepiness, while others can contribute to a restless night.
The dance between sleep and nutrition flows both ways. A balanced diet provides the energy and nutrients your body needs to function properly, contributing to better sleep. At the same time, getting reliable sleep can help to maintain proper nutrition and a healthier body weight.
How do different types of diet affect sleep?
There are a few popular types of diets that have been shown to help with sleep. One showed that the rapid and sustained weight loss induced by the ketogenic, or keto, diet has been associated with improved daytime sleepiness and well-being in people with obesity. The DASH and Mediterranean diets have also shown to support sleep.
Intermittent fasting is becoming an increasingly popular approach with those who want to manage their weight and are willing to experiment with the times when they eat throughout the day. Although it can be an effective weight loss strategy, a review showed that intermittent fasting did not affect sleep quality or duration and it did not have a detrimental effect on sleep.
Eat or not to eat before bed?
Eating before bed creates a mismatch between the body’s circadian rhythms and behaviour. For example, when metabolism slows down at night to prepare for sleep, eating foods (especially those high in carbs) can make digestion difficult, resulting in weight gain.
Does that mean you should go to bed hungry? Not necessarily. It's best to avoid eating about three hours before bed, especially foods high in sugar and fat, you can still have a healthy snack if you're too hungry without sacrificing your sleep.
Vitamins and minerals that support sleep
Whilst there are different diets you can try, the main thing they all have in common is finding ways to effectively nourish your body. Vitamins and minerals are the most important elements of nutrition when it comes to looking after your well-being and sleeping better. Evidence shows that the nutrients which are essential for good-quality sleep, include potassium, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, tryptophan, vitamin B2, vitamin D, and vitamin K.
Gut health and sleep
Did you know that your body is home to over one trillion microbes, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa, outnumbering your human cells ten to one? Among the various microbiomes in your body, the intestinal microbiome is particularly significant in terms of physical and mental health.
The intestinal microbiome has its own nervous system, which communicates with the brain and central nervous system, regulating appetite, digestion, immune system and hormonal production. It is becoming more evident that the connection between sleep and the microbiome is bidirectional. Even a mere two nights of insufficient sleep can cause a notable reduction in the number of helpful bacteria in the body, as well as decreased insulin sensitivity. You can read more about looking after your gut health and sleep in the article below.
The impact of coffee, alcohol and sugar on sleep
Many people rely on coffee and energy drinks to keep them alert during the day. As caffeine is a natural stimulant, it's best to avoid drinking coffee close to bedtime. Additionally, drinking too much coffee to overcome tiredness can actually negatively impact sleep, bringing more tiredness the next day. This is why some people find themselves feeling sleepy after drinking coffee.
Another drink people often ask about is drinking a glass of wine, a hot toddy or other alcohol before bed to relax and feel sleepy. Although alcohol may help with falling asleep quickly, it is best avoided as it is also associated with lower sleep quality, shorter sleep duration, and more daytime sleepiness.
Medication and sleep
Whilst medications are designed to treat different medical and mental conditions, they also come with side effects, many of which can affect sleep. Whether medication brings more drowsiness, like with some antihistamines, or alertness from anti-depressants, it’s helpful to be aware of how these can affect your sleep so you can factor that into reviewing your lifestyle to support sleep.
In some cases, switching to a different medication or adjusting the dosage can help alleviate sleep problems. This article offers an overview of some common medications which may impact sleep. As with all medical choices, it is recommended to consult a physician before making any changes.
It's important to be aware of how temporary physical ailments can impact sleep in order to build in more flexibility into daily routines for extra care. Some common conditions include:
Pain: acute pain from an injury or surgery can make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep.
Discomfort: conditions such as acid reflux, allergies, or sinus congestion can make it difficult to breathe and sleep comfortably.
Respiratory issues: if your breathing is affected by air quality or seasonal conditions like hay fever, this can lead to sleep disturbances.
Gastrointestinal issues: conditions such as stomach ulcers, acid reflux, or constipation can cause discomfort and make it difficult to sleep.
Neurological conditions: Conditions such as periodic limb movement disorder and spinal cord injuries can cause discomfort and make it difficult to sleep.
By working with a doctor, you can best manage any temporary physical ailments and address any potential sleep issues that may arise. Once you have this medical guidance, as well as getting an idea of how long you can expect the condition to continue for, you can then look at how to adjust other lifestyle factors to see what may best support your sleep.
Temporary physical ailments and sleep
Exercise and sleep
People often ask about how to fit exercise into the day after having struggled with sleep the night before, or when going through a rough patch of sleep in general. Findings from a recent study of the impact of sleep deprivation on athletic performance show that working out earlier in the day had less negative impact on physical performance. So morning workouts may be more effective when you're experiencing inconsistent sleep.
If the morning may not be available in your schedule, another option for managing exercise after a lack of sleep could be to combine it with an afternoon nap after exercise if you have the time in your day. The ideal nap time is up to twenty minutes, best taken between one and three, when energy naturally dips.
If you are more suited to exercising after work, this can be a helpful habit to tell your body that you are shifting out of ‘work mode’ and into your recreational time. As long as your evening exercise is finished an hour and a half before you go to bed.
If you’re reading this in the 90 minutes before bedtime and are still looking for things you can try to wind down after a full on day, there are many different breathing exercises, meditations and other relaxation exercises for sleep which can bring you into a sense of calm. If this is you right now, why not try out this stretching routine:
How could working a physical job impact sleep?
Working a physically demanding job, like being a dancer or fitness instructor, can also bring forward the sleep drive, however it may not necessarily bring a better quality of sleep. In a study of people who work jobs with strong physical demands, workers were identified as being more susceptible to experiencing musculoskeletal pain, which may another factor to be aware of when it comes to investigating disturbed sleep.
Research in another study also found that people who work in jobs that are mostly manual labour tend to have shorter sleeps, often getting fewer than 6 hours a night. This was because of the work often requiring longer working hours, meaning less time at home, as well as workers less likely to feel relaxed at bedtime due to still feeling stimulated from so much high intensity activity, which could turn into feeling stressed. Both of which take time for the body to come into a relaxed state from.
The best exercise for a good nights sleep
You can experiment with different types of exercise to help support sleep. Studies have found that moderate kinds of exercise¹ brings the most benefits to sleep quality. Moderate exercise are exercises that get your heart rate up to fifty to sixty percent higher than its rate when you are at rest. These can include activities like brisk walking, cycling and swimming, as well as everyday tasks such as gardening and washing the car.
Choose exercise that brings you joy
It’s worth experimenting with a few different types of exercise to find ones that you enjoy doing. That way your brain will release more feel-good chemicals like dopamine, activating the reward system and giving your mood a boost. This builds positive associations with exercise and increases chances of being able to build a consistent habit.
The last point in particular is particularly relevant to how Restful Sleep coaching helps people to find a lifestyle that supports their peace, ease and Restful Sleep - there is no ideal exercise for sleep because everyone's commitments, needs and preferences in their lives are different. What matters is building a lifestyle that supports sleep, as well as your own individual life, so types of exercise will need to fit in with that.
Getting intentional about exercise
Another way of looking at how movement can bring joy is to consider the intention of the activity and how it contributes to well-being, motivation, relaxation, self-discovery and more. Taking this approach to movement can be done with a range of activities for different reasons, such as:
Increase sleep drive, as well as
Bring relaxation, such as yoga or the Feldenkrais Method.
Try out and ultimately embody a different way of "being". For example, choosing Aikido to develop more discipline and composure. Or AcroYoga for increasing your sense of spontaneity and fun.
You can read more about how embodiment helps in sleep coaching, as well as how different activities can support that way of being, here.
Other areas of your lifestyle to experiment with
Ultimately, the way to finding your Restful Sleep is one of exploration and trying different approaches to see what works for you. This article focuses on ways you can look after your physical wellbeing to improve your sleep.
There is also helpful information about different ways to look after your mind and environment for sleep below so you can test out new ways of being in those areas of your life too.
Taking a holistic approach means having a complete view of how your choices, routines and habits are supportive for sleep. This is what I am passionate about exploring in sleep coaching to help people get to the root cause of their individual sleep struggles. If you'd like to find out about how sleep coaching may be able to help with your sleep, you can book a free consultation here.
How racing thoughts at night, sleep anxiety and deeply held beliefs can affect sleep.
Everything that takes place in the bedroom impacts sleep, such as light, noise and sleep schedules.