From hallucinations to irregular heartbeat, the results of sleep deprivation read like a list of terrifying drug side effects. What’s even more alarming is that many people get far too little sleep without realising it due to poor pre-sleep habits.
Did you know that your nightly routine before you get into bed can have a serious effect on the amount of time it takes you to fall asleep? Or that the food you eat in the hours before sleep could cause you to wake up feeling tired and fatigued?
When we sleep, our brains aren’t resting. In fact, your brain is working just as hard as it normally would during the day. Just like you should warm up before exercise, it’s also important to follow a healthy nightly routine before you go to sleep.
In this guide, we’ll share five unusual, surprising and downright bizarre pre-sleep strategies that you can use to drift off to sleep faster, enjoy deeper sleep and wake up feeling more energised and alert than ever before.
Wake up within a minute of your alarm ringing
The closer you follow your morning wake-up routine, the easier you’ll find it to fall asleep at the same time every night. One of the best ways to regulate your natural sleep cycle is by waking up at exactly the same time every morning.
It might sound strange, but it works. Waking up at the same time every morning – and when we say ‘same time’, we mean to the minute – helps develop your body’s circadian rhythm, a natural cycle that makes you feel awake or tired.
Set your alarm before you go to sleep and force yourself to be awake, out of your bed and in the shower within a minute or two of it sounding. After a week or two, you’ll start to naturally wake up one or two minutes before your alarm sounds.
How does this affect your sleep? When you train your body to wake up at the same time every morning, you also train it to feel sleepy – and once you’re in bed, to fall asleep – at the exact same time every night.
As difficult as it might be to resist the temptation to switch on ‘snooze’ mode and sleep for another 15 minutes, forcing yourself to wake up at the same time every morning will help you hugely optimize your sleep cycle and enjoy deeper sleep.
Take a five-minute ice bath to release melatonin
The famous Japanese custom of ofuro – hot bathing – has been credited with helping the Japanese achieve the longest lifespan and best overall health worldwide, despite the notoriously stressful Japanese professional schedule.
Doctors believe that the long lifespans of the Japanese – which beats the UK by 3.5 years on average – may be due to the famous custom of soaking in a hot bath right before bed, which results in subsequent cooling and melatonin stimulation.
Melatonin is a naturally-occurring hormone that prompts your body to feel tired and sleepy, making the onset of sleep faster and the depth or sleep greater. While warm bathing might cause a slight melatonin spike, ice bathing causes an even greater one.
This is because scientists believe that melatonin production is stimulated not when the body heats up, but when it cools down. As you exit a warm bath and your body adjusts to the cooler ambient temperature, it starts rapidly producing melatonin.
You can ‘hack’ this response and trigger even greater, far faster melatonin release by foregoing the hot bath in favour of a cool one. Switch off your hot tap and – if you’re really in need of quick onset sleep – try opening a bag of ice into your bathtub.
While stepping into an ice cold bath might be a shock to the system, the melatonin output that follows has an amazing calming effect. Time your ice bath less than 20 minutes prior to your bedtime for the best results and the deepest possible sleep.
Eat dinner earlier and ‘snack’ before your bedtime
With work hours and long commutes cutting into our post-work free time, most of us now eat dinner at 8 pm. This means that, with an 11 pm bedtime, our bodies are still digesting much of the food we consumed for dinner.
Eating before bed isn’t a problem, but the content of your pre-sleep meal has a huge impact on the quality of your sleep, the ease with which you fall asleep and the level of energy you feel in the morning.
If you eat dinner at 8 pm, fall asleep at 11:30 pm and wake up at 7 am, your body‘s spent approximately 11 hours without food. Depending on the content of your last meal before sleep, this can result in a serious shock to your morning energy levels.
The average dinner is heavy in carbohydrates – foods like potatoes, rice, pasta and bread – which are a short-term energy source. Instead of keeping you full all night, they result in a short surge of energy just when you don’t need it: before you sleep.
Instead of eating dinner at 8 pm and sleeping at 11 pm, try eating a smaller dinner two hours earlier and a small, protein and fat-based snack prior to sleep. Almonds, avocadoes and natural peanut butter are all great pre-sleep energy sources.
Keep it light, simple and packed with protein and fats. A good pre-sleep snack with between 250 and 300 calories will keep your body slowly and evenly fuelled until the morning, helping you wake up feeling refreshed and ready to leap out of bed.
Feeling tired? Take a 20-minute nap shortly after noon
Do you feel tired in the afternoon? According to Lona Sandon RD, spokeswoman for the American Dietetics Association, many people “tend to feel a little sleepy around 2 or 3 in the afternoon.”
Sleep expert Michael J. Breus, PhD, believes that the tiredness many people feel in the hours after lunch is caused by the same internal chemical release we feel in the evening – a secretion of melatonin caused by a swift decline in body temperature.
Your answer to this melatonin output should be the same as it would be during the night – go to sleep! If your schedule allows you to, take a quick 20-minute nap after you start to feel tired to refresh your body and fuel yourself for the afternoon.
Need a serious pick-me-up? Brew a cup of coffee to drink before your 20-minute nap for a healthy afternoon energy boost. Since caffeine takes 10 to 20 minutes to kick in and energise you, you’ll feel the positive effects right as you wake up from your nap.
As long as you don’t consume caffeine any later than 2 in the afternoon, a short nap in the early afternoon won’t affect your evening sleep. In fact, following your natural melatonin response at midday will actually help you achieve deeper sleep at night.