A lack of sleep has been linked to early death, but too much sleep has also been associated with early death.
It’s the type of confusing one-liners from the medical community that make your head spin and question science. So, where’s the healthy option?
While this might seem like a cruel joke, it’s exactly what British researchers (and several others) found when analyzing the sleep patterns of more than 1 million people, across 27 different studies.
The research—thankfully—is misleading. (And just one more reason to never put too much into eye-catching headlines.) The studies were correlational, and did have an direct cause between sleep and death. And yet, the number of people that suffer from sleep problems is increasing.
And more important to you, it opened up discussions and research on the importance of how you sleep. While getting enough rest is important, no number is perfect for everyone, which is why sleep quality is essential for every aspect of your recovery.
You see, poor quality sleep (whether it’s too much or too little) can set you up for a variety of health problems ranging from insomnia to depression and even cardiovascular disease. And it’s these health issues that will cause you problems.
While you might be trying to do everything right—not drinking alcohol before bed, avoiding late night technology, sleeping in a colder room—chances are you’re still missing out on some not-so-obvious behaviors and decisions that could be harming and disrupting your sleep.
Poor Alarm Clock Management
Ever wake up after a seemingly great night of sleep—say 10 hours—and still feel exhausted? The problem is actually very common. Sleeping is supposed to be a thoughtless process, but it turns out that spending more time thinking about how you sleep can have a life-changing impact on your restfulness.
Most people arbitrarily set their alarm for when they need to wake up.
What you really should do?
Time when you body wants to wake up. After all, grogginess and feeling refreshed isn’t necessarily caused by how many hours you sleep, but instead by the number of complete sleep cycles you enjoy, according to research published in Applied Cognitive Studies.
When you sleep, you go through 5 different cycles, with the final phase being REM sleep—or the period when dreams occur.
During phase 1 your vital signs are closest to being awake, and during stage 4 you’re in your deepest sleep, with your heart rate and blood pressure dropping by as much as 30 percent. Each 5-phase sleep cycle lasts about 90 minutes.
So what happens when you wake up during your deep sleep? It’s probably how you feel every Monday. Tired. Exhausted. Trouble to concentrate. This is known as sleep inertia, and a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that morning grogginess could be a bigger impairment than not sleeping all night. (Not that we need to tell you; coffee is popular for reason.)
Your solution is timing your sleep so that you don’t wake up during the wrong portion of a sleep cycle. A good rule of thumb is aiming for 7.5 or 9 hours of sleep per night. If you must sleep less, sleeping 6 hours might prove to be more restful than 7 because you’re more likely to wake up in the first phase of sleep as opposed to a jarring alarm in the middle of your REM sleep.
Eating Right Before You Sleep
While you might know eating carbs at night isn’t a bad thing, it’s important to know when you should have them. Eating too close to your sleep can offset the benefits of a carbohydrate- based meal because after you eat, a protein called “c-peptide” is created to help insulin do its job and store nutrients.
Only one problem: c-peptide is linked to lower levels of melatonin, the hormone that helps you sleep.
According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, night snacks hurt your overall sleep quality, meaning it’s best to separate sleep and your final meal of the day by 1-2 hours.
The Vitamin D Paradox
You probably know Vitamin D as the “sunshine vitamin” and for it’s numerous health benefits. These days, you’ll be hard pressed to find a doctor that won’t prescribe Vitamin D, especially during the winter.
But not having enough Vitamin D in your system can also cause sleep problems and daytime sleepiness. That was the findings of scientists at Louisiana State University who discovered the link between low Vitamin D and people with sleep problems—and we’re not just talking about some restless. Lack of vitamin D could be linked to sleep disorders, such as insomnia or sleep apnea.
Naturally, you might assume that you should pop a few Vitamin D pills before you go to sleep, but that would actually harm your sleep.
Remember, Vitamin D is produced in sunshine, meaning it’s an indicator of light and daytime. So when you take Vitamin D, it decreases melatonin levels. In some experimental trials, taking Vitamin D at night decreased REM sleep and the number of hours in nighttime slumber.
Your best bet is to supplement with Vitamin D first thing in the morning or during the afternoon. Research shows that a safe dosage is between 2,000 and 4,000 IU, preferably from Vitamin D3.
The Sunshine-Sleep Effect
Just because you take Vitamin D doesn’t mean you should stop going outside. Sleep is a result of your natural circadian rhythms, which are reactions to knowing when you should be awake and when you should be asleep.
Think about it: The reason you’re supposed to turn off electronics before you sleep (a common sleep disturbance), is that those electronics emit blue light, which is similar to the light you’re exposed to during daytime. The blue light signals to your body that it’s daytime, which disrupts your natural production of melatonin and hurts your ability to sleep.
But your ability to fall asleep is dependent your body knowing that it’s time for bed. When the sun is out, you need to see it. It builds a more natural daytime circadian cycle of light, meaning that when it’s dark your body is more prone to fall asleep naturally, without any aids, pills, or noise machines.
To create a longer daytime circadian cycle—and thus triggering a quicker release of melatonin when it’s dark—try to see experience sunlight as early as possible in the early morning, such as going for a quick walk or step outside after you awaken.
The Hydration Equation
Good hydration is an essential component of your health, but too much drinking before you sleep can severely disrupt a restful night of sleep, and even cause a disorder known as nocturia. Remember, you sleep in several cycles throughout the night. And when you need to go to the bathroom, it can disturb the most restful periods of sleep making you restless.
Your body is designed to hold your need to go for about 6 to 8 hours. But as we age, this ability begins to decline becomes of hormonal changes. So your best bet is create better practices that will help you sleep through the night regardless of your age.
Start by trying to remove liquids at least 1-2 hours before you sleep. And then, make sure that you try to make smarter drink choices. Beverages like coffee or tea can trigger a great need to go. And while a little alcohol might appear to help you sleep faster, it will wake up you up sooner and keep you up, as it’s a powerful diuretic.
Adam Bornstein is a New York Times bestselling author and the author of You Can’t Screw This Up. He is the founder of Born Fitness, and the co-founder of Arnold’s Pump Club (with Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Pen Name Consulting. An award-winning writer and editor, Bornstein was previously the Chief Nutrition Officer for Ladder, the Fitness and Nutrition editor for Men’s Health, Editorial Director at LIVESTRONG.com, and a columnist for SHAPE, Men’s Fitness, and Muscle & Fitness. He’s also a nutrition and fitness advisor for LeBron James, Cindy Crawford, Lindsey Vonn, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. According to The Huffington Post, Bornstein is “one of the most inspiring sources in all of health and fitness.” His work has been featured in dozens of publications, including The New York Times, Fast Company, ESPN, and GQ, and he’s appeared on Good Morning America, The Today Show, and E! News.