by Tony Gjokaj September 25, 2021 7 min read

A little over 10 years ago, I was overweight, had insomnia, and was depressed.

With depression, I would sit in bed overthinking things regularly, with myself falling asleep around midnight... and waking up around 3 am.

Upon waking at 3 am, I could not go back to sleep.

This had a negative impact on me negatively as the days and months went on.

Having depression and poor sleep hygiene led to my depression becoming worse.

It was not until I started exercising that my insomnia went away and I was able to sleep for 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. My depression also lessened.

Most of us KNOW we have to get 7-9 hours of sleep.

But most of us also do not know HOW to get enough sleep.

In fact, most of us don't really know what it feels like to sleep well.

So in this post, we are going to explore the entirety of sleep, and how to improve the quality of sleep.

Let's dive in!

The Importance Of Quality Sleep

Sleep is the most important anchor that pretty much optimizes every bodily system we have. Quality sleep hygiene helps our brain and body recover, helps us maintain our physical health, helps improve our mood, wellbeing, and more.

Consistent sleep deprivation, on the other hand, increases the risk of illnesses, can lead to us consuming more "junk food" (overconsumption of calories), and more.

Most notably, sleep deprivation can have a large impact on mental health and depressive symptoms

How We Sleep

When it comes to sleep, there are two processes that help us fall asleep, or stay awake.

For starters, adenosine, a key regulator of sleep, builds up in our brain to help us fall asleep in the evening. The more adenosine builds up, the more it makes us sleepy. Adenosine is built up from all of the activities we do in our day-to-day.

In addition to adenosine, another factor that can impact our sleep is our circadian rhythm. That rhythm is controlled by light. Light exposure can keep us awake for longer periods of time.

This is why if someone pulls an all-nighter and gets daylight exposure, they may feel like they have more energy than they did staying awake through that all-nighter.

Darkness in the evening, however, primes us to fall asleep. When this occurs, our body signals melatonin to be produced so that we can fall asleep.

Light Exposure & The Melatonin Trigger

Most people typically wake up around sunrise.

When we wake up in the morning, cortisol is released.

This alerts our body to get up and start moving.

Essentially, the release of cortisol in the morning is a "timer" that prepares the secretion of melatonin within 12-14 hours.

The Main Strategies To Improve Sleep Quality

Now that we have an understanding of how the sleep process occurs, we can set up strategies that can help us optimize our sleep.

The following are some of the foundational strategies we recommend for sleep.

I. Have A Consistent Sleep Schedule.

Irregular sleep schedules are connected to poor quality of sleep. Our body's circadian rhythm prefers regularity and consistency.

Here are a few things we recommend when it comes to setting up a consistent sleep schedule:

  • Set a timer 30-60 minutes before bed. This will prime you to get ready before bed.
  • Give yourself time to unwind. Some of us can't fall asleep regularly. Unwind for 30-60 minutes before bed.
  • Have your own sleep ritual. Have a consistent ritual you look forward to when falling asleep. Plan for sleep 30-60 minutes before you fall asleep. Read, stretch, or do yoga before bed to unwind.

While you might not be able to do this 100% of the time (family gatherings, events, etc), shoot for at least 90% consistency.

II. Get Sunlight Exposure.

Go outside and view the sunrise in the morning. Getting light exposure in the morning will help our cortisol released earlier in the day and makes it a lot more optimal to secrete melatonin later in the evening.

Light exposure has also been shown to treat the majority of insomnia casesIn this study, morning light exposure improved both the quality and quantity of sleep.

This is probably why people who tend to be early risers report better reaction times and energy levels than night owls, a factor in sleep quality.

Early risers tend to get sunlight exposure in the morning which helps them build the pressure to sleep in the evening.

Here are a few recommendations when it comes to sun exposure:

  • Split your sun exposure at least twice per day. You should do this at sunrise and sunset, with sunset helping to prime your body to fall asleep in the evening.
  • If you can't do this, get some sun during your lunch break. Eat outside for lunch. Expose yourself to 15-30 minutes of direct sunlight.
  • If no light exposure for the day, supplement with Vitamin D. Vitamin D has been shown to improve sleep quality in those that get an insufficient amount of Vitamin D.

III. Get To Bed Before Midnight.

As your sleep-wake cycle follows a circadian clock, it's important to do your best to follow this.

Go to sleep when it is dark out.

Be awake when the sun is rising.

We recommend two things:

  • Going to bed around 9-11 pm. This is the best time to get to bed because it optimally follows the circadian clock.
  • Avoiding light exposure from 11 pm-4 am. Having light in your eyes around this time will impair melatonin secretion. Essentially, it negatively impacts the quality of sleep.

IV. Shoot For 7 Hours Of Sleep.

While the quality of sleep is super important, so is quantity. The average person should get about 7-9 hours of sleep.

Plan for that.

Schedule your life accordingly.

V. Limit All Electronics Before Bed.

According to Harvard Health, artificial blue light can impact our circadian rhythm before bed. This is because the neurons in our eyes respond to light to signal our brain to be awake.

The blue light from electronics replicates sunlight, which can have a negative impact on our quality of sleep.

As light levels decrease in the evening, melatonin starts to get secreted. Exposure to artificial light will suppress this process.

Here’s what I recommend if you can’t remove blue light exposure:

  • Wear red light glasses. They can potentially block blue light exposure if you're looking at your phone, reading a book, etc.
  • Use “F.Lux” (Computer App). An application I use to eliminate blue light on my computer is called F.Lux. I set it so around 7 pm, my screen eliminates blue light and turns into a yellowish color.
  • Use “Night Shift” (Cell Phones & MacBooks). iPhones (& New MacBooks) have a feature called Night Shift that helps to eliminate blue light on your phone. I don't have an android, however, there should be a feature or an app for that!
  • Completely stop ALL light exposure from 11 pm-4 am. As mentioned before, this is the worst time to experience light.

VI. Limit Alcohol Consumption.

Alcohol depresses our nervous system, and while alcohol may help people fall asleep easily, it will impair the sleep-wake cycle. This means the quality of sleep will be interrupted or impacted.

Limit alcohol consumption as best as you can.

Don't get too buzzed!

VII. Limit Caffeine 4-8 Hours Before Bed.

Caffeine is an adenosine antagonist, meaning that it blocks the build-up of sleepiness. In other words, it promotes wakefulness.

This is why we don't recommend Starbucks in the evening.

It is important to monitor your caffeine intake, and what time you consume caffeine.

And while it is different for everyone, here's what we recommend:

  • You should reduce your caffeine intake by 4-8 hours before bed. If you're caffeine intolerant (like me), 400mg is the MAX.
  • On average, you should limit your caffeine intake to 200-400mg per day.This is dependent on your genetics, body weight, and height. Too much caffeine can also impact your quality of sleep.

    VIII. Exercise Consistently.

    Exercise improves the quality of sleep by normalizing our circadian rhythm. This is why those who exercise early in the morning report better sleep quality, and even sometimes end up becoming early risers over time.

    If you prefer exercising in the evening, limit the intensity of your cardiovascular exercises. Cardiovascular exercise sometimes energizes people after their workouts - ESPECIALLY early risers.

    However, those who are night owls may report better sleep quality with late night exercise than early birds.

    I train in the evenings (~5-7 pm). When it comes to resistance training (weight training), I find myself having an easy time falling asleep afterward.

    Additional Strategies To Improve Sleep Quality

    The follow are micro-strategies are those you can use to destress.

    Let's explore the final few strategies.

    IX. Journal.

    A recent study found that journaling about tomorrow's challenges can improve one's quality of sleep.

    If you're worried about tomorrow's challenges, take 5 minutes to journal or write in your planner before bed. This will help you organize your thoughts and may bring some ease for tomorrow.

    X. Read Before Bed.

    While you are unwinding, read before bed.

    Reading reduces stress for overthinkers and those who deal with anxiety or depression.

    Use a lamp or use something like an Amber Book Light to read.

    I recommend a fiction read before bed.

    Dream well!

      XI. Nature Sounds.

      Nature sounds may help you fall asleep peacefully.

      When I used to work 10-12 hour days at my old job, it became a ritual to tell my Amazon Echo to play nature sounds.

      It was very relaxing to hear rainforest sounds before bed.

      XII. Hot Shower Before Bed.

      A nice, hot shower can help prime you to destress and fall asleep. Those who bathe or shower in hot water before bed report better sleep quality.

      That post-workout evening shower was always something I would look forward to before bed.

      XIII. Stretch Or Meditate Before Bed.

      Stretching, Yoga or Meditation may help you destress before bed.

      Mindfulness exercises have been shown to fight insomnia and improve sleep.

      XIV. Take A Melatonin Supplement.

      Once you've got everything covered, consider supplementing with melatonin on days where you know you won't sleep well.

      Before considering melatonin supplements, please read our four supplements for sleep post.

      Conquer Your Sleep

      To summarize, here are some of the things we recommend to be of foundational importance when it comes to sleep:

      • Strive for a consistent sleep schedule. A consistent sleep schedule optimizes yourself for quality sleep.
      • Prepare to fall asleep 30-60 minutes before bed. Create a sleep ritual that primes you to unwind before bed.
      • Get Sun Exposure first thing in the morning. The cortisol release will prime our bodies to secrete melatonin efficiently in the evening.
      • Understand that what we can do is improve our behavior and environment.You can't control everything about sleep, but habits and our environment are things we can control.

      If you follow some of these behaviors, you will notice your sleep schedule will become more consistent.

      I wanted to take the time to thank you all for reading this one!

      I hope it provided some insights on how to better improve your sleep.

      Any questions or comments? Feel free to email us at support@reforgedperformance.com or direct message us on Instagram!

      Until next time, Reforged Warrior!

      Tony Gjokaj
      Tony Gjokaj

      Tony is the Owner of Reforged Performance Nutrition. He is a PN1 Certified Nutrition Coach and has been in the fitness space for over a decade. His goal is to help bridge the gap between physical & mental health through fitness.



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