Over the previous two weeks we discussed a couple of the more undesirable states one can be in when waking up. We looked at ways to improve your waking condition through changing the way you eat and exercise. There were even a few tips on what type of safety gear one might wear to bed to improve the way you feel when waking up. But what if you could improve the way you feel when you wake up, by preparing for bed from the moment you get out of bed?

That sounds like quite a mouth full, doesn’t it?

Well, allow me to give you a couple of interesting pointers on how to improve your sleep!

What to do when you wake up

Research has shown that what you do upon waking up matters. You will probably not believe me, but what you do when you wake up influences the quality of your next rest period. The things I am about to say will mostly be stuff you’ve heard somewhere else before. In fact, you might even have read about it on this blog some time in the past. Some of the other tips I’m about to give you might sound contradictory or just outlandish! But don’t dis it until you’ve tried it, right?

1. Do not snooze… Ever!

I have felt it in my own body time and time again, yet I still do it. If I get up immediately after my alarm went off, I usually feel refreshed and ready for the day. On the other hand, if I hit the snooze button I usually drift off again and then when I get up I feel out of sorts and groggy. Many of you would probably have experienced the same thing.

So what happens when you hit the snooze button? It goes something like this: Chances are that your body is already busy waking up out of deep sleep by the time your alarm goes off. Therefore it is ready to get up and go as soon that alarm starts buzzing. If you hit the snooze button and fall asleep again before the alarm goes off for a second time, your body is not ready to wake up yet. I mean, who wants to get woken up just after they fell asleep? Certainly not me!

What must you do to overcome this snoozing problem? Put your alarm clock or phone, whichever one you use to wake you up, somewhere out of reach. That’s right. Force yourself to get up to make that annoying thing stop its incessant buzzing!

2. Try to get up at the same time every morning.

This is a problematic one. All of us wants to lie in every now and again, don’t we? It is especially difficult over weekends. Who wants to get up at five or six in the morning on a Sunday? I mean honestly! Chances are that you went to bed later than usual on the preceding Saturday night. You might have gone out for a braai or you might have watched a movie. Those night lights are just more alluring over the weekend… And yet, it is better to get up at the usual time than to sleep in. Even if it means that you miss out on a couple hours’ sleep.

Isn’t this contradictory to what we’ve said in the past? if you think so, I can see why. In previous posts we spoke about the recommended hours of sleep one should get every night and what not, so why would we say here that you must miss out on some of those hours to improve the quality of your sleep? Well, there are a couple of reasons for this. I will mention one here and discuss the other one under another heading altogether.

Simply put, if you wake up and get up early, your body will become tired at the desired time to make you go to bed at your usual time. If you sleep in, you might experience difficulty in falling asleep at night. Do you know this feeling? If you do, set your alarm for the same time every day and get up when it starts buzzing.

3. Have a morning routine.

There are a lot of different ways to set up your morning and I am not going to try to tell you how to do it. The important thing is that you follow the same morning routine daily. Some people get up and do push-ups to get the blood circulating, others take an early stroll.

What do I do? I sneak downstairs, put on the kettle, feed the dog, two cats and the hedgehog. By this time the kettle has usually boiled, so I slice up a lemon and make two cups of warm lemon water (for lack of a better word). While I allow the lemon water to cool, I prepare a fruit salad consisting of papaya and pineapple for breakfast then I go for a shower. After the shower I take in all of the fruity goodness. First the lemon juice, to balance my body pH and then the fruit salad to activate my digestive enzymes. Now I am ready to roll!

You definitely don’t need to follow my example, even though I can recommend it, but you need to get into a morning routine.

4. Get some bright exposure to bright light.

Obviously sunlight is number one, but if you wake up before the sun has risen, sunlight might be difficult to come by…

The reason why we should get bright, especially blue light in during the early stages of day is exactly why we should not be exposed to this sort of light at night. Blue light stimulates the endocrine system to stop releasing melatonin (which makes us sleepy) and to start releasing cortisol (which wakes us up). We’ve also mentioned in previous posts that being exposed to early morning sunlight can help you to overcome jet lag. This is not some aerie fairy tale, it has been scientifically proven!

If you wake up before the sun, try sitting in front of your computer screen or TV (it should obviously be switched on) while you prepare for the rest of the day. Try not to interact with the device too much though, unless reading the news on your laptop or watching the headlights on TV is part of your morning routine.

How to improve your nights’ rest through the things you do during the day.

1. Exercise.

Yes I know. This one is as old as the mountains. That doesn’t make it a less valuable tip.

You do not need to become a premier league footballer or run the Comrades Marathon. But just be active every day. Take a lively walk around the block, go for a leisurely stroll through the park or take a jog on the treadmill. It doesn’t really matter what you do… Okay wait, it does. Don’t break yourself by trying to bench press 110kg or by running 10km in under 45minutes the first time you put your running shoes on. Stay within your limits, always!

Where was I? Oh yeah. The point I am trying to make is that you should exercise on a daily basis. Make your body want to sleep.

Side note: Exercise reduces body fat, right? Did you know that having less body fat can make you sleep more soundly at night? That’s right folks! Research shows that if you have less fat, you are less likely to snore at night. Fat is not very rigid, so if your neck is fatty, air tends to rattle on its way in or out. Think about it…

2. Don’t sleep too much in the afternoon.

There is nothing wrong with taking a quick power nap, but sleeping for more than half an hour in the afternoon might cause you to lose some sleep at night. If you sleep for too long during the day, your internal clock will become all cockeyed. Then when you get to bed, your body won’t feel the need to go to sleep, so you might end up tossing and turning.

So if you have to siesta, keep it short and sweet.

3. Exercise your mouth muscles.

I can see women all around South Africa brightening up at this one. “Did you see that one blog post? It said we should talk more!” (Just kidding).

Unfortunately that is not the kind of mouth exercise I am talking about. I am talking about straight up tongue and jaw exercises! Moving your tongue around inside of your mouth can strengthen your jaw muscles and obviously your tongue as well. You are probably wondering how strengthening your jaws can improve your sleep, right? Well, science has shown that having strong tongue and jaw muscles reduces snoring. If you snore less, you sleep better and so does your spouse. Just something to consider.

Okay so now that I’ve convinced all of you to start your daily tongue exercises, you are obviously dying to know how!?

Step one: Push the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth and slide it to the back of your mouth. Repeat.

Step two: Press as much of your tongue as possible against the roof of your mouth. Relax the tongue. Repeat.

Step three: Try to suck the bottom of your tongue onto the bottom of your mouth while keeping the tip of the tongue firmly fixed against your front teeth. Repeat.

Step four: Try to create as much space in the back of your mouth and throat while saying “ah”. Repeat.

Disclaimer: Doing one, or all of these exercises once won’t improve anything. Try to do these exercises at least twenty times a day for a couple of weeks if you want to see improvement.

4. Drink water.

The heading is pretty much self explanatory. Drink water.

What to do (and not to do) while getting ready for bed

1. Do not drink caffeine.

This is also another one you might have heard before. The fact is that it takes roughly five hours for caffeine to get worked out of your system. What is so bad about caffeine? I mean, so what if it stays in my system for five hours? Here’s the thing; Caffeine stimulates your body and keeps it awake. Even if you do fall asleep shortly after having a cup’a, your body might still not get the rest it requires. Caffeine can keep your body from entering stage three and stage four sleep, which are the two most restorative sleep stages.

Side note: Recent research has shown that caffeine can actually aid in relieving migraine attacks. So if you wake up with a headache, have a strong cup of coffee! Don’t do it before you go to sleep though. It might improve your headache, but you will lose out on quality rest, which in turn might cause you to wake up with a headache…

2. Avoid bright lights.

We’ve touched on this already when we spoke about getting some sunlight exposure early in the morning, remember? Just to refresh your minds (I know it’s late and you are starting to feel sleepy. Wait! If that is the case you shouldn’t be reading this! Turn it off immediately!) blue light basically tells your brain and your body to wake up. Not really the effect you want right before you hit the sack.

Obviously it is much easier to tell you that you should avoid blue lights at night than to actually avoid them. Heck, I feel like a complete hypocrite to tell you this, because I am usually busy on my computer until twenty minutes before bed time. So, if we are all busy with writing up reports, playing Candy Crush or watching Black List until late at night, how do we go about avoiding all of them blue lights?

There are actually apps and programs that filter out some of the blue light from your cellphone and PC. This one very cool app that I’ve downloaded recently, f.lux adjusts the brightness and blue light levels of your screen constantly throughout the day. You tell the app where you stay and what your waking hours are, and then it magically adjusts your screen so that you are exposed to less blue light at night. How cool is that!? There are similar apps that you can find on the Google Play Store or on the Apple Store. Go check it out!

3. Snack before you go to bed. Don’t eat, though.

It is a well known fact that we should not eat our dinner directly before we go to bed, because our bodies will be too busy digesting our food to rest properly. There is some fairly new research that suggests having a small carby snack before bed can improve the amount of sleep you get. All of us know that feeling you have after eating your sandwiches for lunch. You just can’t keep your eyes open! Well, have a slice of bread at night and it will have a similar effect on your body.

Next time you can’t sleep, have a slice of toast. Don’t drink a sleeping pill…

Speaking of toast, I’m hungry! Time to whip up something for dinner. See you next week folks.