Most sleep disruptions are obvious: too much screen time before bed, drinking alcohol or stimulants (like coffee) before you sleep, or having an uncomfortable bed. But, there are many other triggers that can harm your rest, such as the number of hours you sleep, what you eat before bed, the vitamins you take (specifically Vitamin D), and what you drink. Make these small changes, and every night can become more restful.
If you’re going to make a significant health upgrade, the best step you can take -- arguably even more important than diet or exercise -- is improving your sleep. That’s because poor quality sleep ( can set you up for a variety of health problems ranging from insomnia to depression and even cardiovascular disease.
What’s more, not enough sleep can also make it harder to improve your diet because sleep deprivation causes changes to your brain that increase hunger and make you crave salty and sweet foods. And your lack of rest can drain the part of your brain that manages willpower, which -- naturally -- makes you not want to work out. So, it’s easy to see how everything starts with sleep.
An excellent place to start is with a few basic sleep rules:
- Try to limit the consumption of alcohol before bed. Same goes for stimulants, like coffee.
- As much as you can, avoid or limit late-night technology, such as cell phones and TVs. The light from the devices can make it harder for you to fall asleep (and stay asleep).
- Practice good sleep hygiene, such as setting your thermostat a little lower. The National Sleep Foundation recommends anywhere between 60 to 67 degrees.
- Destress before you rest. Letting your mind wander is one of the top reasons people struggle to fall asleep. Instead, read a book, listen to music, or write in a journal before going to bed. Setting a new habit will create a “pattern interrupt” that will redirect your mind and put it in a better place before you sleep.
Once you’ve mastered those basics, there are a few less obvious factors that might be hurting the quality of your sleep. Just because they’re less obvious doesn’t make them any less important, as these might be causing significant problems.
How to Maximize REM Sleep
Ever wake up after a seemingly great night of sleep—say 10 hours—and still feel exhausted? The science of sleep can explain your confusing experience. Every night, your body (and brain) goes through several different stages of sleep, which includes your deep sleep (REM) where you dream and end up feeling refreshed. REM sleep is excellent -- as long as you don’t wake up right in the middle of it.
The way to prevent that? Time your sleep and be deliberate with how you set your alarm clock.
Feeling refreshed isn’t just about how many hours you sleep; it’s about when you wake up during your sleep cycle and how many sleep cycles you complete each night, according to research published in Applied Cognitive Studies.
When you sleep, you go through 4 different phases of sleep. 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 sleep cycle lasts about 90 minutes, but it’s not a perfect number, you might find it lasts an additional 10-15 minutes.
So what happens when you wake up during your deep sleep? It’s that Monday-morning feeling: Tired. Exhausted. Feeling like you can't concentrate.
That fogginess is called sleep inertia, and a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that morning grogginess could be a more significant impairment than not sleeping all night. (Not that we need to tell you; coffee is popular for a reason.)
Your solution is timing your sleep so that you don’t wake up during the wrong portion of a sleep cycle. Because sleep cycles tend to be 90 minutes, start by setting your alarm clock in 90-minute intervals. (When you test, you might find you need to adjust by 10 minutes, but the 90-minute rule works for most).
A good rule of thumb is aiming for 7.5 or 9 hours of sleep per night or 5-6 complete 90-minute sleep cycles. If you must sleep less, sleeping 6 hours might prove to be more restful than seven because you’re more likely to wake up in the first phase of sleep as opposed to waking up during your deep REM sleep.
Fluids and Sleep Disruption
Proper 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. As we just mentioned, 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 fluids for about 6 to 8 hours. But as we age, hormonal changes cause this period to shorten. So your best bet is to 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 potent diuretic.
Eating and Deep Sleep
Eating at night will not make you fat, but eating too close to your bedtime might make it harder to have diet discipline because it might disrupt your sleep.
You see, 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 enables you to 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
Not having enough Vitamin D in your system can cause sleep problems and daytime sleepiness, according to scientists at Louisiana State University. And we’re not just talking about some restless. The lower amounts could cause sleep disorders, such as insomnia or sleep apnea.
However, taking Vitamin D before you sleep is not be the best idea. That's because taking nighttime Vitamin D can confuse your body and possibly keep you awake.
Vitamin D is naturally produced in your body when you’re in the sun. That means, your body recognizes the vitamin as an indication that its daytime. So when you take Vitamin D, your body naturally decreases melatonin levels as a reaction to thinking you need to stay awake. And the response is disruptive. In some experimental trials, taking Vitamin D at night decreased REM sleep.
Your best bet is to supplement with Vitamin D -- like what you’ll find in Ladder Greens -- 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.
Sun Exposure and Sleep
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.
The reason you’re supposed to turn off electronics before you sleep is that those electronics emit blue light. Your body recognizes the blue light as a sign of daytime. And when that happens, it can disrupt your production of melatonin, which, in turn, 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 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.
Your Sleep Checklist
If you want to go to sleep easier, stay asleep longer, and wake up feeling refreshed, follow this simple plan.
Step 1: See the sun
When you wake up, try to experience sunlight as early as possible. The best approach is going outside, but opening windows is a good substitute.
Step 2: Take Vitamin D3
Aim for 2,000-4,000 IU per day. Ladder Greens provides 3,000 IUI per serving.
Step 3: Stop eating and drinking 1-2 hours before you sleep.
No reason to fear night eating, but you’ll want to be mindful of how close you eat before you sleep.
Step 4: Set your alarm clock in 1.5-hour intervals.
Try to make sure you don’t set your alarm at a time when you’ll wake up during REM sleep. Your body will thank you.