Getting adequate sleep is often an overlooked aspect of living a healthy lifestyle. Most of us have had nights where we just can’t seem to fall asleep and for others this is a regular occurrence. At the very least it’s frustrating and at its worst it can have many negative effects such as, irritability and low mood, lack of concentration, decreased motor skill performance which combined increase the likelihood of mistakes, accidents or injury. Prolonged sleep deprivation has even been linked to conditions such as heart disease and diabetes and can affect a person’s mental wellbeing causing depression and anxiety. I think its safe to say that this seemingly innocent act of getting our heads down at the end of the day has potential to have a huge impact on our lives so getting it right is really important.
Good sleep hygiene ensures you consistently enjoy a better quality, more restful sleep for an adequate amount of time each night. Bad sleep habits, on the other hand, lead to poor quality and insufficient sleep.
Sleep hygiene is the term used to describe good sleep habits. The following tips should help enhance your sleep and provide long term solutions to help sleep difficulties. If you want to sleep like a baby, you’ll need to put some work in and start to develop a good routine and sleep associations. Luckily its not a total lottery and there are a few things we can do to give ourselves the best chance of success.
Develop a good bed time routine. Just like you would do with a baby or child, adults also develop patterns and associations. Develop regular rituals to prepare your body and mind for bedtime and start to develop a regular rhythm which will give your body something to work from.
Set regular schedule to go to bed and get up. Most adults require 7-9 hours so allow time to achieve this. Get up on the morning when your alarm goes off. It’ll be hard the first few days but worth it in the long run. I would also suggest keeping daytime naps to a minimum. The benefits of a well-timed nap have been studied but overdoing the daytime napping will have obvious consequences at bedtime.
Also factor in some calm time in the moments before bed. Even if it’s kept for when your cleaning teeth, dressing for bed, getting under the covers etc keep things relaxed and structured so your body recognises that its time to go to sleep.
2. Sleep Behaviour
Use the bed only for sleep so that your body comes to associate bed with sleeping. Do not watch TV or use your phone in bed. The light given off by phones and laptops can actually simulate your brain into thinking it’s daytime again. The use of gadgets such as computers, mobiles, tablets and TVs for 2 hours before bed have been found to reduce melatonin levels causing sleep issues. The problem with these devices is that they all use blue light, the strongest wavelength of light that your brain perceives as sunlight. Technology can also provide stimulation or excitement which is what we need to avoid.
If you can’t sleep, do not just lie in bed awake for more than 20-30 minutes. Instead, get up, go to a quiet darkened room and do some meditation or read a book. Avoid doing anything that is too stimulating or interesting, as this is likely wake you up even more. Do this as many times during the night as needed.
Often what gets in the way of sleep are our intrusive thoughts. Worrying about the past or the future or planning and rehearsing rather than being in the moment. It is important to commit yourself to letting go of all such thoughts. Try not to engage with the thoughts in anyway. Remind yourself that the thought is nothing more than a thought and bring yourself back to the present. Basic mindfulness exercises such as focusing on your breathing are really effective once mastered but if that’s not for you reading a chapter or two of a book is also a great way to clear the mind of the days troubles and mentally switch off ready for a good night’s sleep.
4. Physical Health
Exercising has many obvious benefits but it also has a positive effect when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep. However, due to the endorphins released during exercise it is important to not exercise too close to bed time as you will actually be in a stimulated state for a couple of hours afterwards. Also, no caffeine or stimulants for 4-6 hours before bed. This includes coffee, tea, energy drinks and chocolate. These substances act as stimulants and interfere with the ability to fall asleep. Do not use alcohol to help you sleep as it actually interrupts your sleep cycle and although you may get the correct hours of sleep the quality can be greatly affected leaving you feel groggy and lethargic the following morning. Sound familiar?
Make the bed as comfortable and calming as possible. Sleep in a cool and darkened room.
Make your bed for sleep only. I’ll repeat, avoid having a television or computer in the bedroom. Make sure your room isn’t too hot or too cold, keep it slightly cool around 16-18°C and get snuggly under the duvet.
6. Bath Time
Having a hot bath 1-2 hours before bedtime can be useful. Along with being relaxing, it will raise your body temperature which causes you to feel sleepy as your body temperature drops again.
We all know the effects a healthy balanced diet can have on our physical and mental health but we need to consider eating when it comes to sleep also. Timing is important; some people find it difficult to sleep on an empty stomach but a late heavy meal can also interrupt sleep. Also, sugary treats too close to bedtime can also act as a stimulant releasing energy at a time that’s its not welcome. This can be a bit of trial and error as everyone has different routines and metabolisms but the timing your last meal should be something that is considered carefully.
Two substances that promote sleep are Tryptophan and Melatonin. Tryptophan is an amino acid which can be found in milk. As the body processes Tryptophan, it gets converted to Melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that helps to regulate the body’s circadian rhythm and promotes restful sleep. This is why a warm milky drink an hour before bed has been the go-to drink for centuries and will continue to be so as science has now proven that this isn’t just an old wife’s tale.
So, there you have it. A few ideas and strategies to consider before bedtime which will hopefully help you get a great night’s sleep.