“Sleep is the cornerstone for optimal health”: so says Shawn Stevenson, author of Sleep Smarter (2014). Sleep regulates most hormone production within the body, and how we feel during our waking hours often hinges on how well we sleep at night – and yet how many of us really feel that we get enough sleep?
Experiment with these five tips to help you sleep better, improve mood, energy and mental alertness.
- Get in sync with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm. If you keep a regular sleep-wake schedule you’ll feel much more refreshed and energised than if you sleep the same number of hours at different times, even if you only alter your sleep schedule by an hour or two.
- Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day.This helps set your body’s internal clock and optimise the quality of your sleep. Choose a bed time when you normally feel tired, so that you don’t toss and turn – going to bed shouldn’t be another source of stress! If you’re getting enough sleep, you should wake up naturally without an alarm. If you rely on an alarm clock to rouse you from your slumber, you may need to go to bed a bit earlier.
- Avoid sleeping in, even on weekends.The more your weekend/weekday sleep schedules differ, the worse the jetlag-like symptoms you’ll experience come Monday morning. If you need to make up for a late night, opt for a daytime nap rather than sleeping in. This allows you to pay off your sleep debt without disturbing your natural sleep-wake rhythm.
- Fight after-dinner drowsiness. If you often find that your eyes feel heavy before your bedtime, get off the couch and do something mildly stimulating, such as washing the dishes, calling a friend, or getting clothes ready for the next day. If you give in to the drowsiness and shut your eyes ‘just for a few moments’, you might find you wake up much later and then have trouble getting back to sleep.
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Your brain secretes more melatonin when it’s dark – making you sleepy – and less when it’s light – making you more alert. However, many aspects of modern life can alter your body’s production of melatonin and have a negative impact on your circadian rhythm.
- Expose yourself to bright sunlight in the morning.The closer to the time you get up, the better. Have your coffee outside, for example, or eat breakfast by a sunny window. The light on your face will help you wake up. Daylight simulator alarm clocks introduce light gradually to your bedroom, which should wake you up without using an alarm (and the blind panic that goes along with waking up to those horrible beeps!).
- Spend more time outside during daylight.This is trickier – and even more important – during the winter, when the days are shorter. Try to get outside as much as you can – take your lunchbreaks outside, switch running on the treadmill for running around the park outside, or walk your dog straight after work instead of later in the evening.
- Let as much natural light into your home or workspace as possible.Keep curtains and blinds open during the day, and try to move your desk closer to the window.
- Avoid bright screens within 1-2 hours of your bedtime.The blue light emitted by your phone, tablet, computer, or TV is especially disruptive. You can minimise the impact by using devices with smaller screens, turning the brightness down (some phones have a special night-time setting), or using light-altering software such as f.lux.
- Say no to late-night television.Not only does the light from the TV suppress melatonin, but many programs are stimulating rather than relaxing. Try listening to music or audio books instead.
- When it’s time to sleep, make sure the room is dark.Use heavy curtains or shades to block light from windows, or try a sleep mask. Also, consider covering up electronics that emit light.
Regular exercisers sleep better and feel less sleepy during the day. Regular exercise also improves the symptoms of insomnia and sleep apnoea and increases the amount of time you spend in the deep, restorative stages of sleep.
- The more vigorously you exercise, the more powerful the sleep benefits. But even light exercise – such as walking for just 10 minutes a day – improves sleep quality.
- It can take several months of regular activity before you experience the full sleep-promoting effects. So be patient and focus on building an exercise habit that works for you!
However, try to time your exercise right: exercise speeds up your metabolism, elevates body temperature, and stimulates hormones such as cortisol. This isn’t a problem if you’re exercising in the morning or afternoon, but too close to bed and it can interfere with sleep. You should aim to finish moderate to vigorous workouts at least three hours before bedtime. If you’re still experiencing sleep difficulties, move your workouts even earlier. Relaxing, low-impact exercises such as yoga or gentle stretching in the evening can help promote sleep.
Your daytime eating (and drinking) habits play a role in how well you sleep, especially in the hours before bedtime.
- Limit caffeine and nicotine.You might be surprised to know that caffeine can cause sleep problems up to ten to twelve hours after drinking it! Similarly, smoking is another stimulant that can disrupt your sleep, especially if you smoke close to bedtime. Consider switching to decaff drinks after lunchtime.
- Avoid big meals at night.Try to make dinnertime earlier in the evening, and avoid heavy, rich foods within two hours of bed. Spicy or acidic foods can cause stomach trouble and heartburn, which aren’t exactly conducive to nodding off easily.
- Avoid alcohol before bed.While a nightcap may help you relax, it interferes with your sleep cycle once you’re out. Have you ever noticed that you
- Avoid drinking too much liquid in the evening.Drinking lots of fluids may result in frequent bathroom trips throughout the night. Try and drink most of your water during the day so you can sleep through with no interruptions.
Remember, a good night’s sleep starts the moment you wake up! Give our tips a try and let us know how you get on (but please don’t get in touch after 10pm – you’ll interrupt our bedtime routine…).