A good nights sleep is essential for a healthy and productive life. The problem is that modern life doesn't always make it easy for us achieve this. Stress, technology, children and work can all impact on our quality of sleep and this can have a drastic effect on our physical and mental wellbeing.
Indeed sleep deprivation has been linked to a weakened immune system, depression, diabetes and risk of heart disease. The recommended level of sleep is between 7 and 8 hours for most of us and so it is vital that we are able to drop off and stay asleep once we have done so.
The good news is that despite all of these pressures, we can increase the likelihood of a good nights sleep by improving our daily habits.
Below is a list of 7 simple tips you can use to help you achieve a better nights sleep.
1. Stick To a Sleep Schedule
The first thing we need to do to improve our sleeping habits is to set up a sleep schedule. By going to bed and rising at the same time each day you can help to regulate your internal body clock so that it gets used to a set routine. Firstly work out the optimum number of hours sleep that you need (usually between 6 and 9). Using this figure will allow you to set a sleep schedule whereby you know exactly what time you need to be in bed and asleep by each night.
By sticking to this schedule on a daily basis your body will eventually fall into a rhythm and your sleep will improve as a result. Stick to it even at the weekends for best results and resist the urge to sleep in. You'll only be storing up problems for further down the road!
2. Create a Bedtime Routine
Having a set bedtime routine is a great way to allow the body and mind to break from a hectic day. It's an opportunity to take a warm bath, read or do some other form of relaxation such as yoga or meditation. Not only does this allow us to relax physically it can also take our minds off of the problems and stresses which often keep us awake at night.
Getting into a state of relaxation can both help us to fall asleep and also improve the quality and length of the sleep that we get. If you choose to read to relax then make sure you opt for something that isn't too thought-provoking. Likewise yoga is a great way to ease physical problems which may be preventing you from sleeping but don't do anything too strenuous.
Following yoga with some meditation will help to dissolve feelings of stress and anxiety. A nice relaxing warm bath will do much the same.
Whatever you choose, pick something that works for you and incorporate it into a nightly routine!
3. Avoid Bright Screens
Staring at a bright screen, whether that of a smart phone or laptop can stop the body producing the sleep hormone, melatonin. Effectively it can trick your brain into thinking that it's still daytime. This can negatively impact on your ability to fall asleep and so it is best to turn off screens at least one hour before bedtime.
TV is usually ok for most people but even this can have a detrimental effect on our sleep, so bear this in mind as well. If you are particularly struggling, then experiment with cutting back on TV before lights out as well and never watch TV in bed.
Allow your body to do its job naturally by keeping screen use to a minimum and even dimming light if need be.
4. Watch What You Eat and Drink
We tend to make poor dietary choices when we are sleep deprived. The problem with this is that these choices may be impacting on our sleep quality as well, thus creating a vicious cycle. Caffeine contained in coffee, tea and soft drinks may give us an attractive energy boost but can also interfere with the process of falling asleep by over stimulating our senses. Better to reduce caffeine intake or just cut out caffeine altogether after 2pm to improve quantity and quality of sleep.
Too much sugar can also have an effect so don't over indulge in sweet treats particularly late at night.
Eating a healthy balanced diet will also improve your sleep by reducing some of the problems we associate with unhealthy eating habits such as indigestion - which can often wake us up during the night. The added bonus of this will be improved energy levels and better overall health.
5. Exercise During the Day
By exercising regularly during the day we can relieve many symptoms which are related to insomnia such as stress and tension. On top of this we tire the body physically and release chemicals and hormones that actually promote better quality sleep.
The key here is to do it at the right time. Late afternoon is ideal but make sure that you don't do anything too vigorous in the few hours leading up to bedtime. A heavy exercise session just before bed can actually have the opposite effect and the release of hormones such as adrenaline , as well as raised heart rate and temperature can prevent you from nodding off.
6. Create the Right Environment
For good quality sleep, your bedroom should be cool, dark, quiet and comfortable. The ideal temperature for a bedroom is anywhere between 16 and 20 degrees . This is because as the body cools it releases the hormone melatonin which helps us to feel tired. Light as we have already said can limit the body's production of this hormone so the bedroom should also be dark and quiet.
De-clutter and avoid working and watching TV in bed. Ideally the bedroom should be a haven for rest, recovery, sex and not a lot else. Make sure you have a comfy mattress and pillows as well.
7. Don't Stress
If you are struggling to drift off the tendency is to lay in bed getting more and more frustrated. This can be counter productive and it would actually be much better to get up and read or relax somewhere else in the house until you feel sleepy again.
The worst thing you can do is to lie there creating more anxiety and watching the clock. Tell yourself that your body will sleep when it is ready and try to relax. Taking the pressure away from the situation will always be more beneficial to your sleeping habits in the long term.
Breathe, relax and trust that sleep will come.
............ Finally, if lack of sleep becomes persistent and debilitating then it may be beneficial to speak to a doctor or healthcare professional to assess whether there are some deeper underlying issues.