When it comes to sleep, quality is just as important as quantity. We all know what the side effects of a poor night’s sleep are: grogginess, feeling tired, difficulty concentrating, constant yawning and not feeling very sharp. By contrast, after a good night’s sleep, we tend to wake up feeling happier and better equipped to take on whatever challenges the day throws at us.
So what is the key to getting a good night’s sleep? There’s no magic formula, as everyone has different sleep preferences, however you can help yourself by doing the following:
1) Get in touch with your natural wake-sleep cycle
Your body’s circadian rhythm, also known as your ‘internal body clock’, determines the times you’ll feel sleepy or awake. If you stick to a schedule which respects these rhythms, you’re much more likely to sleep well. Here are some top tips:
- Go to bed and wake up at a similar time each day – this will help set your internal body clock. Pick a bedtime you normally feel sleepy at; this may be 10pm for some but 12pm for others.
- Try not to sleep in at weekends – although tempting to do, getting up and going to bed at different times on your weekends disrupts your body’s natural rhythms and makes it much harder to get up come Monday morning.
- Don’t take long naps during the day – daytime napping can affect the quality of your sleep at night-time. If you need to nap, limit this to 15-20 minutes in the early afternoon and then try you best to stay awake until bedtime.
2) Spend time outside during the day
When it’s dark, your body secretes a hormone called melatonin which helps you fall asleep. The production of melatonin is reduced in bright daylight. However, studies have shown that exposure to natural light during the day – especially early morning – helps your body regulate its sleep-wake cycle.
- Expose yourself to bright sunlight in the morning – this can be difficult during the winter months, but try to have your breakfast outside, spend your breaks outside or walk to work in the morning so you get your daily dose of vitamin D.
- Make sure it’s dark at bedtime – when you go to sleep, make sure the room you’re sleeping in is completely dark. You may need to cover up electronics which emit light (or invest in a sleep mask) if you’re struggling with this.
- Reduce late night use of electronics – the light emitted from your TV screen, phone, tablet and computer screen suppresses the production of melatonin, making it difficult to fall sleep. Try to do something more relaxing before bed, like reading book.
3) Be clever about what you eat and drink
The quantity and timing of the things you eat and drink during the day can affect whether you get a good night’s sleep. This is especially true when you consume caffeine, which can have a disruptive effect on your sleep even 10 -12 hours later!
- Avoid big meals right before bedtime – try to have dinner in the early evening to give your body enough time to digest the meal. You should also try to avoid rich, heavy foods within 2 hours of bed.
- Avoid alcohol in the evening – having alcohol in the evening can make it easier to fall asleep, but the quality of your sleep is heavily affected and you may find yourself tossing and turning in the early hours.
- Limit drinks close to bedtime – having too many drinks before bedtime may result in frequent trips to the bathroom throughout the night. Try to have your last drink 1.5 hours before you turn in.
4) Prepare your bedroom
Preparing yourself for sleep by making conscious choices throughout the day is only part of the battle, the other part is your sleep environment. Ideally, you want your bedroom to be a tidy, inviting room which you associate with one thing only – sleep!
- Regulate the room temperature – ensure your room is an ideal temperature which is conducive to sleep, the best temperature being around 15.5 – 19.4 degrees Celsius. If it’s too hot or too cold, you’ll find yourself waking during the night.
- Eliminate noise disturbances – this is not always easy to do, especially if you can’t control what’s making the noise (such as traffic). However, you can invest in a pair of ear plugs or something like a fan which will mask it.
- Make sure your bed is comfortable – if you have a really old mattress and wake up with backache, now’s the time to invest in a new one! However, if you can’t afford the extra expense, you can always experiment with mattress toppers and different pillows until you find what works for you.
5) Relax before you sleep
If you’ve had a hectic day or there’s something playing on your mind, it can be particularly difficult to unwind so that you’re relaxed enough for sleep. However, there are plenty of tried and tested techniques to help you unburden yourself from the day’s worries:
- Keep a notepad by your bed – you may be churning over all the things you need to do tomorrow, or perhaps you’ve had a great idea that you don’t want to forget. Writing things down on a notepad will capture whatever you’re thinking about so you can relax and get to sleep.
- Listen to guided meditation – try listening to a guided meditation soundtrack which is specifically designed to help you unwind. It’ll put you in the perfect mindset for sleep! You can search for these on sites like Youtube.
- Do a relaxing activity – make the last thing you do before you sleep something relaxing which doesn’t take too much thinking about. For example, you could read a chapter of a book or take a long bath.
Experiment with the tips in our 5 steps until you find the perfect combination of activities which sends you off to the land of nod every time. And remember, preparation is the key to a decent night’s sleep so make sure you take the time to sufficiently unwind and relax before you hit the hay.