How did you feel when you woke up this morning? Did you jump out of bed, full of energy and ready to take the day head-on? Or, like most people, were you woken up by a buzzing alarm before reluctantly scraping yourself off the mattress and hunting for coffee?
Despite taking up around a third of our lives, very few people sleep well these days. A combination of factors make it far easier to stay up later than we should, and even if we get to bed early our quality of sleep can be fairly poor.
The lack of sleep, or at least a lack of good quality sleep, has been linked to a pretty wide range of issues. Poor mental and physical performance, weight gain, depression, heart disease and diabetes are just a small selection of issues which can be caused by a lack of sleep over a long period of time. It’s a far more important part of life than most people think.
Fortunately, there’s plenty which can be done to help improve your sleep quality and ultimately your overall health. By make a few simple changes to your habits throughout the day you can wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the world.
Go To Bed Around The Same Time Each Night
Your body will generally respond well to a regular routine, so try to get to bed at roughly the same time every night. While the odd deviation shouldn’t do much harm, try to stick to a regular bedtime as much as possible (even on weekends!).
If you know you need to get up at a certain time in the morning, try to schedule your bedtime around 8 hours before your alarm. If you find a big change to an earlier time a struggle, try going to bed 15 minutes earlier for a couple of nights. Then continue gradually moving your bedtime back every few days until you’re comfortable going to sleep earlier.
Limit What Happens In Your Bedroom
You need to develop a strong association between your bedroom and rest, so use your bedroom for two things – sleeping and sex. Watching TV, snacking and discussing your day are best kept to another part of the house, as they can all make it difficult to fall asleep. If you’re looking to unwind, do it elsewhere. Keep the bedroom for sleeping and the fun stuff.
Take a Bath or Shower
Having a long bath or shower around half an hour before bed can really help you relax and unwind, helping you get to sleep easier. We also sleep better when we’re cool, so a hot shower can force your body to work hard to lower your body temperature and keep you cooler than you otherwise would’ve been. This makes it easier to drift off quickly.
Manage Your Appetite
Going to sleep hungry can be challenging, so make sure you eat something decent a couple of hours before bed. However, don’t go crazy! Eating too much can leave you bloated and uncomfortable, making it difficult to get to sleep. It can also negatively impact your sleep quality as the body tries to deal with all the food in your system.
Work Out in the Morning
Regular exercise has a strong link with better quality sleep, but the time of day you train can make a big difference. Exercise causes your heart rate to increase and your body temperature to rise, leading to the release of various stimulating hormones after your workout. Training before bed can interfere with the quality of your sleep, so aim to train earlier in the day (ideally in the morning).
Get Enough Sleep
As important as sleep quality is how long you sleep. Most people will need between 7-8 hours, but everyone will be different. Try to keep track of how long you sleep and how you feel when you wake up – that should give you a rough idea of how long you need. Lack of sleep can come with a whole range of health issues, including higher cortisol levels which can lead to obesity and diabetes.
Tidy Up Your Diet
Try to limit caffeinated and sugary foods, particularly in the afternoon as it can take a while before they leave your system. Eating a healthier diet based around meat, fish and plants will give you more even energy levels throughout the day, and ultimately leave you tired and ready for bed by the evening.
Try not to eat much in the evenings, and pay particular attention to avoiding heavy or spicy food at night. They can cause issues with indigestion and heartburn, which can make falling asleep difficult.
There’s a common misconception that a drink before bed will help you sleep better. While it can often help you get to sleep faster, the quality of your sleep will be compromised and you’ll wake up feeling tired. While the occasional glass of wine in the evening won’t cause much harm, regular drinking in the evening will have a negative impact long term.
Hide Your Phone
Keeping your phone in your bedroom, particularly on the bedside table, can really impact how well you sleep. From the buzzing and beeping sounds waking you up to the artificial light messing with your circadian rhythm, there’s no reason to keep your phone next to your bed. If you use it as an alarm, sit it across the room from where you sleep. It’ll stop you from checking Facebook before bed and will make sure you get up when the alarm goes off!
Nap Throughout The Day
While it’s not a luxury afforded to everyone, there’s lot of benefits associated with napping during the afternoon. Alongside giving you a little energy boost for the evening, naps can help unload the working memory and reduce the workload for your evening sleep. The result is a better, more refreshing sleep at night. Aim for around a 20 minute nap, ideally between 2-4pm.
Getting some natural sunlight has plenty of health benefits, including increasing vitamin D levels. Vitamin D deficiencies can lead to sleep disorders, so it’s an important part of getting a good night’s rest. Ideally you should aim to get some sunlight in the morning, as increased vitamin D levels at night can have a negative impact on your melatonin levels and can disturb your sleep.
Keep it Cool
In general, we sleep better when it’s cooler in the room. Around 65 degrees is ideal for most people, so don’t be afraid to crank up the AC on those warmer nights. This can often be an area of conflict between couples, with arguments over the thermostat pretty common! If you can’t agree then try to find a comfortable middle ground.
It’s important to feel comfortable in your bed, so your choice of mattress, pillow, quilt and even your nightwear can have an impact on how well you sleep. This will largely come down to personal preference, so experiment to try and find your comfort zone.
Unwind Before Bed
Avoiding stress before you go to bed is always a good idea. We’ve all had a late night worrying about a bill or something at work, so try to avoid any unnecessary stress in the evenings. You can even actively try to reduce stress and calm your mind by spending some time meditating before bed. It has a range of benefits and can be done in just a few minutes.
Read a Book
Avoiding TV and other artificial light sources before bed can help improve sleep, so why not spend some time reading instead? It can help you relax and can quiet the mind, and is a time tested way of tiring yourself out before bed. Avoid using any backlit devices like iPads – try to stick with real books or devices without a backlight such as the Kindle.
Deep Breathing Exercises
One of the keys to getting to sleep quickly is being able to quiet the mind and relax. Some simple deep breathing exercises or meditation can make a big difference when it comes to clearing your thoughts and preparing for bed. There are plenty of excellent guided meditation videos on YouTube, and we’re big fans of the Headspace app on Android/iTunes.
Do Some Yoga
Like meditation, yoga can be a great way to relax and clear your mind before bed. Some people find they still have reasonably high energy levels as they approach their target bedtime, and yoga is the ideal way of helping you ground your energy levels and unwind. There are a few good videos on doyogawithme.com specifically designed to help you relax before bed.
While there’s no cure-all supplement which can give you a better sleep, a few have been shown to have effects which can help improve several factors which impact your rest.
DHA and EPA, fatty acids which are found in fish, have been found to reduce norepinephrine levels. This stress hormone can keep you from sleeping well and can influence your energy levels throughout the day. Taking fish oil supplements can provide your body with these useful fatty acids to help improve your sleep and help you think more clearly throughout the day.
Magnesium is well known as an anti-stress mineral, and it’s commonly used to relax and improve sleep quality. It’s used by your cells to make energy, to calm the mind at night and to ease muscles. You can get a variety of magnesium supplements to help increase your intake, and it’s available in dark leafy greens and nuts.
Melatonin is a hormone which helps to regulate your natural sleep and wake schedules. It’s produced by the pineal gland in the brain, and melatonin levels tend to be highest just before you go to bed. It’s commonly used to treat insomnia and jet lag, and has been shown to be safe for short term use. In the UK it’s available via prescription, however it’s available over the counter in some other countries.
Bringing It All Together
While all these factors can help improve your quality and quantity of sleep, it really comes down to a few simple factors – a settled routine, a good diet and regular exercise. Try incorporating some of these aspects into your daily routine and you’ll notice a big difference in the way you feel throughout the day.