Better Sleep for Better Health
Feeling groggy during the day? Maybe you’re not getting enough restful shuteye. But with some simple changes you can unwind and properly recharge for the day ahead.
One in three of us don’t get enough sleep, which can have a serious impact on our health and wellbeing. While one night of reduced sleep isn’t a cause for worry, regular sleeplessness can put you at risk of serious medical problems, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes. So how can make sure we’re getting enough rest?
Stick to a sleep-wake schedule
Most healthy adults need at least 7 hours of sleep. Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, even on the weekends. You’ll feel more refreshed and energised if you keep a regular sleep-wake cycle.
Go to bed when you feel tired; if you don’t fall asleep within 20 minutes do something relaxing like reading a book until you feel tired again. You should wake up naturally without an alarm, so if you need an alarm to get up you may need to go to sleep earlier. And if you have a late night it’s better to have a nap later in the day than to sleep in.
Get outside during the daylight hours
Exposure to light during the day affects our sleep-wake cycles and can actually help us to sleep better at night. It’s best if you can get some sunlight early in the morning to fully wake up, and spend time outside later in the day as well. Work in natural light whenever possible and place your desk near a window with the blinds or curtains open during the day. During short winter days you may benefit from using a SAD (seasonal affective disorder) lamp to help simulate sunlight.
Exercise during the day
Exercise has been shown to improve the quality of our sleep. Even as little as 10 minutes walking is enough to help you sleep better. Just don’t exercise too hard too close to bedtime. For moderate to vigorous exercise, try to finish at least three hours before going to sleep. Relaxing exercises such as yoga or gentle stretching can be done in the evening and may actually help improve sleep.
If you’re having trouble sleeping at night it’s best not to nap during the day. But if you really can’t it through the day without a nap, limit yourself to 15 – 20 minutes and take your nap early in the afternoon.
Make your bedroom your sanctuary
Your bedroom should be somewhere you feel safe and comfortable. Make sure the room is completely dark, as any light can hinder the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. If light is seeping in through the windows try using blackout curtains or a sleep mask. Limit or eliminate electronics such as digital clocks that emit light as well. And don’t bring your work or phone to bed with you. Your bedroom should be reserved for sleeping and sex.
The right temperature is also important. If it’s too hot it will be hard to fall asleep because your core temperature needs to drop down in order for your ‘sleep mechanism’ to kick in. A room that’s too cold can make it hard to sleep as well. Aim for around 18 – 21°C (64 – 68°F).
Your bedroom should be quiet. If your partner snores or you can hear a lot of noise from the street outside invest in a good pair of earplugs.
Finally, buy a good mattress, pillows and sheets. You spend a third of your life in bed – it’s worth investing in a mattress and bedding you find comfortable.
Limit caffeine, alcohol and nicotine
Caffeine and nicotine are stimulating so avoid both in the evenings as the effects can take hours to wear off. As for alcohol, you may fall asleep more easily after a glass of wine or two, but alcohol can lead to disrupted sleep, so you end up feeling less rested in the morning.
Avoid screens 1 - 2 hours before sleep
Phones, tablets, computers and TVs emit blue light, which is more disruptive to our sleep cycle than yellow or red lights. It’s best to avoid screens 1 - 2 hours before you want to fall asleep. You can also minimize disruption by viewing smaller screens or turning down the brightness.
Unwind and relax before bed
If you find that tension or stress is keeping you from falling asleep you may benefit from doing relaxation exercises or guided meditations to help you unwind. Some people find using bedtime rituals such as having a cup of camomile tea, taking a warm bath or listening to relaxing music helps them to fall asleep more easily.
Know when to get in touch with your doctor
While everyone has a sleepless night from time to time, if you’re having persistent trouble sleeping contact your doctor. There may be an underlying cause that can be addressed with proper treatment.