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There really is no over stating the importance of sleep. Over the years it has gone from being seen as a simple ‘recharge of the batteries’ to taking its rightful place as one of the most important physiological phenomena. It really is no exaggeration to say that sleep is critical to your overall health and wellbeing.
Recent studies have shown that sleep is vital for memory, cognition, emotional stability, weight regulation, cellular regeneration, circulation, digestion, healing and much much more. The more they learn the more they realise that it is essential to virtually every process the body and mind do.
That is all fine and good if you are sleeping well but it may read like an ominous warning if you are not. If you are struggling to get to sleep at night or are not sleeping through then you may not be receiving the restorative rest that you need. Lucky for you we have compiled the ultimate sleep improvement checklist. Below you will find loads of useful tips that will help you to sleep better.
1. Support your body’s sleep rhythm
Understanding and getting in sync with your circadian rhythm (your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle), is essential for better sleep. If you maintain regular sleep and wake hours, you will feel more relaxed and energised every morning compared to when you sleep an equal number of hours but at different times of the day. Note that disrupting your sleep-wake schedule by just 1 or 2 hours significantly ruins the quality and quantity of sleep that you enjoy. Ideally, do the following to support your natural sleep clock:
• Develop a regular sleep-wake schedule: This sets your body sleep clock and optimises the quality of sleep you get. Ideally, settle for a bed time when you are usually tired so that you don’t end up turning and tossing in bed. If you are getting enough sleep, you shouldn’t feel reluctant to jump out of bed. Quality sleep gives a vast range of positive health outcomes such as reduced daytime sleepiness, better psychological functioning, overall well-being, and enough energy for you to happily get up and start your day. So, if you find yourself having to set an alarm to wake you up, then you are not getting enough sleep and you need to increase your sleep hours.
• Avoid the weekend sleep in: The larger the difference between your weekday and weekend sleep schedules, the severe the jetlag-like symptoms you will go through. If you find yourself drowsy and you have to make up for early waking up or late sleeping hours, settle for a nap rather than sleeping in. A daytime nap allows you to recover your lost sleep without disrupting your circadian rhythm.
• Nap smartly: Although napping is a great way to compensate for lost sleep, if you experience problem sleeping or staying asleep, napping might make things worse for you. Reduce naps to around 15-20 minutes and preferably so in the afternoon.
• Fight after-dinner sleepiness: If you feel too drowsy way before your normal sleep time, get off the sofa and do something slightly stimulating, such as calling a friend, washing dishes, or packing your bag for the next day. Otherwise, if you give into the sleepiness, you may fall out of sleep later in the night and stay up for a long time before sleeping again.
2. Control exposure to light
Melatonin is a hormone in your body that helps regulate your circadian cycle. Production of melatonin is regulated by exposure to light - when it’s dark, your brain produces more melatonin making your drowsy, and when exposed to light, it secrets less melatonin keeping you alert. However, numerous aspect of the modern lifestyle affects production of melatonin. Use the following tips;
• In the morning, expose yourself to sunlight – the sooner after you wake up, the more beneficial. For example, have your breakfast outside or your morning coffee by a sunny window. The natural light will help you wake up.
• Spend as much time outside during the day – head outside during your work breaks and exercise, walk you dog during day rather than at night.
• Allow as much natural light into your home and workspace as possible – keep your blinds and curtains open during daytime. It might help to move your desk near a window.
• If need be use a light therapy box – a light box is made to stimulate sunshine, and is particularly useful during winter days.
• Avoid bright light/screen time 1-2 hours before your bedtime – the coloured light produced by your computer, tablet, TV and phone is very destructive. If it’s impossible to totally avoid screens, minimise the brightness, use gadgets with smaller screens or use light changing software like f.lux.
• Quit later night movies and TV – not only does the blue light emitted by your television suppress production of melatonin, but most movies and TV programs are stimulating which keeps you alert. Alternatively, audio books or relaxing music
• Use your e-readers smartly – gadgets that are backlit, like an iPad and Kindle, disrupt your sleep-wake cycle more than e-readers that do not produce their own light – read an old-fashioned paperback instead!
• During sleep time, make sure your bedroom is dark - use shades or heavy curtains to block light, or try using a sleep mask. Also, cover electronics that produce light.
• Keep lights down if you awake at night – if you really need light to locate something, use a small flashlight or a dim nightlight. This will increase your chance of falling back to sleep.
3. Get regular exercise
People who work out regularly sleep better and feel less sleepy during the daytime. Exercising also improves the symptoms of sleep apnea and insomnia and increases the number of hours you stay in the deep, restorative stages of your sleep. The more intense your workouts, the more the sleep benefits – however, even simple workouts such as jogging for 10 minutes daily boosts the quality of your sleep. It can take more than 10 months before you can experience the full sleep boosting effects of workouts. So, focus on building a workout program that you can stick with.
For quality sleep, time your workout right
Working out speeds up your metabolism, stimulates production of hormones such as cortisol, and elevates your body temperature. This is okay if it’s not nearly sleep time, but if you make the mistake and workout 3-4 hours before your normal bedtime, it can often negatively affect your sleep pattern. Ideally:
• Finish all intense and/or moderate exercise at least 2-3 hours before sleep time.
• Low-impact, relaxing workouts such as mild stretching and yoga in the evening can really help boost your sleep pattern.
4. Be wise about what you eat and/or drink
Your diet plays a vital role in how well or how bad you sleep, this is particular so for meals you eat close to bedtime. Experts recommend you do the following:
• Limit nicotine and caffeine - you might not have thought about it, but caffeine causes sleep problems even as late as 10-12 hours after drinking it. So, avoid coffee or smoking, especially close to bedtime. Also, avoid too much alcohol since it interferes with your sleep cycle. However, a nightcap earlier in the evening will help you feel relaxed.
• Avoid heavy meals close to bedtime – try to move you dinner time to earlier in the evening, and steer clear of heavy foods within an hour or two before bedtime. Acidic and spicy foods can cause acidity issues in your stomach, disrupting your circadian rhythm. It’s advisable to avoid consuming too much liquid near bedtime – too many bathroom trips will disrupt your sleep throughout the night.
• A night-time snack can help you sleep – for some people, a light snacks boosts their sleep cycle. Ideally, settle for any of the following:
- A small bowl of low-sugar, whole-grain cereals
- A half turkey sandwich
- A banana
- Granola with yogurt
5. Set your bedroom up correctly
• Keep your bedroom as neat, as clean, and as simple as possible. For you to enjoy quality sleep, your bedroom must be free from distractions. If it’s impossible to eliminate the noise from traffic, neighbours, children or roommates, trying masking it using a sound machine or a fan. Earplugs will work too.
• Keep your bedroom well-ventilated and cool. People sleep better in well aerated, relatively cool rooms. A bedroom that is either too cold or too hot disrupts your sleep. So, leave a window open or turn on your air conditioner to lower the temperature.
• Reserve your bed for sex and sleep only. By not watching TV, using your computer, or watching TV while in bed, your mind will naturally associate your bedroom with only sex and sleep making it easier for you to wind down and sleep tight.
• Make your bed comfortable. For example, make sure your bedding provides you with enough room to turn and stretch without being tangled. If you are occasionally waking up with an aching neck or sore back, your mattress is most likely the problem. Invest in a good quality mattress such as the Ergoflex memory foam mattress designed to help you sleep better. If you need help buying a good mattress, you’re welcome to contact us for any sleep or mattress related advice.
Hopefully these tips help you to get the sleep you need. Remember that a good night’s sleep will not always come naturally, for many it requires work and dedication, but the payoff is worth it. If you are still struggling to sleep after trying all of these then you may need to see a sleep expert. It is really important to address any and all sleep issues as soon as possible as the short term and long term consequences of lack of good quality sleep can be very serious. Good luck and good night!
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