5 ways for getting a better night’s sleep
It’s well-established that sleep is essential to our physical and mental health, it’s as important as regular exercise and a good diet. Sleep plays a major role in homeostasis (the state of balance throughout the whole body). As well as regulating our eating and drinking behaviour, energy and blood pressure. Studies on adults and children have found that sleep restriction results in metabolic changes, such as a decrease in glucose tolerance, insulin sensitivity, and an increase in cortisol and hunger. Additionally, research has found that sleep deprivation can trigger anxiety, as well as anxiety, which has a negative effect on sleep quality.
What’s worrying is that despite the importance of sleep, in 2021 36% of UK adults struggled to get to sleep at least on a weekly basis. If you’re someone who struggles to get to sleep, there are plenty of ways to improve your sleep quality and quantity naturally.
Create the right sleeping environment
Plenty of things can have an impact on your sleep quality, but the right sleep environment is very personal — it’s important to try out different situations to figure out what works best for you. Wearing earplugs or listening to gentle music or white noise can be helpful, as well as keeping clocks out of view and keeping your bedroom dark, ventilated, and cool. According to the Harvard Medical School, our body heat is reduced, which some researchers believe actually aids in inducing sleep, as it helps conserve energy. During REM sleep, our body temperature reaches its lowest point. Most people sleep better in a slightly cold room, around 18° C. Make sure your bed is comfortable. Experiment with pillows and different types of bed covers if you find yourself waking up with neck pain or uncomfortably tangled. Additionally, regularly wash your sheets!
Avoid working, using your computer, or watching TV in bed, as it might make your brain associate ‘bed’ with ‘awake’. Annie Miller, psychotherapist and behavioural sleep medicine therapist say, “When we use our bed for other activities, like working, reading, watching TV, etc., we create an association with wakefulness. We want the bed to be a cue for sleep, and working in bed weakens this association.” Looking at bright screens before bedtime can decrease sleep quality, which negatively affects the quality of life.
Avoid electronics before sleep
The use of electronics and bright lights may be a contributing factor to the overall decline in sleep quality. Plenty of research has found that light influences hormone secretion in humans, especially blue light, which has been shown to suppress melatonin for twice as long as the green light. Avoid looking at bright screens between 30 minutes to 2 hours before your bedtime, or you can minimise their impact by lowering the brightness or using light-altering software. Instead of watching TV, try listening to music or an audiobook. Try reading, avoiding back-lit technology, or meditation to unwind. Taking a warm bath 90 minutes before bed may also improve sleep quality, especially in the elderly.
Your sleep routine starts before you actually start to fall asleep. If you’re able to build habits that help you wake up, wind down, and fall asleep peacefully, you’re contributing to your overall well-being.
Maintain a consistent sleep schedule
Maintaining a schedule and routine can help signal to your brain that it’s time to get some rest. Going to sleep and getting up at the same time every day can help set an internal clock, and increase your sleep quality. Choose a time you start to feel sleepy and stick to it. Avoid sleeping in too late during the weekends, as it may disturb your natural sleep-wake rhythm.
It can help to keep a sleep journal, to log in your daily sleep habits. This way you can identify what habits make it harder to fall asleep.
Have the perfect day for perfect sleep
There are plenty of things you can do during the day. It can be easy to fall into unhealthy behaviours that can make our sleep worse, so it’s important to keep in mind what habits can improve your sleep quality. Exposing yourself to sunlight as early as possible during the morning can help you wake up, such as having breakfast by a sunny window. Being exposed to daylight is crucial to maintaining a healthy circadian rhythm — a disturbed circadian rhythm can impact our safety, performance, and productivity, as well as our mental and physical health. Make the most of the outdoors by exercising, taking work breaks, or seeing friends outside during the day. If possible, keep your blinds and curtains open, as well as have your desk close to a window.
Regular exercise is another great way to burn energy during the day and feel tired at night. Avoid doing anything too vigorous too close to your bedtime, as it affects sleep.
Your daytime drinking and eating habits can affect how you sleep. Drinking alcohol or caffeinated drinks close to bedtime can prevent deep sleep, and therefore quality rest. Similarly, smoking is another stimulant that can disrupt your sleep. Try avoiding them before bed. Maintaining a healthy diet, such as home cooking with plenty of vegetables and fruits (e.g. Mediterranean diet), can also help you fall asleep faster and deeper.
Relax your mind & body
If you find yourself unable to fall asleep, even just by getting comfortable you’re allowing your body to rest. However, you can also do a relaxing activity, such as reading or listening to calm music and let yourself get sleepier. Sometimes chronic anxiety and stress can make it harder for the body to relax, as they involve hormones that activate the ‘fight or flight’ response. There are many things you can do during the day to manage anxiety, stress, and everyday worries.
If none of the tips above help improve your sleep quality, or there are other aspects in your life causing sleep problems, it may be useful to speak to your GP.
My “Sleep Quality” challenge on FitQuid
A week ago, I put those tips to the test to assess their impact before I wrote this article. To keep me accountable for doing these habits every day, I used FitQuid to create a daily challenge and called it “Sleep Quality”. For this challenge, I used two ways to record progress. The first one was a five minutes timer to meditate every evening before sleep. The second was to upload a picture of a journal that I have created where I included a checklist for the tips to make sure I tick every box, in addition to a short paragraph journaling the impacts of implementing these habits in my pre-sleep activities the night before.
Today, a week after starting my challenge, the sleep quality tips in this article have become an integral part of my pre-sleep habits. I am waking up every morning feeling fresh, calmer & more focused during the day. I am able to work better, be more productive, and be much more engaged with my friends and family by just having had better rest the night before!
I will create this challenge again, but this time I will set it for an entire month. I suggest you do the same! Come up with your challenge, create it on FitQuid and start with a short commitment activity (maybe starting with a week), keep increasing the duration as you go, and watch as you turn these tips into habits. Trust me, you will be surprised how this will improve your quality of life. Make sure you share your experiences and I will feature the best ones on my future blogs.