It is recommended that you try and get between 7-8 hours of sleep a night, and we know that people that
regularly sleep less than this are at increased risks of serious health problems such as heart disease, diabetes
and stroke. As well as these physical problems, a poor night’s sleep can also play havoc with you emotionally
and everything feels harder to cope with – we have all been in that situation where we have snapped or cried
inappropriately because we are just knackered. You also tend to eat more carbohydrates and sugary foods
when sleep deprived, looking for that energy hit, which of course also has its consequences to your health. So
here are a few tips of things to try and things to avoid to get you back to the land of nod.
- Get a sleep routine
Start developing a sleep routine a couple of hours before bed, to get your body and brain prepared for a restful night. Firstly ensure that you go to bed at the same time every night, and as tempting as it may be to have a lie-in on weekends and holidays, it is also important to get up at the same time each morning. Secondly, become a creature of habit, repeating the same bedtime routine every night to help to regulate your inbuilt body clock (the circadian rhythm) and give your brain the cue it may need to know when it’s time to unwind and go to sleep. If you drastically change your sleeping patterns – for example, going to bed before 11pm one night and then 3am the following morning – your body clock becomes ‘confused’, affecting your quality of sleep and putting your sleep pattern out of sync.
- Avoid white light before bed
Watching TV or using your computer or phone before bed may be considered a good way to relax before bed, but it can sometimes be detrimental, namely because the bright light emitted, which acts as an environmental cue to your body that it is wrongly day time, and therefore hinder any biological desire to fall asleep. If you have the option of “night mode”, this may help, but ensure that you don’t watch anything too stimulating, and avoid watching anything whilst in bed – allow your bed to simply be used as a haven for sleep.
- Take a warm bath
It’s not just an old wives’ tale that a bath before bed will send you to sleep. As well as the relaxation- factor it provides, research has shown that if you take a warm bath one to two hours before bed, the rise in temperature, followed by the drop-in temperature when you then enter a colder room induces sleep.
- Relaxation techniques
A state of relaxation can be achieved in many ways including reading or listening to music. But for some, a more structured approach is needed, and in those people, practices like yoga, mindfulness and meditation may be useful. If you feel a bit clueless when it comes to these holistic approaches, there are many apps available now to download which help guide you through a pre-bedtime meditation. Self-care can be a big part of relaxation – pampering yourself in the evening with soothing oils or body lotion can make starting a bedtime routine an enjoyable process. You should also try a lavender scented candle whilst enjoying your warm bath, or a diffuser in your bedroom to de-stress, which creates the perfect ambience to drift off into a peaceful slumber. If anxieties keep popping into your head, stopping you from falling asleep, I suggest you acknowledge and accept them, but avoid feeding them with too much of your time. Rather than ruminating over these worries, I often recommend writing them down and picking them back up in the morning with a fresh head.
Exercising is an important part of our physical and mental health, and is a good way to manage stress and anxiety through endorphin release. We also know that exercising in the day can improve sleep quality, however if you’re having difficulty sleeping and considering hitting the gym a couple times a week to help catch some Zs, just keep in mind that you need to make exercise a more frequent activity for a prolonged period before you begin to see tangible results. Although the effect might not be immediate, in the long run, maintaining a moderate exercise routine can go a long way in helping improve quality of sleep and quality of life. However avoid stimulating exercise just before bed as it is likely to make you feel more energised, awake and hotter, making it difficult to get to sleep.
- Optimise your diet
In general, avoiding eating heavy meals before bed and reducing caffeine intake (ensuring none is consumed for at least 6 hours before bed) is likely to help. We also know that whilst alcohol is likely to send you off to sleep, it is also likely to result in poor quality sleep, waking you up several times through the night. As well as all these “don’t” foods and drinks, there are also many foods on the “do” list. Foods high in the amino acid, tryptophan, are considered beneficial in sleep, and is why we are often advised to have a warm glass of milk before bed, as one of the foods high in this chemical is dairy, but it can also be found in nuts, seeds and chicken. Furthermore, there is increasing evidence that a high fibre diet is also linked to an increased amount of restorative sleep, we believe by indirectly increasing the amount of melatonin in our body. This is a hormone that our brain produces to help control our sleep-wake cycle. Another food that is high in melatonin is cherries, and there are a few small studies showing cherries may indeed benefit sleep. There are other chemicals responsible for the sleep-wake cycle, one of which is serotonin, and foods like kiwis and soybeans, which are high in this chemical, have also been suggested in studies to improve sleep quality. There has been a study to suggest that 2 kiwis consumed an hour before bed may also improve sleep.