Sleep Better Following These Simple Tips
Tired of Being Tired? Top Tips for a Better Sleep
Sleeping is a pleasure for most of us (especially after a week of hard work and never-ending commitments), and nevertheless, it seems like we can never get enough shut-eye. Anybody can have a bad night of sleep, but what if the issue keeps repeating itself? How much can you go without feeling the negative impacts of sleep deprivation on your overall health and mood?
Nobody really knows why humans and animals need to sleep. Scientist research has shown that, despite what is commonly thought, during sleep hours our bodies and minds don’t shut completely until the next day; instead, sleeping plays a vital role in the consolidation of memories (it’s the moment of the day where the information gathered during the day transfers from the short-term memory to the long-term memory areas in our brains), which is highly related to learning processes, and it’s the time our body uses to restore, grow muscle, repair tissue and synthesize hormones. But why does all of this happen during our sleep? That remains a mystery.
Being so important for the good functioning of the brain and body, it seems clear that sleep alterations are going to have a negative impact on the processes that take place when we are resting. I’m not going to dive deeply into them, but just so you have an idea of how sleeping is tightly linked to your health, here are just some of the health issues related to poor sleep patterns according to The Great British Bedtime Report, from 2013:
Sleeping is, therefore, as important as hygiene, eating habits or exercise when it comes to staying healthy. But (as you may know by now) it is extremely hard to get a full 8-hour night of sleep as most specialists recommend—especially if you have little children or are feeling stressed out.
Contrary to what you may think, sleep debt (the cumulative effect of not getting enough sleep regularly for days or weeks) and its effects in your body and mind can’t be fixed by sleeping a couple of extra hours during the weekends. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a long Sunday morning in bed (who doesn’t?), but bear in mind that it probably won’t help you recover from a week of sleep deficit. So what can you do to avoid falling into a sleep debt in the first place?
Creating good sleep habits can look tricky at first sight, and, like any other change you may want to start to improve your lifestyle, it will require some effort, time, patience and attention. These are my top tips for better sleep. You can try them all or pick up on the ones that you think will have a bigger impact on your sleep. Either way, I’m sure all of them will make you rethink the way you have been addressing your sleep problem all these years!
Is your room at a good temperature and dark enough?
If you have ever been to Spain in summer or to Scotland in winter, you will know very well what I’m talking about: it’s practically impossible to sleep when the room is too warm or too cold. The ideal temperature in your bedroom should be between 16ºC and 18ºC. If it happens to be lower or higher than that, enough to interrupt your sleep, there are plenty of things you can do about it, but for my personal favourite trick you only need a hot water bottle: in winter, you fill it up with water straight from the kettle, and in summer, you do the same… with fridge water. It’s simple, it’s eco-friendly and it’s cheap.
As for the dark room, the scientific explanation is that light suppresses the segregation of melatonin, which, in short, is the hormone that controls the body’s circadian rhythms that make us feel tired and sleep at night. Even a tiny light like the one coming from your alarm or your phone charging can mess with your circadian rhythms, so be sure you cover any source of light when you go to sleep. If you need to keep a small light on (for you or your children), get a red bulb, which won’t interrupt the melatonin secretion. Good blackout curtains and closing your bedroom door will also help you sleep better.
Bedding and pillows
Who hasn’t woken up in a hotel thinking, “that was the best sleep I ever had” only because the bed was so much better than theirs? I certainly have. A bed that is too hard, that combs in the middle or that is simply too creaky can stop you from dreaming all night long and, even worse, have a bad impact on your back and neck. The same thing will happen with your pillow: a bad one could not only give you a bad night but also increase your headaches.
If you think your mattress is already worn out (the NBF recommends replacing it every seven years) and your pillow is giving you a hard time, it’s time to go shopping! Take your time to choose your new mattress and pillow, dig into the topic or ask your GP or a specialist such as chiropractic or physiotherapist about it. Don’t be afraid of spending a little more on a good mattress, or a bit less than you would expect. After all, just because a mattress will be more expensive, it doesn’t mean it will be best for you!
How is it decorated?
Your bedroom can be a place that invites you to relax . . . or to scream! There are lots of things in your bedroom that can distract you from a good sleep without you realising it: the colour of the walls, the scent, a TV, that doll your grandma gave you for your 10th birthday and has been staring at you in your sleep for fifteen years now…
In this case, it will depend more on what you feel comfortable with that with actual feng-shui or decoration ideas. Colour Therapy may tell you that warm colours like creams are better for bedrooms, but if you really hate creams and your favourite colour is a dark grey, go for it! The point is making your bedroom a space where you feel safe, happy and comfortable.
Keep an eye on what you eat and drink before going to bed
The winding down process actually starts during the day, since a lot of it has to do with what you eat and drink in the previous hours to go to bed. I know you are already thinking, “She is going to say that I should reduce my caffeine intake”. And you’re right! That’s exactly what I am going to say.
Caffeine is an incredible stimulant, with long-lasting effects that can help you make it through the day (plus it’s delicious and it smells great). However, it can cause side effects such as anxiety and insomnia, and it affects everybody in a different way: some of us can drink it at 12 am without any effects on our sleep, but when others take their last cuppa at 7 pm, it will absolutely destroy their chances of a good night of sleep.
Alcohol, on the other hand, is considered by many as an aid to fall asleep. However, between its many bad effects on your health, alcohol (especially when taken in big quantities) reduces the REM sleep, where our brain restores itself. It will also make you go to the loo more often, while causing snores and contributing to the dehydration of your body—which, at the end of the day, is what causes that hangover feeling.
At the same time, while eating a large meal is not recommended if you want to improve your sleep, there are certain foods that can help you sleep. If you are looking for a late-night snack, go for foods high in tryptophan, magnesium and potassium, like bananas or almonds. Also, try to avoid processed high carbs, dark chocolates and citrus fruit.
Turn off your devices
We mentioned circadian rhythms before in this article. In short, this is a 24-hour cycle that anticipates the changes around us, and prepares our body to adapt to them. It is directly linked to our exposure to daytime light - or any kind of artificial light that resembles this one, such as blue light.
Blue light, which can be beneficial during the daytime, as it boosts energy, mood and concentration, also suppresses the segregation of melatonin—which, as we mentioned before, is the hormone that makes you naturally feel sleepy at the end of the day. Most of our electronic devices emit blue light, which makes it really hard to avoid. It is recommended to stop using electronic devices at least one hour before going to bed and keep them all out of the bedroom, but, being realistic, not a lot of us would be happy to do that (I personally love falling asleep to the last episode of my favourite show on Netflix). Here’s when blue light glasses and blue light filters enter the picture. The first ones will block the direct exposure to blue light by filtering it, and the second ones (your phone and laptop may already give you the option to activate it) will decrease the amount of blue light emitted.
So, the idea lying underneath this, try to expose yourself to natural light early in the morning to start your circadian cycle and reduce the exposure as the day comes to its end.
Switch emails for meditation
Phones and computers play a great role as part of our daily entertainment, but they are also one of our main tools of work.
Having your phone or laptop at hand when you are about to go to bed could tempt you to check your emails for the last time today. But let me tell you, this is probably the last thing you want to do before going to bed, and not only because you are not wearing your blue glasses right now: it is likely to make you anxious and keep your mind active when you are trying to do just the opposite.
Instead, put some relaxing music on, do some meditation (there are some great apps for this, such as Headspace, but you can also find one on YouTube), write a gratitude list, read a book (remember: in paper, to avoid blue light and notification pop-ups), take a warm bath or practice some yoga. These are all relaxation practices that will get your mind away from work and will leave it in the right place for a good sleep.
Whatever you choose to start implementing at bedtime, remember that this is a process and that sleep will most likely improve over a few weeks of having regular habits. Our brain likes routine so if you don’t seem instant changes, it’s important you keep at it for a while to fully reap the benefits and get some proper shut-eye. If you have other tips to sleep better, I’d love to know what’s been working for you!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.