What can you do everyday to avoid lying awake counting sheep at 2 am in the morning? Here’s a few tips to help you optimise your sleep quality.
We all need sleep–more than that we all need good quality sleep. But, it doesn’t come as easily to some as it does to others.
We need sleep to stay healthy and energised throughout the day. A poor night’s sleep can have harmful effects on our eating habits, fitness routines and overall well-being. A 2016 report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention stated that insomnia can increase your risk of heart attack, cancer and obesity. Let's take a deeper look into why we need to catch those Zs so much...
Why is sleep so important for good health?
A good night’s sleep is essential for all of us whether we’re five years old or 55 years old. Lately, it seems that more and more of us are suffering from insomnia. It has been named the most common sleep disorder, and it affects between six and ten percent of adults and presents even higher in people with hypertension and breathing problems.
This is because sleep helps our bodies to:
- maintain healthy brain function and emotional well-being
- heal and repair our heart and blood vessels (according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, "ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke")
- maintain a healthy weight
- balance our hormone levels
- maintain a healthy immune system
It has been suggested that adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep daily, but this isn’t set in stone. Everyone is different and some people may need more than others. What matters is that you get enough good quality sleep at night so that when you wake up you feel refreshed, recharged and ready for another day.
Your body has a natural time-keeping clock known as your circadian rhythm. Our circadian rhythms have been interrupted in recent years with the development of the smartphone among other technologies. We need to find ways of getting our circadian rhythms back in sync, allowing us a night of good quality sleep. Scientists have found that by altering our actions during the day, we aren’t lying awake at midnight counting sheep. This is good sleep hygiene and can easily become part of your routine.
Download our Guide to Getting a Good Night's Sleep to learn more about the important role of sleep for good health.
Steps to improve your sleep quality
If you're one of many of us that struggles to wind down in the evenings, try these simple (but effective) tips to help you improve your sleep quality.
1. Sleep soundly in a relaxing environment
A major source of nighttime disturbances can be your bedroom itself. In order to make sure you’re getting a decent night’s sleep, you need to make certain the environment is suitable. Make sure it’s as dark as it can be, and keep the temperature as regular as possible. The ideal temperature for a good night’s sleep is approximately 20 °C, but you need to be comfortable. So keep the temperature to something that you feel comfortable. Research has shown that temperature affects sleep more than noise. You should keep your bedroom electronic device free, as they have been named number one sleep interruptor.
Make sure that your bedroom is a place that you feel cosy and comfortable in. You need to be relaxed in order to fall asleep, so your sleeping environment must reflect this.
2. Expose yourself to more artificial light during the day
Due to technology, you’ll find yourself exposed to a lot of artificial light. This overexposure to bright lights has a knock on effect with our readiness to go to sleep. But, there is a way we can use this to our advantage. By exposing ourselves deliberately to bright light during the day, our body can recognise when it’s time to sleep once we’ve turned out the lights. Studies have shown this to be an effective way of desensitising ourselves to bright light. This is why your bedroom should be as dark as possible–so that once you are ready for bed you won’t be troubled by light.
3. Train yourself with a nighttime routine
The process of improving the quality of your sleep, will take time, so be patient. It works the same way as when you are just starting out with exercise or adjusting your diet to be healthier.
In order to get a good night’s sleep you need to stick to a schedule that will help your body’s internal clock adjust. Devise a timetable will help teach your body to recognise when it’s time to rest and time to wake up. An important part of this routine is going to bed at the same time every single night, including weekends. If you struggle to do this, it might be worth setting an alarm that signals when it’s time for bed.
Remember it takes 33 days to make a habit, so soon enough you’ll find yourself fitting seamlessly into a routine and getting enough sleep each night.
4. Avoid taking naps during the day
As tempting as an afternoon nap sounds, try to fight the urge to close your eyes as it will affect your night’s sleep.
Avoiding temptation may be difficult for some of us. But, if you can’t say no to a sneaky catnap, studies have found that the duration of your naps is important. The perfect length for a nap is a maximum of 30 minutes. It’s important to remember that you shouldn’t nap later in the day.
A nap may cause you to stay up longer than usual and upset your circadian rhythm.
5. Be sure to exercise daily
Sleep, exercise and nutrition work symbiotically in order to keep you healthy. Exercise gives you a boost of energy and then places you into a state of relaxation. This will not only keep you healthy but will also allow you to expend any pent up energy you still have, which can prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep. Exercise also helps release the happy hormones and endorphins, the happier and more relaxed you are the easier it will be to fall asleep.
6. Avoid stimulants at night time
Caffeine, nicotine, sugary foods and alcohol all make it harder for us to fall asleep at night.
Research shows that you should not be consuming caffeine within three hours of going to sleep and you should limit how much alcohol you drink as this will affect the quality of your sleep. You can experiment with this yourself and see how much better you sleep and how much fresher you feel when you wake up.
7. Practice self care before you go to sleep
Self care means putting a premium on your health and well-being, to decrease stress and uplift your mood. It’s easy to think that by simply blocking out distractions, exercising and eating well during the day that you can alleviate all the stress in your life. However, if our mental and emotional state is in upheaval, chances are we won’t be able to relax enough to fall asleep.
Make a conscious effort to take time before you go to sleep to unwind. This can be done by meditating, taking a relaxing bath or reading for a bit. Make sure you take the time to focus on yourself. Enjoy being quiet and spending time with your thoughts. This will go along way to getting rid of any stressors and helping you sleep soundly.
Need some help finding new ways to take care of yourself? Download our handy checklist, Mastering the Art of Self Care, to calculate your current self care score and find out how you can improve on it.
8. Keep your bedroom for sleeping
Your bedroom needs to be your sleep sanctuary. For a lot of us, our bedrooms have become the centre of our lives. We’re spending more and more time eating dinner, watching series and movies and playing on our phones in bed. But, this is not ideal for good sleep hygiene. You should make a concerted effort to only use your bedroom for sleeping. Over time you will become used to this place being associated with sleep and relaxation. A place to recharge and rest, rather than entertain, eat or work.
Sleep is just as important for our health as exercising and eating well is, which is why you should place a premium on it. Once you form good sleeping habits you should see an improvement in your mood, your stress levels, your application at work, your well-being and your health.
By putting these eight simple tips into practice, we bet you'll start to see improvements in your sleep quality. Remember, building healthy sleep habits takes time and repetition is key–so don't get two or three days into your new routine and throw in the towel. Before you know it, you'll be teaching all your friends and family how to revolutionise their sleep patterns too!
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