A good night’s sleep is essential to health, just like good nutrition. In fact, sleep is considered more important than exercise, and a lack of it is known to affect athletic performance.
Adults need seven to nine hours of good quality sleep for optimum health. With inadequate sleep, our hormones go haywire and cognitive performance deteriorates. It also increases our risk of developing certain health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, hypertension and stroke.
But what if you find it difficult to get good quality sleep? What else can you do short of buying a new organic latex mattress from Nature’s Embrace?
Here are four foolproof tips on how to sleep better:
1. Tune into your body’s circadian rhythm
Organisms like us human beings have a light-related circadian rhythm or natural sleep-wake cycle. Since this is ingrained in our biology, staying in tune with our natural cycle is one of the best strategies to get better sleep. With this, you will find yourself falling asleep and waking up at regular hours. Once you establish a regular sleep-wake schedule, you’ll wake up fresh and revitalized — even when your sleep schedule is altered by an hour or so.
If you’ve been having troubled sleep or an irregular sleep schedule, try going to sleep and rising at the same time for a couple of days. Getting yourself accustomed to falling asleep on a regular schedule may be challenging at first, but it’ll happen, eventually. Make sure you set a bedtime schedule that you can adhere to for the long term — a time when you usually feel tired and ready to doze off.
Use an alarm clock to rouse yourself from sleep in the morning, but make sure you clock in seven hours of sleep or more. As your body relearns your natural sleep-wake cycle, you won’t be needing an alarm clock for long.
Something important to remember is that sleeping in on weekends — even when you can — can disrupt your circadian rhythm. It’s something akin to feeling jet-lagged. And instead of sleeping in to make up for a few hours of sleep debt, take a daytime nap instead. Then again, focus on getting a power nap in the early afternoon (before 2 pm). This should last for only about 15 to 20 minutes as taking longer naps can disrupt your nighttime sleep.
If you struggle with drowsiness after meals (including dinner), fight off the urge to snooze by doing something like washing the dishes, decluttering or talking to a friend. Giving in to these episodes can lead to disturbed sleep at night.
2. Tap into the interaction between melatonin and light
Melatonin is an important hormone that aids in regulating the sleep-wake cycle. It is influenced by light exposure, and more of it is produced when it’s dark. This is why you feel more alert when it’s light out, and less so, or sleepy, when it’s dim or dark. However, certain aspects of modern living have affected this natural process — we can have bright light even at night, thereby altering our circadian rhythm.
To manage this process and make melatonin work for you so you can get good quality sleep, try to observe the following:
- Get plenty of sunlight in the morning, preferably as soon as you wake up.
- Have breakfast or coffee by a sunny view or window.
- At work, try to take breaks out in the daylight as much as possible.
- Walk your dog in the daytime instead of close to sunset.
- Try to accommodate as much natural light into your home or workspace as possible.
- During winter, you can try using a light therapy box that can simulate sunshine.
- Avoid looking at blue-lit screens about an hour before bedtime. These include the television, tablet, smartphone and computer. More than any other light colour, blue light is considered the most disruptive as it blocks the production of melatonin.
- Instead of watching stimulating content on television or streaming sites, opt for relaxing music or audiobooks for your late-night entertainment.
- Make your bedroom conducive to sleep by keeping it dark, or use a sleep mask. Try not to keep any electronic devices in your sleeping area.
- If you must get up in the middle of the night, use a night lamp, small flashlight or dim nightlight instead of turning on the light in your bathroom or hall. Exposure to full light even for just a few minutes can make it difficult for you to go back to sleep.
3. Time your exercise right
Regular exercise helps in ensuring you get better sleep at night and keeps you energized during the day. It also leads to a longer, deep restorative sleep. More vigorous exercise increases the benefits of sleep, but even light exercise can help improve sleep quality.
If you haven’t been exercising, it may take a couple of months of regular exercise before you get to experience the sleep-promoting effects of physical exertion. However, it’s also important to schedule exercise in the morning or afternoon, and not too close to bedtime.
Since exercise increases body temperature, boosts metabolism and stimulates the production of hormones like cortisol, endorphins and adrenaline, your body enters an excitable stage. This, in turn, can keep you up and disrupt sleep.
If you can only exercise late in the day, do so at least three hours before your regular sleep schedule. You can also practise gentle stretches and relaxing low-impact exercises like yoga to help promote sleep in the evening.
4. Manage stress and cultivate your own sleep ritual
Sometimes, the stress we get from daytime events, whether at home or work, can interfere with our ability to relax and wind down at the end of the day. This is why it’s important to learn to manage stress in the following ways:
- Have some quiet time before going to bed. This could be an hour spent on activities that promote relaxation, such as taking a warm bath, journaling, reading, listening to music, meditating or deep breathing exercises.
- Keep screens out of your bedroom so you won’t be tempted to check your social media and answer emails or messages.
- Mindfully stop worrying and planning for the next day.
- Dim or turn off the lights when you lie down, and consciously clear your mind of negative thoughts. Focus on the good things that happened during the day, or everything you need to be grateful for to help soothe away your worries.
- Ensure your mattress and pillows are comfortable and supportive.
- Set your air conditioning between 60 and 67°F or 15.5 and 19°C, which is the optimum temperature range most conducive to sleep.
If you’ve always had inadequate or poor sleep, getting better quality sleep can prove challenging. However, by practising these tips regularly, you should be getting the restful sleep you need in no time.