Sleep is one of three key things essential for everyday health (besides diet and physical activity). A proper sleep is therefore more important than you may believe. People who sleep longer and better have stronger immune systems, have healthier hearts and they live longer.
Ideal sleep duration isn’t a fixed goal – it actually depends on your age. Younger people need between 7-9 hours per night, while kids need up to 14 hours. With age, the sleep duration needed for proper health declines. You can use a Fitbit or sleep tracking app to measure the quality and exact duration of your sleep. This will also help you figure out if one or more stages of your sleep are less than ideal.
It is always a nice thing when you are able to improve the sleep quality. With the tips mentioned below, you can hopefully sleep better.
Spend more time exposed to the sunlight during a day
All humans have a circadian rhythm, also known as an internal clock. It tells your brain when the time is right to sleep and when to wake up. But, this system affects the brain, hormones, and body in general. So, when compromised, poor health will occur.
Spending up to 2 hours per day exposed to the bright sunlight can ‘adjust’ the internal clock. According to a study, people who did this type of activity improved their sleep quality by 80%.
If you work indoors in a dark office, consider a SAD lamp to get your ‘sunshine’, and make sure your vitamin D levels are good.
Maintain a regular sleeping schedule
When you sleep and wake up at different times every day, your body has no routine. This will affect your levels of melatonin (sleep hormone) and your circadian rhythm. Your brain won’t know when and how long to put your body to sleep!
Several studies have shown that people do need regular sleeping patterns. If you still need additional rest, take a nap of 30 minutes or less during the day but before 4pm (late naps will affect your sleep).
Make sure you go to bed at the same time every night (give or take half an hour or so), and make sure you feel sleepy before you close your eyes. If you’re not feeling sleepy, read a book or listen to an audiobook (see below), until you are. Sleepiness comes in waves, so if you miss the first wave, get ready for the next one in 45 minutes’ time.
If you can’t sleep, don’t lie in the dark with your mind racing. Get up, leave the room, and do something (that doesn’t involve devices). Don’t return to your bedroom until you feel tired, and eventually your brain will associate your bedroom with tiredness and sleep, making nodding off easier. Never work or argue in your bedroom, because your brain begins to associate the room with activity or conflict instead, which is counterproductive.
Ideally, you should set an alarm and wake up at the same time every day. That helps your body stick to its sleep/wake regime.
Reset your body clock if needed
If you’re jetlagged, hold off on eating dinner until it’s the right time locally. This can help your body reset its body clock (digestion plays a big part in your circadian rhythm, which is also why you shouldn’t eat a big meal before bed). In desperate times, taking over-the-counter sleeping tablets (only recommended for one or two nights, as they quickly lose their effectiveness) will help you get back to your normal routine.
Nytol, Nytol Herbal and Kalms are the usual brands of sleep aid, which use ingredients like antihistamines and valerian to calm your central nervous system. Patients quickly build up a tolerance to these, however, and they can cause side effects such as night sweats, dehydration and muscle cramps.
Melatonin is safer to take long-term, although doctors usually prescribe it for a 12-week period to reset your body clock. It’s a supplement in America, so can be bought online and in shops. Unfortunately, it’s considered a prescription medication in the UK, so is harder to obtain (it’s legal to buy small quantities online for personal use, but your doctor is unlikely to prescribe it unless you’re under 13 or over 55).
Do not use gadgets three hours before going to sleep
All devices and gadgets such as smartphones, laptops and TVs emit blue light to your brain. Blue light tricks the brain into thinking it’s still a daytime and reduces production of melatonin (this hormone comes up a lot).
You can use special blue-light filter glasses which eliminate the blue light or even a blue light filter app, but it is a much better choice not to use gadgets at least three hours before going to bed. Not only does the blue light have an impact on your sleep, getting into Twitter debates or reading distressing news can set your mind whirring when you lie down.
No arguments before bed
Getting riled up wakes you up. Avoid conflict before bed, with no exceptions. Switching your phone off at 7pm should help. You do not need disaster when you’re winding down.
Adjust your bedroom
In order to sleep better, you need the ideal sleeping environment. This means that noise, artificial lighting, and temperature must suit your own preferences. Only then you will be able to get a sleep quality and duration your brain and body need.
If you share your bedroom with someone else, this can be a process of negotiation. But even sleeping with your legs on top of the blankets can cool you down if one of you is too hot and the other too cold.
If your curtains don’t keep out the light, this can stir you to waking too quickly. Sunlight switches off melatonin and tells your body to wake up. Even a single shaft of light on the skin can have this effect, so blackout curtains are best.
Do not use your bedroom for anything but sex and sleeping, and it will start to take on a peaceful vibe in your mind.
Exercising is one of the oldest ‘treatments’ for those who cannot get plenty of sleep. 30 minutes of exercise can help, but you need to do it at least four hours prior to your bedtime, to allow your body to wind down again. Some yoga stretches, however, can be used to prepare you for sleep.
Some people can’t exercise because of health problems and disability, in which case, this may not be an option. Work out what’s right for your body and don’t let others pressure you into doing what they think is right.
Caffeine stays active in the body for eight hours, and in some people can cause anxiety. Caffeine is present in some teas (including your standard builder’s brew), energy drinks and coke. That’s why all of them must be avoided after 2pm if you want to get a decent night’s sleep.
Listen to an audiobook
Listening to audiobooks at bedtime gives your brain something non-challenging to focus on. It also reminds us of childhood, when parents may have read to us. Honestly, there’s nothing more exquisite than drifting off to sleep to the Harry Potter books as read by Stephen Fry.
If you share your bed, invest in headphones and put your CD player or mp3 player under your pillow.
Yes, all of these tips look simple and easy to perform, but they have a huge effect on sleep duration and quality. If you use them, expect to sleep better and to have more energy than ever before.