We have recently been discussing the importance of good sleep but for the many that can be difficult, for many different reasons. It may be that you have a neurological condition that impacts on your sleep, it maybe that you have developed insomnia over your life, like me you may have an interrupted sleep pattern due to small children or animals, it maybe that you feel you just don’t need that much sleep.
Well prioritising getting a good nights sleep can be one of the best things you can do for your health, in this post we are going to discuss the ways you can set your self up for a good nights sleep.
Regularity – going to bed and waking up at the same time each day helps set your Circadian Rhythm (your body clock) to be working well and gives you the best chance to fall asleep well. Research shows adults need between 7-9 hours sleep so ideally getting into bed to give yourself an 8- 8.5 hour sleep opportunity is important.
Embrace darkness – Not only is it important to have a dark bedroom by using eye masks or black out curtains in the bedroom. It is also important to watch your light exposure before bedtime. Cut the artificial lights down at night time, this will help allow melatonin levels to rise. Limit screens as the blue light from phones have been shown to disrupt your dream (REM) sleep when used as little as an hour before bed and this disruption has been shown to last for days afterwards.
Body temperature – To fall asleep we need to have our core body temperature fall, keeping your bedroom around 18 degrees allows for this. Use appropriate bedding and sleepware can help too. Having a warm shower or bath before bed assists with this process and helps you fall asleep faster. However having cold hands and feel can stop your core body temperature dropping so using socks or something like a wheat bag can help warm them up to drop your core temperature.
Watch what your drink - Both caffeine and alcohol will affect your overall quality of sleep, and have been shown to affect sleep in small doses even if you not aware of it. Caffeine, found in coffee, tea and soft drinks has a half life of 6 hours and a quarter life of 12 hours. Recommendations for sleep is to drink caffeine no later than midday.
Even one glass of alcohol has been shown to disrupt dream sleep and the by products of the body processing alcohol are still present 8-9 hours after that drink. Alcohol affects the quality of sleep.
Drinking too much fluid close to bed time can also increase nocturia (night time toileting) and can cause you to wake from sleep. Fluid intake and hydration is also important as dehydration also irritates the bladder and causes more toileting.
Watch when you are eating – avoid eating three hours before bedtime as this can cause ongoing issues with reflux, and your body is undergoing digestion process so can not repair until this is finished.
Bedtime routine – Having a consistent bedtime routine signals to your body that you are ready for sleep.
Some ideas for a bed time routine are
Manage stress – The build up of stress chemicals such as the hormone cortisol can impact of getting and staying asleep. Understanding stress triggers and dealing with these can support good sleep. Meditation before bed has been shown to help people get a better nights sleep. An hour before bed taking some time to document any thoughts or stressors can also help. If you wake in the middle of the night, you can go and quietly write down any of the things that are keeping you awake. Can’t get out of bed, try deep breathing into your stomach in through your nose and out through your mouth or trick your brain to stop going through all those thoughts imagine your self taking a gentle walk in your favourite spot, or if you can try to walk yourself through a guided meditation, ideally avoiding the use of your phone.
Keep the bedroom for sleep - The brain can be extremely associative it is recommended that if you are having difficulty with sleep that you use bedroom for only Sleep and sex. This is some of the reason why you can fall asleep on the sofa then try to go to bed you won’t be able to go to sleep. It is also why if you find yourself awake in bed for longer than 20 minutes it is recommended if safe that you get out of bed and do something quite until you feel sleepy and return to bed. Some people finding reading before bed can help and as long as this does not disrupt your sleep then this can be a good way to switch the brain off.
A word about rest and naps
We will cover fatigue management more at a later stage but if you find that you are needing to nap during the day and this is regular and dose not interfere with your night sleep then it it good to continue. Naps can affect a hormone call adensosisne which is needed to build up to help us sleep, when we nap we release some of the adenosine and that can impact out night sleep. If you have had a bad nights sleep it is better to wake up at the same time and then try to go to bed when sleepy in the evening to help with maintaining a good sleep pattern. If you do nap try not to nap too late in the afternoon before 3 pm is ideal.