Lack of sleep can affect how we feel day-to-day and impact our wider health. In recognition of World Sleep Day, here's my top tips to help you secure a good night's sleep.
When two-thirds of UK adults suffer from disrupted sleep and a quarter gets no more than 5 hours of sleep a night it’s no surprise we’re a nation of declining health.
Lack of sleep is associated with an increased risk of health conditions including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, weight gain, hormone issues, depression and dementia.
The recommendation of 8 hours of sleep a night is backed by science but if you’re struggling to get to sleep, stay asleep or wake feeling refreshed it can be hard to know where to turn.
In this blog, I’ll be sharing my top eight tips for securing a good night’s sleep with less tossing and turning and more quality zzzzzz’s.
1. Increase your exposure to natural light
Your internal body clock, known as your circadian rhythm, is regulated by the rise and fall of the sun. Exposing your eyes to natural light first thing in the morning helps to keep your circadian rhythm in balance – improving energy during the day and supporting sleep at night.
When you wake up, open the curtains/blinds to get some natural light into the room. Go for a walk outside or stand in nature with your morning cuppa and let your eyes welcome in the light.
2. Exercise – but not before bed
Studies have shown that exercise can reduce the time it takes to fall asleep and increase sleep duration. However, exercise releases hormones such as adrenaline which have a stimulatory effect on the body – making us more alert and awake.
The effect depends on the individual but if you’re exercising in the evening and struggling to sleep, consider moving your workout to the morning and see if that helps you to drift off quicker at night.
3. Reduce caffeine intake
Caffeine also increases alertness. Whether it’s tea or coffee, caffeine is frequently used as a way to fight fatigue – but it can become a vicious cycle.
The half-life of caffeine is around 4-6 hours. This means that 6 hours after consumption, half of the caffeine will still be in your body. The more caffeine you drink, or the later you drink it, the higher the amount keeping you awake at night.
Aim to keep caffeine to 1-2 cups a day and after lunchtime switch to herbal teas and/or water. You can switch to decaf options but it’s important to know these aren’t caffeine-free.
4. Avoid artificial and blue light in the evenings
A good night’s sleep is promoted by the production of melatonin – a chemical messenger that tells the brain it’s bedtime. The sun setting would naturally do this (just as the sunrise helps you wake up) but the invention of artificial light has disrupted the natural rhythm – and more importantly, blue light from mobiles, laptops and TV’s suppresses the production of melatonin.
Support your bodies production of melatonin by dimming the lights, turning off the TV, and putting mobiles and laptops away an hour or two before bed.
5. Clear your mind and note down your thoughts
It’s not uncommon for thoughts to be the barrier to falling asleep at night. With a busy, fast-paced, and often stressful, lifestyle, the silence at night can be when the mind chatters most.
Consider journaling or writing a diary before you go to bed. This is an opportunity to reflect on your day, write down your thoughts and clear your mind of anything that may be bothering you.
It can be helpful to have this journal or a separate notepad and pen by your bedside for any thoughts that occur as you drift off to sleep – or if you wake in the night. Rather than being worried you’ll forget them, write them down and then focus on getting back to sleep.
6. Remove distractions and protect your sleep space
Your bedroom should be for sleeping, relaxing and intimacy. When work, laptops, mobiles and TV’s merge with your sleep space the chance of disturbed sleep increases. Not only can you be consciously distracted (another episode anyone?) but your brain is likely to be confused too.
The brain likes structure. By removing distractions and keeping your bedroom for sleep, your brain will know what the objective is when you climb into bed at night. It’s another signal that bed equals sleep.
7. Optimise your bedroom environment
In a similar way, optimising your bedroom environment is key to falling and remaining asleep. Several studies have shown that noise, light and temperature can all impact your ability to get a good night’s sleep.
Blackout blinds/curtains and eye masks are good options for blocking out external light. White noise, meditation and sleep stories can help distract from other sounds – or earplugs if you prefer silence.
A room temperature of around 18 degrees celsius is recommended so consider the airflow in the room and your choice of PJ’s to help regulate temperature – your birthday suit may be the best choice here!
8. Routine, consistency, priority
Just as the brain likes structure, it likes routine too. Going to bed at the same time every day will make drifting off that much easier – your internal body clock wants to run like clockwork. But if you’ve been struggling with sleep for some time, and are new to putting these tips into practice, be patient and consistent as your circadian rhythm rebalances.
Finally, make sleep a priority. Carve out the time to wind down before bed and don’t let “one last episode” or endless scrolling keep you awake. Try leaving electronics outside the bedroom door. If you use your phone as an alarm it will encourage you to get up in the mornings to turn it off, rather than hitting the snooze button – win-win!
Remember, securing 8 hours of sleep a night will have a positive impact on your health – now and in the future.