Top 10 tips for a good night's sleep
Lisa Artis of the Sleep Council shares her wisdom on how best to get a good quality and quantity of sleep.
Most of us have suffered a bad night’s sleep at some stage or another. A one-off bad night’s sleep isn’t too much of a problem, apart from feeling irritable or below par the next day. But the effect of long-term sleep deprivation can be far more serious, increasing the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity and Alzheimer's disease.
1. Take time to relax
Around half the UK population suffers from stress-induced sleep problems, so it’s vital you take the time to relax before you go to bed, whether it’s taking a warm bath, reading a book, or listening to soothing music. For some people, writing a to-do list before bed can help free your mind from worrying about all the things you need to do tomorrow.
2. Get into a routine
We all know routine helps babies and children to fall asleep at a certain time. This applies to adults as well, because it allows your body to programme itself to naturally fall sleep and wake up at certain times. Try to be rigid about going to bed at a certain time, and create your own relaxation routine.
3. Avoid technology
Ban your smart phone, computer and TV from your bedroom, and avoid looking at them for an hour before bed. This kind of device emits a blue light, which suppresses the sleep hormone melatonin.
4. Create a restful environment
Make sure your bed provides the correct support, comfort and space to ensure you wake up and move about less. Make sure your room is the right temperature – between 16 °C and 18 °C (60°F to 65°F) is optimum. A lack of clutter, pale colours and pleasant smells, such as lavender and geranium, can also help create a soothing setting.
5. Don’t clock watch
Worrying about getting enough sleep can itself stop us sleeping. The best way to deal with that is to remind yourself that resting in bed and thinking nice thoughts is more productive than compared to tossing and turning and looking at the clock every ten minutes. If you keep checking your clock, you could turn it around or put it on the other side of the room so it’s not as easy to watch it ticking away.
6. Foods for sleeping
Eating healthily improves sleep generally, but some foods are particularly beneficial, such as milk, chicken, turkey and pumpkin seeds. They contain the chemicals tryptophan and serotonin, which are vital for the production of melatonin, the hormone that promotes sleep.
7. Foods to avoid
Spicy food, alcohol and large meals shouldn’t be consumed in the hours before bedtime. For many, drinking coffee or other caffeinated drinks in the afternoon can affect sleep.
Sugary food in general is bad, because the energy spike and ensuing crash you get can play havoc with your body clock. Also, research has shown that, if you don’t sleep well, then you tend to turn to junk food the next day, creating a cycle of poor sleep and bad diet.
8. Darkness promotes sleep
Before clocks, people would wake up when the sun rose and go to sleep when it got dark. Similarly, a darkened room helps to promote sleep and turning the lights down can make you feel sleepy. If you don’t have a dimmer switch, inexpensive lamps with a dimmer are available, or you could ask an electrician to quote for the cost of changing your main light switch.
If you’re disturbed by street lights outside your window, or bright sunlight at 5am in summer, you could try heavier curtains, extra lining or invest in blackout blinds.
9. Keep fit and get active
Physical activity is great for sleep, as well as for your health generally. However some people find that if they do vigorous exercise less than two hours before bedtime, it can make it harder to get to sleep. If you don't find this a problem, then there's probably no need to change.
People spend a lot of time and effort exercising and making sure they eat healthily – which is great – but they forget sleeping, which is the third side of the triangle.
10. Focus on sleep quality
We tend to focus on how long we’re asleep, but sleep quality is just as important. We go through five stages of sleep, which we experience in a cycle around five times a night. During the later stages the memories are consolidated and information is processed, among other things. This means that getting up in the night, for example to go to the loo, can interrupt the cycle and you might not reach the later stages. For this reason, it’s best to avoid drinking too much before going to bed.