You may have heard the term ‘sleep hygiene’. It’s used to describe healthy sleeping habits which promote a good nights rest. Many of the principles of sleep hygiene are common sense, however the rush of modern life means they are often easy to neglect. If you find you’re having problems with sleep, making a few small adjustments to your lifestyle and attitude might dramatically improve your quality of sleep.
Lets start by taking a look at why our sleep is so important.
Poor sleep is associated with an increased risk of various chronic conditions, such as:
On the other hand, the benefits of a restful nights sleep include:
- Healthier looking skin
- Better cognitive function
- Healthy testosterone levels
- Increased athletic performance
- Preliminary evidence also suggest that sleep may promote a healthier gut microbiome
What can you do to improve your sleep?
1. Listen to your body clock
The body has its very own biological clock, often called the circadian rhythm. It follows a 24-hour cycle and responds to light and darkness in our environment. This natural rhythm knows when it’s time to sleep, trust your body and don’t ignore it. Going to bed too early or late can cause sleep problems. If you go to bed and get up at the same time everyday, this will help ‘set’ your biological clock. Another thing that helps ‘set’ your clock is getting enough sunshine through the day.
2. Create the right environment
It is important to create a peaceful environment in your bedroom which promotes sleep. This includes;
- Ensure noises are minimal; for those you can’t control invest in a set of earplugs
- Keep the temperature comfortable and avoid electric blankets that can overheat.
- Don’t use your bed for anything other than sleep and sex. The brain connects places with events so if you use the bedroom like a living room (watching TV, eating etc) the brain will associate it with activity and not sleep.
- Invest in a comfortable mattress, pillows, bedding and pyjamas and keep them clean and fresh.
- Remove anything distracting such as ticking or brightly lit clocks – you really don’t need reminders of how long you’ve been awake!
- Keep mobile phones and electrical devices out of the bedroom.
- Get yourself an aromatherapy diffuser. There are many essential oils that aid sleep, Lavender is my all time favourite though which has a wonderful anxiolytic effect.
3. Practice relaxation and mindfulness
If you have trouble relaxing at bed time, try this simple belly breathing technique:
- Place one hand on your belly just below the rib cage and your other hand on your chest.
- Breath in deeply, gently allowing your belly to rise (your rib cage should stay still).
- Purse your lips and breath out while using your hand to gently guide your belly in.
- Repeat this slowly until you feel your body relaxing. It can be difficult to master at first so stick with it.
4. Avoid caffeine in the afternoon
It takes the body between 6-9 hours to metabolise caffeine so best to avoid it in the afternoon if you want to sleep well. Drink herbal teas instead and don’t forget that black and green tea also contain caffeine.
Are you one of those people who can drink coffee and still sleep? Well studies show that you’re probably not experiencing the full restorative benefits of sleep anyway.
5. Exercise Daily
Studies show that daily exercise can improve sleep. Just don’t exercise too close to bedtime, this can be over stimulating and have the opposite effect.
Other things to consider
- Avoid fluorescent lights and LCD screens for at least 1 hour before bed.
- Install f.lux® or something similar on your computer, tablet or phone.
- Don’t stay in bed if you’re not asleep after a reasonable amount of time (about 30 minutes). Get up and do something boring in a different room and keep the lights low. When you feel tired try to sleep again.
- Don’t go to bed full or hungry
- Some medications can interfere with sleep so take them as directed and speak with your doctor if you are concerned about the effect they have on your sleep.