Updated: Jun 1
Sleep is a superpower when it comes to looking after your health. Not only does it restore your energy, sleep can also affect your immune system - influencing how well you fight off bugs, as well as having an impact on your mental health and ability to cope with what life throws at you. Here, we’re focusing on five key tips to get better sleep that you can put into practice straight away.
Tip 1: A consistent sleep schedule helps your body learn when to sleep
You may have heard of your body’s internal clock called the circadian rhythm. This is a 24-hour cycle that helps your body produce hormones to make you alert during the day and to feel sleepy at night. When you have a consistent sleep schedule, your circadian rhythm adjusts to follow it and, after a short time, gets used to feeling sleepy at a certain time. Without this consistency, it can be hard for your body to know when to release these hormones, making it difficult to fall asleep.
Action: Set an alarm to remind you to go to bed each night at the same time. Make sure you’re allowing at least 7 hours sleep before you need to wake up (some people might need up to 9 hours to feel well rested).
Tip 2: You can create the right environment for supporting good sleep
Your sleep environment (in most cases your bedroom) plays a big part in supporting your circadian rhythm and your sleep quality. Light acts as a cue for your body, telling it when to be alert (when it’s light) and when to feel sleepy (when it’s dark). With artificial light now readily available at any time of day, it’s easy for these cues to get confused.
Make sure your bedroom is dark and avoid light before you go to sleep – including light from screens. Even dim light can disrupt your body’ production of melatonin (the sleep-promoting hormone), so the darker the better.
Other environmental factors include:
temperature – comfortably cool is ideal,
noise – minimise noise disturbances, and
comfort – it’s worth investing in a comfortable bed and pillow since sleep is so vital to your everyday health and functioning.
Action: Dim the lights when you’re winding down in the evening and make sure the eye comfort settings are active on your phone. If you can, avoid screens completely for at least an hour before bed – it’s a good excuse to curl up with a good book.
Tip 3: Alcohol, nicotine and caffeine can all negatively impact your sleep
Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants and stop you feeling sleepy. Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, cola, energy drinks, medicines, and even in chocolate. Opt for decaf versions, water, or herbal teas instead. Nicotine is found in tobacco products as well as vapes and e-cigarettes.
Alcohol can actually make you feel drowsy, however, even drinking small amounts of alcohol affects the overall quality of your sleep and can leave you feeling tired in the morning.
Action: Pass on the harmful substances after mid-afternoon. There are lots of delicious alcohol-free and caffeine-free drinks available to try so you don’t need to deprive yourself. Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your health, not just your sleep, so it’s worth giving it a go.
Tip 4: Relaxing before bed can help your body release sleep hormones
Just like creating the right environment helps your body prepare for sleep, so does creating the right mental state. High stress and a busy mind aren’t conducive to a good night’s rest. Tackling the root cause of any stresses or worries in the long term is important, but there are strategies you can adopt to manage them in the moment.
Relaxation techniques help to calm a busy mind – meditation, deep breathing exercises, gentle yoga, and even reading (if your book isn’t too exciting!) can help you feel calm and in control. Soothing music or a warm bath might also help you relax, which can promote the production of melatonin and help you feel ready for sleep.
Action: Think about ways you can relax this evening and put them into practice. There are plenty of free sleep stories, meditations, and music tracks available online or via apps – have a browse and see which you like the sound of. You can always try a different one tomorrow if it wasn’t quite right.
Tip 5: Exercise is important for good sleep, and it’s best earlier in the day
Exercise, like sleep, is a health superpower – and they both support each other. If you’re feeling tired, you might not feel like exercising, but exercise will help you sleep better and you can break the catch-22 with a little effort. Exercise can give you an energy boost- aim to get 30 minutes of exercise each day, ideally in the morning. Bonus points if you can do it outside as daylight exposure in the morning has huge benefits for your circadian rhythm.
If 30 minutes sound like a lot, start smaller and build up over time – anything is better than nothing. However, if you can, avoid strenuous exercise before you sleep as that energy boost will make it hard to sleep.
Action: Identify a block of at least 10 minutes tomorrow morning when you can get some exercise, and do it. A brisk walk around the block will do the job, or perhaps pop to your leisure centre for a morning swim – whatever is achievable and appealing to you.
If you’re worried about your sleep or have health conditions or worries that are affecting your sleep, it’s important to get professional advice. Speak to your GP.
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