When your alarm goes off in the morning, do you want to roll over and go back to sleep? Do you feel tired during the day and struggle to focus? If so, it’s likely you’re not getting enough sleep or, at least, not enough good quality sleep.
Your body needs sleep to stay mentally and physically well. When your brain doesn’t get enough quality rest, it can cause issues with memory and concentration, and increase your risk of anxiety, depression, and even Alzheimer’s disease. Maybe you knew that, but did you know sleep impacts your physical health too? When you’ve had enough quality sleep, your immune system functions better, and your risk of conditions such as diabetes and heart disease are reduced.
What is good quality sleep?
Sleep quality refers to how long it takes you to get to sleep, how long you stay asleep during the night, and how much time you spend in bed asleep rather than awake. A sign that you are getting good quality sleep is if it takes you around 15-20 minutes to fall asleep and you wake no more than once in the night. Having an interrupted nights sleep can have the same impact as only getting four hours sleep a night.
How much does sleep affect your immune system? In his Ted Talk “Sleep is your superpower”, Professor of Neuroscience, Matt Walker, explains that restricting your sleep to four hours for just one night reduces the activity of cells in your immune system by 70%!
How to get enough good quality sleep
So, now we understand why good quality sleep is important, let’s look at how to get enough of it.
1. Cut down alcohol and caffeine
Particularly later in the day, caffeine can make it harder to fall asleep because it is a stimulant. Drinking alcohol might seems to help some people fall asleep but it leads to poorer quality sleep and can leave you still feeling tired the next day.
2. Get enough daylight and exercise
Your body uses daylight cues to manage your internal body clock. Without exposure to daylight, your circadian rhythm can get thrown out of sync, and you may get tired at the wrong times. Exercise is linked to better sleep, however, over-doing it can actually make it harder to fall asleep. The ideal time to exercise for good sleep is in the morning or afternoon, but evening exercise is better than none at all.
3. Set a regular bedtime and wake up time
When you go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day, it helps your body understand when it should start to feel sleepy. Even if you have a late night, you should still wake up at the same time as normal to avoid getting out of sync and potential sleep problems.
4. Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and tidy
18°C is the optimal temperature for most people but aim for somewhere between 18-24°C if that feels too cool. Removing sources of light helps your brain understand that it’s time for sleep and avoiding screens for at least an hour before bedtime reduces the risk of blue light preventing you falling asleep. A tidy room is more peaceful than a cluttered room, so try to keep it a tidy and calm space for optimal sleep.
5. Associate your room with sleeping
Keep your bedroom for sleeping and sex and try to remove other distractions such as TVs and workspaces. If you’re struggling to fall asleep, get up and try again in 20 mins to avoid associating your bedroom with not being able to sleep.
6. Wind down before bed
Winding down before sleep can help you nod off more easily and have a more restful sleep. You could try having a warm bath or putting down your phone and reading before sleep. Especially if you find it difficult to quiet your mind, it can be helpful to listen to a guided sleep meditation or a bedtime story designed to help you sleep.
7. Address your stress
One of the main causes of chronic insomnia is unmanaged stress. If you live a busy life, constantly switched on without balance, it can be hard to wind down and get a good night’s sleep. Take steps to manage your stressors and you may find you sleep much better for it.
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