Sleep is the crucial downtime when our bodies recover and repair themselves from the stresses and strains of the day. Going without good quality sleep, or any sleep at all, really can be an unpleasant experience. The all-too familiar effects – heavy eyes, aching muscles, poor attention span, reduced decision making abilities and being just that little bit more irritable than usual…
What’s more worrying than these symptoms, is that sleep deprivation can cause damaging changes to our immune systems, it increases the risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes and it even affects our ability to learn new information and to lay down new memories [1-4]. You wouldn’t drive your car day after day, month on month, year after year without having some down time and doing regular checks and maintenance. If you did, it wouldn’t take long before something gave way.
Why do the same to your body, by settling for poorer quality sleep?
So, our goal – better sleep.
And with that in mind, we’ve created a list of tips to help you improve your sleep. Try some of them and they should work wonders. You may find one is the cure all, a combination of a few might do just magic, or some others don’t really fit the bill. Just like stress, sleep is a personal thing.
We all know the benefits of regular exercise are far reaching and getting a good night’s sleep is one them. The human body was made to move – you should be working up a sweat on a regular basis so that it’s easier to nod off when it comes to bedtime. Try just getting off a stop earlier on the bus and walking. Regularly take the elevator? Try taking the stairs.
Avoid/Reduce Caffeine and Alcohol
Depending on a multitude of factors, the half-life of caffeine in our bodies is roughly between 5-10 hours. It’s likely that the 5th espresso you drank to get over your 4 o’clock slump is what’s got you lying in bed with a racing mind. Another beverage to avoid is alcohol. Alcohol is a disruptor of REM sleep (which is the type of good sleep that helps our brains stay healthy ). It may help you doze off to sleep by making you feel tired, but by the same sword it actually prevents your body going into a healing sleep by delaying the onset of REM sleep.
Have 2 separate bed times
Many experts are now pointing to separating your “bed time” into two distinct phases of (a) preparing to go to sleep and (b) actually sleeping. This is to routinely give your body a block of time to prepare to wind down and go to sleep. This would be opposite to the ever so common habit of working into the early hours till exhaustion and crashing your head into the pillow (and not necessarily getting the high quality Z’s needed).
So phase 1- “bed time” is a time where you wind down and are preparing your body to go to sleep. This means minimizing or removing all stimulants or distractions, if you can. Dimming the lights, making sure you aren’t checking emails or even typing up your work while lying in bed. This should be done around an hour or so before phase 2.
Phase 2 – “sleep time” the holy land for all those who love their snoozing. This is your actual bed time where your head hits the pillow. No need for instructions…
Jot it down
An hour before bed, try writing out tomorrow’s top “to do’s” on a card. This simple act/ceremony in itself can perform as a useful tool for putting aside tomorrow’s hustle and bustle and clearing your mind. But no essays, limit it to the real essential “to do’s”.
Minimize external distractions
It’s important to ensure your sleep goes as uninterrupted as possible. Our goal here is to reduce any noise and light that could upset your peaceful sleep. Curtains don’t darken the room enough? Wear an eye mask. Have a dog that scratches at your door at 4 am? Put them in a more distant room. Live in a noisy area? Wear ear plugs.
Read a book
Reading a book can help you sleep for a few reasons. It takes your mind off your daily stresses and transports you into a different world but, perhaps more importantly, reading a hard-copy of a book gives your eyes a break from the bright screens that we are glued to for most of the day. These screens – on phones, computers and tablets – emit a frequency of light known as blue-light. This type of light plays havoc with the parts of our brains that regulate sleep and disrupts production of the hormone melatonin which is responsible for making us feel sleepy. Giving yours eyes a break from screens before bed will allow your body to produce melatonin and help you drift off to sleep. Plus, it’s nice to escape from the world in a good book now and again.
Have a gentle alarm
An alarm that wakes you gently is better than an adrenaline-inducing siren to get you out of bed. Try serene wake-up alarm melodies that start off quiet and get gradually louder. If you find yourself getting enough restful sleep, you can gradually begin to wake up, before your alarm, while still feeling well rested. If you are having to struggle to get out of bed, it’s probably that you’re not getting enough restful sleep, so continue to make small tweaks your sleep routine till you find a working solution.
Don’t stress about not being asleep…
You’ve downed tools for the evening, abstained from caffeine all day, your earplugs are in and the shades are drawn, but you stir restlessly in bed watching the minutes change on the clock. You can’t stop thinking about how much sleep you are missing out on by not being able to sleep. This is a stress-sleep cycle in which the less sleep you get the more stressed you feel and the more stressed you feel the less sleep and poorer quality sleep you get.
Don’t fret. And don’t feel you have to lie in bed. You can get up and do something that is low stress, non-stimulating and relaxing, or even boring. Avoid further stimulating your mind by surfing the web and reading Facebook – this will only add fuel to the fire. Try reading a book, drawing or ironing some clothes. Whatever tickles your fancy, and do this for 10—30 minutes, then try to hit the hay again. It should work.
Please note if you’ve read this article, acted on these tips and other available solutions and you don’t see any positive change, maybe you should think of having a conversation with your doctor and let them know.
You can read more about the effects of sleep apnea, sleep deprivation and related studies here.
3 quick tools to try:
- Rainymood.com – http://www.rainymood.com/
- Noisli – http://www.noisli.com/
- Have a look at our book list (link coming soon!) for some good fiction and non-fiction recommendations
- Ayas, N.T., et al., A prospective study of sleep duration and coronary heart disease in women. Archives of Internal Medicine, 2003. 163(2): p. 205-209.
- Knutson, K.L., et al., The metabolic consequences of sleep deprivation. Sleep medicine reviews, 2007. 11(3): p. 163-178.
- Irwin, M.R., et al., Sleep loss activates cellular inflammatory signaling. Biological psychiatry, 2008. 64(6): p. 538-540.
- Fernandes, C., et al., Detrimental role of prolonged sleep deprivation on adult neurogenesis. Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience, 2015. 9: p. 140.
- Ebrahim, I.O., et al., Alcohol and sleep I: effects on normal sleep. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 2013. 37(4): p. 539-549.
- Lockley, S.W., G.C. Brainard, and C.A. Czeisler, High sensitivity of the human circadian melatonin rhythm to resetting by short wavelength light. J Clin Endocrinol Metab, 2003. 88(9): p. 4502-4505.