The average adult should be enjoying approximately eight hours of sleep a night, but increasingly, stress, overuse of electronic devices and poor lifestyle habits mean that insomnia, the inability to sleep well, is becoming a familiar experience for many of us.
Inadequate sleep can lead to poor concentration, irritability, fatigue and low moods during the day–but there are plenty of ways to achieve better sleeping that you can explore yourself, rather than turning to medical treatment. These are some of the methods recommended by sleep experts to ensure you’re getting the refreshing sleep you need to kick-start your day.
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1. Ban the blue
Dr Hilary Jones says; “Technology is a massive problem now, and one of the main causes of insomnia”. Blue light wavelengths emitted by devices such as mobile phones and tablets trigger alertness and increase attention. Though valuable during the day, this causes immense difficulty when settling down to sleep, as the blue light suppresses the body’s production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. So try to limit your use of digital devices in the hours before bedtime.
2. Blackout curtains
Even natural light can influence your sleep patterns by interacting with the body’s natural sleep/waking cycle, known as your circadian rhythm. Blackout curtains can block out evening sunlight and light from bright streetlights, thereby setting the ideal, dark environment needed for restful sleep.
3. Befriend your bed
Bumpy mattresses and unsupportive pillows can disrupt your sleep patterns by keeping you tossing and turning throughout the night. If your find your sleep poor, consider investing in a new, more supportive mattress (you should have one every eight years), hypoallergenic or temperature controlling pillows, or a shoulder pillow to support your head and neck.
4. Loud silence
Silence is not always the way to restful sleep and not all noise is disruptive. Insomnia triggered by anxiety or stress can be alleviated by listening to calming music. Behavioural sleep medicine specialist Lisa Medalie recommends listening to ‘white noise’, a gentle hiss containing a mix of frequencies, particularly useful for individuals with tinnitus who struggle to sleep. You can download a white noise app, purchase a white noise machine or find compilations of white noise music online.
5. Keep it clean
Working a nine-to-five or juggling parenthood can make it difficult to keep track of the last time you cleaned your sheets. Sleep medicine specialist at John Hopkins University, Dr Rachel Salas strongly advocates washing bedsheets at least every two weeks, and findings by a National Sleep Foundation appear to support this, with the smell of clean sheets being one of the top things people liked about their bedrooms.
6. Natural light
Once it’s time to rise, open your curtains and let in the natural light; this alerts the body into an awakened state, and helps to regulate your circadian rhythms.
7. Midnight wanders
A quick trip to the loo, popping downstairs for water or checking that everything is switched off is completely normal, yet every time you turn on your lights to do so, the light disrupts your body’s production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. So if you do get up in the night, instead of switching on the lights, use a torch and keep it pointed downwards so the light is facing away from you.
8. Stay cool
Treating yourself to a warm bath can promote healthy sleep through the subsequent cooling, which deceives your body into believing that it is now night time.
9. Good exercise
Jogging, cycling, swimming, or even brisk walking—in fact any aerobic exercise, can promote healthy sleep by increasing the level of adenosine in the body. The neurotransmitter adenosine encourages sleep by interacting with our circadian rhythms or sleep/wake cycle.
10. Dodge stimulants
Energy drinks, tea, coffee and cigarettes are all stimulants, containing either caffeine or nicotine. You may feel dependent on your morning coffee or evening energy drink, but addiction can disrupt sleep patterns. The NHS supports Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT), but if you find yourself craving caffeine, opt for green tea which contains less caffeine than black tea and coffee.
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11. Don’t fill up
Over eating before you go to bed can increase your blood sugar levels and keep you awake during the night. Restrict your last meal to two to three hours before bed-time to ensure healthy digestion and stable blood sugar levels.
12. Ditch the drink
Unlike coffee, energy drinks and cigarettes, alcohol is a depressant and so theoretically could help you nod off quicker—but in fact it blocks the rapid eye movement (REM) phase of sleep, so alcohol can leave you dazed and unable to focus in the morning.
13. Stay cherry
A study by the School of Life Sciences department at Northumbria University served 20 volunteers either a 30ml serving of tart cherry juice or a placebo twice a day for a weeks. Results suggested that the cherry juice generated improvements in sleep patterns, via an increase in melatonin levels.
14. Keep Calm and Yoga On
The NHS recommends gentle yoga prior to climbing into bed to ensure improved sleep. The benefits extend to all demographics from pregnant women to the elderly, and different positions explore helpful breathing techniques.
15. Sex it up
If you’re inclined to use your bed as a snack-bar, workplace or Netflix bingeing station, it can impact on your sleep patterns. Try to restrict your bedroom activities to sex and sleeping, to help establish a routine which signals to your brain that bedtime is sleep time.
16. Magic magnesium
The shift to a diet full of carbohydrates and refined sugar has made magnesium deficiency more common. Magnesium is essential in maintaining a healthy sleep cycle as it regulates the body’s production of melatonin and the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) which counters the effects of glutamate, the brain’s main excitatory neurotransmitter. Increase your magnesium levels with supplements or magnesium rich foods, such as spinach, almonds, dark chocolate and pumpkin seeds.
17. To-do list
For insomnia induced by stress or anxiety, writing down a to-do list before you go to bed can be beneficial. Jot down on a pad or sticky note what you need to do the following day to stay on top of things, and place the list nearby. Creating a to-do list allows you to both feel and become more organised.
18. Suit up
Signalling to your brain it’s time for bed is core to establishing healthy sleep patterns, hence the importance of ‘suiting up.’ Don’t drift off without taking off your work clothes and slipping into pyjamas. Wearing clothes specifically for bedtime signals to your brain that it’s time for sleep.
19. Sleep massages
Alongside improving circulation, massage can relieve signs of stress, pain and tension by relaxing the muscles. The sensations of massage can help achieve a drowsy state, as well as relieving the symptoms of anxiety or stress-related insomnia.
20. Smells like sleep
Environmental cues for sleep are not solely visual, so aromatherapy can be integrated into your routine as a sleep signal. A blend of essential oils rather than one can generate an improvement in sleep quality. Popular choices include chamomile, lavender, vanilla and valerian root. Adopt aromatherapy into your sleep routine by adding the essential oil into a diffuser, mixing into your bath or diluting essential oils with a carrier oil and applying it to your body.
Follow all our advice and you’ll soon be sleeping better, feeling better, and even looking better! •
See Also: Techniques to Get A Good Night’s Sleep