The key to regular blissful nights of sleep is to create the right environment both inside and external to your body. When trying to create the right environment it is important to remember that in the majority of situations it isn’t a matter of correcting one thing but instead addressing many aspects of life. There are so many variables that can impact on sleep quality so it would be wise to address as many as possible in order to achieve the best sleeping patterns possible. Below I have outlined some of the more important factors that can impact on sleep quality and suggested some strategies to overcome these challenges.
STRATEGY 1: Make sure you have the right equipment
If you have ever been unfortunate enough to sleep in a really uncomfortable bed you would understand that it is just about impossible to get quality sleep. In fact having a good quality mattress and pillow is just about the most important aspect of preparing your lifestyle for good sleeping outcomes.
Choosing the correct mattress (basic points)
- You need to find a mattress that is both supportive and comfortable at the same time.
- A good mattress will accommodate for the variances in weight distribution throughout your body. This way your spine will remain straight throughout your sleep, preventing discomfort and disturbed sleep.
- Consult a mattress fitting professional in your local area
Choosing the correct pillow
- The most important aspect of this decision is determining which position you spend most of your time in whilst sleeping.
- Depending on shoulder width, side sleepers will generally need a slightly higher pillow with a concavity at the top that will support both the neck and head in a position that keeps the spine neutral.
- Back sleepers should be using a pillow that supports the neck without lifting the head very far off the mattress. High pillows that push their head forward relative to the shoulders can result in a forward head carriage when standing which is a major postural stress and can lead to increased spinal degeneration.
STRATEGY 2: Keep a regular sleep schedule
Staying in sync with your body’s natural sleep–wake cycle (your circadian rhythm) is one of the most important strategies for achieving good sleep. You will feel far more refreshed and energised going to bed and getting up at the same time every day than sleeping the same number of hours at different times each day. To achieve this, follow the four points below
- Go to bed at the same time every night. Choose a time when you normally feel tired, so that you don’t toss and turn. If you want to change your bedtime, do it in small daily increments of 15 minutes.
- Wake up at the same time every day. If you need an alarm clock to wake up on time then you are sleep deprived and should adjust your bed time to earlier in the night. To maintain a healthy and regular sleep-wake cycle it is important to wake at the same time on weekends also.
- Make up for lost sleep. If you need to make up for some lost sleep hours, it is better to take a daytime nap rather than sleeping late which will upset your sleep-wake cycle. The best way to nap is an afternoon sleep for approximately 30 minutes.
- Fight after–dinner drowsiness. Sleeping at night before your normal sleep-wake cycle time may lead to a person waking up later in the night and have trouble getting back to sleep. If you find yourself getting sleepy way before your bedtime engage in something mildly stimulating to avoid falling asleep.
STRATEGY 3: Naturally regulate your sleep-wake cycle
Melatonin is the hormone that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. The production of melatonin is controlled by light exposure with less light increasing its production. Disruption to normal melatonin production often occurs by spending too much time in an office away from natural light and then being exposed to bright lights at night including hours spent in front of the TV or computer screen. Some ideas to get you back into balance are listed below.
Increase daylight exposure
- Take off your sunglasses– Try hard to get your face exposed to the morning sun.
- Get outside during the day- Whenever possible take your work breaks outside and try to exercise outside in the light of day.
- Light up your home/workspace- Open your curtains during the day and position yourself as close to the window as possible.
Assist night time melatonin production
- Less TV and computer time- The less light exposure the better at night time. The majority of TV and computer time is unnecessary and also results in over stimulation of the brain. If your favourite TV show is on late at night it is better to record it and watch it the next day at a more appropriate time. This also includes reading from backlit devices such as an iPad. Alternatively, ensure you remove blue light from screens and utilise blue light blocking glasses if you’re going to be using screens at night time.
- Use low wattage light bulbs- This helps you avoid bright lights before bed
- Sleep in a dark room- The darker it is the better you’ll sleep. Unplug electrical devices or cover displays, make sure you block light from windows and if need be use an eye mask.
- Get a flashlight- If you need to get up at night for any reason use a flash light instead of turning on the lights. Keep the light to a minimum so it will be easier to go back to sleep.
STRATEGY 4: Have a relaxing bedtime routine
Relaxing and unwinding before bed are essential if you want to fall asleep quickly and access deeper sleep. Having a calming bedtime routine allows your brain to wind down and let go of the stress of the day.
Make your bedroom more sleep friendly
- Minimise noise- If you face issues with noise from traffic, barking dogs, loud neighbours, or other people in your household, try masking it with a fan, white noise or recordings of soothing sounds.
- Have a cool room- Sleep quality is generally best when a room is cooled to around 18°C. Good ventilation is also important. In cooler seasons, use additional blankets and clothing to ensure your body is warm, whilst the room remains cool.
Only use your bed for sleeping and intimacy
Performing tasks whilst in bed will make it hard for your brain to wind down at other times when you head to bed for sleep. When you use your bed only for sleep and intimacy, your mind and body receive a powerful cue: it’s time to switch off from the tasks of the day.
Activities that can help a person wind down
- Take a warm bath
- Do some light stretching
- Reading books or magazines under a soft light
- Listening to soft music or audio books
- Make simple preparations for the next day
STRATEGY 5: Minimise lifestyle stress
The way you live during they day will play a role in determining how well your body will work at night. Cortisol is a hormone that is released when you are under stress and will inhibit the production of the hormone melatonin which is vital for quality sleep. With this in mind it is important to minimise the amount of physical, chemical and mental/emotional stressors that you have in your life.
Eating for sleep
Poor food habits are a major stress to many in society. Eating the incorrect foods, the incorrect amount or missing/poor timing of meals will all create a shift towards stress within the body. This can be due to increased levels of insulin, inflammation, digestive stress and toxicity in the body. Some simple rules to minimise the impact of dietary stress on sleeping are below.
- Living and fresh is best- If it has been picked off a tree, plucked from the ground or harvested from an animal it is generally ok, if it hasn’t then try to avoid it. Processed foods have less nutrition, create inflammation and upset the normal hormonal balances required for good sleep.
- Minimise caffeine intake especially after lunch– This may seem like a ‘no brainer’ as most people are aware of the kick that coffee gives their energy levels. However what a lot of people don’t realise is that depending on the state of your body coffee can still be having an impact up to 10-12 hours later.
- Avoid sensitivities- If you are prone to heartburn or digestive issues then avoid spicy and acidic foods at night. Heartburn and digestive issues are not normal and if you are suffering from them then it is a sign that you body is under stress and that you need to address some issues to bring your body back into balance.
- Don’t drink too much in the evening- Consuming too much liquid before going to bed may result in frequent bathroom trips throughout the night. Caffeinated drinks will have a diuretic effect which will make this even worse. Many people believe that a night cap will help with sleep and although alcohol may help someone fall asleep quicker, it will more often than not lead to a decrease in sleep quality.
- Quit smoking- Although cigarettes are not food, it is important to note that smoking greatly disrupts sleeping. Nicotine is a stimulant which will obviously make it harder to wind down and when a person eventually falls asleep the nicotine cravings will disrupt the brains chemistry further, thus making it harder to achieve quality sleep.
Exercising for sleep
Human beings are genetically programmed to be on the move all day. Therefore for the people who are stuck in a seat all day, daily exercise is a must. Exercise has many positive affects on the brains chemistry, all of which will lead to more balanced brain chemistry and therefore better sleep quality.
Exercise comes in many forms and in terms of sleep it doesn’t really matter which form you engage in. As long as you are moving, your brain is going to experience the benefits.
For people who struggle to wind down, relaxing exercises such as yoga or gentle stretching can help promote sleep.
Mind space for sleep
Of all lifestyle factors, peace of mind plays the greatest role in obtaining quality sleep. Becoming entrenched in your own thoughts can have a devastating impact on a persons capacity to both fall asleep and achieve good quality sleep. Mental stressors can be placed in two categories; those that you can control and those that you can’t.
For the stressors that you can control, having a well structured and comprehensive plan to deal with the situation will often dramatically reduce the worry/stress involved. If you find the stress returning it can be as simple as going back to your plan and telling yourself that you have done everything you can, or setting aside a future time to review and refresh the plan, which can help mitigate the stress.
For the stressors that you cannot control then it is good to ask yourself- ‘if I can’t do anything to influence the situation, what is the point of worrying about it?’. At times these simplistic methods aren’t enough to help an individual manage their stress and when this is the case, expert advice should be sought to gain assistance with managing your thoughts.
Meditation and relaxation techniques are beneficial for everyone to engage in, especially those suffering sleeping difficulties. Undertaking one of these activities before bed is a great way to decrease stress, wind down, calm the mind, and prepare for sleep. Some simple relaxation techniques include:
- Slow deep breathing- With closed eyes, slow and even inhaling/exhaling
- Whole body muscle relaxation. Contract the muscles that move your toes as hard as you can, then completely relax. Work your way from your toes all the way up your body until you reach the top of the head.
- Visualising a peaceful, restful place. Close your eyes and imagine a place or activity that is calming and peaceful for you. Try and ‘feel’ everything that you would if you were there. What noise would there be? What is the temperature? What can you see? Are there any smells associated? etc
- Listening to a guided meditation track
- Handwritten journalling. Take the thoughts from your mind and release them down onto paper.
STRATEGY 6: Get back to sleep quickly
As part of the human sleep cycle, it is normal to have brief moments of waking, however good sleepers won’t even remember these as they fall back into the next sleep cycle immediately. For those who wake for extended periods at night time and have difficulty falling back asleep, the following tips may help.
- Control your mind- After waking, the most important part of getting back to sleep is continuing to cue your body for sleep. Avoid activities that will stimulate your brain like using an iPad, phone or computer and watching TV. The best thing to do is keep your eyes closed and stay relaxed in bed.
- Try and relax, not sleep. Concentrating on falling asleep often creates more stress and anxiety about being awake, making the situation worse. If you are finding it hard to fall back asleep, relaxation techniques like visualisation, deep breathing and meditation can be very useful. The use of self talk such as “I am safe, I am relaxed, I am restoring” is another helpful sleep conducive technique. The best part is these can be done without even getting out of bed.
- Put off worries and ideas. If you wake during the night feeling anxious about something or have a creative moment and think of a new idea, jot it down on paper and deal with it the next day. You will have a far greater capacity to work through all the detail once you are well rested.
There we have it, 6 fantastic strategies that will help ensure you get the best sleep you can every night! In the mean time, if you have any questions or need helped analysing your own situation, you can contact us at email@example.com.