How to Sleep Better at Night: The True Story
Getting enough sleep is essential in maintaining a healthy mind and body. Sufficient levels of sleep not only boosts the immune system and protects against disease, it also improves overall mental health. However, a huge proportion of the population struggles to get enough sleep. In fact, it’s estimated that around a third of all adults regularly fail to enjoy sufficient amounts of sleep on a regular basis.
The Benefits of Getting Enough Sleep
Insufficient sleep is linked to a whole host of ailments and health conditions. One of the most frequently reported of these is weight gain. People who sleep less tend to be heavier than those who sleep through the night on a regular basis. Some research estimates that as many as 90 percent of adults struggling with insufficient sleep are more likely to be obese than those who don’t. Hormone production in people who sleep less tends to be a major contributing factor, although feeling lethargic during the day also makes it less likely that an individual will be inclined to regularly exercise and make sensible dietary choices.
Sleep also has a huge impact on brain function. Memory and concentration, as well as general cognitive function, are all affected by sleep patterns. Suffering with less sleep every night can have a detrimental impact on daily productivity and all-round performance.
Sleep Deprivation and Risk of Disease
People suffering from long-term sleep deprivation also tend to face an increased risk of serious ailments and disease. Rates of stroke and cardiovascular disease are substantially higher in people who sleep less than the recommended 7-8 hours every night. Insulin production and blood sugar levels can also be impacted by less sleep. Even just two hours less than the recommended amount can result in pre-diabetes in otherwise healthy individuals. Thankfully, these worrying symptoms are easy to address. In fact, increasing the duration of sleep can alleviate diabetes risk in a matter of weeks.
Sleep and the Immune System
Even the occasional the disruption to sleep can have a big impact on how well your immune system performs. People who sleep less tend to be more susceptible to cold and flu viruses than those who sleep the recommended 7-8 hours a night. If you are tackling an ailment such as a common cold, it’s even more important to ensure you are enjoying at least 8 hours of sleep to give your body the best chance of overcoming the disease quickly.
Establishing a Regular Routine
Although work and family commitments can make it difficult to stick to a routine, ensuring you are keeping to a consistent sleep schedule is important. Even if your daily routine is erratic and generally busy, just a few minor adjustments will ensure you reap the benefits of a better night’s sleep.
Before delving too deeply into your sleep schedule, it first makes sense to establish fixed hours for bedtime and waking. The majority of people require 7-8 hours of sleep every night, so you will need to ensure your bedtime and wake-up times allow for this. If you find it fairly easy to drift off and stay sleep through the night, simply adhere to these bedtime and wake-up time guidelines as much as possible.
However, life will invariably get in the way. Many of us deviate from our weekly routines during the weekend. If you’re freed up from the demands of work during the weekend, avoid the temptation to remain lying in bed too far beyond your usual morning alarm. Indulging in an extra hour or two of sleep on a Saturday morning won’t cause too much disruption to your sleep schedule, but snoozing for too much longer than this will severely disrupt your body clock and circadian rhythm.
Hitting the snooze button on your alarm is also something you should be looking to avoid. Snoozing beyond a set wake-up time is never a good idea, but it can be particularly disruptive if you are looking to adapt to a new routine. As soon as your alarm wakes you up, aim to get out of the bed as quickly as possible. Throwing open the curtains or blinds to allow plenty of natural light will also help fight the urge to head back under the covers.
How to Make Easy Adjustments to Sleep Routines
Making radical adjustments to an existing sleep routine can be challenging. If a new job or college schedule means your wake-up time needs to shift to being two hours earlier, you should start making adjustments as early as possible. Gradually adjusting your bedtime in small increments will make life easier. Try heading to bed 30 minutes earlier than your standard bedtime and seeing how you fare for a few nights. If you find it relatively easy to adapt to your new bedtime, start heading to bed half an hour earlier than your revised time.
Some people may find it particularly difficult to adapt to these larger time increments. If this applies to you, think about working back from your usual bedtime in increments of 10-15 minutes. It may take longer for you to train your body into adapting to a much earlier bedtime, but this slow and steady approach will pay off in the long term.
Eliminate Distractions from the Bedroom
A consistent bedtime routine will only so far in ensuring you enjoy a good night’s sleep. It’s important that your bedroom is designed to promote a feeling of relaxation that will allow you to sleep more soundly. The good news is that you don’t have to plan a complete reconfiguration of your bedroom. Just a few little tweaks is all that is required to turn even the most basic bedroom into a true sleep sanctuary.
Temperature plays a huge role in how well we sleep at night. Our body temperature drops naturally during the night, making any changes in external temperatures even more noticeable. Most experts agree that a bedroom temperature of around 65 degrees Fahrenheit is the ideal for promoting quality sleep. However, this will vary somewhat depending on the individual. Maintaining a consistent temperature in the bedroom is easy for those with a thermostat at their disposal, but even these will struggle to cope with particularly balmy nights in the height of summer.
To combat hot temperatures during the summer months, consider purchasing an air conditioning unit to help take the edge off stifling nights. However, any air conditioning unit you choose should be suitable for use in a bedroom. You will want an appliance that produces minimal operational noise, as anything that operates too loudly will only distract you from your slumber. Air conditioning units can also be expensive to run and aren’t the most energy-efficient solutions. Electric fans are generally more inexpensive to buy and run, although they tend to produce more noise.
A cost-free alternative is to simply open a window or two during the night. This will not only prevent hot air from building up and settling in, but also allow a cooling breeze to circulate through your bedroom. Coping with extreme temperatures is generally easier in the winter months. Central heating can ensure comfortable temperatures are maintained throughout the coldest of nights, while additional bedding will ensure your core body temperature remains at desirable levels.
Light exposure is particularly crucial when it comes to maintaining a healthy sleep schedule. Our bodies are hardwired to respond to the natural day/night cycle. When light hits our eyes, specific hormones are released into our systems that leave us feeling awake and alert. Thankfully, the sun has usually set long before any of us head to bed and try to get to sleep. However, it is artificial light sources that are the real issue when it comes to maintaining a consistent sleep schedule.
During the evening, try and avoid having too many lights on within your home. Overhead ceiling fixtures that flood rooms with light should be avoided entirely. Instead, keep internal lighting to a minimum by using table lamps. You may also want to consider swapping out your bulbs for dimmer and more energy-efficient alternatives to reduce exposure.
Should you wake in the night for any reason, avoid turning lights on in your home if you want to be able to get back to sleep with little effort. If you need to use the bathroom during the night, try and make your way there in the dark. If this proves unworkable, keep light levels to an absolute minimum.
If you need to sleep during the daylight hours for any reason, light can prove a huge barrier to getting to sleep. Invest in blackout blinds or curtains to keep light intrusion to an absolute minimum. These furnishings are usually a lot more expensive than traditional drapes and blinds, but are well worth the investment. Those who need to work during the night will also have to compensate for the lack of sunlight at the start of their day. Investing in a UV lamp is a good option if you regularly wake in the late afternoon or early evening and enjoy minimal exposure to natural sunlight. Many alarm clocks also utilise a lamp function to help stimulate the body, bring you to a state of wakefulness more easily.
Get Rid of Electronic Appliances
The use of electronic appliances should also be limited prior to bedtime. Smartphones, laptops and tablet devices all produce so-called blue light that can have a detrimental effect on our bodies. Blue light is known to suppress the production of things like melatonin, which can significantly impact your circadian rhythm and make it more difficult to fall to sleep naturally.
When heading to bed, leave your smartphone and other electronic devices in another room. Ideally, you should avoid using your smartphone for its alarm clock function as the temptation to check the latest news headlines or your social media channels will be hard to resist. If you must use your screen devices before bedtime, make sure you are limiting brightness levels. Activate night shift functions whenever possible, as this will significantly limit your exposure to blue light sources.
You should also avoid placing other types of electronic devices in the bedroom. Televisions should never be placed in the bedroom. Not only do LCD television screens emit the same harmful blue light as smart devices, having a television in the bedroom can quickly derail an established sleep routine. The advent of streaming services has led to a binge-watching phenomenon in recent years. Even with the best intentions, catching up on the latest episode of a beloved show can quickly turn into an hours-long viewing marathon. By the same logic, you should also avoid keeping laptops and computers in your bedroom.
Block Out All Distractions
Light isn’t the only thing you have to worry about distracting you from a good night’s sleep. Sounds from elsewhere in the building or outside can easily penetrate your bedroom and make falling to sleep particularly difficult. An easy way to overcome this issue is to invest in earplugs. There’s a great variety of earplug options available on the market, ranging from unobtrusive foam inserts to more pliable silicone ones. The latter option is better at blocking out the most sound, but many people find them uncomfortable to wear for longer periods. Inferior earplugs may also penetrate too deeply into your ear canal, leading to irritation and potential injury.
Noise-cancelling headphones are an alternative option for those looking to block out external sound and many people already own such equipment. However, listening to music or podcasts as you try to get to sleep isn’t always a good idea. Unless you are listening at very low volume levels, you may find yourself being awoken in the night by your favourite audiobook or playlist.
White noise machines are becoming increasingly affordable, making them a good investment for those looking to achieve more restful sleep. A white noise machine doesn’t block out other sounds entirely, but helps lessen the impact of background noise. The noise generated by these machines also produces a calming, relaxing effect in its own right.
Invest in Some Quality Bedding
Although adapting your bedroom for better sleep is fairly effortless, you may need to budget for some superior bedding. Before you think about frames, bases and bedding, you need to consider your mattress. If you have cut corners and purchased a low-cost mattress, you are probably contending with inferior levels of support and comfort. Even if your mattress was a premier product at the time of purchase, time and regular wear may have rendered it unsuitable for continued use. Refer to the warranty that came with your mattress when you purchased it and decide whether or not it’s time to replace it with a new one.
It’s important that you regularly inspect your mattress for signs of wear and tear. Carry our regular inspections for sagging spots as these will mean you are receiving poor levels of support during the night, leading to back pain and other ailments. Flipping your mattress every few months is also essential if you want to get the most out of it.
Mattress maintenance is particularly important if you have purchased a traditional coil or sprung model. Over time, the pressure placed upon the top of your mattress will lead to the coils feeling more pronounced. This not only leads to your mattress being more uncomfortable to use, but may also mean that coils begin to tear through the fabric. Memory foam mattresses tend to be more durable than traditional ones, but these too require regular maintenance. If you own a memory foam mattress, keep an eye out for areas that appear too compressed and make sure you are flipping it on once every few months.
A mattress topper can be a good way of adding some additional support and comfort your bedding, while also allowing you to extend the overall life of your mattress. Mattress toppers come in many forms, with options for firming up or softening your sleep surface. Some mattress toppers are also designed to produce a cooling effect, making them a sound investment for hot sleepers.
Your bedding material will also have a huge impact on how well you sleep. If you are a hot sleeper who struggles with temperature extremes, forget about budget polyester sheets and choose moisture-wicking linens instead. Cotton bedding is usually very affordable and will help prevent the build-up of temperatures during the night, although premium bamboo sheets are often the best choice for dealing with this issue. Those who suffer from allergies will also need to think seriously about their choice of bedding. Dust mites and other allergens can quickly accumulate in even the most well-kept linens, so opt for hypoallergenic bedding whenever possible and ensure you are laundering your bedding on a regular basis.
Decluttering and Decor Tips
Your bedroom needs to feel like a sanctuary in order to promote a relaxed state of mind. Therefore, it needs to be as organised and free of clutter as possible. Keep furniture and furnishings to an absolute minimum, with as many items as possible kept out of sight to eliminate unnecessary distractions. Bedside tables should contain nothing more than a glass of water, alarm clock and lamp. You should also keep on top of things like laundry. Ensure dirty clothes and anything else intended for the washing machine are reserved to a laundry basket. Taking a few moments at the end of every day to declutter your bedroom can also become part of your bedtime routine, helping you de-stress and eliminate minor anxieties from your mind before hitting the hay.
If you have the time and budget to tackle a new project, you may even want to consider redecorating your bedroom. If you are planning on giving your bedroom a facelift, keep things neutral with subtle furnishings and earthy tones. Bright colours and eclectic furnishings may represent your personality, but they are more likely to engage and stimulate rather than induce a feeling of calm.
How Food and Drink Affects Sleep Quality
What you eat and drink during the day can have a huge impact on how well you sleep at night. Generally speaking, consuming a balanced diet rich in vegetables, fruits and lean proteins should help you achieve a restful night’s sleep without too much effort. However, if you are consuming a relatively healthy diet and still struggle to drift off to sleep at night, you may have to look closer at what you are eating.
Insufficient levels of certain nutrients has been linked to poor quality sleep. Low levels of vitamins A, C and E have been linked to numerous sleep issues, while research shows that insufficient intake of foods rich in vitamins D and K can also have similar effects. If the foods you are eating on a regular basis are low in these crucial vitamin groups, consider turning to supplements to help make up the shortfall.
Carbohydrates should also be avoided if you are looking to enjoy a healthier sleep general. Consuming foods rich in carbohydrates close bedtime is never a good idea if you’re looking to keep your blood sugar levels in check. Although carbohydrates are generally associated with energy-boosting properties, consuming too many before bedtime can often have the reverse effect. Unless you are upping your carbohydrate intake to support a particularly rigorous exercise routine, excess carbs can leave you feeling lethargic and sluggish. After you have drifted of to sleep, carbohydrates can also wreak havoc on your body, leading to frequent awakenings during the night.
The Impact of Caffeine, Stimulants and Caffeine on Sleep
The same effects are experienced by those who consume food and drink high in sugar or caffeine prior to bedtime. Sugar and caffeine are potent stimulants, making it difficult for the body to achieve a restful state. Even if you do manage to fall asleep, stimulants will continue to have an impact on your body, making it more likely that you will awaken throughout the night. If you must consume caffeine or foods rich in sugar, avoid them for several hours prior to your usual bedtime. For best results, cut out all sugar and caffeine intake no later than four hours before you climb into bed. For many people, this may require them to shift around their mealtime schedules.
Alcohol is something else you should be looking to limit or avoid altogether if you want to achieve better quality of sleep. Although alcohol can act as a sedative, even when consumed in small quantities, its calming effects are short-lived. Once the alcohol volume in your blood begins to dissipate, the shock to the body will quickly rouse you from sleep. This stimulating effect is even more disruptive if you have consumed several alcoholic beverages and placed extra strain on your bladder.
If you want to maintain a healthy sleep routine, avoid drinking too many alcoholic drinks on any given day. Pace your consumption, consuming no more than one alcoholic drink per hour. You should also aim to stamp out all alcohol consumption two to three hours prior to your usual bedtime. Drinking a glass of water after an alcoholic beverage can help purse excess toxins from your system more quickly and is often considered a good tactic for negating the effects of a hangover. While it’s good practice to chase your alcoholic drinks with water, make sure you’re not drinking too much liquid. The more liquid you consume in the evening, the more likely it is that you will awaken in the night to urinate.
Adopting a New Diet for Better Sleep
There are several diets you can think about adopting if you’re looking to make improvements to sleep duration and overall sleep quality. Plant-based diets are arguably the best option as they are rich in nutrients and natural fibres. However, you will need to ensure any vegan or vegetarian diet provides sufficient protein sources. Meat is the easiest way to introduce protein into your diet, but just make sure you are relying on leaner meats to reap the best health benefits. White meats such as chicken breast or pork loin are good options for those looking for a rich source of protein with lower overall levels of saturated fat and salt.
Utilising a whole food diet is another option for those looking to enjoy quick gains to sleep quality and overall health. Many diets designed to combat high blood pressure will have a significant impact on how well you sleep at night. These diets tend to be rich in natural fibres and magnesium, with guidance suggesting limited intake of saturated fat and salt. Diets like this will not only help combat things like hypertension, but also ensure your sleep remains undisturbed.
Getting Enough Exercise During the Day
Regular exercise has many health benefits, but it can also have a major impact on how well you sleep at night. Increased levels of physical activity during the day has been linked to increased periods spent in deep sleep stages. These deep sleep cycles, otherwise known as REM sleep, are the most important when it comes to restoring things like immune system function. Increased periods of deep sleep are also crucial in ensuring good cardiovascular health. REM sleep has also been linked to improved memory and cognitive function, as well as lower overall levels of anxiety and stress in waking life.
Moderate to high levels of physical activity during the day also make it more likely that you will fall to sleep more easily. By exerting yourself during the day and using up more of your energy reserves, you are more likely to feel tried and ready for rest come the evening. Maintaining a regular exercise routine is therefore important if you are someone who has struggled with drifting off to sleep in the past. Falling to sleep more easily also usually tends to promote longer bouts of sleep with fewer incidents of wakefulness.
Exercise and Insomnia
Many people suffer with insomnia and resort to drastic measures and medication to help them achieve sufficient sleep levels. However, less dramatic solutions like exercise can often prove effective at combating sleep disorders. There are many reasons why physical activity can help improve sleep quality and limit the likelihood of insomnia preventing people from achieving eight hours of rest every night. Increased levels of exercise tends to improve general health and breathing, which can limit the impact of snoring and sleep apnoea symptoms. Certain types of exercises can also help combat the effects of hypertension.
Establishing a New Exercise Routine
The best advice for those looking to utilise exercise as a way to improve sleep is to commit to and maintain a consistent routine. Ideally, the average person should be looking to exercise for around 2.5 hours every week as a minimum. Although you can be somewhat flexible with your approach, you should aim to exercise on at least five separate days throughout the week, with each session lasting at least half an hour.
You should also think carefully about what time of the day you decide to exercise. An early morning run is often considered a good way of boosting you chances of quality sleep later in the day, but your body isn’t necessarily in prime condition during these early hours. If you plan on reaching for your running shoes at dawn, bear in mind that the human body tends to be more susceptible to strains and other injuries compared to later in the day. Particularly active people should have little issues training earlier in the day, but those just getting started with a new exercise routine may be better waiting until the afternoon or early evening to hit the gym or track.
When to Consult a Sleep Specialist
For most people, making some minor adjustments to bedtime routines is all that’s needed to ensure a better night’s sleep. Sometimes however, the reason behind poor-quality sleep is rooted in something more serious. People who suffer from reflux disease often find that their condition wreaks havoc on their sleep, especially if they have consumed meals late in the evening. Making adjustments to mealtimes and turning to over-the-counter medication can help remedy acid reflux issues, but if the symptoms are pronounced enough, it may be time to consult with a doctor.
Sleep apnoea is another cause of concern for many people. This sleep disorder is characterised by interrupted breathing during the night, with many sufferers also exhibiting loud snoring. The most common form of this disorder is obstructive sleep apnoea. The interruption to breathing is caused by the relaxation of the throat muscles. A rarer type of the disorder is central sleep apnoea, where brain signals fail to reach the muscles involved in breathing. People who suffer from this form of sleep apnoea can experience significant shortness of breath during sleep and often find themselves waking in the night gasping for air.
There are numerous risk factors associated with sleep apnoea. Men are disproportionately affected, while overweight individuals also face a significantly increased risk. More serious risk factors including diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease can also increase your chances of suffering from sleep apnoea during your life. If you’re suffering any of the telltale symptoms of sleep apnoea, it’s crucial that you consult with a doctor for further guidance.
If you have struggled to remedy your insomnia by making changes to your diet and lifestyle, it may be time to consider exploring sleeping medications. Various types of medications are used to promote better sleep quality, with antidepressants and mild tranquillisers being the most common. While effective, these prescribed medications are not without side effects. If you decide to pursue the medication route, make sure you have informed your doctor about any other medications and supplements you might be taking. Some medications will counteract the efficacy of sleep medicines, while others may produce harmful interactions.
Sleep medications should also be viewed as a short-term solution. You want to avoid your system developing a dependency, so resist high doses and long courses when possible. Consistency is also crucial when it comes to sleeping medication. There’s little margin for error here. You need to be taking your medication at exactly the right time, every day. Monitoring side effects is also important, even if these effects are mild.
How To Sleep Better At Night
Ultimately, the best way to remedy sleep disorders is to make subtle changes to your daily routine. Improving your diet with healthier meals low in salt and saturated fat will help you maintain a healthy weight, as well as achieve better sleep. Cutting out caffeine and limiting your alcohol intake will also benefit your sleep schedule. Increased exercise is another sure-fire way of improving your odds of getting 8 hours sleep a night. All of these strategies are tried and tested ways of boosting sleep quality, but will also yield huge improvements to your overall physical and mental health.