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Improve Your Sleep Habits

Are you having difficulty getting to sleep at night?  Do you fall asleep easily, only to wake several times through the night unable to get back to sleep? These difficulties can make the night-time seem long.  Your problems feel greater and can influence how you approach the following day. Well, you are not alone.

A good night’s sleep is a vital part of living a healthy life. It is just as important as diet and exercise, some would even say more important. It is the foundation on which all other aspects of health are balanced. We know that poor sleep has detrimental effects on your hormones, your weight, your mood, your ability to exercise and even aspects of your brain function. Our sleep patterns will alter with age, some disease processes and lifestyle choices (e.g., shift work.) It often feels out of our control.

If you are experiencing sleep issues such as feeling that your sleep is restless, light or of poor quality, there are strategies you can put in place, to start heading towards a more restful, peaceful, and restorative night’s sleep.

  • Setting a routine

Going to bed and getting up at a similar time every day will help set your circadian rhythm (body clock) and encourages your sleep hormones to be activated at the right time. As Matthew Walker said aptly in his book, Why We Sleep…. “Routine is King.” This will take a few weeks of discipline to have the affects you want.

  • Put your electronic devices away 2 hours before bed.

 Blue light, which electronic devices like smart phones and computers emit in large amounts,

tricks the brain into thinking it’s still daytime. This reduces the sleep hormones (like melatonin) and influences your body clock, making falling asleep more difficult.

There are apps now available to block blue light on your laptop, computer, and smartphone.

  • Drink less coffee late in the day

Caffeine is known to stimulate your nervous system and make the ability for your body to naturally relax more challenging. It is recommended not to drink caffeinated drinks from 4-6 hrs before bed.

Similarly, smokers should avoid smoking too close to bedtime.

  • Reduce napping

Long or irregular napping during the day can have a negative effect on your sleep and confuse your body clock. Remember….you want to go to bed tired.

  • Limit your alcohol

A drink or two in the evening, though it may help you to fall asleep, will negatively affect your sleep cycle and you may find yourself awake in the middle of the night. Sound familiar?

Alcohol alters melatonin production and alters natural night time elevations of HGH (human growth hormone), impacting your circadian rhythm. Alcohol can increase the symptoms of sleep apnea and snoring.

  • Balance your fluids

You need to drink enough to stop yourself from being thirsty, but not so much that you will wake up needing to go to the bathroom. This may require experimenting on your behalf.

  • Optimise the bedroom environment

A quiet dark room is most suitable for a peaceful night’s sleep. Try to minimise external noise (wear ear plugs if you must). Avoid artificial lights from devices like alarm clocks. Install block out shades or curtains, or even try a sleeping mask if this suits you. Stop clock watching…. turn that clock away from you or even move it from beside the bed if you must. And yes, it may mean getting the pets out of the bedroom.

  • Adjust the room temperature

The temperature of your room will be personal, but ideally, a cool room is best for encouraging sleep. Around 20℃ is best for most people.

  • Invest in a good mattress and bedding

Again, your choice will be based on personal preference but remember, most mattresses and bedding have a lifespan of 10 years. Comfortable and decent quality bedding will affect sleep quality, joint or back pain.

  • Try early morning exercise

The benefits of exercise to your mind and body are well documented and is one of the best science-backed ways to improve your sleep. Exercising in the morning has been shown to have positive effects on sleep patterns. Of course, this does not suit everyone’s lifestyle, so avoid exercising too late in the evening or just before bed. What is most important is that you do some exercise.

  • Avoid eating a big meal late into the evening

Eating a large meal late at night impacts your digestion, can disrupt your sleep hormones and lead to a poor night’s sleep.

  • Try relaxation techniques to clear the mind

Stopping your mind from thinking too hard and problem solving before you sleep (or in the middle of the night) is one of the most challenging aspects to control.

Strategies include listening to relaxing music or white noise, reading a book, meditating, deep breathing, and visualization. All of these techniques take practice, time, and commitment to achieve, so don’t give up. Try different methods and find the best option that works for you. Often professional help to get you started can be useful.

  • Rule out a sleep disorder

Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder. Other common medically diagnosed issues include sleep movement disorders and circadian rhythm sleep/wake disorders, which are common in shift workers. If you or your partner suspect a sleep disorder, contact us to organise a consultation with the right healthcare provider. See our earlier blog for more information on this.

In summary, there are many things you can do to start the journey toward a better night’s sleep. You deserve to sleep well. But do not be overwhelmed. Try taking one or two of the points above to start with, and then include more as you can. Every step is improving your sleep and by making sleep a priority, you are optimising your ongoing health and wellbeing.

Breathe. SLEEP. Thrive