In recent decades, sleep quality and quantity have declined (thanks, smartphone). But researchers have found that good “sleep hygiene” (specific routines practiced at bedtime) can get you on the right track and help to ensure a good night’s sleep. Ready to shake up your routine? Here are five proven tips for getting a better night’s sleep.
Light plays a major role in setting the body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm, and lets you know when to sleep and when to play. The circadian rhythm effects our brain, body and hormones, and to function well, it requires us to get adequate exposure to daylight.
On the other hand, as night-time rolls around, light exposure should be reduced so your body can prepare to sleep. Electronic devices like smartphones and computers emit blue light, which reduces melatonin, the hormone responsible for helping you get to sleep, so it’s best to keep screens out of bed. Try implementing an 8pm switchoff rule in your house and see the difference.
A pre-sleep routine will help your body relax and get your brain into sleep mode. There are all sorts of night-time routines but the key is consistency. Just think of how well it works with babies.
If you don’t already have a routine, try engaging in a few relaxing activities an hour before bed: turn off the TV, take a bath, get into your pyjamas, read a book, have a cup of tea (make sure it’s caffeine-free), or practice some relaxing yoga or meditation.
We all know that engaging in exercise has many health benefits including better sleep quality, but timing is important. Exercise emits cortisol, a hormone which makes the brain more alert and ready for action, so it’s best to get your exercise done in the morning or at least several hours before bed.
While a nightcap might make it easier to fall asleep initially, alcohol acts as a stimulant as it wears off so is more likely to cause sleep disturbances. It can also increase symptoms of sleep apnoea, alter natural melatonin production, and disturb the body’s circadian rhythm. Try to avoid caffeine for at least five hours before bedtime. Same goes with tobacco, which is also a stimulant.
Going to bed and waking up at same time every day helps to stabilise the circadian rhythm which, in turn, makes it easier to fall asleep and wake up in the long term. The best way to set your internal clock is by waking up at the same time every day, regardless of your sleep quality the night before. “Sleep homeostasis”, the drive that modulates sleep in humans, will ensure that your body adjusts.