A good night of sleep helps to maintain both our physical and emotional health. Sleep allows the body time to heal – minimizing the risks of obesity, high blood pressure, and heart-related conditions. Sleep allows pathways in the brain to form that ultimately aid learning and memory. Studies have shown that sleep improves concentration, productivity, reaction times, energy levels, and a person’s overall mood.
So why can it be so difficult to fall asleep? You may find yourself tossing and turning throughout the night, unable to get comfortable. Or you may find yourself staring at the ceiling worrying about the stresses of work and tomorrow’s tasks.
The good news is that by adjusting daytime habits and adopting the following good sleep practices, you can finally sleep soundly and get the most out of your night – and your day.
#1 – Follow a consistent routine
Sticking to a sleep schedule is one of the most important habits to adopt for a good night’s sleep. To stay in sync with your body’s natural 24-hour cycle, wake up at the same time every morning and go to bed at the same time every night, including on weekends. Although a sleep-in may feel fantastic on Sunday morning, it can have the same effect as jetlag come Monday morning. Having a night-time ritual such as having a skincare routine and allocating reading time can help ensure you get to bed on time without being distracted by other tasks.
#2 – Set time aside to unwind
Specific bedtime behavior signals to your body that it is time to relax and sleep. Incorporating relaxation techniques into your bedtime ritual can help you to relax and forget your worries. Ideal activities to do before bed include taking a hot bath, deep breathing, gentle yoga or tai chi, listening to calming music, and reading a book. Once in bed, try to purposefully relax each of your muscles- starting with your toes – and picture a peaceful place. If you struggle to do this alone, try an app like Headspace which will run you through a meditation activity each night.
#3 – Control light exposure
Light exposure controls the production of melatonin, a hormone associated with regulating sleep patterns in the brain – for example, bright light is a signal for your body to wake up and start moving around. When you wake up in the morning, throw open the curtains or turn on a lamp, then go outside to soak up some sun. Melatonin levels increase in low light, so try dimming the lights an hour or so before bed and ensure your bedroom is dark.
The bright screens of laptops, phones, or televisions can act as stimulants and interfere with your sleep cycle. The particular type of blue light emitted from these devices can reset melatonin levels, meaning you may not feel tired and so are able to watch just one more episode on Netflix – which you will regret the following day.
#4 – Eat and drink mindfully
Your diet choices and eating schedule can have a big impact on sleep patterns. A large meal late at night can leave you feeling overly full and uncomfortable and may negatively affect your sleep. To avoid this, finish eating at least an hour before bedtime and avoid sugary foods. If you are in need of a night-time snack, choose protein-based foods such as cheese or nuts, which will help to regulate your blood sugar levels. Bananas are also a good option as they are filled with magnesium and potassium, which have been linked to muscle relaxation and good quality sleep.
Drinks are rightly often included in night-time routines. Warm milk has been a home remedy for generations as it promotes quality sleep. Other calming alternatives include herbal teas such as peppermint and chamomile.
Alcohol is another common evening drink as it can help some people to relax. However, although drinks may be relaxing earlier in the day, alcohol can result in disrupted sleep, thus should be avoided after dinner. Also, although coffee is great as a morning pick-me-up, avoid this stimulant after midday to ensure you are well prepared for a better nights’ sleep.
#5 – Exercise daily
Exercising each day will ensure you feel tired at bedtime and will be more likely to fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow. The effects will be stronger for more intense workouts, but any exercise is better than none. Since exercise raises your body temperature and heart rate and wakes you up, you should preferably choose to tackle your most strenuous activities during the day.