According to current scientific thinking, there are seven steps to successful sleep, with quantity mattering just as much as quality. In fact, the way you feel when awake depends largely on how well you’ve been sleeping.
Any problems with daytime fatigue and sleep difficulties can often be traced back to your daily routine. Your sleep schedule, bedtime habits, and daily lifestyle choices all have a radical impact on the quality of your rest. However, you can optimize your sleep, allowing you to be productive, mentally sharp, emotionally balanced and energetic all day. And here’s the simple road map to better quality rest…
Support your body’s natural rhythms
Getting in sync with the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle – the so-called circadian rhythm – is of paramount importance when it comes to achieving good sleep. Keep a regular schedule – go to bed and get up at the same time each day. Consistency is vitally important here.
Try to go to sleep and get up at the same time every day. Sticking to a consistent sleep-wake schedule helps set your body’s internal clock and optimizes the quality of your sleep. Start by establishing a realistic bedtime, one that will fit in with your lifestyle. Choose a time when you normally feel tired, so that you don’t toss and turn. If you’re getting enough sleep, you should wake up naturally without an alarm.
Avoid sleeping in on weekends or when you’ve stayed up late. Even a couple hours of difference in wake time disrupts your internal clock. The more your sleep schedules differ, the worse the jetlag-like symptoms you are likely to experience. To make up for a late night, opt for a daytime nap instead.
Napping is a good way to recharge and make up for lost sleep hours. If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at night, however, napping can make things worse. If you have insomnia, eliminate naps altogether or limit them to 15 to 20 minutes in the early afternoon. If you find yourself getting sleepy way before your bedtime, do something mildly stimulating to avoid falling asleep.
Control your exposure to light
Melatonin is a naturally-occurring hormone controlled by light exposure that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Your brain secretes more of it when it’s dark – making you sleepy – and less when it’s light – keeping you alert. Long days in the office, away from natural light, can also make your brain weary. Similarly, bright illumination at night from LED lights and TV or computer screens can make your body think it’s time to wake up.
So, expose yourself to bright sunlight in the morning, especially around the time you need to get up. Have your coffee outside or breakfast by a sunny window. The light will help you wake up and feel more alert. Spend more time outside during daylight and take work breaks in sunlight or exercise outside.
At night, avoid bright screens before bedtime. They interfere with your body’s rhythms. You can minimize the impact by using devices with smaller screens, turning the brightness down or adjusting the colour of the display. Avoid watching TV – the light suppresses melatonin. Listen to music or audio books instead. Be smart about night-time reading – old-fashioned books are better than back-lit Kindles. Ensure your room is dark. The darker it is, the better you’ll sleep. Move any electronic devices that emit light. If you need to get up during the night, avoid turning on the lights if at all possible. This will make it much easier for you to fall asleep when back in bed.
Get regular exercise
Regular exercisers sleep better. Exercise also helps eliminate insomnia and sleep apnea, while increasing the time you spend in the deep, restorative stages of sleep. The more vigorously you exercise, the more powerful the sleep benefits. Exercise, however, is not a quick fix. It can take several months of regular activity before you experience the full effects. For a better sleep, time your exercise right. Exercise speeds up your metabolism, elevates body temperature, and stimulates activating hormones such as cortisol.
Be smart about what you eat and drink
Daytime eating habits play a role in how well you sleep, especially as it gets closer to bedtime. Cut down on caffeine. Actually, caffeine can cause sleep problems up to 10 or 12 hours after it has been imbibed. Also, stay away from big meals at night. Avoid heavy, rich foods within two hours of going to bed. Spicy or acidic foods in the evening can cause stomach trouble and heartburn.
Avoid alcohol before bed as it interferes with your sleep cycle. Also, avoid drinking too many liquids in the evening, thus avoiding those all-too frequent nightly bathroom trips. For some people, a light snack before bed can help promote sleep. For others, however, eating before bed can lead to possible indigestion.
Wind down and clear your head
Unable to sleep or waking up night after night? Residual stress, worry, and anger from your day can make it very difficult to sleep. Take note of what seems to be the recurring theme and figure out what you need to do to better manager your stress and anger during the day. Try to manage your thoughts and replace irrational fears with more productive ideas. Even counting sheep is more productive than worrying at bedtime. You may need help with stress management and to better maintain a calm, positive outlook. Practicing relaxation techniques before going to bed is a great way to wind down, calm the mind, and prepare for sleep. These techniques can include deep breathing, muscle relaxation, visualising a peaceful, restful place, reading a book, taking a warm bath, listening to soft music or making simple preparations for the following day.
Improve your sleep environment
If you make an effort to relax and unwind before bed, you’ll sleep easier and deeper. Sometimes even small changes to your sleeping environment can make a very big difference to the quality of your sleep. Keep the room as dark as possibe and the noise down.
Overall, keep your room dark, cool, and quiet. You can buy special sound machines to eliminate background noises or generate your own white noise by setting your radio between stations. Earplugs can also help. Keep your room cool – at around 18 degrees Centigrade with adequate ventilation. Make sure your bed is comfortable. Your bed covers should leave you enough room to stretch and turn comfortably. Sore back or aching neck? Change your mattress or pillow.
Ways to get back to sleep
It’s normal to wake briefly during the night. Many people won’t even remember it. If you have trouble falling back to sleep, however, try to cue your body for sleep and remain in bed in a relaxed position. Stress and anxiety encourages your body to stay awake. Try to focus on the feelings and sensations in your body or practice breathing exercises. Try to visualise progressive muscle relaxation or meditation, something that can be done without even getting out of bed.
If none of this helps, you may have a sleep disorder and you should seek the help and advice of a specialist. Good night, God bless, sleep tight.