Sleep is something that is so important to our overall wellbeing and yet so many of us don’t get enough quality sleep. Sometimes when we don’t get a good enough sleep we can still perk up as the day goes on; other times, we feel sluggish, fatigued, and our ability to accomplish tasks lags for the whole 9 to 5. There are some people who have sleep disorders interrupting their sleep, but for most people it’s a matter of lifestyle factors. That’s good news though, because it means you can make some simple changes that will get you sleeping better and feeling more rested.
Wake up and go to sleep at the same times every day.
For starters, get into a routine when it comes to sleeping. When you go to bed at a different time every night and wake up at inconsistent hours your body gets thrown out of any sort of rhythm and it doesn’t rest as well. Going to bed at the same time every night and getting up at the same time every morning helps your body to get into a pattern so it can start to recognize that there’s a set period where sleep happens. It’ll know that it’s mean to sleep at a certain time and will be ready to rest, and it’ll also know that waking happens at a certain time and will be more alert when you get up. Your sleep will be more restful and you’ll feel more refreshed every morning. It’s also important to note that your body’s natural rhythm is to sleep when it’s dark and be awake when the sun is up, so it’s best if your sleep schedule fits with that, meaning it’s not ideal to go to bed at 4am every day and sleep until noon if you can help it.
Keep your bedroom dark.
And while on the subject of light, it’s important to make sure you minimize it as much as possible where you’re sleeping. As mentioned, our bodies take the sunlight as a signal that it’s time to be awake, so if there’s light where we’re sleeping it can send the wrong message and impact our sleep. If you’ve got an alarm clock, cover it up or turn it around until you need to look at it. If city lights shine in through your window, close the curtains. Even spending too much time with a device like your phone or tablet right before you go to sleep can make it harder to fall asleep and to get quality, restful sleep. Having light shine into your room in the morning can actually be helpful to wake you up, but light from any source at night can be a hindrance to sleep. You’ll do much better when you sleep in a darker space.
Add exercise into your routine.
Exercise is a common recommendation when it comes to trouble sleeping and an effective one. It’s well established that regular exercise—especially cardio, like running—improves the quality of sleep. Research has found that people who exercise regularly sleep much better most nights than those who don’t exercise. Even people with sleep disorders can experience substantial improvement from adding exercise into their daily routines. That said, you should not exercise within four hours of bedtime. Exercise raises your body temperature and this can actually disrupt your sleep, so get in your workout earlier in the day. The downside to this one, though, is that it can take a few weeks to start seeing results from it. Nonetheless, if you’re thinking about your sleep quality long-term, exercise is a great consideration.
Limit your caffeine intake.
Caffeinated drinks tend to be the go-to option for people who don’t sleep well and need an energy boost at some point in the day, whether it’s first thing in the morning or early evening; however, if you’re drinking them in the afternoon or later, it’s probably only going to keep you in a cycle of getting a poor night’s sleep and needing something to perk you up. Ideally, caffeinated beverages should be restricted, but realistically they should at least not be consumed past 2pm. Caffeine’s stimulant effect is useful for a boost but it can stay in your system for around eight hours, so if you’re having a coffee, tea, or other caffeinated drink late in the day, it can make it harder for you to fall asleep or for you to get into a deep sleep which leaves you feeling unrested. So if you must have a caffeinated drink, keep it to before 2pm.
Limit your alcohol intake, too.
Alcohol is another drink that can cause sleep disturbances. Many people mistakenly think that, because alcohol makes them sleepy, it can act as a sleep aid. This isn’t true, though. A few hours after having a drink, the level of alcohol in your blood will begin to lower and your body will start to wake up, so if you have a couple drinks too close to bedtime, you could actually find yourself struggling to fall asleep. Alcohol can also interfere with the quality of your sleep even if it doesn’t keep you up. It makes you fall into a deep sleep for a while, but reduces REM sleep which is considered the most restorative part of the sleep cycle. Less time in REM means you can wake up feeling groggy and unrested. So, like caffeine, alcohol is best consumed rarely, but realistically, having a drink or two at an appropriate time can be done without hurting your sleep quality much. When you do have alcohol, be sure it’s at least two hours before bed to prevent sleep disturbances so you can still get a good night’s rest.
Have the right nighttime snack.
Some people recommend not eating at nighttime, but the right snack can actually be helpful in preparing your body for sleep. If you’re feeling a bit hungry late in the evening, go for a snack that combines carbohydrates and calcium or carbs and a protein that contains tryptophan. You could munch on cheese and crackers, toast and an egg, or fruit and yogurt, for example. Eating these foods about an hour before bed can boost your serotonin levels which will get you feeling calm and relaxed and ready for a good night’s sleep. Don’t stuff yourself though; a small snack a little while before is helpful, but a big meal can cause your body to split its focus between digesting the food you ate and trying to recharge for the next day and that will impact how well you sleep.
Keep your room cool.
Cozying into bed in a cool room will help you sleep better. It’s recommended that your bedroom be kept between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, or 18 to 24 degrees Celsius for optimal sleep, so set your thermostat if you’ve gone one. Getting into a cool room and, more significantly, cool sheets, will help lower your body temperature a bit which will cause your body to produce melatonin and induce sleep. If you don’t have air conditioning, you can take a hot bath or shower instead. Coming out of the warm water into even a room-temperature space will cause your body temperature to drop, achieving a similar effect. Once you’re settled into bed, you don’t want to feel too cold or too warm, but somewhere in the middle where you’re totally comfortable so you can sleep your best.
Eliminate disruptive noise.
Some are lucky enough to live somewhere that allows their bedroom to be dead quiet at night. Others get the sounds of the neighbour’s dog that barks at all hours or of a night-owl roommate’s music that’s they refuse to turn down. A quiet environment is so important for a good night’s sleep since even periodic, low-level sounds can be enough to disturb some people and wake them out of sleep mid-cycle. If you live somewhere really noisy, it might be worth it to add some soundproofing features to your bedroom, but to drown out subtle background noises like the TV that’s on in another room, a white noise machine can do the trick. Yes, there will be some sound still and it may not be as good as silence for some, but the sounds produced are designed to be soothing and relaxing so that they ease you into sleep. If you can sleep comfortably with headphones on, you could also try listening to binaural beats. Choose a track meant for sleep and it’ll not only block out the sounds from outside but could also help improve your sleep overall.
No matter what you do for a living, no matter where you live, getting quality sleep can make a huge difference on how you feel and your ability to be productive all day long. Commit to making some minor lifestyle changes and see how much better you can sleep better and how much more rested you can wake up every day. And when you feel properly energized, you’re more likely to feel happy, motivated, and ready to succeed. When you sleep better, you live better.