Healthy Sleep

In this blog, Sam consolidates some useful tips for healthy sleep. For more in-depth information, visit www.sleepfoundation.org

It’s well-established that sleep is essential to our physical and mental health. But despite its importance, many people find hemselves regularly deprived of quality
sleep, and are notably sleepy during the day.

Healthy sleeping habits are known as “sleep hygiene”. Implementing many of these at once can be overwhelming, so try starting with one or two and work your way through
them to find out what works for you.

There are four areas of sleep hygiene you need to consider:

  1. Creating a Sleep-Inducing Bedroom
  2. Optimizing Your Sleep Schedule
  3. Crafting a Pre-Bed time Routine
  4. Fostering Pro-Sleep Habits During the Day

1. Creating a Sleep-Inducing Bedroom

Use a High-Performance Mattress and Pillow

The best mattress for your needs and preferences is vital to making sure that you are comfortable enough to relax. It also ensures, along with the best pillow, that your spine gets proper support to avoid aches and pains.

Choose Quality Bedding

Your sheets and blankets play a major role in helping your bed feel inviting. Look for bedding that feels comfortable to the touch and that will help maintain a comfortable temperature during the night.

Avoid Light Disruption

Excess light exposure can throw off your sleep and circadian rhythm. Blackout curtains over your windows, or a sleep mask for over your eyes can block light and prevent it from interfering with your rest.

Cultivate Peace and Quiet

Keeping noise to a minimum is an important part of building a sleep-positive bedroom. If you can’t eliminate nearby sources of noise, consider drowning them out with a fan or white noise machine. Earplugs or headphones are another option to stop abrasive sounds from bothering you when you want to sleep.

Find an Agreeable Temperature

You don’t want your bedroom temperature to be a distraction by feeling too hot or too cold. The ideal temperature can vary based
on the individual, but most research supports sleeping in a cooler room that is around 65 degrees.

Introduce Pleasant Aromas

A light scent that you find calming can help ease you into sleep. Essential oils with natural aromas, such as lavender, can provide a
soothing and fresh smell for your bedroom.

2. Optimising your sleep schedule

Set a fixed “wake-up” time

It’s close to impossible for your body to get accustomed to a healthy sleep routine if you’re constantly waking up at different times. Pick a wake-up time and stick with it, even on weekends or other days when you would otherwise be tempted to sleep in.

Budget time for sleep

If you want to make sure that you’re getting the recommended amount of sleep each night, then you need to build that time into your schedule. Considering your fixed wake-up time, work backwards and identify a target bedtime. Whenever possible, give yourself extra time before bed to get ready for sleep.

Be careful with naps

To sleep better at night, it’s important to use caution with naps. If you nap for too long or too late in the day, it can throw off your sleep
schedule and make it harder to get to sleep when you want to. The best time to nap is shortly after lunch in the early afternoon, and the best nap length is around 20 minutes.

Adjust your schedule gradually

When you need to change your sleep schedule, it’s best to make adjustments little-by-little and over time with a maximum difference of 1-2 hours per night. This allows your body to get used to the changes so that following your new schedule is more sustainable.

3. Crafting a bedtime routine

Wind down for at least 30 minutes

It’s much easier to doze off smoothly if you are at-ease. Quiet reading, low-impact stretching, listening to soothing music, and relaxation exercises are examples of ways to get into the right frame of mind for sleep.

Lower the lights

Avoiding bright light can help you transition to bedtime, and
contribute to your body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep.

Disconnect from devices

Tablets, mobile phones, and laptops can keep your brain wired, making it hard to truly wind down. The light from these devices can also suppress your natural production of melatonin. As much as possible, try to disconnect for 30 minutes or more before going to bed.

4. Fostering pro-sleep habits during the day

See the light of day

Our internal clocks are regulated by light exposure. Sunlight has the strongest effect, so try to take in daylight by getting outside or opening up windows or blinds to natural light. Getting a dose of daylight early in the day can help normalize your circadian rhythm. If natural light isn’t an option, you can talk with your doctor about using a light therapy box.

Find time to move

Daily exercise has across-the-board benefits for health, and the changes it initiates in energy use and body temperature can promote solid sleep. Most experts advise against intense exercise close to bedtime though, because it may hinder your body’s ability to effectively settle down before sleep.

Be mindful of what you eat and drink

Many of us are tempted to use a jolt of caffeine to overcome daytime sleepiness, but this approach can cause long-term sleep deprivation if it’s taken too often, so try to address the sleepiness and avoid caffeine later in the day when it can be a barrier to falling asleep.

Alcohol can induce drowsiness, so some people are keen on a nightcap before bed, but unfortunately, alcohol consumption can lower sleep quality, and so it’s best avoided before bed.

It can be harder to fall asleep if your body is still trying to digest a big dinner, so try to avoid late dinners, and minimise fatty or spicy foods. If you need an evening snack, opt for something light and healthy.

Don’t smoke

Exposure to smoke, including secondhand smoke, has been associated with a range of sleeping problems including difficulty falling asleep and fragmented sleep.

Reserve your bed for sleep and sex only

Exposure to smoke, including secondhand smoke, has been associated with a range of sleeping problems including difficulty falling asleep and fragmented sleep.

5. If you can’t fall asleep

Try relaxation techniques

Don’t focus on trying to fall asleep; instead, focus on just trying to relax. Controlled breathing, mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, and guided imagery are examples of relaxation methods that can help ease you into sleep.

Don’t stew in bed!

Try to avoid a connection in your mind between your bed and frustration from sleeplessness. This means that if you’ve spent around 20 minutes in bed without being able to fall asleep, get out of bed and do something relaxing in low light. Avoid checking the time during this time. Try to get your mind off of sleep for at least a few minutes before returning to bed.

Experiment with different methods

Sleeping problems can be complex and what works for one person may not work for someone else. Try different approaches to see what works for you. Just remember that it can take some time for new methods to take effect, so give your changes time to kick in before assuming that they aren’t working for you.

Keep a sleep diary

A daily sleep journal can help you keep track of how well you’re sleeping, and identify factors that might be helping or hurting your sleep. If you’re testing out a new sleep schedule or other sleep hygiene changes, the sleep diary can help document how well it’s working.

Talk with a doctor

A doctor is in the best position to offer detailed advice for people
with serious difficulties sleeping. Talk with your doctor if you find that your sleep problems are worsening, persisting over the long-term, affecting your health and safety (such as from excessive daytime sleepiness), or if they occur alongside other unexplained health problems.

What next?

Listen to “Sleep Well with Michael Mosley” – a six-part podcast series about sleep.

Visit our Leeds Sanctuary Meditations page, or find our podcast on your usual podcast platform – for recorded meditations which support mindful techniques and relaxation.

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