How did you sleep last night? How about the night before that?
If you are like 80% of Brits, you probably had a pretty bad night. Tossing and turning, looking at the clock, over and over…Waking up feeling worn out, miserable, sore, and grumpy.
You know when you don’t get enough sleep .. the symptoms are there for everyone to see (unfortunately !);
- You feel short tempered
- You have negative thoughts racing through your mind
- You don’t have the energy to make the most out of your day
- And all you want to do is to crawl back into bed and sleep
But it doesn’t need to be this way. In most cases you can achieve sound slumber by adopting better sleep hygiene practices.
Healthy sleep hygiene practices are critical for good quality sleep. And without restful sleep, it is virtually impossible to achieve a reasonable level of productivity in today’s hectic and challenging work environment.
Impact of poor sleep on women
Unfortunately women appear to have drawn the short straw when it comes to sleep disorders. According to a poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation in America, about half of all women reported waking up without being refreshed and experiencing poor sleep.
Ironically, women need more sleep than men, according to Dr Jim Horne, a British sleep science expert. Dr Horne based his argument on woman’s tendency to multi-task, which draws more energy from mental resources.
The more the brain is utilised during the day, the more rest it will require to rejuvenate. Besides, women face other challenges which men don’t face, for example, women's sleep architecture is known to change constantly through their life as they pass through the different life stages like pregnancy, perimenopause or menopause.
But experts agree that practicing good ‘sleep hygiene’ can make a marked differences to your sleep quality.
This just another way of saying that you need to cultivate good habits, such as:
- Go to bed & get up at the same time every day
- Establish a bedtime routine -relax by meditating, reading a book or doing any other non-stimulating activity
- Make sure your sleep environment is fit for purpose
- Watch what food & drink you consume during the day and just before the bedtime
- Get moving
- Avoid having naps during the day
Let’s have a deeper look…
Before that, a quick note - What is sleep hygiene?
Basically, these are good habits that help you get a good night sleep and maintain full day time alertness. They are behavioural and environmental practices put together by sleep science experts to assist people in getting better sleep. Clinicians evaluate sleep hygiene practices when they make diagnostic assessments of patients presented to them with sleeping difficulties. Most experts concur that adequate knowledge of sleep hygiene will go a long way in achieving good overall quality of sleep.
Scientific studies suggest that people who follow multiple sleep hygiene practices have better sleep outcomes than those who adopt only one. Therefore, getting better sleep will entail adoption of a range of sleep hygiene recommendations which should be observed throughout the day and at night. According to Professor Jason Ellis of Northumbria University in the United Kingdom, maintaining good sleep hygiene takes into account quantity, quality and timing of sleep, as well as vulnerability towards poor sleep and maintenance of full day time alertness.
So you are not doomed to toss and turn every night. Even though you might not be able to control ALL the factors that interfere with sleep, you can adopt these simple sleep hygiene strategies that encourages better sleep.
Sleep hygiene strategies for the day time - That's right your prep for a good night's sleep start's early!
Maintain regular sleep/wake schedule
Our body’s internal clock follows a circadian rhythm that synchronises various body functions with the 24-hour day. One essential function of this system is to regulate our daytime alertness and when we are ready to sleep. This incredible mechanism in our body tells us when it is time to wake up in the morning and when we should go to bed at night, even if we do not step out of the house or have access to a clock. However, this internal mechanism needs to be trained by keeping to regular hours to enable the body stay completely in sync with the day and night cycle.
Keeping to a sleep/wake schedule enables the circadian system to give the body a cue which promotes a feeling of sleepiness when it is time to go to bed and stay awake when it is appropriate to do so. You can achieve this by waking up at the same time every morning and going to bed at the same time every night.
Expose yourself to daylight
Closely related to maintenance of a regular sleep/wake schedule is the need to be exposed to natural light as soon as we wake up. Natural light assists in resetting the internal body clock and aligns the sleep/wake schedule with nature’s daily dark/light cycle. It also removes that groggy feeling often associated with sleep and makes us more alert.
People who undertake regular exercise sleep better than those who do not. Exercise increases body metabolism and promotes the release of hormones which improve the mind’s state of alertness. Even light exercise, like a brief walk in the mornings is enough to relieve stress and other symptoms of anxiety but also helps with more restful sleep at night.
Exercise is best undertaken early because the increase in body activity may delay falling asleep at night if it is done too late in the day. It is advisable to avoid exercise for at least two hours before bed time.
Avoid Food & Drink That Prevents Sleep
Food and drinks consumed during the day have a significant impact on the quality of sleep at night.
Avoid consumption of large meals just before going to bed. Foods rich in fat and fries take some time to digest and may trigger discomfort or indigestion in susceptible people causing sleep disruption. Intake of fluids should also be limited before going to bed as excessive fluid intake can lead to frequent trips to the toilets at night which interrupts sleep and reduces the quality of rest.
Look for hidden caffeine
Although there are significant differences in the way caffeine impacts individuals, it is advisable to limit the intake of caffeine during the day since its effects may linger for up to 6 hours after consumption with the possibility of delaying your sleep at night.
For a similar reason, avoid consumption of energy drinks and chocolate containing stimulants towards the end of the day as they contain substances which activate neurobiological systems that maintain wakefulness. Even small amounts of caffeine in chocolate can affect your ZZZs at night.
Avoid booze and tobacco near bedtime
Consume alcohol in moderation during the day and avoid its consumption near bed time. Scientific evidence suggests that even though alcohol may initially induce sleepiness, the metabolites of alcohol can fragment sleep and significantly disrupt it, especially in the second half of the night when the body begins to process the alcohol. Similarly, smoking of tobacco products before going to bed can cause nocturnal restlessness and reduction in the time spent in deep sleep.
The truth is, what we do during the day has a direct impact on how well we sleep at night. Consider including these daytime sleep hygiene tips into your daily routine, and your body will reward you with a restorative sleep at night.
Sleep hygiene strategies for the night
Turn bedroom into a sleep-inducing environment
Go to bed at the same time every night to keep up with your sleep/ wake schedule but before doing so, ensure that the bedroom environment is cool, dark and quiet. Your bedroom should feel relaxing. Please don’t sit in bed and work, surf the internet or watch TV. Save your bed for sleep and sex only!
Uncomfortable temperatures, light and noises may prevent us from going to sleep and can disrupt continuous sleep. The ideal room temperature should be less than 20 degrees, so make sure you air out your room an hour before bedtime during those warm nights.
Make sure your mattress and pillows are comfortable. For obvious reasons lumpy mattress and pillows can really impact the sleep quality for even those with the best sleep hygiene habits!
Shut off all devices!
Bright lights from gadgets such as smart phones, iPads and television screens can be distracting and they keep your brain active well after you have shut it off. Make sure you have shut off all devices at least one hour before bedtime.
Have a wind down routine
Adopting a relaxing wind down routine is a great way to give your brain a cue that it is almost bedtime. Engage in relaxing activities, such as light reading or simple meditation before bed this helps reduce brain activity and relaxes you, getting you ready for a good night's sleep. The key is to make this into a routine and follow it every night.
Don’t be a night-time clock watcher
It is tempting to keep checking the clock when trying to fall asleep but this will only prolong falling asleep. Although a small table clock is permissible by the bed side, especially if it helps notify you when it is time to wake up in the morning but it is best to eliminate a visible clock in the bedroom. Glancing at your clock several times per night can make your mind race with thoughts about the following day, which can keep you wide awake.
Your night time routine doesn’t need to be long and complicated. It might be as easy creating an environment where you feel calm and relaxed. These simple night-time sleep strategies should help you maximize your sleep quality.
So, there you go, healthy sleep habits are not confined to the bedroom. Clocking in eight hours of shut-eye extends far beyond your home life, and bad habits throughout the day may well be inhibiting your rest when the lights go out. Adopt these sleep hygiene strategies throughout your waking day to enhance your night-time sleep, honing in on habits that might have kept you tossing and turning every night.