We all know it. If we don’t get enough sleep, we’re not ourselves the next day. When we don’t get enough sleep over a long period of time, it can effect more than just our mood and productivity. Lack of sleep and poor sleep quality can increase the risk of obesity, type 2 Diabetes, depression and anxiety.
I recently listened to a podcast with sleep researcher, Professor Matthew Walker, hosted by Dr. Chatterjee, entitled “Why We Sleep”. Here are a few simple tips that I took from that podcast that I try to put into practice to help improve my sleep quality.
Clutter-free Space. Clutter-free Mind.
Do you feel like when you turn out the light at night, your mind goes into overdrive? You’re thinking about everything you didn’t do today and what you need to do tomorrow. If you have an overactive mind when you’re going to sleep, write a to-do list for the following day before your head hits the pillow. Getting your thoughts out on paper leaves you more relaxed and more likely to get some good quality sleep.
The blue light emitted from the screens of our phones, tablets and laptops reduces the production of melatonin, a hormone that is important in the sleep-wake cycle. Karl Henry regularly mentions on his podcast that mobile phones should be left outside of the bedroom. Not only does this remove exposure to blue light but it removes any temptation to check on emails or (aimlessly) scroll social media.
My favourite way to relax before bed is to read my book. This is something I’ve been doing my whole live and I often fall asleep sitting up in the bed – that’s how relaxing I find reading. Avoid taking work into bed. Reading and responding to work emails can raise stress levels and release the hormone cortisol which is anti-sleep. A restorative yoga class or a warm bath are other activities I like to do in the evenings to help me unwind before bed.
Sometimes referred to as sleep hygiene or a sleep routine, a sleep schedule is advised by sleep specialists the world over. This involves, as often as possible, going to sleep and getting up at the same time every day. Many of us get up early Monday to Friday and sleep on for a couple of hours on Saturday and Sunday. This behaviour can lead to what’s known as “social jeglag” on a Monday morning, whereby we may experience daytime sleepiness and fatigue. On a long-term basis, social jeglag can be associated with chronic illness, reduced mental performance, low mood and weight gain.
Caffeine and Alcohol.
Caffeine has a half-life of seven hours, meaning that it stays in the body for 14 hours after it has been consumed. If you are sensitive to caffeine, it is best to keep your coffee and tea consumption to the morning time, switching to decaff or herbal tea in the afternoon, if necessary. That said, some people like myself, are less sensitive to caffeine and may find that they can tolerate a cup of tea later in the day without obviously implications on their ability to fall asleep and their ability to stay asleep.
Even just one glass of alcohol in the evening can impact our sleep. Simply put, if you’re going to bed feeling tipsy, the alcohol in your body is likely to affect your deep, restorative sleep. That said, I acknowledge that many people enjoy a few drinks when socialising with friends, myself included. Just be aware of the impact that the alcohol may be having and do not see it as a means to better night’s sleep. Your granny might have advocated the “night cap” but sometimes we have to accept that alcohol isn’t the cure-all that it was once believed to have been.
Find what works for you and embrace what you need for a good night’s sleep. If you are having trouble getting to sleep and staying asleep over a number of weeks, please speak to a healthcare professional who will be able to advise on a sleep management strategy and who work with you to uncover the root cause of your sleep issues.