With an increasing amount of research linking lack of sleep to such serious health conditions as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and even cancer, it is important to clock-up the recommended eight-hours of shut-eye per night to stay fit for life. If you find yourself in the wide-awake club, making some simple habitual changes and rethinking your surroundings can help you break your sleepless cycle.
Be screen-time savvy
Exposure to light on the blue end of the colour spectrum limits the production of melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone. In real terms, this is a big thumbs-down for electronic devices such as smart phones, tablets, computers and flat-screen televisions before bedtime. Make sure you switch off and log off at least two hours before you hit the sack. If it’s necessary to use your phone or check emails (a staggering 80-90% of adults do during this period), turn down the brightness on your device and position it at least 12-inches away from your eyes.
Bright light also stems the flow of melatonin. Dimming your home illuminations or substituting harsh ceiling lights with soft glowing lamps come nightfall will have a positive impact on your ability to sleep. Furthermore, while blue light has the most detrimental affect on sleep, red light is the most conducive in triggering drowsiness. So consider using incandescent light bulbs with a wire filament in your bedroom. Alternatively, simulate a red glow from traditional white light bulbs by opting for red, brown or orange lampshades.
For the best quality slumber, sleep on your back. It allows your neck, head and spine to recharge in a neutral position, and minimises the disruptive occurrence of heartburn and acid reflux. If you sleep on your side, lay to the right to reduce pressure on vital organs such as your lungs, liver and stomach. However, avoid the foetal position – sleeping with your knees pulled high and chin tucked into your chest restricts diaphragmatic breathing and will exert undue pressure on your spine and joints.
Swerve caffeine-loaded beverages like tea, coffee and sodas from midday. They continue to stimulate your metabolism for up to eight hours after intake, preventing you from enjoying restorative sleep come bedtime. Instead, drink caffeine-free herbal teas that contain sleep-promoting compounds such as camomile.
Avoid alcohol. You may feel like a glass of favourite tipple helps you to fall to sleep, but it increases REM (rapid eye movement) and interferes with the quality of your sleep cycle.
Resist eating heavy meals too late – the energy your body will generate to digest them will interrupt your sleep. Small snacks in the evening are much better, and some can even help aid sleep. Poultry, bananas, eggs, cottage cheese and cashew nuts are all high in tryptophan, an amino acid that food scientists suggest has a sedative-like affect.
Routine is king
Irregularities in when and how long you sleep will confuse your body’s biological sleep/wake rhythm, so be conscious about maintaining a routine. Attempt to bed down the same time every night and try to sleep for a consistent number of hours. If you are experiencing an episode of sleep deprivation, avoid power naps as a strategy to compensate – they will only send your body further out of sync. Working through any daytime dips with a brisk stroll instead of 40 winks will help get your sleep pattern back on track quicker.
Time workouts well
Regular exercise is key to quality sleep. However, rigorous exercise too close to bedtime will have a stimulant effect on your body and keep you wide-awake when you try to retire for the night. As a rule of thumb, always complete any cardiovascular exercise at least three to four hours before you head to bed.
Write your worries away
The most common underlying cause of sleeplessness is worry, be it financial, work-related or relationship based. Limit such concerns impacting on your sleep by writing down how you plan to solve them before you head to bed. Putting pen to paper outside of the bedroom will help you feel more in control and limit everyday worries running through your head and sabotaging your sleep.
Optimise your sleeping quarters
Review the design and organisation of your bedroom to make sure it is conducive to resting well. Choose warm and earthy shades or pastels over bright colours, keep clutter to a minimum, limit external light intrusion with blackout blinds, maintain a moderately cool temperature (between 16-18°C) and decorate the walls with photographs of loved ones or calming landscapes. In combination, these factors will help make your bedroom feel like a sanctuary and help you relax.