Tips on sleeping well – How to get to sleep quicker and improve your sleep quality
Updated: Jun 21
Over the past few decades good quality sleep and the amount of sleep we get has declined. Our lives have become fast paced and our stress levels have increased.
A good nights sleep is as important as eating well and staying active
Sleep problems and their repercussions may include any of the following (it’s important to stress I’m not talking about sleep disorders here):
Difficulty falling asleep
Laying awake for long periods throughout the night
Waking several times during the night
Waking up early and not being able to get back to sleep
Feeling tired on waking up
Experiencing low mood, feeling irritable
Feeling hungry and snacking more
I have so many conversations about sleep problems that I wanted to share some proven ways to encourage a better nights sleep
Increase exposure to natural sunlight
By getting outside, preferably in the first few hours of waking, we are helping to keep our circadian rhythms healthy. These are our 24 hour cycles that are part of our body’s internal clock. It is constantly running in the background carrying out essential functions and processes. One of these is the sleep-wake cycle. If we expose ourselves to as little as twenty minutes outside each day this has the potential to improve our sleep quality and the amount of time we are asleep. There is research to say that using an artificial bright light devise or bulb can also help.
Go to bed and wake up at a similar time each day
Where possible be consistent with wake and sleep times. I understand this might not always be feasible, with shift work or having a new baby etc. But where possible, try not to go to bed much later on the weekends as this can disrupt sleep patterns. By doing this we are teaching our bodies to sleep better. Try to avoid napping unless it’s for thirty minutes or less. Anything more can also disrupt our sleep. After a few weeks it may get to the point where an alarm clock is no longer needed.
Try to move every day, whether that be walking, running, cycling, yoga, pilates, high impact interval training etc. Whatever you enjoy. It has been shown to reduce the amount of time it takes to get to sleep, reduce anxiety and increase the total time sleeping. However, it has also been shown that rigorous exercise in the evening is not always conducive to a good nights sleep, so opt for slower forms of activity if this is when you normally exercise.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed & generally reduce fluid intake
It’s recommended that we stop drinking caffeine around 3pm-4pm each afternoon. It takes 6-8 hours for our bodies to process caffeine. If you have problems sleeping try to stick to decaffeinated tea and coffee. But bear in mind that the decaffeination process doesn’t remove all of the caffeine although it will remove most of it. I switched to drinking Clipper Decaf Tea ( http://www.clipper-teas.com ) a couple of years ago after Juls at The Body Retreat ( http://www.thebodyretreat.com ) explained how most tea bags are bleached and contain plastic. This tea of choice is naturally decaffeinated with plant based biodegradable teabags. Another alternative evening drink are herbal teas and I love the Night Time tea bags by Pukka Tea ( http://www.pukkaherbs.com ). Warm milky drinks are also a good choice.
Drinking alcohol in the time leading up to when we go to bed may give the illusion of helping us full to sleep but it prevents us reaching a really deep slumber. This can result in broken sleep and waking up still feeling tired (hangovers aside!)
Reduce your fluid intake one to two hours before going to bed. If you normally visit the toilet through the night try not drinking anything for a couple of hours before going to bed.
It’s also important to note that eating a large meal close to when we go to bed can have a detrimental effect on sleep as our body is working overtime to digest it all and as a result our hormones can be disrupted.
Create a relaxing bedroom environment
There are several elements in a room which can make it conducive to good sleep. Having a dark, quiet and cool environment will help in falling asleep and staying asleep. Dark curtains or blinds, a quiet room (I know this is not always possible), an optimum temperature of 20 degrees celsius and a clean and tidy clutter free space are positive steps to take. A comfortable bed, mattress and pillows can help reduce back, shoulder and neck pain and create a comfortable space to lay. It’s suggested to replace mattresses and pillows every eight years or so.
Numerous studies have found that technology in the bedroom has a detrimental effect on sleep. If you currently use your phone as an alarm clock, invest in an old school alarm and charge your phone in a different room overnight (check out http://www.johnlewis.com, http://www.argos.co.uk). Avoid iPads too. The blue light exposure in the evening can affect our circadian rhythm tricking our brain into thinking it is day light and reducing the hormone melatonin which helps us to relax and go to sleep. If you have a TV in your bedroom try to avoid watching it in bed and falling asleep whilst it’s still on. This could become a habit whereby you need to have the TV on in order to get to sleep.
Lastly, try not to obsess over what time it is throughout the night. Turn the clock face away from you. My alarm clock face fades when the room is dark so it doesn’t display the time ( http://www.lumie.com ) I purposely try not to check the time on our other alarm clock if I wake up. I used to, I’d be calculating how much time I had left in bed before having to get up, and then would lay awake worrying about this. Not any more.
Introduce a relaxing evening routine
An hour or two before bed think about winding down from the day and preparing for bed. This could include a number of things. Studies have show that not using our phones during the two hours before bed has a really positive effect on sleep. This is definitely an area I need to work on.
Have a bath with a relaxing oil and face mask. Giving yourself a facial massage, hand or foot massage (check out my Instagram and Facebook pages for video tutorials on these). Practicing some simple breathing exercises (one of my previous articles was on breathing techniques) You could follow these whilst doing your massage. Listen to some chilled music, trying a guided meditation or guided visualisation (there are lots of sleep playlists, meditation and visualisation playlists on Spotify http://www.spotify.com ). You could spritz your pillow with a calming pillow spray (a favourite of mine is This Works Deep Sleep Pillow Spray http://www.thisworks.com ), although it’s important to not become dependant on sleep aids like this as ultimately you want to train yourself to fall asleep naturally.
Unless I am really tired I always read in bed even if it’s just a few pages. I don’t choose anything too taxing. I save these for during the day. I always fill out my gratitude journal which is a great way of evaluating what’s happened during the day and ending it on a positive note (I use The One Minute Gratitude Journal by Brenda Nathan).
Dump your worries and thoughts
If you tend to lay awake worrying about issues, keep a notebook by your bed and before you get in, write down any worries, thoughts for the next day, ‘To do’s’ etc. You can then revisit these the next day.
Don’t lay in bed if sleep isn’t forthcoming
Get up after 20 minutes if you are still awake. Pick something relaxing to do ie. reading, but don’t pick up your phone as this will just stimulate your brain. Go back to bed when you feel sleepier.
Some quick and easy tips to encourage improvements in sleep patterns
All of these tips help me to sleep well and wake up refreshed. Occasionally I don’t drop off to sleep quickly or have broken sleep but I usually know why this is and it often stems from not implementing one or more of the above tips.
I’d be really interested to hear if you try any of these tips and how you get on.