Sleep accounts for one-third of an average day and contributes to physical and mental wellbeing. We cannot do without sleep, but for many sleep often evades them. Lack of sleep leaves people feeling groggy, lacking in workplace creativity and productivity and can all too often lead to physical and mental illness. Here are some tips, including the science, to help you get a good night sleep.
- Eat and drink well
The nutritious intake of food and drink is essential to maintain a healthy body and mind. Healthy body weight is attributed to better sleep quality. A diet rich in vitamins and minerals should help improve sleep quality. Vitamin B6 can help boost melatonin, a sleep hormone produced naturally by the body to aid in the sleep-wake cycle. Magnesium is also thought to improve sleep quality in sufferers of insomnia. Magnesium can be found in dietary sources such as nuts and seeds, and oily fish such as mackerel and salmon. These fish also contain essential fatty acids OMEGA-3s which are good for brain health!
One of the common reasons for poor sleep quality is anxiety and stress. I am sure we have all experienced at some time the rolling of thoughts preventing sleep coming to us. One of the most important ways you can help alleviate the stress is to practice mindfulness, the act of being in the present.
You can practice mindfulness by laying comfortably, closing your eyes and then feeling the sensation of your body against the sheets. Feel the rise and fall of the chest with each breath. Feel the breath move into the body and then leave again. Allow stress and tension to leave the body with each exhalation. Listen to the sound of breathing. If your thoughts wonder off, just gently bring them back to the present.
I suffer from bad dreams, and I have used this technique many times to go back to sleep after waking up from a disturbed night – trust me it takes a bit of practice, but it works.
3. Create a nice environment
This may sound like common sense, but when you are dog-tired, it is very easy to just crawl into bed and hope that sleep arrives. You need to make sure that the environment is calm, the temperature is right and bed welcoming.
Create a really peaceful environment using soft and calm earthy colours such as blues, green and grey. These are all suggested to assist with sleep, but of course, you will pick what works for you and your bedroom.
Make sure the bedding textures are just right for you, I don’t like satins but love the coolness of cotton, for example. Replace that lumpy pillow if you are finding it is not comfortable, it may be affecting your sleep more than you realise. I frequently turn my pillows over to feel the coolness, this is a personal preference and helps me drift back off. Take a more objective look at your bedroom and decide what changes would create a better feel of the bedroom. You must make sure that you are comfortable we spend a lot of time in bed!
4. Physical activity
Not everyone will like this one, but it works! Physically active people usually sleep better and regular exercise helps those that suffer from insomnia. I am an advocate for health and fitness, but I know it is not everyone’s cup of tea.
You need to make sure that the activity you choose works for you. I am not suggesting you take up running if you are not a runner (well, maybe…!). Walking is a great way to raise the heart rate, practice mindfulness and destress. Best of all, it is free. The only caveat is when you exercise may affect your sleep. Exercising immediately before bed may be a stimulant for some, so experiment with when will work best for you, starting with a morning or early afternoon walk.
Aromatherapy is not for everyone and scientifically is controversial. There are studies that clearly show aromatherapy oils work to promote sleep and reduce anxiety. It is thought that the aromatherapy particles are able to reach the limbic region of our brain, producing a sedative and relaxing effect. Lavender is an oil that is frequently used to promote feels of relaxation, it is added to baths, used in massage oils, burnt or vaporised. Aromatherapy oils really are subjective because if you don’t like the smell, it will not help you to sleep so you will need to find the oil that is right for you.
6. Reduce Brain Stimulation
There is scientific evidence that suggests a bright screen before sleep will impact on sleep quality and this is particularly true of children. One reason for this may be due to the fact bright screens decrease the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. A reduction in melatonin would interrupt the effectiveness of the sleep-wake cycle. So, to improve sleep time, dim the lights of your screen, or better still listen to an audible mindfulness or meditation App.
Avoid stimulation by reducing coffee consumption during the day. Caffeine is a stimulant and can impair sleep quality. Coffee is my hot got-to drink of choice, so I usually stop drinking it early afternoon.
Those are my top six tips for improving sleep. Remember, regular quality sleep of between 7 to 9 hours is good for your health, your physical appearance and general wellbeing. You can implement changes one at a time or make radical changes – whatever will work for you! Feel free to leave comments about what works for you.
So, tell me, what changes are you going to make first?