The good sleep guide

Nov 14, 2019

Sleep is not a luxury or something we can “catch up on”, it is a physical and mental necessity. The benefits of sleep impacts our daily lives in almost every area.

According to research completed by the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, our bodies manage and require sleep in the same way that it regulates the need for eating, drinking and breathing. Extensive studies have shown that sleep plays a vital role in promoting physical health, longevity and emotional wellbeing.

Here are our top 10 tips to help you sleep better:

1. Routine

Your body likes routine. Choose a time when you normally feel tired and set a regular bedtime. Try not to break this routine on weekends when it may be tempting to stay up late. If you want to change your bedtime, help your body adjust by making the change in small daily increments, such as 15 minutes earlier or later each day.

Wake up at the same time every day. If you’re getting enough sleep, you should wake up naturally without an alarm. If you need an alarm clock to wake up on time, you may need to set an earlier bedtime. As with your bedtime, try to maintain your regular wake–time even on weekends.

Be smart about napping. While taking a nap can be a great way to recharge, especially for older adults, it can make insomnia worse. If insomnia is a problem for you, consider eliminating napping. If you must nap, do it in the early afternoon, and limit it to 30 minutes.

Fight after–dinner drowsiness. If you find yourself getting sleepy way before your bedtime, get off the couch and do something mildly stimulating to avoid falling asleep, such as washing the dishes, calling a friend, or getting clothes ready for the next day. If you give in to the drowsiness, you may wake up later in the night and have trouble getting back to sleep.

2. Bedroom

Your bedroom should be reserved for rest, sleep, and love. Make sure you have the right mattress for you. It is much easier to sleep and remain asleep when the room is dark. Try fitting black out blinds or curtains to avoid the early sun waking you up prematurely. Keep your bedroom at the correct temperature. Most people sleep best in a slightly cool room (around 65°F or 18°C) with adequate ventilation. If it is too hot or too cold it can interfere with quality sleep.

3. Noise and stimulation

It is best to avoid having televisions or computers in the bedroom – even dim standby lights can confuse your body clock. If you are used to falling asleep to the TV and miss the noise try soft music or a fan. If you need to eliminate noise you can’t avoid (neighbours, dogs, traffic) try ear plugs.

4. Relaxation

Taking a hot shower or bath before bed helps bring on sleep as it can relax tense muscles. Try reading a light entertaining book or magazine. But avoid intense TV or reading 2 hours prior to going to bed it will stimulate your senses and make sleep difficult. Turn off your laptop / computer 2 hours prior to going to bed to allow your mind to relax. 

If you make a consistent effort to relax and unwind before bed, you will sleep easier and more deeply. A peaceful bedtime routine sends a powerful signal to your brain that it is time to wind down and let go of stress. Try relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, visualisation or meditation.

5. Manage anxiety and stress

When your mind continues to deal with worries of the day or the workload of tomorrow it can be very difficult to get to sleep and stay asleep. Keep a pen and paper by your bed and write down a list of problems or tasks that are on your mind. This effectively files everything away and “clears your desk” allowing you to relax, knowing you are prepared for the next day. If stress is a continuous problem seek additional help.

6. Get some sunlight

Sunlight helps regulate your body clock and makes you feel sleepy at night by stimulating your body to produce melatonin (a hormone that regulates your sleep cycle). You need exposure to bright light every day. Morning sunlight exposure can be especially helpful. Be sure to open the curtains every morning to let light in.

7. Diet

Maintaining a balanced diet and a healthy weight will have a positive impact on your sleep.Stay away from big meals at night. Try to make dinnertime earlier in the evening, and avoid heavy, rich foods within two hours of bed. Fatty foods take a lot of work for your stomach to digest and may keep you up. Also be cautious when it comes to spicy or acidic foods in the evening, as they can cause stomach trouble and heartburn. Consider the following;

Avoid alcohol before bed

Many people think that a nightcap before bed will help them sleep. While it may make you fall asleep faster, alcohol reduces your sleep quality, waking you up later in the night. To avoid this effect, so stay away from alcohol in the hours before bed.

Cut down on caffeine

You might be surprised to know that caffeine can cause sleep problems up to 10 to 12 hours after drinking it! Consider eliminating caffeine after lunch or cutting back your overall intake.

Avoid drinking too many liquids in the evening

Drinking lots of water, juice, tea, or other fluids may result in frequent bathroom trips throughout the night. Caffeinated drinks, which act as diuretics, only make things worse.

A light snack before bed can help promote sleep

When you pair tryptophan–containing foods with carbohydrates which release serotonin, it helps calms the brain and allows you to sleep better. For even better sleep, try adding extra calcium to your dinner or night time snack.

Experiment with your food habits to determine your optimum evening meals and snacks

For a relaxing bedtime snack, try half a turkey or peanut butter sandwich, a small bowl of whole–grain, low–sugar cereal Granola with low–fat milk or yogurt or a banana and a cup of hot chamomile tea.

8. Exercise

Regular exercise is good for your overall health and fitness. It also helps to relieve the day’s stresses allowing your body to relax and prepare for a good night’s sleep. Schedule your exercise at least 2 hours before you go to bed. Exercising too late in the day actually stimulates your body, raising its temperature – a cooler body temperature promotes sleep. You can still do relaxing exercise before bed such as gentle yoga.

9. Don’t smoke

Yes, smoking is bad for sleep too! Nicotine stimulates the central nervous system therefore smokers take longer to fall asleep, wake more often and frequently experience more sleep disruption.

10. What to do if you wake up

The key to getting back to sleep is continuing to prepare your body for sleep, so remain in bed in a relaxed position. Hard as it may be, try not to stress over the fact that you’re awake or your inability to fall asleep again, because that very stress and anxiety encourages your body to stay awake.

Make relaxation your goal, not sleep. If you are finding it hard to fall back asleep, try a relaxation technique such as visualization, deep breathing, or meditation, which can be done without even getting out of bed. Remind yourself that although they’re not a replacement for sleep, rest and relaxation still help rejuvenate your body.

Do a quiet, non-stimulating activity. If you’ve been awake for more than 15 minutes, try getting out of bed and doing a quiet, non-stimulating activity, such as reading a book. Keep the lights dim so as not to cue your body clock that it’s time to wake up. Also avoid screens of any kind— computers, TV, mobile phones, iPads—as the type of light they emit is stimulating to the brain.

A light snack or herbal tea might help relax you, but be careful not to eat so much that your body begins to expect a meal at that time of the day.

Article reproduced with the kind permission of CABA, the organisation providing lifelong support to ICAEW members, ACA students and their close family around the world.