We know that a good night’s rest is essential to a healthy being, important physically and mentally…our overall quality of life. Unfortunately, it is common for many of us to struggle falling asleep, tossing and turning, find difficulty in waking up in the morning, leading to tiredness and lethargy for the rest of the day.
On a physical level, sleep is proven to play a significant role in repairing and healing the heart and blood vessels, as well as maintaining a healthy weight and controlling blood sugar levels. In terms of the brain, regular quality sleep is vital for cognitive performance - helping us to learn, remember, problem solve and make decisions, as well as safeguarding against stress, mood swings and depression.
Here are 5 ways to improve your sleep:
As little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise, such as walking or cycling, can dramatically improve the quality of your sleep, especially when done regularly. Physical activity improves sleep quality and increases sleep duration, additionally, as a natural stress reducer, exercise can also help to stabilize your mood and decompress the mind - a cognitive process that is important for naturally transitioning to sleep.
Vigorous exercise too close to bedtime may be detrimental to a falling asleep straight away because of the stimulation of the body and release of endorphins. Take a look here for more insight on the best time to exercise when it comes to a good night sleep via @Sleep.org: www.sleep.org/exercise-time-of-day
Reduce usage of devices before bed:
Tablets, mobile phones, laptops and other electronic devises keep your brain wired and alert, making it hard to truly wind down for some time. The blue light from these devices can also suppress your natural production of melatonin, the hormone which helps regulate circadian rhythm and synchronize our sleep-wake cycle with night and day. We often also take the information from the device to bed with us, whether work emails or social media, which may keep us over-thinking about specific things.
As much as possible, try to disconnect for 60minutes or more before going to bed. Even trying to keep devices out of the bedroom where possible!
Reduce caffeine intake:
Caffeine is a naturally occurring psychoactive substance found in coffee beans and tea leaves, also synthetically used in beverages such as energy drinks. Caffeine is known to block a sleep promoting chemical called adenosine – which as it builds up during our waking hours, makes us sleepier. As caffeine blocks this process, the affect on us is more alertness and wakefulness. The recommended cut-off time for caffeine use is a minimum of six hours before bedtime. For example, if you typically go to bed at10pm, avoiding caffeine after 4pm can help minimize sleep problems – but this is dependant on many other factors we all face individually, so its worth trying it out, and pulling that final coffee earlier still if necessary.
De-stress before bed:
Stress and anxiety are common issues when it comes to difficulty sleeping. During times of tension our brain, wanting to keep us safe and prepared, triggers the stress response which includes faster heart rate, rapid breathing, contracted muscles and a release of hormones (cortisol, adrenaline) to keep us alert – all things not conducive to a drifting off. Mindfulness, meditation and breathing exercises are proven to activate the relaxation response, calming the mind and body to prepare for sleep. Here are some relaxation techniques which may help you get a better night’s sleep via @Sleep Foundation - Relaxation Exercises to Help Fall Asleep | Sleep Foundation
Create a sleep routine:
Begin by setting a wake up time and as best as possible, sticking to it (even on weekends!) – this is the start of training the body to become accustomed to a routine. Experts recommend 7-9 hours of sleep to be optimum (give or take depending on the person), and so planning this much time into your schedule is a good idea. Working backwards from your wake-up time to come to an approximate bedtime. Understand that this is a gentle process, and it will take time to adjust the body to the new schedule, but the reward is worth it!