Do you feel tired all the time? A good night’s sleep could be just what you need – however elusive this may seem to you at the moment. Maintaining a healthy sleep pattern is important as it energises our bodies to perform everyday tasks and do the things we love.
Sleep is different for everyone, from needing less or extra sleep to having trouble falling asleep and waking up in the night – everybody is different. However, if this lack of sleep is leaving you tired by mid-afternoon or making everyday tasks difficult, it could be worth addressing.
The way we live our lives may be contributing to restless nights and insomnia – maybe it is time for some things to change? Here are some expert tips to help you sleep better.
1. Get the right lighting
Bright days and less light in the evenings may be key to getting better sleep. This is light is the dominant environmental cue our Circadian Rhythms uses to help decide whether it’s time to sleep or wake up. However, modern life and new technology can make it a little more confusing. Here’s some tips to help keep it in sync:1
During the day
Getting enough sunlight or bright light during the day helps keep your circadian rhythm healthy – improving daytime energy as well as night-time sleep quality and duration. Here’s what to do:
- Try to get some sunlight in the morning, as close to the time you get up as possible. Even if it’s through the window.
- Spend more time outside in the daylight – even if it’s just walks at lunchtime or walking your dog in the morning instead of the evening.
- Let in as much natural light as possible into your home/workspace. Try moving your desk closer to the window and keep curtains and blinds open in the day.
- Light boxes and other light therapies are also a popular way to get more ‘sunshine’ and help support your circadian rhythm2 – even if it is man-made
Turn the brightness down at night to let your body know it’s time for bed.
- Avoid looking at bright screens 1-2 hour before you go to bed. TVs, computers, phones and tablets can all stimulate your brain and their bright lights may trick them into thinking it’s still daytime. Try turning the brightness down on phones / eBooks, etc if you really can’t resist.
- Make sure the room you sleep in is dark. Consider heavy curtains or sleep masks if you are having trouble sleeping.
- Keep lights off or low if you wake up in the night to go to the toilet, use a small torch if necessary.
2. Get back in touch with your natural cycle
Before any morning alarms, bedtimes or clocks of any sort were set, us humans relied on the natural sleep system in our bodies to dictate our when and how much we slept.
Known as our circadian rhythm or natural sleep-wake cycle, this process in which our bodies release different hormones to make us wake up, get tired and eventually fall asleep again at night. Getting in sync with it can help regulate when and how long we sleep for – and it’s our own bodies that have decided on those values, so we can trust we are getting what we need.
Here’s some tips on how to tune-in to your natural sleep-wake cycle:
- Go to sleep and get up at the same time every day. Choose a bedtime when you normally feel tired and waking up naturally. If you still need an alarm clock to get you up in time, you may need an earlier bedtime.
- Avoid oversleeping. Even on weekends after a late night, you should try and get up at a similar time as you usually do. Daytime napping can help and is still better than disturbing your natural sleep-wake pattern.
- Nap smartly. Napping feels good and is a great way to make up for lost sleep, however, you need to be smart about it. If you have trouble sleeping, napping can make it worse. Try to limit your naps to 20 minutes and take them no later than early afternoon – taking your disco naps early will still give you that boost before heading out!
- Fight after-dinner fatigue. Its easy to snooze off after dinner, especially if it’s your biggest meal of the day. A much better idea is to get up and do some mild activity like planning your outfit for the next day, washing up or calling a friend. This way, your after-dinner drowsiness is less likely to affect your natural sleep-wake cycle.
Studies have found that ‘short sleepers’ and ‘long sleepers’ are at increased risk for all-cause mortality compared to individuals who report a ‘medium’ amount of sleep per night (7-7.9h on average) – so it’s important to get the balance right!3
3. Create a sanctuary for sleep
Where you sleep can have a big impact on the quality and duration of your slumber. Keeping your bedroom dark, cool and quiet can help you on your way to better sleep:
Dark: having a bright pink bedroom may seem like the best idea at the time, but it’s not the most soothing of colours to send your mind adrift. Make sure you paint your room in soft and mellow colours to help calm your mind. Once the lights are off, black-out blinds, curtains and covering up bright electronics can help too.
Cool: you know what its like when you’re on holiday and the aircon breaks or when the temperatures sizzle at home – nodding off to sleep can feel tough. Try to maintain a temperature of 70°F (20°C) all year round for restful sleep.
Quiet: however tempting it is, try not to fall asleep to podcasts or tv as they could wake you up further into the night. Instead, try to keep your sleeping environment as quiet as possible – if you have noisy neighbours, a loud boiler, or any other noise keeping you up at night, it might be time to invest in some foam earplugs!
4. Write down any worries
Bouts of anxiety are normal, especially when all goes quiet at bedtime and we no longer have distractions from our own mind. You can almost guarantee those past embarrassing moments like when you fell flat on your face in front of your date will rear their ugly heads. Perhaps not the best things to be running through your mind before bed!
Events like interviews or dinner with the in-laws can keep you up too. If this happens to your regularly, try to set aside some time before bed to make a list of anything that’s bothering you or you need to remember for the morning after.
If your mind is still whirring after this, resist the urge to pick up your phone and try to focus on something abstract instead, like the journey to school when you were younger, did you walk? Get driven? What sites / landmarks did you pass? Which door did you use to enter the school? Focussing on something familiar and requiring low-level concentration like this may help you to fall asleep.
Read more about how to sleep better if you have anxiety here.
5. Get moving to sleep better
It’s simple really, the more you exercise, the more tired your body will be and the more likely it will have you ready to crash when bedtime comes around. But you may be wondering when to exercise to sleep better.
As long as you are performing moderate exercise at a suitable physical intensity each day – even if it means squeezing in an extra walk during your lunch break – then your sleep quality should benefit. However, you should avoid vigorous activity near your bedtime – opting for gentle yoga or stretching if you really want to work out.4
6. Less stimulants, more sweet dreams
When you’ve had a bad night’s sleep, it’s only natural to reach for the caffeine to keep you going throughout the day, but this could be contributing to why you have trouble sleeping at night. Both caffeine and alcohol can stop you from falling asleep and make it harder to slip into a deep sleep.
You can still enjoy your morning cup of coffee, but try to avoid caffeine-laden tea, coffee and soft drinks later in the day as they stimulate your body for hours after drinking. The same goes for alcohol – although a glass of wine may make you relaxed and sleepy, it has been found that alcohol can negatively affect your sleep and hormones. In low to moderate doses, alcohol initially promotes sleep. However, scientific consensus maintains that chronic use ultimately disrupts sleep-related physiology–even among those who do not meet diagnostic criteria for alcohol dependence.5
Instead, opt for drinks to help you sleep like caffeine-free herbal teas or warm milk (dairy or plant-based) in the hours leading up to bedtime.
7. Don’t drink too much of anything before bed
Nocturia is the medical name for excessive urination at night – affecting daytime energy as well as sleep quality. Getting up in the night to go to the toilet is an obvious disturbance to anybody’s sleep pattern, but how can you avoid it?
Although it’s drilled into us to stay hydrated, please try to make sure that you reduce your fluid intake in the late evening (1-2 hours before going to bed). Using the bathroom right before you go to bed should also help.
8. Don’t sleep on a full – or empty – stomach
When you eat a heavy meal late at night, your body will be more concerned about digesting your food as you sleep, rather than working on rest and repair. It is much harder for your body to do this when you’re awake, so try and avoid sleeping on a full stomach.
If you get peckish before bed, opt for a healthy light snack and foods to help you sleep like fruit or a small bowl of low-sugar cereal.
9. Try natural remedies for sleep
People have had trouble sleeping for centuries, it’s no new thing! This means that there are already lots of tried-and-tested natural remedies for sleep, including:
Herbal remedies for sleep: You may have noticed that a lot of over the counter sleeping tablets have Valerian in their ingredients. Valerian is a herb that has been approved by the EU’s Herbal Medicines Committee to help treat mild anxiety and sleep disorders.6 Other herbal remedies for sleep include chamomile tea – so maybe try to drink a cup or two in the early evening to see if it can help you.
Essential oils for sleep: Even more proof that nature has our back – various natural scents like lavender, jasmine and ylang ylang can lower our heart rates and help us drift off to sleep. Lavender is one of the most popular essential oils for sleep, with people spritzing their pillows with it, popping it an air diffuser or using it in before-bed skincare routines the world over.
10. Consider supplements for better sleep
Sometimes our diets may be lacking in certain vitamins and minerals that can help us maintain healthy sleep routines. Taking these micronutrients in supplement form may help your body to wind down and sleep better.
Minerals and vitamins for more sleep
- Vitamin D: having a vitamin D deficiency is associated with a higher risk of sleep disorders7
- Iron: iron deficiency can cause restless leg syndrome – when people struggle to stop moving their legs when they go to bed
- Calcium: this mineral helps our bodies to use the amino acid tryptophan to produce melatonin – which helps us to sleep
- B vitamins: maintaining healthy levels of B vitamins like B3, B5, B6, B9 and B12 can also help your body to produce tryptophan
- Magnesium: magnesium can help you sleep by helping you to relax before bed
There you have it – our top tips for a better night sleep!
- Get your lighting right
- Sync up with your circadian rhythm
- Create a positive sleeping environment
- Get any worries off your chest before bed
- Exercise to help you sleep
- Limit your caffeine and alcohol consumption
- Drink less before bed
- Eat appropriately before bedtime
- Try some natural sleep remedies
- Consider supplements for better sleep
Hopefully you can take this information on board and find a way to improve your sleep so you can live your life to the fullest – with no fatigue to bring you down.
Last updated: 11 August 2020