This is the third installment in my mini series on helping you get a better nights sleep. In the previous two blogs, I spoke about the importance of sleep and some of the lifestyle factors that can interfere with getting a good nights sleep. If you have not read it , you can click here to read.
In this blog, I want to give you 7 tips that you can start to implement today to help improve the quality of your sleep.
1. Limit your caffeine intake after 1pm
As I mentioned in the previous blog, caffeine can block the effect of the chemical adenosine, which helps bring on sleep. While caffeine has some beneficial effects and there is no need to avoid it completely, it is important to be aware of your tolerance to it. On average, it take 6 hours for caffeine to lose 50% of its’ effects. If you struggle to get to sleep at night, then it would be a wise idea to limit your caffeine intake after 1pm.
However, the effect of caffeine on the body will not be the same for everyone. Some people bodies are genetically able to break it down more easily than others. Therefore, your partner or friend maybe be fine with a cup of coffee at 6pm, whereas you may be not. So knowing your cut off point is important. One final note on caffeine, our tolerance to caffeine decreases with age so that cup of coffee you had at 6pm in your 20’s, may not be the best idea if you are now in your 50’s,
2. Put away your devices an hour before bed
This may seem a bit harsh, but if you are a poor sleeper, it may be the action that you need to take. Electronic devices like phones, laptops, tablets and televisions emit blue light which is also the same as blue light emitted by the sun. If you are spending the last hour or two before you go to bed looking at a screen, it effectively like looking up at the sun when you should be preparing to go to bed. You are disrupting your circadian rhythm and moving it back, which results in you feeling tired later. This becomes an issue when you have to wake up early in the morning and your body is still in sleep mode.
While television is not quite as bad, as you sit further away from the screen, the same cannot be said for phones, laptops and tablets. If you have to use them at night, I would recommend putting on the blue light filter, that a lot of devices now come with, or download an app such as flux, to limit the blue light emissions.
One other thing, while I do love an exciting series on Netflix or a fast-paced movie, I know that it gets my heart racing and I can struggle to sleep afterwards. Without sounding like the TV police, if you struggle to fall asleep, consider what you are watching before bed. If prime time gets your blood boiling at night, then perhaps a change of evening viewing is needed. 😉
3. Darken your bedroom
This follows on from point two above. To sleep well on a regular basis, we need to stay in line with our bodies internal clock, which follows the day and night pattern. By limiting the amount of light in your bedroom you are helping your body say, “it is dark and time to fall asleep”.
If you have a television in your room, it may be worth removing it or plugging it out for a few night to see if it helps. Digital alarm clocks can emits a lot of light and can really brighten a room at night. If you have the glare of street lights entering the room then I would strongly recommend getting black out blinds or heavy dark curtains to block the light out. Have a look around your bedroom tonight and to see what is emitting light and consider removing anything that you can do without it.
Since we were young children, we have all had some routine in our lives. But this is not just down to our parents. It is also down to your body’s internal clock. Having a morning and bedtime routine can be really beneficial in helping you keep in tune with your body’s peaks and troughs. Try going to bed and waking up at a consistent hour every day, give or take thirty minutes (including weekends). Of course social gatherings and work will sometimes not allow this, but even on those occasions, try to wake up within 30 minutes of your usual time time every morning so you cause too much disruption to your body clock. If you need to take a nap in the afternoon, then that will be fine.
While your bodies internal clock closely follows the day light pattern of the sun, there is some variability among people. Some people are night owls, some are morning people and the rest are somewhere in between. So, rising at 6 am every morning and going to bed at 10am may not work for you and don’t beat yourself up if you struggle to do it. Of course, this can lead to a constant feeling of tiredness if your job requires you to get up early. But for most people, try to find a routine that suits your body clock and follow it as consistently as you can.
5. Have a wind down time
Being able to wind down time from the stresses of the day is so important and often, this is where people lifestyles interfere. There are so many distractions these days, so much noise and so many options of things you can do after dark. Our lives have evolved dramatically in the last 100 years but the natural processes in our bodies have not. When our bodies should be winding down at night, a lot of modern lifestyles are not. If this is an issue for you, here are a few tips to help.
Inform your family, friends or work colleagues that after 8pm, you are on wind down. Don’t check your emails, don’t answer the phone unless absolutely necessary, don’t discuss your mortgage repayments and don’t bring up a serious family matter just before you hop into bed. No matter how calm a person you are, they will more that likely trigger the fight or flight stress response in your body which will result in your mind racing This is one of the biggest causes of poor sleep.
Of course, you don’t have to be as strict as the examples I have outlined above, but take at your own lifestyle and see what are the potential tripwires that can interfere with your body winding down. Put in strategies to limit or avoid them and you will be left with a relaxing evening that encourages good sleep.
Think of what parents have to get a young child to sleep. It can consist of a bath, relaxing music and bedtime stories. You may need to start adopting the same attitude for yourself.
6. Better breathing before bed
This follows on nicely from tip 5 above. Ideally, we want to be a state of rest and digest when going to bed. A racing mind and an increased heart rate are not going to allow you to fall into a restful sleep. A great way to calm your body and mind is by using your breath. Take 5 – 10 minutes before bed, to sit in a quiet space with no distractions and simply focus on your breath. Try to slow your breath in through your nose and out through your nose in a quiet and calm way. If your mind wanders, bring it back to your breath.
I have been using breathing techniques with patients in my clinic for some time to help them with pain and stress management. They are also a great tool to help improve sleep.
7. Gratitude before sleep
I’ve put this one last purposely, as it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but hear me out. As I said earlier, one of the biggest causes of poor sleep is a racing mind. It’s all too easy to end up lying in bed thinking about something that you didn’t get finished that day, frustrated by an incident at work or already feeling stressed by something that you need to do the next day. An active mind like this, is not going to sleep well. One technique that has been proven to be very useful in counteracting this is to think of three positive that are grateful for. These can be:
1 – Something that you did achieve that day.
2 – Something in your life that you are grateful for
3 – Something that you are looking forward to doing tomorrow.
You will be pleasantly surprised how these three thoughts can change an active frustrated mind into a calmer happier one.
To sum up
Hopefully you will learned something that you were not aware of before from those 7 tips. I don’t believe it would be realistic for one to abide by each one every night. My advice is so pick two of them that you can implement tonight. Try them for the rest of the week and see if you would be able to implement them on a consistent basis.
There are many more tips that I could go through but more is not always better. If you suffer with poor sleep then the most important thing for you to find out is what is the real cause behind it. If could be due to some of the reasons that I have raised in this blog or other reasons such as pain, the wrong nutrition at the wrong time, exercising too late, working shift work, unrest at home,the list could go on. Once you become aware of this then you can put a strategy in place to address it. If you are need help with this then get in touch and I can guide you the right direction.