5 ways to sleep well every night

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There are a lot of things you can do to maintain optimum health, but sleep is one thing that is often overlooked. Not only does sleep allow the body time to rest and the brain time to organise itself, it is also an important factor in weight loss and overall health. (1)

Here are 5 things to do to make sure you sleep well every single night.

1. Light is for Daytime

Your body knows when to sleep and when to be awake due to the production of the hormone melatonin. Melatonin makes you feel tired and is only produced when it is dark. This means that when the sun comes up, melatonin production slows and stops, and you wake up naturally.

However, melatonin production is sensitive to blue light, which is produced by (among other things) the screens on digital devices. If you use such a device just prior to attempting to sleep, your sleep may be disrupted as the brain is confused about how much melatonin to produce.

Experiments have shown that even a small dot of blue light can affect quality of sleep, so it is important to sleep in an environment that blocks out as much light as possible – blackout curtains are ideal. (2)

Should you find it difficult to wake in the morning, using a light alarm clock may help. By simulating the effect of a sunrise, these clocks emit gradually-brightening light on a timer, causing you to wake up gently. 

Takeaway: Sleep in the dark, minimise the use of artificial light where possible

2. Keep Cool

The temperature of your room can also have an effect on the quality of your sleep. Think how difficult it can be to sleep on hot summer nights – a room that is too warm will be uncomfortable.

Similarly, a cold room will also keep you awake. Shivering is not conducive to good sleep!

The ideal temperature is around 18C/65F, which is just cool enough. As part of the sleep process, your body naturally cools down, and during REM sleep you are unable to sweat or shiver. (3)

Takeaway: Maintain a room temperature that your body is comfortable sleeping in

3. Routine

Habits and routines are a great way of training your brain to get it to behave how you want it to. You probably know the story of the experiments performed by Ivan Pavlov on his dogs – every time they ate, he rang a bell. Eventually their brains associated the ringing with eating, and so by ringing a bell Pavlov could make the dogs salivate on command. (4)

While the actual truth of the experiment may not have involved a bell ringing, the principle is what’s know as classical conditioning – the brain is trained to associate one thing with another.

If you always have the same routine before going to bed, for example, washing your face, brushing your teeth, combing your hair, then lying down, your brain will begin to recognise the pattern. When these things are done in this order, you want to go to sleep.

If your routine is different every night, lying down may take your brain by surprise and it might not be ready to send you off to sleep just yet.

Takeaway: Design a bedtime routine that sets you up for a good night of sleep

4. Exercise

Stress can be a factor in poor sleep, and one of the best ways to relieve stress is to exercise regularly. Walking, running, yoga, or lifting weights, the exact kind of exercise is less important than just getting on and doing it. (5)

A further aspect may include the amount of excess energy you have during the day. Consider a day where you have taken a long walk as opposed to a day where you have just followed your normal daily routines – the long walk days tend to involve you falling asleep more quickly and resting more soundly.

Takeaway: Get moving to facilitate better rest

5. Eat and Drink Well

Always eat sensibly and learn how your body responds to different food. Set a time in the evening that you won’t eat after, as going to sleep on a recently-full stomach is often a recipe for poor sleep. Spicy foods can have a particularly strong effect, potentially causing indigestion and acid reflux.

Limit your intake of caffeine during the day, and again set a time after which you won’t drink it. Caffeine is a stimulant and will prevent your body from going to sleep, and its effects can be felt for several hours. You may be able to drink up until 8pm and still get to sleep comfortably at 10pm, but many people find they are kept awake if they drink a single cup of coffee after lunch time. (6)

Takeaway: Figure out how your body responds to food and drink, and modify your diet to make sure you can drop off quickly

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References

  1. https://www.nhs.uk/news/obesity/sleep-affects-weight-loss/

  2. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side

  3. https://www.tuck.com/thermoregulation/

  4. https://www.simplypsychology.org/pavlov.html

  5. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/exercise-and-stress/art-20044469

  6. https://www.nhs.uk/news/2013/11november/pages/even-afternoon-coffee-disrupts-sleep-study-finds.aspx