Good quality sleep is essential for health. There is a high proportion of adults that suffer from sleeping at night and struggle to stay awake during the day which can have a direct impact on other physiological processes in our body.
Ways in which good sleep can help our bodies include:
- improve immune function
- regulate our nervous system
- metabolism and blood sugar regulation
- cardiovascular function
- restore and improve brain and cognition function.
Our sleep and wake cycles are regulated by our circadian rhythm (body clocks), sleep pressure (which builds throughout the day) and the balance between melatonin, cortisol and other hormones and neurotransmitters. Understanding the complex interplay and balance between these mechanisms is key to helping with someone with their sleep and has to be explored on an individual basis as each person is different.
To help with sleep there are many ways that you can begin to improve your sleep and regulate your body clock to improve your health and wellbeing.
1. Create a regular sleeping pattern (circadian rhythm)
This may sound like a simple solution however this is one of the first steps in resetting and regulating your circadian rhythm. Establishing a regular time that you go to bed each day and a regular waking time helps to reset our internal 24 hour clock that can influence hormones, digestion, eating patterns, body temperature and brain cognition and mood.
2. Avoid caffeine and stimulants:
Limiting intake of caffeine or other stimulants at least 4-6 hours before bed can really help with improving the function and calming down of the nervous system. Foods that are high in caffeine include coffee, tea, soft drinks, and chocolate. Herbal teas can be a great alternative to black tea and coffee.
3. Bed is for sleeping: removing technology
The effect of using technology in the bedroom such as mobile phones, i-pads, computers and tv can occur in a variety of ways. Blue light emitted from these devices has been shown to affect our body’s production of melatonin which can interfere with our sleep.
In addition, the stimulation from what you are watching on the devices can also interfere with your sleep cycle.
4. Create a wind down routine:
The importance of a bed time routine cannot be underestimated and can help to establish the regulation of melatonin production and our self awareness of when we feel sleepy.
Dim the lights at least 1 hour prior to bed.
Create a calm environment as a lead up to bed time.
Choose a relaxing activity to calm the mind and body before bed such as read a book or listen to relaxing music.
5. Avoid alcohol
Having a wind down drink (or more) at night is a habit that can be easy to slip into but it can significantly affect your quality of sleep. Alcohol can act as a sedative, meaning it can put people to sleep however, it causes our sleep to become fragmented and disrupted meaning that sleep becomes lighter, quality of deep sleep is affected and you can wake feeling unrefreshed.
No more than one standard drink is recommended per day and to achieve the full benefit a 30 day avoidance is recommended to really achieve benefits.
6. Keep a sleep diary:
If you have had disrupted sleep for a long time it can take time to reset and establish good sleeping habits. Keeping a sleep diary for up to 2 weeks can help to assess your current sleeping patterns and also to begin to keep track of your sleep and wake cycles.
7. Set aside 5 minutes for ‘worry’
Laying in bed is relaxing and without other distractions can give our minds time to think and worry about the past and future. Designate time to write down problems, concerns or other worrying thoughts so that it can clear your mind ready for sleeping.
8. Ensure you are eating well
We all know the benefit of good nutrition and there are some key nutrients that are essential for the production of some of our key neurotransmitters such as serotonin and melatonin which include magnesium, B12, zinc, B6. Ensuring good intake of other nutrients helps with our metabolic processes such as hormonal regulation which can have a significant impact on our sleep.
9. Exercise during the day
Exercise is important for health in many ways and has demonstrated improved circadian rhythms and sleep wake cycles for those that exercise regularly. Aim for at least 150 minutes of exercise per week with a combination of cardio, strength and stretch based exercise.
10. Keep the bedroom dark and cool
As our body prepares for sleep our core temperature drops which assists in promoting sleep and staying asleep.
Dress appropriately for sleeping – so as you are not too hot or cold. Use light bed coverings so as to ensure that you do not overheat.
Good quality sleep is important not only to help you feel good everyday but also to decrease your risk of developing other chronic disease and illness.
If you experience long term or chronic insomnia it is recommended to seek the advice of a health professional to assess and address our causes for sleep.