To help with getting the recommended number of hours of sleep per night we need to consider a factor that plays a huge role in our sleep quality: our circadian rhythm. Each of us has our own internal circadian rhythm and that is influenced by external factors, such as light, work demand and family.
Sometimes these external factors compete. For example, we need to sleep, but the environment we’re in, or our schedule, keeps us from getting to bed when we need to. That’s all the more reason to be consistent when we can. We should try and maintain as much of a regular sleep cycle as we can, because it satisfies the internal balance our body requires. It habituates the brain to know that it’s time for sleep.
A good sleep is largely a learned behaviour, and one that we can make into a habit. Keeping a routine actually sets our brain up to promote sleep. Of course, it’s impossible to go to bed at the exact same time every night, but consistency should be our aim. If we alter our bedtime on a regular basis, that can affect the number of sleep cycles we go through. As we create a consistent sleep schedule, here are some factors to consider:
The wind down
We should begin winding down the day an hour or two before we want to sleep. That means being done with dinner, making our environment quieter and a bit darker, and doing something relaxing.
Research indicates that people who never eat just before going to bed are the most restful overall and get the highest (best) SleepIQ score, compared to those who eat at bedtime.
At dinner time heavy, fatty foods are probably somewhat inhibitory to sleep — whereas more complex carbohydrates are probably relatively more sleep promoting. One of the more studied diets that seems to have a beneficial effect on sleep is the classic Mediterranean diet: vegetables, olive oil, nuts, etc.
What really matters is the kind of exercise we do. What’s generally recommended is stretching, yoga or walking which may help promote the onset of sleep but vigorous exercise will probably delays it a bit.
The conventional wisdom about caffeine is that we should cut it off in the afternoon. For those who are having difficulty falling asleep or maintaining their sleep, cutting off caffeine after Noon will be on the checklist of things to try.
One of the most important tips for a healthy sleep routine is to shut off our devices at least an hour before bed. And it’s not just about the impact the blue light from our screens has on melatonin, the hormone connected to sleep. It’s also the thought process — you send an email, and then maybe you’re wondering how it was received, or you’re waiting for a response. These are all things that can play on your mind, and lead to some degree of insomnia.