Sleep gives your brain a much-needed break from the stresses of the day. It rejuvenates your mind and allows it to process information. Most adults who get seven to eight hours a day have lower mortality rates, and tend to be healthier, than those who have more or less than this amount. If you don’t get enough sleep, you may be more vulnerable to catching colds, and you may have trouble maintaining a healthy weight, because a lack of sleep impairs your body’s ability to regulate the hormones associated with appetite. Even worse, people who sleep fewer than four hours, or more than eight hours, a day are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, depression, diabetes, dementia, and heart disease. Your sleeping habits can also have an impact on your performance at work. Not getting enough sleep can affect your memory, learning, creativity, productivity, and emotional stability. You may also be more irritable, lack concentration, or have problems focusing on your daily tasks.
10 Practical Ways to Get a Better Night’s Sleep
1. Exercise Regularly
Daily exercise can improve your sleep. You release feel-good hormones – endorphins – which help reduce stress, elevate your mood, and relieve anxiety and depression. Just exercising for 20 to 30 minutes a day can help. However, limit your exercise to mornings and afternoons. Doing a strenuous activity within two or three hours of your bedtime raises your body temperature and makes it harder to sleep.
2. Increase Your Exposure to Daylight
The more natural daylight you’re exposed to, the more your body produces the hormone melatonin, which makes you feel sleepy. Aim to get at least two to three hours each day, and this will help you fall asleep at night. If you’re stuck in an office, the lack of daylight may make you feel sleepy during the day. Go out into the fresh air at lunchtime, and work by a window, if possible.
3. Avoid Eating Large Meals Close to Bedtime
You might find that, when you eat a large dinner, you struggle to sleep while your stomach digests it. In particular, spicy and acidic foods can cause heartburn, which makes it more difficult to sleep well. A light snack, however, may satisfy your hunger before bed, and allow you to sleep. Eat foods that are low in sugar, such as bananas, or wholegrain cereal with milk, yogurt or granola.
4. Avoid Drinking Caffeine or Alcohol in the Evening
If you have drinks that contain caffeine or alcohol too close to bedtime, they can interfere with your sleep patterns. Caffeine stays in your system for up to 12 hours, so limit your consumption to the morning. And even though alcohol can help you fall asleep, it can also cause you to wake up periodically through the night, so drink it in moderation.
5. Alleviate Stress Before Bed
It’s important to feel relaxed before you go to sleep, so write down any sources of stress before your bedtime. If you have a To-Do List, cross off what you’ve accomplished that day, and write down the tasks you need to do the next day. This way, you’ll find it easier to relax so that you’re not worrying about forgetting important things while you should be sleeping.
6. Establish a Regular Sleep Pattern
You can improve your chances of getting a good night’s sleep by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. Consistency is the key, so don’t break your pattern at the weekends, when it may be more tempting to stay up late and then sleep in the next morning.
7. Stick to a Familiar Routine
Get into the right frame of mind by establishing a bedtime routine. For example, you may read a book, enjoy a cup of herbal tea, or take a relaxing bath. Meditation and other relaxation techniques can be useful for winding down before you go to bed.
8. Create the Right Environment
Avoid using your bedroom as a place to work or watch TV. If you use your bed exclusively for sleeping, your mind and body will recognize that getting into it means that it’s time to go to sleep. Your bedroom should have a temperature of around 18°C and adequate ventilation. Drown out any background noise by playing calming music or white noise. Use low-wattage lightbulbs in your bedroom, and make sure it’s completely dark when you turn out the light. Do this by investing in blackout curtains, or by wearing an eye mask. If you have to get up during the night, don’t turn on your main lights, as this will wake you up fully. Use a side lamp instead.
9. Keep a Sleep Diary
A sleep diary can help you identify the habits that affect your ability to sleep. Make a note of what you consumed before bed, particularly alcohol and caffeine. If you take any medication, include this information as well. Mention whether you did any exercise or relaxing activities, or if your day was particularly stressful. This will show what has a positive or negative impact on your ability to nod off. Write down your thoughts before you go to bed, track the number of hours you sleep, and describe how you feel in the morning. Over time, you’ll be able to recognize patterns and use this information to improve your sleep.
10. Take a Nap
Short naps can boost your energy and help you perform at your best throughout the day. Research has shown that afternoon naps can help improve work productivity.