Sleep Soundly: Hacks for Hitting the Hay

24 Mar 2020, 10:25AM

Your body’s ability to function well declines if you don’t have enough good-quality sleep. Just because you can “get by” with less sleep, doesn’t mean you wouldn’t feel better and operate optimally with extra hours! Sleep is an essential component for good health and optimal energy.

To be able to fall sleep, your nervous system has to calm down. This is easier said than done in today’s fast-paced “always-on” world, where your nervous system is constantly thrown into overdrive. It can be unrealistic to expect your body and mind to shut off as soon as your head hits the pillow. Your body needs time to wind down from the day and shift into sleep mode. To have good quality sleep, make bedtime a priority by following these strategies to score some shut eye.

Create the ideal conditions for slipping off to the Land of Nod…

Lower the Lights

  • Light influences your circadian rhythm – your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle.
  • Avoid bright light in the evening.
  • Expose yourself to natural light – sunlight in the morning and sunset in the evening – to signal to your body that it’s time to wake up or go to sleep. It can be useful to go outdoors and into nature at these times.
  • When your body registers a greater difference between daylight and evening darkness, it creates more of the sleep hormone melatonin.

Switch Off Screens

  • Avoid using electronic devices such as TVs, laptops or phones in the evening.
  • These screens emanate a particular type of blue light that’s activating for the brain, signalling that it’s still daytime and keeping you awake.

Promote Relaxation with a Bedtime Ritual

  • Follow a relaxing routine before bed, away from any stimulation.
  • Practice this routine regularly to soothe “background” nervous system activation.
  • Spend 30 minutes to an hour before bed, doing the same things in the same order each night, to help the body to learn to expect sleep and prepare for it.
  • Engage in quiet, calming activities right before bed – try light reading, journaling, gentle stretching or meditating – to help soothe stress which can greatly affect sleep.
  • Avoid work and stressful conversations late at night.

Nix the Napping

  • Especially in the afternoon, as this can disrupt your sleep cycle.
  • Only nap during the day as a one-off, not regularly.
  • If you need to nap, do so in the morning to have less impact on the next night’s sleep.

Catch the Wave

  • Your energy levels go up and down in waves throughout the day. Recognise signs of sleepiness and go to bed when you feel a dip in your energy levels.

Eliminate Evening Excess

  • Avoid eating big or spicy meals which can cause discomfort from indigestion
  • Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine and sugar at least 2-3 hours before bed
  • Instead sip on a warm caffeine-free beverage before bed – but don’t drink too much fluid!

Create the Conditions

  • Practice good “sleep hygiene” and make sure your environment is conducive to sound sleep. Your bedroom should be cool, free from light, noise and distractions.
  • Consider using blackout curtains, an eye mask, ear plugs, white noise machines.
  • Sleep on a comfortable and supportive mattress and pillow.
  • Your body learns by association. Only use your bed for sleep to strengthen the association between the two.
  • Separate your sleep time from activities that cause excitement, stress or anxiety, which can make it difficult to fall and stay asleep.
  • Remove work materials from your bedroom.
  • Take phones, computers, chargers, televisions and other electrical devices out of your sleep environment or switch them off at the wall.

Engage in Exercise

  • Exercise can help you fall asleep faster and promotes deeper, more restful sleep.
  • Aim for 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise everyday.
  • Don’t exercise 2-3 hours before bed as this increases your heart rate and body temperature.

Stick to a Schedule

  • Maintain a consistent sleep-wake cycle as much as you can, by going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time every day, regardless of the sleep you had the night before or whether it’s the weekend. This helps to regulate your body clock.

Speak with your Heathcare Practitioner

  • Record your sleep in a sleep diary to identify common patterns or issues.

Tossing and turning in bed and feeling frustrated about being awake can re-activate your nervous system. If you have been awake for longer than about 20 minutes, get out of bed and do a quiet, non-stimulating activity until you feel sleepy, then try again.