Sleep is an important, but often neglected, part of our overall health and well-being. Sleep enables the body to repair and restore its chemical balance.
When was the last time you got a good night’s sleep? Went to bed at a good hour and took the time to wind down mindfully in the evening? Woke up feeling fully refreshed and didn’t hit snooze three (or thirty) times?
While we tend to be aware of the importance of our physical and mental health, the importance of sleep is often overlooked, even though it impacts both! Sleep allows our bodies to heal, rejuvenate and recover. Too little of it, and we don’t just feel tired – our overall health suffers too (1).
Getting less than the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep regularly may eventually result in health consequences that can affect your entire body (2). These may include: brain fog and fatigue (3); diabetes or obesity (4); low mood or anxiety (5); heart issues (6); and lowered immunity (7).
Many factors can stop people achieving adequate sleep.
- A sleep-disrupting illness, such as acid reflux or sleep apnoea (8)
- Ongoing stress (9)
- Families with irregular sleeping patterns
- Using blue-light-emitting devices close to bedtime (10)
- A room that lets in too much light (10)
- Mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety (11)
How to sleep better
The good news is that, with a few straightforward lifestyle and dietary changes, lack of sleep can be conquered.
Our sleep is regulated by our natural sleep-wake cycle, known as the circadian rhythm. Most adults need between 7.5 and 8 hours of shuteye a night, with the most restorative window falling between 11 pm and 7 am.
But don’t fret if you’re currently achieving nowhere near that amount – you’re certainly not alone. The good news is you have more power to dictate your own sleep success than you might think. Follow these simple tips to create your own sleep hygiene routine.
Lifestyle tips for better sleep
Keep regular sleep/wake times
Sleeping until midday on a Sunday is tempting, but this large variation to your usual weekday wake-up time may disrupt your biological clock, leading to poor sleep. Try and keep your sleep time and wake times within an hour of each other across the week.
Research explains that regular exercise (at least three times per week) can improve sleep quality (12). Avoid exercising close to bedtime, as this may make it harder to fall asleep.
No devices before bed
Light from laptops, TVs and mobile devices close to bedtime can delay the release of sleep-inducing melatonin, increasing alertness, and resetting the body’s internal clock (or circadian rhythm) to a later schedule (10). This is akin to giving yourself a mild case of jet lag. Try to switch off all gadgets at least an hour before bedtime.
Take a bath
Studies indicate that a bath or shower before bedtime can improve overall sleep quality (13), helping people to fall asleep faster and achieve a deeper sleep. Adding Epsom salts or magnesium flakes may also help (14).
Your sleep environment
When it comes to good sleep, the importance of the right bedroom environment can’t be overstated. Your bedroom should be a sanctuary for sound, restful and restorative sleep.
How to create the dreamiest sleep environment:
Lighting – a dark bedroom is a key environmental factor impacting your sleep ability. Darkness triggers the brain to relax and slow down and stimulates the production of the sleep hormone, melatonin. Use a low-wattage or amber light bulb in the bedroom. And purchase some blackout curtains if you can, or invest in a silk sleep mask.
Noise – it’s important to block out or at least limit any noises that could be disruptive to your sleep. Invest in some earplugs. Or try a sound machine; choose a sound that you find most relaxing, i.e. a babbling brook or the sound of crashing waves.
Good bedding – your bedding helps regulate the temperature in your bedroom, which can be crucial to a substantial night’s sleep (15). Avoid synthetic materials, like polyester, in favour of more natural fibres, such as pure silk or high-thread-count cotton. Make sure to wash your bedding weekly – nothing beats that blissful feeling of slipping into a freshly made bed.
Nutrition for better sleep
Certain nutrients actively help to promote good-quality, restful sleep. Food sources of melatonin, the hormone that helps our bodies prepare for restful sleep, can be especially beneficial (16).
Almonds may help boost sleep quality. This is due to them being an excellent source of magnesium, which has long been associated with improvements in sleep quality and the ability to fall asleep (17).
Cherry juice has been reported to benefit sleep quality (18). In one study based on participants with insomnia, cherry juice was consumed daily for two weeks, and resulted in 90 minutes more sleep on average.
Chamomile tea contains apigenin, which is an antioxidant that binds to some of the receptors in your brain that may be linked to sleepiness and reduced insomnia (19).
Tryptophan, an amino acid, may increase the production of the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin (20). Good food sources include turkey, eggs and pumpkin seeds. By including any of these foods with your evening meal you may improve your sleep quality.
The Reishi mushroom has been shown to be a natural tranquillising agent with sedative effects. One study shows evidence of shortening the length of time it takes to transition from being fully awake into a deep sleep with an increased sleeping time (21).
Developing healthy sleeping habits is essential for improving your sleep and achieving those coveted 7.5 to 8 hours a night.
But remember: it’s about quality as well as quantity. Prioritising the optimal sleep times, consuming melatonin and tryptophan-rich foods, evening bathing, limiting devices late at night and cultivating a dreamy sleep environment will have you drifting off into a deep, restorative sleep in no time. Try incorporating these suggestions, and give that snooze button its own well-deserved rest.
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