Given the sheer volume of "health tips" that various sources publish and promote online, it's easy to forget that the most effective health tips are straightforward things we can control.
One of the most significant pillars of health and well-being is sleep.
We all do it, but many of us don’t do it effectively.
For example, in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 1 in 3 citizens say they don’t get enough sleep every day. The same source says nearly 40% of adults report falling asleep during the day unintentionally at least once a month. Meanwhile, on a global scale, the World Economic Forum reports that 62% of adults say they don’t sleep well when they go to bed.
Some of these numbers will undoubtedly be due to sleep disorders. But the primary problem is often poor sleep habits impacting our "sleep health." So whether you suffer from a diagnosed sleep disorder or want to enhance the quality of your rest, these changes could help you.
1. Stick to a sleep schedule
Our body’s circadian rhythm generally works in alignment with sunrise and sunset, giving us a natural waking and sleeping pattern.
While it's relatively easy to stick to this during the week, many of us disrupt our sleep schedule at the weekend when we don't have to get up to go to work and get the children ready for school. A later night than usual or a lay-in feels fantastic while we're doing it, but we're doing far more significant damage to our sleep health and overall well-being by disrupting our usual schedule. Not only can you knock your circadian rhythm out of sync, but you may also alter the melatonin levels in the brain, which signal when it's time to sleep.
Try to get in the habit of going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, regardless of what you're doing. If you rely on an alarm clock now, you'll be amazed at how quickly you might be able to stop using it!
2. Create a bedtime routine
Following the same routine before you go to bed is an excellent way to train your brain that it should be preparing to sleep.
A bedtime routine that works will be unique for everyone, but some of the things we might do include:
- Reducing our exposure to light by closing curtains and dimming lights indoors.
- Switching off electronic devices and reading a book.
- Taking a warm bath.
- Listening to relaxing music, a podcast, or an audiobook.
- Doing a meditation or mindful breathing routine, which is also great for overall well-being.
3. Increase your exposure to bright light during the day
One of the best ways to maintain your circadian rhythm is to support it with plenty of bright light – preferably natural sunlight.
Not only does this help improve the length and quality of your sleep, but it’ll also enhance your energy levels during the day.
While most studies around this matter involve those with severe sleep issues or disorders, increasing your exposure to bright light may also have a positive impact, even if you're seeking only a slight improvement in your sleep health.
4. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine
These can all be massively disruptive to our sleep and, often, to our health overall.
Caffeine and nicotine act as stimulants, and the effects can be exceptionally long-lasting in the case of caffeine. For example, one study found that consuming caffeine up to six hours before bed significantly worsened sleep quality.
Likewise, while having a beer or a glass of wine in the evening might seem harmless, it can considerably impact how we sleep. As well as increasing symptoms of sleep apnoea, snoring, and leading to disrupted sleeping patterns, alcohol also disrupts melatonin production and decreases the body's production of human growth hormone.
7. Don't eat before bed
Many studies have found that eating late at night can disrupt our sleep and the production of melatonin and human growth hormone.
While some studies have found that eating a high-carb meal four hours before bed can help some people fall asleep faster, eating right before you go to sleep isn't a good idea. This is because your body will focus on digesting what you've just eaten, not on performing all the other essential functions that help make sleep effective and ensure you wake up feeling refreshed in the morning.
8. Exercise regularly, but not right before bedtime
Most of us know the positive impact of regular exercise on our health. But exercising is also a fantastic way to ensure you get a better night's sleep.
Various studies have shown that exercise can:
- Reduce insomnia symptoms.
- Halve the time it takes to fall asleep.
- Help us sleep for longer.
While exercising is a fantastic way to boost your sleep, working out close to bedtime may stimulate your mind and keep you awake. Studies looking into this have shown varying results, so nothing is stopping you from trying a late-night workout and seeing what happens!
Give yourself the gift of better sleep
These tips are just a starting point, but they will help you enjoy a better night’s sleep and feel more rested and energetic in the morning. And you’ll be in a much better position to pursue both your professional and personal goals, whatever they may be.
Remember, too, that we’re all different, so take some time to try different things and create the perfect bedtime environment for your needs.