Support your body`s natural rhythms
Getting into sync with your body`s natural sleep-wake cycle (known as the Circadian Rhythm) is one of the most important strategies for achieving good sleep. Keeping to a regular schedule and maintaining consistency.
- Try to go to sleep and get up at the same time every day
- Avoid sleeping in – even on the weekends or nights you have stayed up late.
- Be smart about napping – but limit them to no more than 15 to 20 minutes.
- Fight after dinner drowsiness by starting other stimulating tasks.
- Control your exposure to light
- Melatonin is a naturally occurring sleep hormone that is controlled by light and helps to regulate your sleep wake cycle.
During the day;
- Expose yourself to bright sunlight in the morning.
- Spend more time outside during daylight hours.
- Let as much natural light into your home or workspace as possible.
- If necessary, use a light therapy box – useful during limited light during short winter days.
- Avoid the use of bright screens within two hours of your bedtime – that includes smartphones and tablets.
- Say no to late night television – try listening to music or audiobooks instead.
- Be smart about night-time reading. Some e-readers are sources of light.
- When it is time to sleep, make sure the room is dark.
- Keep the light to a minimum is you get up during the night - try a torch.
Get regular exercise
Regular exercise can improve the symptoms of night waking and sleep apnoea. It also increases the time that you spend in the deep, restorative stages of sleep. Just bear in mind that it can take several months of regular activity before you experience the benefits full sleep promoting effects of exercise.
- The more vigorous exercise, the more powerful the sleep benefits.
- Try to finish vigorous exercise at least 3 hours before bedtime.
- Even light exercise – such as walking for just 10 minutes per day aids sleeping.
- Alternatively, try low-impact exercises such as yoga or gentle stretching.
Be smart about what you eat or drink
Your daytime eating habits play a role on how well you sleep. It`s particularly important to watch what you put into your body in the hours leading up to bedtime.
- Cut down on caffeine – it can affect sleep up to ten hours after drinking it.
- Stay away from big meals at night – try eating dinner earlier and no less than 2 hours before bedtime.
- Avoid alcohol before bed – whilst it can make you relax, it interferes with the quality of your sleep.
- Avoid drinking too many liquids in the evening. Caffeinated drinks act as diuretics which only makes things worse.
Night-time snacks to help you sleep
For some people, a light snack before bed can help promote sleep. When you pair tryptophan-containing foods with carbohydrates, it may help to calm the brain and allow you to sleep better.
If you need a bedtime snack, try:
- Half a turkey sandwich.
- A small bowl of whole-grain, low sugar cereal
- Granola with milk or yoghurt
- A Banana
Wind down and clear your head
Residual stress, worry and anger from day to day can make it difficult to sleep well. When you wake up or cannot get to sleep;
- Keep a worry diary - take note of what seems to be a recurring theme. That way you can figure out what you need to do to get your stress and anger under control in the day.
- Try to stop worrying about things that are not within your control. Does the problem have a solution?
- Try to be realistic and replace irrational fears with more productive thoughts. Alternatively, try “set time to worry” that is not bedtime, or postpone the worry by writing it down on a piece of paper so that there is no need to worry about it now.
- If the stress of managing work or family is keeping you awake, you may need help with stress management.
- Spend less time with people who make you feel anxious
- Choose your confidantes carefully.
Bedtime rituals to help you relax
Create a “toolbox” of relaxing rituals to help you unwind before sleep. For example:
- Read a book or magazine by a soft light.
- Take a warm bath
- Listen to soft music
- Do some easy stretches
- Wind down with a favourite hobby – but avoid your smartphone or tablet
- Listen to books or relaxing music
- Make simple preparations for the next day
- Dim the lights in the hours leading up to bed
Improve your sleep environment
If you make a consistent effort to relax and unwind before bed, you will sleep easier and more deeply. A peaceful bedtime sends a powerful signal to your brain that its time to wind down.
- Keep the noise down – try masking background noise with a fan or soothing sounds, or white noise. Alternatively try ear plugs.
- Keep your room cool – Most people sleep best in a slightly cool room (18oc) with adequate ventilation.
- Make sure your bed is comfortable – you should be able to stretch and turn comfortably. Try a new mattress or a different pillow. Try a mattress topper for comfort.
- Don’t work in bed – if you associate your bed with events like work or errands, it will be harder to wind down at night.
Ways to get back to sleep
It is normal to wake briefly during the night. In fact, a good sleeper will not remember it. But if you are having trouble falling back to sleep, the following tips may help;
- Stay out of your head – as hard as it may be, try not to stress over the fact you are awake or inability to fall asleep. Try to focus on the feelings and sensations in your body or practice breathing exercises. Take a breath in, then breathe out slowly whilst saying or thinking the word “Ahhhhhh”. Then repeat.
- Make relaxation the goal and not sleep – try relaxation techniques such as visualisation, progressive muscle relaxation or meditation which can be done in bed.
- Try a quiet, non-stimulating activity – if you have been awake for 15 minutes or more, try getting out of bed and reading a book. Keep the lights dim and avoid any screens, computers, smartphones or tablets as they emit light that may stimulate the brain. A relaxing herbal tea may also help you.
How to sleep better checklist
Use this checklist to track your progress using these self-help tips to improve your sleep. Try comparing how well you sleep on days when you make lots of ticks on the checklist to those when you make a few or none.