How to sleep well

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Is something hampering your sleep? Get some tips to sleep soundly with these expert-backed slumber ideas.

Woman asleep in bed

Habits to avoid

There are a lot of different ways we can lose sleep. When you consider the huge impact that sleep deprivation can have on your short and long-term health, it makes sense to avoid these seven sleep thieves from robbing you of shut eye.  

1. Sleeping in on weekends 

Sleeping in late on Saturday and Sunday mornings can induce a phenomenon similar to jet lag on Monday mornings. Little wonder some people find it hard to get out of bed and start their working week.

Your body clock craves consistency. Try to get up at around the same time every morning, and go to bed early rather than sleep in when you are sleep deprived.

2. A night cap

Alcohol is the most commonly self-prescribed drug to induce sleep. A single alcoholic drink can induce a pleasant drowsiness, and reduce the amount of time it takes to get to sleep.

But two or more drinks will reduce the quality of your sleep, suppressing REM sleep so you don't wake up refreshed. Studies have shown that people who drink alcohol just before bed actually have poorer sleep and are far more restless.

3. Caffeine

The caffeine in coffee, tea, soft drinks, and even chocolate is a stimulant to your central nervous system, and can heightening alertness for six hours or more. So if you consume a cup of coffee at 4:00pm, that caffeine is still in your system at 10:00pm.

It will lengthen the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, and can interfere with your sleep quality. Try to minimise your caffeine intake after lunch  

4. Late night exercise
While exercise in the morning and even afternoon is known to help you fall asleep, late night exercise can have the opposite effect. 

Exercise increases your heart rate and metabolism, and triggers the release of adrenaline, which will boost your energy levels for several hours. 

Exercise regularly, but not within 2 hours before bedtime.

5. Doona dramas

Doonas can cause your body to overheat while you sleep, as they are 3–5 times warmer than a blanket, but you can't peel off layers. 

Your body actually needs to lose heat in order to sleep well, but if your bed is too hot, the body may not be able to sufficiently cool itself, and sleep quality can be affected.

6. Bedroom distractions

If your bedroom is noisy, bright, or poorly ventilated, it could be interfering with your sleep quality. These distractions may not wake you up, but they can interrupt the transition into deeper phases of sleep. 

7. A big dinner 

Digestion takes up a lot of energy, and it can elevate your metabolic rate, interfering with sleep quality. It is best to avoid a large, rich or spicy meal within 2 hours of your bedtime. 

It's also wise to limit your fluid intake close to bedtime to prevent night-time awakenings to go to the toilet.

 

Tips to get you started

1. Get the right gear

The importance of a good mattress cannot be over-stated. The better the mattress, the better your sleep is likely to be. 

What makes a good mattress? Don’t skimp on quality and choose a firm mattress to help to keep your spine aligned and your back in good shape. 

Your pillow is also important - keep away from the huge, comfy cushions, though, and choose a firm one that isn’t too high. Your head should align with the rest of your body when you’re lying down. 

If you often wake up with neck and back pain, you might be sleeping on your stomach - this slumber position can make you twist your head quite drastically to one side. Try sleeping on your side or back instead. 

2. Create a pre-sleep routine

Begin a ‘wind-down’ about one hour before you want to go to sleep. 

Make this hour relaxing, and as much as possible, follow the same routine each night. Appropriate activities include having a warm bath or a cup of herbal tea, practicing relaxation techniques, reading or listening to some quiet music.

 If you do wake up in the middle of the night and start eyeballing the clock, this only makes things worse! Avoid building anxiety by keeping your sights off the time. 

4. Don’t miss the wave

Waves of sleep come every 75 to 90 minutes and last for 10 minutes approximately. It is important to work to your body’s rhythm and let the wave pick you up and take you when it arrives

Missing the wave makes it difficult and frustrating to try to sleep before the next wave has come. Often when we try to get to the end of television show or book chapter we push through the wave and miss it.”

If you’re having trouble falling asleep once you’ve hit the sack, get up after 20 minutes - do something restful, such as reading, before the next ‘wave’ arrives. 

5. Make your room a sleep oasis

Use your bedroom for sleeping and sexual activities only. Get rid of the TV and don’t use the bed as a place to spread out the household accounts. 

Your body and mind need to view this room as a place of relaxation and peace.

Make sure you catch some rays of sun during the day - this helps to regulate your body clock. Five minutes a day is all you need. 

6. Write down worrisome thoughts

If you find it hard to switch off or something is troubling you and there is nothing you can do about it right away, try writing it down before going to bed and then tell yourself to deal with it tomorrow

The same applies if you find yourself regularly waking at 3am and fretting over the same issues, keeping a journal by the bed, write it down and let it go until you can action it during the day. 

7. Exercise regularly

A slew of studies link a good night’s sleep with exercise. Regular exercise may promote relaxation and raise core body temperature in ways that are beneficial to initiating and maintaining sleep.

Start small, and if you’re not used to being active: simply walk. A study of 722 randomly selected subjects found that walking more than six blocks a day, at a regular pace, significantly improves sleep.