When it comes to sleep, it definitely makes sense to keep an eye on the basics to provide the best possible setup for your sweet dreams! Natural sleep aids, such as creating an optimal sleeping environment, fostering healthy lifestyle habits and preparing appropriately for sleep are a good place to start when considering changes to make to improve your sleep quality.
1. Create a Comfortable Sleep Environment
Make sure where you sleep is cool, dark and comfortable.
A hot and stuffy room will make it difficult to get to sleep. The body tends to fall asleep as it cools, so ensuring the room temperature is not too hot is important. The hum of the ceiling fan can be relaxing and assists some to fall asleep, while also having a cooling effect.
Black-out curtains can really help, especially for shift workers that need to work at night and sleep during the day. These curtains prevent any light filtering into the room when they have been closed. They create a peaceful environment and assist in setting the mood for sleep, even if it is the middle of the day.
Using an eye-mask is another suggestion for eliminating light if you are trying to sleep during the day, or there is distracting light in the bedroom that cannot be removed.
2. Mattress and Pillow Talk
What you choose to sleep on can make quite a difference to your comfort at sleeping time.
A key to selecting a good pillow depends upon your preferred sleeping position. Consumer Reports have produced a helpful article for identifying the pillow you are likely to find most comfortable. It is also important to consider the pillow content as well, especially if you are prone to hay fever.
Consumer Reports also test and review over 100 different mattresses and this is a good option for initial research prior to going in and testing your selections in person.
3. Keep a Regular Sleep and Wake Cycle
Although this is not always possible for shift workers, going to bed and rising each day at the same time is recommended.
Creating a consistent pattern – even on weekends – supports the body’s circadian rhythm. This helps you become more efficient in your sleep patterns, as your body responds to when it is to fall asleep and to wake up.
Your body loves routine and when you travel between time zones or do shift work, for example, the circadian rhythm can be disrupted. This can make you feel out of sorts and make it more difficult to sleep well for a period of time.
4. Get Your Daily Dose of Morning Sunlight
Dr Michael J Breus, The Sleep Doctor, recommends getting outside for some form of sunlight within 30 minutes of rising each day.
Not only does the bright light have an effect upon our bodies that help us sleep well in the evening, it also boosts our mood and alertness throughout the day.
An early morning walk for 15 minutes with the dog, for example, can provide some exercise as well as the added benefit of keeping the circadian rhythms functioning well.
Alternatively just sitting in the sunshine with a coffee, book, paper, for a short period of time will start your day on a very positive note.
5. Good Nutrition
Good nutrition will assist you in getting a great night’s sleep.
Suffering from acid reflux or indigestion following a high fat meal or indulging in food that does not agree with you is definitely not helpful!
Studies show that poor food choices – ie. Low fibre, high sugar, saturated fat – are linked to lower quality sleep.
6. Daily Exercise
Exercise is a great way to help improve the quality of our sleep.
The National Sleep Foundation claims that as little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise can dramatically improve sleep quality. This could be walking or cycling for example. Exercise provides benefits for calming an anxious mind and also for relaxing tense muscles.
Just be aware that exercise too close to bedtime may affect your ability to fall asleep – it may be best to exercise a few hours prior to this time.
7. Take a Hot Bath
As suggested above, the body tends to fall asleep as the body cools. Having a hot bath can facilitate this process.
It is more effective than a shower which is not able to heat the body in the same way. In addition a bath can be made even more relaxing by introducing relaxing bath oils and/or playing relaxing music.
Just make sure you don’t nod off in there!
8. Create a Quiet Time Before Bed
In the couple of hours before bedtime, introduce activities that will calm your mind and body before bed. This best prepares you for a good night’s sleep.
Activities such as reading a book or magazine, listening to relaxing music, meditating, journaling or drawing have the ability to quiet the mind and naturally lead you to a place conducive for sleeping.
9. Cut the Blue Light
It is not recommended that electronic devices such as IPADs, tablets, phones, etc be used within the hour or so prior to going to bed.
Darkness produces melatonin in our bodies. This is a chemical that puts us to sleep and exposure to light at night has the ability to suppress the release of melatonin. It is a reason many people have difficulty sleeping.
Harvard Health Publishing have posted an article Blue light has a dark side, which suggests that the blue light emitted from devices has the ability to not only throw out our circadian rhythms, thus upsetting our sleep quality, but that it may also contribute to obesity, heart disease, cancer and diabetes (note: these studies are still preliminary)..
10. Limit Caffeine Consumption
Whilst there are many benefits to drinking coffee, it is a stimulant that promotes alertness. As a result, for a good night’s sleep it is not recommended in the second half of the day. This allows adequate time for at least half of the effect of caffeine to be out of your system by the time you wish to go to sleep.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine advise caffeine can delay the timing of the body clock and also reduce the amount of deep sleep enjoyed. They also advise that the effects on older adults is longer, as it takes more time for their bodies to process caffeine.
Caffeine is present not only in coffee, but also in other products such as tea, chocolate, energy drinks and cola.
11. Alcohol Immediately Before Bed Affects Your Sleep Quality
While alcohol is considered a relaxant by many people, it is recommended that at least an hour pass for each drink prior to going to bed. The National Sleep Foundation advises that alcohol contributes to poor quality sleep by preventing the sleeper from falling into the really deep, restorative phases of sleep. Not only does it interrupt the circadian rhythm and block REM sleep (often considered the most restorative phase of sleep), it also aggravates breathing problems and causes the need for more bathroom trips during the night.
Take Care of the Basics!
In conclusion, there are many simple and natural ways in which healthy sleeping patterns can be developed. It is well worth putting thought into your sleeping environment and lifestyle – tweaking some of the elements above could make all the difference to your sleep quality.