There is no shortage of advice on how to improve your sleep, and a lot of the advice works very well, and will help you to sleep better. But the way that information is passed on means that while much of the advice is well meaning, a lot of it is incomplete or even misleading.
Luckily, sleep scientists have been researching serious sleep problems for decades, and a lot of the information they have gained from their studies can help people with more minor, general sleep problems.
Before we dive in and consider how we might improve our sleep, it’s important to understand exactly what a good night’s sleep is, and while that might sound simple, putting it in distinct terms can help define the problem. According to The National Sleep Foundation, sleeping well means taking less than half an hour to fall asleep, not waking up more than once per night, being able to get back to sleep quickly and sleeping for over 80% of the time we are in bed.
If this sounds all too unfamiliar then here are our great tips, informed by science, that should put you on the right track to a better night’s sleep:
Start with a night time routine
We grow up with a strict bedtime routine and we don’t really question it until we get a bit older and want to stay up later. Generally speaking, you don’t hear many children complaining about not sleeping well. As we get older, we abandon the strict bedtime routine. This is understandable but a healthy bedtime routine has been shown to be a significant factor in sleep quality.
The circadian rhythms that our bodies have dictate many of our biological functions, including our sleep patterns. Changing wake and sleep times too often can change that rhythm and make getting to sleep more difficult. It also generally worsens sleep quality.
Create right room environment
You might notice sometimes that when you are away or sleeping in a hotel you sleep much better. Well that probably isn’t a coincidence! For hotels and B&Bs making sure that their guests sleep well is imperative, so they spend a lot of time making sure rooms are conducive to sleep.
That means making sure everything from the bed, the colours of the room and the temperature of the room are all perfect to aid sleep. It would be wise to take a leaf out of their book and think about your sleep environment at home. While everyone has different sensitivities to temperature, research has suggested that the perfect room temperature for sleep is 18°C, while the most disruptive temperature for sleep is only a moderately warmer 21°C.
Exercise in the morning whenever possible
Research has shown time and time again that exercise improves quality of sleep. And while exercising in the evening is often the easiest choice given work and other life commitments, it might not be the best time of day to exercise if you’re specifically aiming to improve your sleep quality.
According to sleep.org, exercising in the morning is generally the best option. They found that people who exercised first thing in the morning slept for longer and slept better, compared with those who exercised later in the day.
Skip the nightcap to avoid waking in the night
Anecdotally, having a sherry or two before going to bed helps people to nod off, and those who have had a couple of drinks in the afternoon sunshine probably can attest that alcohol can induce a very sleepy feeling.
But once you’re asleep you’re much more likely to wake up and generally have a disrupted sleep pattern if you’ve consumed alcohol before bed. This can result in daytime fatigue and tiredness that only worsens the problem. And in more serious sleep conditions, using alcohol as a sleep aid should be avoided as it can add to the complications of the illness.
Avoid screens before bed
If you haven’t heard about ‘blue light’ over the past few years then where have you been? Advice about avoiding screens before bed has spread like wildfire. The science backs it up, but there’s actually a little bit more to it than that. Sometimes avoiding screens before bed just isn’t possible.
There are now a few options for those wanting to continue working or just playing around on their screens late in to the night, special glasses are available that block out the blue light or software such as f.lux is available that will block blue lights from being emitted from your screens during the night time.
Dim the lights before bedtime
Artificial lighting can play havoc with our sleep pattern, and our bodies can struggle to recognise the difference between daytime and night-time. Darkness not only helps our ‘sleep clocks’ but also helps our bodies to regulate melatonin production. Dimming lights around the house in the run up to bedtime is the simplest and best solution to prepare our bodies for sleep.
It’s important to remember that sleeping well isn’t an exact science. It’s normal to have short periods of poor sleep for no particular reason, and without changing anything these periods normally pass on their own. You should only really worry about your sleep quality when you’re not sleeping well for a sustained period of time, and if the poor quality of sleep is affecting your day time activities.
Focusing too much on just a few bad night’s sleep isn’t helpful and could actually make things worse. We are designed to deal with being tired so if it isn’t a serious problem, try your best not to put pressure on the situation.