6 Steps to improve your sleep
by Georgina •9 minutes read
Last updated: 01 Sep, 2023
For many, navigating the journey between consciousness and unconsciousness can be an exhausting and unrewarding venture. A good sleep plays an essential part in maintaining our physical and mental health but can continue to elude many of us for a variety of reasons. We here at DoNotDonut know how important a good night’s sleep is and just how much a bad one can affect our day, so with that in mind here are the top ways to improve your sleep.
Create the perfect conditions
Falling asleep can be tricky for many of us, and our bedroom conditions can make or break our sleep quality, so it’s important to optimize your sleeping conditions to make it as easy as possible. This can include the sound, light and temperature conditions of your room and it’s an easy place to start making improvements.
Ensure all bright lights are switched off and your room is sufficiently dark when preparing to sleep. Darkness can create a calming, sleepy effect in your body by causing your brain to release melatonin, a hormone essential for an easy, good night's rest.
Your body temperature can also play a huge role in helping you fall asleep. Nothing disrupts your sleep quite like the feeling of being overheated and sweaty. Try turning on the fan, or A/C if you have it, to create the perfect cool conditions and reset your core temperature. Obviously the ideal temperature can vary from person to person, but for many of us, cool, but not cold is perfect for our body pre-sleep. One study from France suggests that the ideal sleeping temperature for the majority of adults is between 15 to 20 degrees Celsius.
Another important factor to consider is noise levels. Some of us prefer complete silence and some of us prefer noise, but either way, our environments are not always cooperative. For those of us living in noisy households or neighborhoods, or perhaps you just have a clock that ticks that little bit too loudly, there are ways we can either block these sounds or drown them out. Try some noise canceling earphones or earplugs, or alternatively, use the noise of a fan. You can listen to white noise, whale sounds, piano music, or whatever you like, to drown out any irritating background noises.
The level of stress you’re taking to bed can drastically impact your quality and ease of sleep. A busy mind is a common cause of wakefulness for many of us and this can often be the most difficult factor to overcome, but there are steps we can take to help. For our most basic worries and anxieties it is beneficial to try and resolve them if possible before bedtime, if not possible to resolve that day, then try separating yourself from them. Jot them down and set them aside for tomorrow and rest easier with the knowledge that there is no more you can do right now and start fresh the next morning.
I understand that this is easier said than done for a lot of us, but there are plenty of calming activities out there we can try to slow down our minds and bodies and help us settle in for a good night's rest. Now, the most suitable methods will vary based on the individual, but some common relaxation techniques you can start trying out today include aromatherapy, running a warm bath, and listening to soothing music. Just 30 minutes of relaxing activity can completely reset you for sleep and separate your present mental state from the stresses of the day.
Additionally, various talk-down meditations can help you navigate your anxieties, ground yourself in the present and separate your mind from future concerns. Practicing deep breathing routines can slow down your heart rate and prepare you for sleep, as well as progressive muscle relaxation practices which can slowly relax your body and release pent-up tension by focusing on one body-part at a time.
Introduce regular exercise into your life
Reports on the effects of physical activity on our sleeping patterns can often be conflicted and leave us confused on whether it is helpful or not. Yes, exercise will benefit your sleep, but essentially, don’t leave it until too late in the day. Working out too close to bedtime will release cortisol, a stress hormone that will activate the alerting mechanism in your brain and disrupt your natural sleep pattern.
However, as long as you’ve finished up your workout and wound down at least a few hours before sleep, regular physical activity can help resolve sleeping problems like insomnia and sleep apnoea by minimizing the time it takes us to fall unconscious and improving the overall quality and depth of our sleep. Research by the World Journal of Biological Psychiatry shows that even moderate-intensity aerobic exercise can burn energy and release tension from our bodies, increasing our duration of deep sleep and leaving us feeling better-rested.
Cut out blue light
Many studies in recent years have indicated and confirmed how disruptive the blue light emitted from our electronic devices can be to our sleep quality. Research by the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is one of these studies that shows how just two hours of exposure to backlit devices can cause a suppression of our melatonin production, confusing our brain into thinking it is daytime and causing delayed sleep and difficulty resting. Rather than preparing our minds for rest, instead we are waking them up.
Shutting our devices down a couple of hours before bedtime is one of the easiest and most underutilized ways to help ensure we are drifting off quickly and getting the recommended amount of sleep. To minimize light exposure before sleep, rather than watching TV, switch to a good old-fashioned print-book. Not only will this help reduce blue light exposure, but it will also help to wind down your mind for the night instead of loud, flashing television shows that can stimulate your brain.
Of course, sometimes we cannot avoid using our devices later at night or we might prefer to opt for a calming movie to help us wind down. In these instances, try using blue light blocker glasses or switching your device settings to night light features.
Be careful what you eat and drink
What you eat and drink, especially close to bedtime, can play a pivotal role in ensuring quality sleep each night. Avoid heavy, fatty or big meals late at night as your body can have trouble digesting these while unconscious, leaving you restless and uncomfortable throughout the night. Additionally, avoid spicy foods late at night as these can cause indigestion and heartburn.
Some of the most essential things to avoid prior to sleeping include alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine. Research from Henry Ford Hospital and Wayne State College of Medicine explains how caffeine shortens deep-sleep phases in our sleep cycles. Both nicotine and caffeine are stimulants and can lead to difficulty winding down for the night and cause fragmented sleep. It is best to restrict consumption of caffeine and nicotine at least 8 hours before bed.
It is not unusual to enjoy the occasional glass of wine before bed to help us relax and drift off easier. But whilst alcohol is a depressant, when ingested it can also act as a stimulant and can cause light, poor quality sleep. Studies published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine indicate how alcohol interferes with our REM cycles and disrupts sleep circadian rhythms causing light sleep and wakeful nights that leave us feeling under-rested and tired out in the mornings. For a restful night's sleep, it’s vital to avoid alcohol.
Stick to a sleep schedule
Just as it is important for young children to stick to a sleep schedule, as we get older, our need for that same structure doesn’t disappear. Regulated sleep habits are essential to a good night's sleep. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, whilst practicing the same pre-bedtime habits and activities. Repeating the same behaviours right before you sleep will help establish a connection in your brain between certain activities and feeling sleepy, and help you drift off even quicker. If you want to treat yourself and sleep-in on the weekend, try and limit it to an hour or less to help maintain your sleeping pattern and regulate your circadian rhythms.
On top of training your brain to associate certain activities with feeling sleepy, you should help train your mind to also associate sleep with a certain space. Reserve your bed for sleep and sex. Whatever other activities you want to do lying down, move them to the sofa instead. If after 20 minutes of trying you are still struggling to sleep, try moving elsewhere and doing a relaxing activity before returning and trying again. Repeat as many times as necessary, but keep your bed separate from anything that doesn’t involve closed eyes.
Disclaimer: We provide this information for educational purposes only. No content on this site should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
- Light From Self-Luminous Tablet Computers Can Affect Evening Melatonin, Delaying Sleep - https://news.rpi.edu/luwakkey/3074
- Caffeine Effects on Sleep Taken 0, 3, or 6 Hours before Going to Bed - https://jcsm.aasm.org/doi/full/10.5664/jcsm.3170
- Sleeping It Off: How Alcohol Affects Sleep Quality - https://healthland.time.com/2013/02/08/sleeping-it-off-how-alcohol-affects-sleep-quality/
- 6 steps to better sleep - https://www.medibank.com.au/livebetter/be-magazine/wellbeing/6-steps-to-better-sleep/
- 6 steps to better sleep - https://neurology.ufl.edu/2018/03/06/6-steps-to-better-sleep/
- What Do I Do If I Can’t Sleep? - https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/cant_sleep.html
- 20 tips for how to sleep better - https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-hygiene/healthy-sleep-tips
- Creating a Sleep Routine – 6 Steps to Better Sleep - https://hr.wustl.edu/creating-a-sleep-routine-6-steps-to-better-sleep/
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