Top Tips for Improved Sleep
Getting a good night’s sleep is a crucial part of overall health, as well as a vital piece in the fat-loss jigsaw. You can be doing everything right in the exercise and nutrition department, but if you’re not sleeping well, this can have a dramatic impact on your mood, performance and wellbeing.
I generally advise getting to bed by 10.30pm as regularly as possible, but what if you have trouble dropping off (and staying asleep)? Whilst it is common (and quite normal) to wake occasionally for a short period during the night, lying awake for hours is not good practice.
Here are my DOs and DON’Ts for improving the quality of your sleep:
- Stick to a regular bed time and wake-up time 7 days a week.
Establishing a set routine is very helpful in maintaining homeostasis and reducing stress on the body. All those people who complain that their body clock wakes them up at 6.30am on a weekend should realise that this is their body’s way of telling them to get up. So make the most of it.
Stress causes a rise in our cortisol levels, which keeps us alert. Try to manage the stressors in your life with relaxing practises such as yoga, meditation or even simple breathing exercises. Supplementing with magnesium can be helpful too. (See article about stress management – this is a topic in itself)!
- Make the bedroom a relaxing, peaceful environment.
Keep your bedroom as de-cluttered and quiet as possible, and neither too hot nor too cold. Try diffusing essential oils such as calming lavender before you go to bed.
- Ensure your room is pitch dark.
We are incredibly sensitive to light and even the tiniest sliver of light through the curtains, or an LED on an appliance can disrupt our sleep patterns. So remove (or at least turn off) all electrical equipment, and invest in black-out blinds (or a sleep mask). Oh, and keep mobile phones out of the bedroom!
- Take regular exercise.
Physical activity ultimately leaves the body feeling tired and in need of rest. But be careful not to exercise too close to bedtime as your mind and body require time to wind down.
- Spend enough time in bed.
Sleep deprivation will lead to irritability, lethargy and general poor health. After a night’s sleep you should wake feeling refreshed and have sufficient energy to carry out your daily activity.
- Nap in the daytime.
Your body functions at its best when regular patterns are maintained. Even if you didn’t get sufficient sleep the night before and are shattered. you should avoid the temptation to sleep outside of your designated sleep hours. If you nap, you will likely struggle to get to sleep at bed time.
- Lie in at the weekend.
Many people view their weekends as a chance to “catch up” on sleep, but this completely disrupts the patterns that your body has become accustomed to Monday to Friday and can negatively impact on the overall quality of your sleep.
- Consume stimulants close to bedtime (caffeine, alcohol, nicotine).
I recommend avoiding caffeine after 2pm as it can stay in your system for many hours. Likewise, nicotine is a stimulant so a pre-bed cigarette is likely to keep you awake. Alcohol often leads to broken sleep and has been shown to increase hot-flushes in peri-menopausal women.
- Use the bedroom for any activity besides sleeping and sexual activities.
As discussed, the bedroom should be a relaxing environment so refrain from working on your laptop, watching television (particularly distressing programmes such as horror films or the news), or eating. Keep the bedroom for sleeping only (and maybe a cuddle)!
- Go to bed on an empty stomach, nor an overly full one.
Trying to sleep when you have just eaten a large meal can leave you feeling uncomfortable. Going to bed when you’re hungry, however, is likely to keep you awake as your body craves food.
So, to summarise – setting and maintaining a routine is key. Have a relaxing “wind-down” routine (such as having a bath) to prepare your body for rest and to encourage your body to recognise that you are getting ready for sleep.