Sleep is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, just like eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise. Getting poor sleep can have negative effects such as causing weight gain and increase your risk of disease, as well as having negative effects on hormones and even brain function. On the other hand, having good sleep can help you to eat less and generally be healthier.
Despite sleep being so important for health, many people in the UK are not getting a good nights sleep. A report by the Mental Health Foundation in 2011 reported that only 38% of people are “good sleepers” and that 30% are severely sleep-deprived. Our Sleep Experiment Report found that a shocking 78% of workers have experienced consistent periods of poor sleep. This leads to 54% report that they are unable to stay awake the following day.
So if you suffer from low quality sleep, you are definitely not alone. Luckily there are several ways that you can help yourself to sleep better.
How to sleep better at night
Whether you need help nodding off or just want to be able to sleep all night long, there are a variety of solutions you can try. This includes natural solutions, such as lifestyle changes, and using various aids. Here are ten ways to sleep better at night:
1. It’s All About the Light
2. Don’t Drink Caffeine Close to Bedtime
3. Stick to a Routine
4. Avoid Alcohol
5. Make Your Bedroom the Perfect Sleep Sanctuary
6. Don’t Eat Late
7. Take a Warm Bath
8. Exercise Regularly During the Day
9. Reserve the Bed and Bedroom for Sleep
10. Think About Sleep Aids
1. It’s all about the light
Light plays a critical part in regulating your natural circadian rhythm. Bright light during the day and lack of light during the night affects your brain and hormones, telling you when it’s time to sleep and be awake. For example, when it is getting darker, melatonin is released in your body, which signals that it is time to sleep.
Read more: Melatonin And Sleep
To help regulate your natural rhythm with light it is important to be exposed to bright light during the day. Natural sunlight is best, but a bright lightbulb during the day will also help.
Another consideration with light is to reduce your exposure during the evening, especially blue light. This is emitted by electronic devices, such as smartphones, and is the most powerful at blocking melatonin production. You can download apps that block blue light, but the best thing to do is to stop screen-time two hours before bed.
Bart Wolbers, a researcher and science writer at Alex Fergus told us:
“Levels of the hormone (melatonin) are increased after both blue and green light are absent from the environment…”
Wolbers went on to say:
“… The best way to boost melatonin levels, that doesn’t have any side-effects, is to wear red-tinted blue-blocking glasses before bedtime. The reason for wearing blue-blocking glasses at nighttime is because artificial light – coming from light bulbs, smartphones, television screens, billboards, and other tech – all put out unprecedented amounts of blue and green light.”
2. Don’t drink caffeine close to bedtime
Caffeine is a stimulant, and so will not help you to sleep, in fact, it will have the opposite effect. The chemical stimulates your nervous system and so will stop you from winding down and relaxing.
Caffeine can be found in tea, coffee, chocolate and soft drinks. So cut these out before bedtime. It is advisable to stop having caffeine at least seven hours before your bedtime, as studies have shown that it can still have an effect on your body six hours after you have consumed it.
3. Stick to a routine
Your body’s circadian rhythm works on a looping cycle, which adjusts itself with the sunrise and sunset. Therefore having consistency in your sleeping pattern can help in the long-term. This means going to bed at roughly the same time each night and waking up at roughly the same time each morning, even on days off.
Not only is time important, but also having a set bedtime routine is vital. This will help you wind down each night as you prepare for sleep. This could include relaxation techniques, listening to calming music, meditating or even reading a book. You could try some gentle yoga before bed (though not vigorous as this will have the opposite effect), or some people find it helpful to write “to-do” lists for the next day (this can help clear your mind). There are also various sleep apps designed to help you sleep, check out the NHS Apps Library to find one that could work for you.
If you have difficulty falling asleep, spend time trying out a few different relaxation techniques in your routine to find one that works for you.
10 Sleep Relaxation Techniques you May Not Have Heard Of
The Sleep Matters Club Bedtime Yoga Chart
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The Best Podcasts To Help You Sleep
Meditation Techniques For Sleep
Songs To Help you Sleep
4. Avoid alcohol
Thinking of having a nightcap before bed to help you sleep? Although it may help healthy people to drift off it is not a good idea in the long run. Having a drink at bedtime doesn’t improve sleep quality and reduces REM sleep. So although you may fall asleep quicker, you may also be disrupted by the effects of alcohol in the second half of the night.
5. Make your bedroom the perfect sleep sanctuary
Having a bedroom set up for sleep can help with drifting off. Think about temperature, noise, external lights and even bedroom furniture.
Temperature, for example, can have a huge effect on sleep quality. It has even been shown that temperature has more effect on sleep than external noise. Having your bedroom between 18 and 24 ℃ appears to be good for sleep.
When going to bed ensure your bedroom is dark, quiet and tidy. Think about thick curtains or blackout blinds if you get disturbed by light from outside. If noise stops you sleeping think about double glazing or earplugs.
Can Bedroom Design Help You Sleep Better?
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7 Bedroom Plants To Help You Sleep Better
When thinking about your sleep environment, don’t forget about the bed itself. A comfortable mattress and the right bedding can have a positive impact on your sleep. Though, of course, this is very subjective, so be sure to find what is comfortable for you. Check out our Buying Guides to find a mattress to suit you.
6. Don’t eat late
Eating late at night won’t help you sleep and can inhibit melatonin production. A late meal can also affect your digestion, which can interrupt sleep. Because of how your digestive system is set up, eating late can cause indigestion and heartburn, which can make sleep difficult.
As a general rule of thumb, you should wait two to three hours after eating before resting your head. This will give enough time for the contents of your stomach to move on to the small intestine, reducing the risk of heartburn.
Also, as previously stated, be sure to avoid foods that contain caffeine.
Related: Does Eating Late Keep You Awake?
7. Take a warm bath
A relaxing bath, or even shower, can help you to relax and get ready for sleep. One study showed that taking a warm bath 90 minutes before settling down for the night helped with sleep quality. A warm bath (or shower) can help your body to reach a temperature that is perfect for rest.
Even simply soaking your feet in warm water can help you to relax and improve your sleep.
8. Exercise regularly during the day
Although exercise close to bedtime isn’t a good idea, getting regular exercise during the day can help you sleep at night. Exercise will help to boost the effects of sleep hormones, helping your sleep.
Getting active in the morning and afternoon helps to regulate your circadian rhythm by raising your body temperature slightly. This increase will drop later, which triggers sleepiness. Exercising outside is especially beneficial as you will also have the effects of natural light on your rhythms.
You don’t have to go crazy though. As little as 10 minutes of walking or cycling can help you to sleep later.
9. Reserve the bed and bedroom for sleep
There seems to be a link between the bedroom and sleep in people’s minds, so keeping this link strong will help in the long run. This means no screen time in bed or other activities in the bedroom (with the exception of sexual activity that actually makes you sleepy). So don’t answer the phone or emails in bed, whether you are waking up or going to sleep.
10. Think about sleep aids
If you’re having trouble sleeping, you may need some sleep aids. You could try essential oils, such as lavender, chamomile and marjoram. You could burn some relaxing oils (diluted in water) in an oil burner, massage a few drops into your chest, or dilute some in water and spray onto your pillow.
Natural supplements can also be used to aid sleep. Valerian root, lavender and passionflower have been shown to help with sleep.
Plants in the bedroom can also naturally help you to sleep. Not only will a live plant add a bit of greenery to your home, but they can help relaxation, improve air quality and help you to sleep deeper. For example, Jasmine can help with relaxation and valerian is said to be good for inducing sleep.
Another supplement you could try is melatonin. As this is one of the key hormones in inducing sleep, taking a supplement can help you to drift off and stay asleep.
A final note
If you have trouble sleeping for a while and nothing seems to help, you may have a medical sleep problem. Sleep disorders can include insomnia, sleep apnea and others.
So if the problem continues, or you have always struggled with sleep, be sure to visit your GP. Keep a sleep diary, as this can help to diagnose any underlying issues.