Sleep Hygiene: Top tips to help you drift off and stay asleep
If you tend to struggle to get to sleep, or wake in the early hours, here are some top tips to get you in the sleep zone:
1. Be consistent. Just like when children are little, consistent bed and wake times are actually really beneficial. Try not to ‘sleep in’ extra at weekends or other days as it’s been proven that this adversely affects your health and disrupts routine further
2. Go to bed! If you tend to stay up until the wee small hours, you’re not doing yourself any favours. Our bodies respond to circadian rhythms which mean we should be asleep when it’s dark, and awake when it’s light. You’ll either end up sleeping later or not get 8hrs of sleep if you’re staying up late. This is known to affect mental health in particular, and shift workers are particularly affected by this
3. Turn off devices 60mins prior to bed. The blue light emitted from smart phones, tablets and laptops disrupts melatonin which is our sleep promotion hormone. Power down to have some screen free time before bed. Consider also using low light levels to signal your body into bedtime. To coin a phrase from Peter Kay, turn the “big light” off and use dimmer switches or lamps
4. Create an ambient environment. Quiet and dark are key components. Blackout curtains or blinds are great for keeping those summer light evenings from disrupting circadian rhythms, as are sleep masks. They also promote sleep by tricking your brain into producing more melatonin. Try adding your favourite scent on your pillow or de-cluttering your room as this has also been shown to benefit sleep. Buy new bed linen if you want to invest in your sleep health
5. Bedrooms are for two things: Sleep and sex. Try to avoid spending time in your bedroom for any other reason, and definitely don’t allow screens into your room. Try and keep it as a screen free haven for maximum benefit
6. Avoid alcohol and caffeine. Your liver has to work overtime to process these, diverting attention away from processing hormones, so guess what? If you’ve had a drink and you wake at 3 or 4am it’s due to a cortisol spike and here we go again with poor sleep AND belly fat increasing. You’re also more likely to wake for the loo which will disrupt your sleep
7. Avoid large meals late at night. If you tend to eat your dinner late (I know lots of you who do!), it’s not just about what you eat but also when you eat, and how you eat. Wolfing down dinner and then heading to bed an hour later doesn’t give your digestive system time to do it’s job properly. You’re more prone to developing gas, bloating, and constipation, affecting not only your sleep but your overall health. If you can, eat earlier, lighter, and avoid animal proteins which are known to be the most disruptive. Plant-based meals which are mindfully eaten are your best bet. Chew slowly and allow yourself not only to enjoy your food, but also to allow the body to signal when it’s had enough. You’re more likely to overeat if it’s later and gobbled down. There’s that belly fat coming in again…!
8. Meditate before bed. Calming the nervous system through guided meditation or relaxation, even for just 3 minutes has been shown to lower cortisol and adrenaline levels, dampening the nervous system and promoting calm, leading to longer, deeper sleep; especially good if you’re prone to intrusive thoughts at bedtime or “windmill head” as my Mum calls it!
9. Keep your room cool. Getting too warm at night disrupts sleep patterns and is particularly relevant for peri-menopausal and post-menopausal women, as hot flashes are usually worse at night. Wear loose natural fibre clothing and keep windows open to circulate some air. Optimum room temperatures are 16-18C or up to 20C for older adults. You may wish to consider a fan on warmer evenings; as long as they don’t have an annoying squeak, the sound can contribute to white noise, dampening down any background noises (traffic, house alarms) which may affect you
10. Nap. If you’re shattered, having a nap during the day is better than sleeping later in the morning. Ideally no more than 30mins or 60mins at the absolute most to avoid impacting your night sleep. Set an alarm before you settle down for a doze to ensure you don’t oversleep.
Sleep of course benefits us in multiple ways, otherwise why would we do it?! It’s when our body rests and repairs itself, with cell repair and growth at their highest and most productive when we sleep
A solid 8 hours has been shown to decrease stress hormones…those pesky adrenaline and cortisol hormones that I’ve mentioned previously. As these increase (in times of stress), they promote fat tissue to be laid down around your middle in particular. This is the most risky area to gain weight as it has been linked to certain types of cancers (hormone driven cancers such as cervical, and breast cancer; the most common type of cancer in women, and also colorectal cancer; the most common type in men), as well as heart disease, and stroke. Belly fat (as driven by cortisol) also affects thyroid function and can lead to development of thyroid symptoms including fatigue, weight gain (again!), poor concentration, brittle hair and nails, and dry skin, and cortisol has been consistently linked with insulin resistance which can lead to diabetes, as well as memory problems and dementia. That’s a lot going on health wise I’m sure you’ll agree!
Sleep of less than 8 hours has also been shown to negatively impact on mental health with increased rates of anxiety and depression, and our ability to cope with life stressors; otherwise known as our resilience, so if you’re only getting 5-6 hours on a regular basis, the health implications are going to catch up with you at some point. So…. sleep is super important!