Lack of sleep is affecting over 38% of Britons, who say on average, that they are only achieving around 6 hours and 20 minutes of sleep per night. Until recently, I was also one of those statistics. My lack of sleep was becoming an issue when my work suffered. I first realised that my night time routines (or lack of) were seriously affecting my day to day activities. My concentration in work was somewhat questionable. By 2 or 3pm I would be feeling very sleepy, and would often find my eye-lids getting heavy while I sat at my computer. I have also found myself asleep on public transport, which if you have also been victim to this, you will know can cause some red faced moments.
Changing our routines is no easy task, and takes determination and persistence. The good news is, once you adapt to your new routine you will be left wondering why it took you so long in the first place. These simple steps will have you sleeping like a baby in no time, and the improvements you will see in your day to day life will have you springing out of bed in the morning before your alarm even has a chance to wake you.
Step 1 – Maintain your body’s natural sleep cycle
Maintaining a regular sleep-wake cycle is the most important step to getting a good night’s sleep. You will feel far more refreshed and energised if you sleep at the same time every night, for the same amount of time, than if you have an irregular sleeping pattern.
Try and go to sleep at the same time every night and to wake up the same time every morning, this will help set your internal clock and increase the quality of your sleep. Your body will soon recognise this as your natural sleeping cycle, and if you are getting the correct amount of sleep every night, your body should wake up naturally, and you shouldn’t have the need for an alarm. If you still need an alarm clock, you may need an earlier bedtime.
Even at weekends you should try not to sleep in. If you have had a late night it’s best to still wake at the same hour your body is used to. You can always catch up on those hours with an afternoon nap. This will be far more beneficial to you than sleeping late.
If you find yourself feeling sleepy and dozing off before bedtime, stop yourself by making yourself busy, go do the dishes, prepare lunches for work. Giving in to the tiredness will likely cause you to wake in the night.
Step 2 – Be aware of the effects of light exposure
Our brains naturally react to the light that we expose it to. The dark will make us sleepy while light will make us more alert and awake.
Expose yourself to light as soon as you wake up, have your coffee outside and open your curtains. While working throughout the day, try and have as much natural light around you as possible. Spend as much time as you can outside.
You want to limit the amount of light exposure before bed time, night time TV should be avoided, as well as devices such as mobile phones and computers. If you are reading before bedtime, avoid reading with a backlight.
Ensure your bedroom is in darkness when falling asleep, as any type of light will restrict your brains natural sleeping ability. If you wake in the night and must get up, restrict the amount of lighting you turn on.
Step 3 – Exercise during the day
Studies show that those who exercise for as little as 20 minutes per day, have a better quality of sleep. They wake up feeling more energized.
Avoid working out late in the evenings as this can affect you when trying to sleep. Regular exercise will improve the symptoms of insomnia and will place you into a deeper sleep.
Step 4 – Control your diet
Stimulants like coffee and nicotine will affect your ability to sleep. Coffee can still affect your sleep upto 10 hours after drinking it. You should avoid all stimulants after 6pm.
Although alcohol may help you to relax in the evenings, it will only add to your sleeping problems. It is best to limit your intake of all liquids in the evenings. This will reduce the number of bathroom trips that wake you in the night.
Cut back on sugary foods as these will only cause you to feel more awake by the evening.
Step 5 – Clear your head
Most of us find that we are kept awake by stress and anxiety. Overthinking at bedtime will restrict our brain from relaxing and winding down. There are a number of night time rituals you can follow to help you relax before sleep:
- Read a book or a magazine by a soft light
- Listen to audio books
- Wind down with your favourite hobby
- Take a warm bath
- Listen to soft music
- Do some small stretches
- Breathing exercises
- Make simple preparations for the next day
Step 6 – Control your sleeping environment
It’s important that our brains know why we are in bed. Set a routine so your brain knows when we are in bed it is for sleep or sex.
Don’t work or watch TV in bed.
Keep the noise down in your bedroom. Close the window if there is noise from the traffic or neighbours, use earplugs.
Keep your bedroom cool, sleeping in a room that is too hot or too cold will affect your sleep.
Ensure your bed is comfortable. If you are waking up with a sore back or muscles, it’s time to invest in a new mattress.