On average 7 to 9 hours sleep a night is required for a restorative night’s sleep. Interestingly, shortened life expectancy isn’t only linked to people who routinely sleep less than this, but also to those who sleep more. Yet as the nature of our sleeping requirements change with each stage of life, achieving the balance is not easy.
We are frequently told to reduce caffeine, alcohol and sugary snacks just before bed-times, however, here are a few other aspects for you to think about and implement as necessary. We cannot guarantee you’ll sleep better, we can only hope at least one of the suggestions will work for you.
Exercise requires fuel at particular times, and just like certain foods improve our exercise, the same can be said for sleep. Eating too close to bedtime creates an active digestive system, which can keep you awake. Equally, going to bed hungry can have the same effect. Foods rich in tryptophan such as chicken, fish and eggs can boost melatonin, and we need good carbs to help the tryptophan reach our brains.
Routines are also beneficial. So, develop a regular sleep routine; shower, cup of warm milk, relaxation time and bed. Try to go to bed at roughly the same time each night and get up at the same time, even if you feel tired. A lie in or an early night could disrupt sleep the next night.
Do you know the temperature of your bedroom? The optimal sleep temperature is 15-18 degrees. Your bed clothes and bedding are just as influential. In hot weather, light-coloured and light-weight cotton are best to keep you cool and dry.
Snoring, noisy neighbours and traffic can all impact on our sleep. If noise disrupts your sleep, try blocking it out with ear plugs, a white noise box, or a fan. However, sometimes these can be more of a distraction. If your partner is a snorer, there are products on the market to help them reduce snoring, which should ultimately help you both sleep better.
Need the toilet in the middle of the night? If you can, go in the dark. Switching on the light, can be like switching your brain towards daytime mode.
Our bodies depend on darkness to increase levels of melatonin, the hormone that makes us sleepy, whereas light signals our body to start raising our temperature and release our wakeful hormone, cortisol.
Make sure your room is dark when you go to bed and still dark as the sun rises. Check electronic devices in your room, (ideally you should have none) that may have tiny lights, as the slightest bit of light can trigger wakefulness.
iPads and smart phones can be wonderful devices, however, they emit a high density of blue light which can really add to the problem. Blue light suppresses melatonin and we usually hold these devices close to our faces, giving them a more powerful effect on our brains. Try to stay off them in the two hours leading up to your bedtime. If you must watch something before bedtime, the TV has a far less wakeful effect as its usually much further away from us.
Think about changing the light bulbs in your house from LED to new ‘smart light bulbs’. They mimic the changing light of day to help regulate sleep hormones. Dim red lights have the least power to disrupt circadian rhythm (our built in 24 hour clock).
Finally, when it comes to light, getting outside during the day enables your body to desensitise itself to the effects of light at night.