Tuesday 27 September 2016

15 ways to get an good night's sleep

In our stressful everyday environment, getting a quality sleep may seem like seeking the Holy Grail, but by making just a few adjustments, you could optimise your sleep and feel the benefits daily

Kathy Donaghy

Published 07/06/2016 | 02:30

A quality night's sleep can seem like the Holy Grail.
A quality night's sleep can seem like the Holy Grail.

Getting a good night's sleep can hugely impact on your quality of life, from how you perform at work to the health of your body. And yet it seems more and more of us are suffering from poorer sleep, with the long-term effects damaging our emotional, cognitive and physical health. Here's our tips on getting the most out of our bedtimes.

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1 Value your sleep

In an age of rushing around, trying to fit everything in, we can tend to see sleep as getting in the way of all the things we need to get done. How many times have we heard people around us say that there are not enough hours in the day?

But when we do this we devalue sleep and its importance in our daily lives, according to Michael Comyn, broadcaster and life coach.

Comyn, who set up The Fearless Organisation, often sees stressed out entrepreneurs whose relationship with sleep is messed up. "My definition of good sleep is where you are asleep within 15 minutes of your head hitting the pillow and you wake one minute before your alarm clock goes off. There's a concept of seeing sleep as a treat as a reward for a day's work," he says.

2 Shut down and wind down ­properly

Dublin-based mind coach and author of The Happiness Habit, Brian Colbert says most people's problems with sleep occur because they are not winding down or shutting down properly.

"We are surrounded by devices in our lives and they give off energies which are not good for sleeping. You should remove the TV or iPhone from the bedroom for a start. Get into good habits where you go through a ritual that says 'I'm closing down for the day'. The brain needs to get the sense that the day is finished," he says.

According to Colbert, people should aim for closure on things or events that happened during the day. "The brain doesn't like not to have completed something. If you are lying in bed and your thoughts are racing about a stressful day or an argument you've had with somebody, use your imagination to bring that argument to an end," he says.

3 Develop good sleep habits

Developing good 'sleep hygiene' or habits before you go to bed is one of the most important things you can do to promote a good night's sleep. Life coach Michael Comyn says we often do it for our kids by dimming the lights and reading a bedtime story but we forget to do it for ourselves. "Turn the TV off, have the bed beautifully made with the best sheets you can afford, listen to some music and switch off. It's the ultimate in self-care," he says.

4 Create a beautiful environment

According to the National Sleep Foundation of America, your bedroom is your sanctuary from the stresses of the day. The organisation says people should use their senses to create the best environment for sleep. Having a comfortable mattress, pillows and even pyjamas all help when it comes to getting good quality shut-eye.

The foundation says when you walk in to your bedroom, you should feel peaceful and relaxed and that your room should be a haven, free of distractions.

5 Countdown to sleep

Michael Comyn says he has a simple 10, 3, 2, 1, 0 policy. This is where 10 hours before bed, you have no more coffee; three hours before, no more food; two hours before, no more work and one hour before, no more television or time spent on devices.

6 Control your exposure to light

Melatonin is a naturally-occurring hormone controlled by light exposure that helps regulate your sleep/wake cycle. Your brain secretes more melatonin when it's dark, making you sleepy, and less when it's light, making you more alert.

In our ancestors' days when natural light was their guide to sleeping and waking, this was easier. Today with technology emitting lights, street lights and many other artificial sources of light interfering with our sleep patterns, it can be a bit trickier to manage.

Michael Comyn says that these days, nature's burst of melatonin is long overridden for many people. However, he suggests to try and keep things in check you should sleep in an absolutely dark room with no devices throwing blue light about. "Blue light stimulates the pineal gland in the brain and makes you think there is daylight available. You should sleep in absolute darkness with no technology in the room and no noise," he says.

7 Use relaxation techniques

According to mind coach Brian Colbert, the way we talk to ourselves can influence our quality of sleep. "Change how you talk to yourself. Imagine what it would feel like if you woke up refreshed and relaxed. Start to talk to yourself about tomorrow being relaxed and calm. If you're talking to yourself in a negative way, you're imprinting that into your brain," he says.

"If you're worrying about tomorrow, visualise yourself relaxing. Begin to imagine your body being more relaxed. When you're lying in bed tell yourself you may as well be relaxing. It will help your body go through the process where you start to drift off to sleep".

8 Be wise about what you eat and drink

What you eat and drink during the day has an impact on how you sleep at night. It sounds obvious but limit your caffeine consumption in the evening time. For some people caffeine can cause interrupted sleep up to 10 hours after drinking it so think about that before you have a cup of coffee late in the evening.

You should also avoid eating a big meal late at night. Try to make dinner time early in the evening and avoid heavy, rich foods within two to three hours of bed.

The American-based National Sleep Foundation says that while alcohol can make you drowsy, it can make it harder to sleep deeply and continuously throughout the night and should be avoided before bed.

9 Have a snack to promote sleep

You're not going to sleep well if you're going to bed with a rumbling stomach because you haven't eaten properly during the day. For some people a light snack before bed can help promote sleep. Try some yoghurt or a small bowl of cereal. Brian Colbert says if you are going to eat, have a banana or something like a small peanut butter sandwich.

10 Exercise smart

Research shows that regular exercisers sleep better and feel less sleepy during the day. Exercise also improves the symptoms of insomnia and increases the amounts of time you spend in the deep, restorative stages of sleep. The more vigorously you exercise, the more powerful the sleep benefits. Even 10 minutes of walking a day improves sleep.

However, it's not a good idea to exercise too close to wind-down time as it can actually interfere with getting a good night's sleep. Exercise speeds up metabolism, elevates temperature and stimulates hormones.

These things are fine early in the day but late in the evening, it can spoil your sleep. It's wise to try and finish high impact to moderate workouts at least three hours before bedtime.

If this still isn't working, time your workout for earlier in the day. Gentle exercise like a relaxing stroll or doing some yoga can help promote a better night's sleep.

11 Don't beat yourself up if you don't get a full eight hours

Brian Colbert says that often people develop anxieties if they're not getting seven or eight hours' sleep a night.

He says it's not about how many hours but about letting the body get the amount of sleep it needs.

"Let yourself get the sleep you need without you deciding how much that is," he says.

12 Keep a sleep diary

If you find you are waking up, start keeping a sleep diary. Look for clues as to what time you had your last cup of coffee. Make a note of what you watched on television. Did you go to bed worrying about work? If you physically write down all these things, you may start to identify what's keeping you up at night.

13 Keep your room cool and quiet

As well as keeping it dark, keeping your bedroom at the right temperature is important for sleep. Slightly cool, around 18 degrees Celsius, is the optimum temperature to ensure a good sleep.

Limiting noise is also paramount. It sounds simple but don't go to sleep with the TV on in the background. Use earplugs to drown out street sounds if you need to.

14 Support your body's natural rhythms

Keeping the same sleep/wake schedule will greatly improve your quality of sleep. If possible, you should try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day. This sets your body's internal clock and makes sure you optimise the quality of your sleep. Michael Comyn says the rules can be broken on holidays but, Monday to Friday, keeping the same bedtime and wake-up time is really important.

15 Listen to old wisdom

The old saying that an hour before midnight is worth two after should be taken on board. "Your granny was right - that hour before midnight is worth two after. It's all about the quality of sleep," says Michael Comyn.

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