One relatively easy and free way to boost your wellbeing is to make sure you are getting enough good quality sleep.
Why Is Sleep Important?
When you are asleep, your body is actually working hard to support healthy brain function and to maintain aspects of your physical health. It is also key for growth and development in children and teens (which is why they need more sleep!).
We’ve all had those moments were we are irritable and we know it’s because we’re tired. Well that makes sense; quality of sleep can affect our thoughts, our reactions, how we learn and how we get on with those around us.
If you’re tired, there is evidence to suggest that you may have difficulty controlling your emotions and how you interact with the world.
What’s The Worst That Can Happen?
Sleep deficiency is not good. It can be linked to depression, risk taking behaviours, heart disease and diabetes, to name a few. Interestingly it can also be linked to appetite and weight. Lack of sleep can make you feel hungrier due to an imbalance of ghrelin and leptin hormones.
How Much Sleep Should I Be Getting?
The National Sleep Foundation has some handy recommendations on how much sleep we should ideally be getting. Toddlers need a whopping 11-14 hours a day, school aged children around 9-11 hours a day and then 8-10 hours a day is suggested for teens. Adults need around 7-9 hours a day. Personally I tend to go to bed around 11pm and get up at 7am which gives me a good 8 hours sleep.
How Can I Improve My Sleep?
I have to say that I’m actually quite lucky in that I mostly do sleep well. There have been specific points for me when I have struggled such as challenging times at work, and the ideas below have really helped me:
- Dedicate time to a wind down- I try to start settling down for bed 45 minutes before I go to sleep. I try to give my mind time to shut down and switch off which means avoiding things like emails, social media, news and TV. Listening to calming music, having a bath or some quiet progressive muscle relaxation are my go-tos. I also think lighting is really important when winding down for the night. Dim, warm light (think sunset) causes the sleep hormone melatonin to be secreted which is great for settling down for bed. On the other hand, the bright, blue light we get from screens mimics day time light and tricks our brain into thinking we are right in the middle of things which can affect our sleep pattern. Try to avoid screen time during your 45 minute wind down. We have a post coming soon focusing on smart lighting for the home, which is a great aid for sleep. We have the Phillips Hue set up which I love because you can change the tones of the light from a single bulb very easily, which is great for going from work light to relaxing light. As well as being able to simply brighten and dim the bulbs, there are pre-set scenes you can choose from such as ‘savanna sunset’ which are really handy to change the mood and feeling in a room and get that melatonin going. When I am going to sleep, I then opt for darkness (which I use a voice command for and not my phone!).
- Ensure your environment is comfortable and calming-Try to keep your sleeping space separate and distinct from other aspects of your life. This might mean relocating that TV or computer! Also try to keep the space uncluttered and clean. Have things around you that are comforting e.g. your favourite blanket, quality pillows, an aromatherapy oil diffuser and a crisp, clean pair of pyjamas. Heaven!
- Exercise-Get some exercise in during the day to help you feel physically tired come bed time. Exercise is good for us in so many ways; the fact that it can help with our sleep is an added bonus. Make sure not to exercise too late before going to bed as it can be invigorating and energising so it is best done a few hours before you want some sleep.
- Food and drinks-I’d try to avoid stimulants like caffeine and nicotine at least 5 hours before going to bed. It is also worth avoiding alcohol for a good night’s sleep. People sometimes think it helps you get off to sleep, but it does not lead to you sleeping well. It can cause a restless sleep and can cause you to be ill. Again, best to abstain for around 5 hours before bed if you are having trouble sleeping. Refrain from heavy, spicy meals in the same time period as they don’t tend to sit well! There are also some foods containing serotonin or tryptophan that could help with your sleep. Try a healthy smoothie made with cherry juice, banana and almond milk an hour before bed. Alternatively, try a simple chamomile tea.
- Consistency is key- Get into a routine and stick to it. Try to do the same things at around the same time and this will help to keep your internal body clock in check. Routine also helps us to feel safe and secure because things are familiar and we know what to expect next. This all contributes to a nice, calm time prior to a peaceful sleep. It could just be something like do some colouring, have a drink, wash your face, brush your teeth, put on your moisturiser, brush your hair, go to the toilet and head to bed!
- Try somewhere new-If I can’t get to sleep or I’ve woken up in the night, after a while I stop trying to fight it and get up. I go to another room and sit in a comfy chair (or even get in the guest bed) in dim lighting and do something restful but don’t necessarily try to sleep. This stops me from lying in bed worrying about not sleeping and becoming restless in my calming environment! When I am feeling sleepy again I try to head back to my bedroom.
Finally, here’s a handy infographic on everything we have talked about in this post!
What about you? What helps you go to sleep? I’d love to hear your tips and any specific recommendations. Also let me know if you try any of those things mentioned above!
Take care x