Sleep Smarter: Tips for Quality Rest in a Hectic World

We all know what a good night’s sleep feels like. What you might not know is how to make sure you get one! With work, kids, friends and the everyday grind ruling our lives, quality sleep can sometimes take a back seat. For women, with menstrual cycles and potentially menopause in the mix, our sleep related challenges continue to grow. The good news is, there are some simple life changes that can do wonders for your sleep. Read on and see what can be done, what shouldn’t be done, and why it matters.

The Benefits

Aside from making you feel refreshed and awake, high quality sleep can positively affect your brain cognition, immune system, hormone production, memory and overall mental health and well-being. It can even protect you against chronic diseases. To gain the full benefits, here are some of our personal favourite methods.

Switch Off

You might not want to hear this, but your devices are doing no favours for your sleep. The TV, computer, phone, tablet (also known as evening relaxation), all produce what’s known as ‘blue light’, which suppresses the production of melatonin, the hormone responsible for regulating sleep and wake cycles. Exposure to blue light in the evening can shift the circadian rhythm, thus making it harder to fall asleep at your usual time. Try to make a ritual of stopping the screens 1-2 hours before bedtime. Instead, listen to some music, read a book or just have a good old-fashioned chat to wind down before bedtime.

Enjoy the Sunshine

While blue light hinders your sleep, natural light can significantly enhance it. As soon as you wake up, open the blinds to let in the morning sun, or better yet, go for a walk outdoors—just be sure to avoid direct sunlight. Exposing yourself to natural light first thing helps synchronise your body’s internal clock with the natural rise and set of the sun. This synchronisation of your circadian rhythm not only aligns your sleep patterns but also enhances both the duration and quality of your sleep. Similarly, catching some late afternoon sunlight can also prepare your body for rest. In the evening, while household downlights can be as detrimental as the blue light from devices, it’s simply not practical to sit in total darkness! Instead, try to reduce your exposure by turning off unnecessary lights and perhaps using candles to create a restful atmosphere and set the mood for your sleep.

Stay Healthy

Eating more nutritious meals and less naughty ones (you know what they are!) is always beneficial, and when it comes to sleep it’s no exception. However, it’s especially important to not eat too close to your bedtime, as this can lead to discomfort or indigestion which can disrupt sleep. Studies suggest that late-night eating can also negatively impact the natural release of HGH and melatonin, which are crucial for a restorative sleep. Try to have dinner no less than two hours before bed. Alcohol is also an inhibitor of sleep. While a glass in the evening may make you nice and sleepy, it also reduces REM sleep, which is considered the most restorative phase of the sleep cycle, leading to a less restful night and grogginess the next day.

Curfew Your Caffeine

There’s a reason why coffee and tea are a morning and afternoon thing. For many of us, consuming caffeine in the evening leaves us with a relentless buzz that keeps us up all night. However, the afternoon caffeine hit could also be doing the same thing. Caffeine has a half-life of about 5 to 6 hours, meaning half of the caffeine you drink is still in your body several hours later. Consuming caffeine late in the day can prevent your body from entering a relaxed state essential for sleep, as it stimulates your nervous system. If you go to bed at 10:30 PM, try to have your last caffeinated drink by 2:30 PM.

Stay Fit

We could talk all day about the many benefits of exercise, and sleep quality is definitely one of them. Exercise increases the amount of slow-wave sleep you get—the deep sleep during which the brain and body have a chance to rejuvenate. Exercise can also help stabilise your mood and decompress the mind, a cognitive process that is important for naturally transitioning to sleep. It can also alleviate symptoms of PMS and menopause, further enhancing sleep quality. This is why it’s so important to have a gym near you, where you can get into a regular routine of weights, cardio or group classes like reformer pilates or zumba. However, exercising late at night can cause increased alertness and elevated heart rate, which can take some time to settle, making it difficult to fall asleep.

Keep a Routine

Finally, it’s important to have consistent sleep and wake times. When your sleep routine is constantly changing, it can lead to what’s known as ‘social jet lag’, where the discrepancy between your body’s internal clock and your actual sleep times can lead to chronic sleep deprivation, mood shifts, and decreased cognitive function. To help get into a routine, set an alarm for your bedtime as well as your wake time.

At the End of the Day

A good night’s sleep will leave you refreshed, alert and has long-lasting benefits. By staying away from devices and unnatural light where possible, staying healthy and fit, and being consistent with your bedtimes, you can start your journey towards better sleep. If your sleep quality is affecting your daily life, and you’re finding that none of these tips are doing the trick, make sure to speak to your GP.

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