Getting great quality sleep is of paramount importance to our health and wellbeing.
Unfortunately, so many people are having challenges getting to sleep, pinging awake at 3am or waking sluggish in the morning, meaning that they're not getting enough good quality sleep.
Here are my recommendations for how to prepare for a good nights sleep.
Eat dinner 3 hours before bed
I know this can be challenging with the long hours we all work and commute. However, if your body is still digesting when you get horizontal 1) you could end up with indigestion and 2) your body can’t relax because it’s still working when it should be resting.
So if you’re eating late, eat light and easily digestible.
So no slabs of meat, no raw foods (includes salad), no dairy and chew until it looks like baby food (Your stomach does not have teeth, this is the point of you having them in your mouth!) Chunky soups with some vegetable protein like Quinoa or lentils are great. If you’re getting in really late, porridge is also a great option.
Quinoa and oats are also great sources of tryptophan which is an amino acid required for the production of melatonin - the sleep chemical, and for serotonin - the happy chemical.
Do your booze research
I’m not going to insult your intelligence and even mention not drinking caffeinated coffee, tea or sodas before bed, but alcohol can be debated.
Alcoholic drinks can relax you and, after a certain quantity you’re definitely unconscious, so I can certainly see the argument for drinking. Now I love my wine and won’t tell you never to drink, but the toxins in wine and other alcoholic drinks do add to the body’s to-do list and to get a good nights sleep we want to keep that list as short as possible.
So if you’re having some troubles sleeping, try trading the booze for caffeine-free teas, or even better hot water, for a few consecutive nights and see if you notice a difference. If you don’t, then bottoms up, and if you do, then you know what to do.
Keep a regular sleep pattern
We all require different quantities of sleep, but typically this is 6-8 hours for most adults.
Waking up and going to bed at the same time daily helps to keep your circadian rhythm functioning normally, so if you’re having some sleep challenges, resist staying up late or sleeping in at the weekend as this can actually create problems for the week ahead.
You need to find the sleep schedule that works for you. Typically our bodies want to be asleep when it’s dark, and awake when it’s light. The UK winter and long commutes can mess with this, so you need to find the next best thing for your body.
If you want to try and get to bed a bit earlier of an evening, but find you’re just not tired, the only way to do it is to get up earlier. It’ll be tough, but do this for a few days, and you’ll be tired earlier in the evening.
Head to bed 1-hour before lights out
Whatever your nighttime routine, have it completed an hour before you want to be closing your eyes. Ever been nodding off on the sofa and then washing your face or cleaning your teeth wakes you up? So scrub the day from your face, let the dog out (and back in again) and get yourself into your comfy PJ’s and tucked up in bed an hour before you wish to be asleep.
No screens for 1-hour pre-sleep
If you’ve read any sleep articles, you know that exposure to unnatural light disrupts your circadian rhythm - the pattern of when your body would naturally be waking and sleeping if it weren’t for pesky things like jobs with fixed hours!
As much as we love them TV’s, laptops, phones, games consoles and backlit e-readers all shine unnatural light into your eyes telling your brain it’s still daylight. So if you’re having troubles with your sleep, ditch and switch to a good old fashioned book or unlit e-reader for an hour before sleep.
Get it out of your brain and onto paper
If you’re one of those people who’s brain is a constantly revolving to-do list, write it down on a pad. You can then relax knowing you won’t forget it.
Pop the pad and pen next to your bed so it’s there should you remember something else during your wind-down time and you can add it without getting out of bed. Just avoid re-reading the list over and over, as you’ll just get yourself worked up over how much you have to do.
Don’t give into the thought ‘If I just do this task then I’ll sleep better’. Getting 6-8 hours of sleep is THE most important thing you can do for your mental ability and efficiency the next day so should be at the top of that to-do list.
The position makes all the difference!
Once your body is reclined beyond the 45-degree angle, sleep chemicals are produced by the brain. It’s why so many of us struggle to sleep on planes thanks to the minuscule ‘recline’ offered by most airline seats. So don’t prop yourself up on your pillows - get horizontal or just slightly elevated if you feel you’re still digesting your dinner. And then 30 mins before lights out, get into your typical sleep position.
Check the temperature
A cooler bedroom is typically recommended for sleeping, but if you’re cold it can be hard to get off to sleep.
So turn the radiator down a few notches and invest in an electric blanket, a hot water bottle or one of those wheat bags you pop in the microwave. Just don’t pick an animal one - there’s nothing more disturbing than seeing a Monkey in a microwave!
I’d personally recommend the electric blanket that you put under your sheet. If you’ve ever done any camping you know that the more insulation you have underneath you the warmer you are and the same goes in bed. Plus you get warmth over a larger area of your body and can turn the heat on and off without having to get out of bed. If your snuggle partner isn’t keen, get a single bed blanket for your side of the bed and don’t allow them to nick it when they realise how lovely they are!
Where to next?
Read next Blog - Part II - Sleep Tips: getting to sleep
Read previous Blog - Your Radio Times guide to sleep
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