Sleep plays an important role in our health and wellbeing. Getting enough sleep will protect your mental and physical health, quality of life, and personal safety.
When you sleep, your body is working to support healthy brain function, growth, and development. Lack of sleep can affect how well we think, react, work, learn, and get along with others. The damage from sleep deficiency can be instant (such as having a car crash or accident at work from falling asleep), or it can develop over time.
As well as looking after your brain, sleep plays an important role in the healing and repairing of your heart and blood vessels. Without enough sleep, you run a higher risk of developing chronic diseases like heart and kidney disease, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and stroke.
So with this in mind, how can you get more and better sleep? According to The Age, 1 in 3 Australians suffers from sleep deprivation, and up to 70% of visits to the GP are underlined by a sleep disorder. Clearly, we’re a wired nation, so what steps can we take to ensure a better night’s sleep?
1. Stick to a routine
Well planned strategies are essential to deep, restorative sleep that you can rely on. Strategies should be personal, as what works for one person might not work for another.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends an average of 7-9 hours of sleep per night, but sleep needs vary according to a person’s age and lifestyle. Take steps to find your ideal sleep needs, and work a routine around them.
Set a bedtime that is the same every night, choosing a time when you normally feel tired, and not too early or too late. Keep this in play even on the weekends when you may be tempted to stay up later. The same goes for waking up; set your alarm for the same time every morning.
2. Drink chamomile
Chamomile is a traditional herbal remedy that has been used since ancient times to fight insomnia. Drinking a cup of chamomile tea before bed is known to reduce anxiety and encourage a deeper, more relaxing sleep.
3. Exercise, but early
Regular exercise will help you sleep at night, but keep your workouts earlier in the day. Exercises releases a post-workout energy boost that lasts around two hours afterwards, so refrain from exercising at night or you may find it difficult to sleep.
4. Eat magnesium rich foods
Magnesium is well known for its ability to relieve insomnia, with one study discovering it decreases cortisol, the ‘stress hormone’ that keeps you awake at night. Magnesium is available in foods like pumpkin seeds, spinach, and Swiss chard. You can also try taking a magnesium supplement half an hour before bed.
5. Sleep on the right mattress
Mattresses are designed to provide the support and comfort needed to relax and rest. If you’ve had your mattress for a while, it may be time to get a new one.
Mattresses are made from all sorts of materials and technologies, but if comfort and better sleep are your goal, then you can’t go past a latex mattress. Latex mattresses use natural latex as the support system, offering sublime comfort without toxic fumes. Pure, sustainable, and comfort, they’re the most luxurious and healthy material to sleep on.
6. Select the right bedding
When sleep is uncomfortable, it could be that the bedding is to blame. Synthetic materials tend to trap heat, so always look for quality cotton with a thread count of around 400. Any count over that, and chances are that the thread has been manipulated with a synthetic finish. Pillowcases should also be replaced every 18 months.
7. Wash bedding regularly
There’s no better feeling than climbing into a bed lined with freshly washed sheets, so by doing a bit of extra laundry you could actually pick up a few extra hours of sleep every week. Try washing your sheets every 7 days.
8. Keep your bedroom cool
Sleep experts recommend an ideal temperature of between 16 and 24 degrees celsius for comfortable sleep. A room with extreme temperatures leads to more frequent awakenings in the night and lighter sleep.
9. Take a bath before bed
Your final hour should be a time to relax, and a bath is a great way to do just that. Lying in a warm tub slowly increases your body temperature, and once returned to its cooler state, your brain releases the sleep chemical melatonin, triggering bedtime.
For an extra calming effect, try adding a few drops of eucalyptus or lavender essential oils to your bath, both of which are known to reduce stress.
10. Avoid caffeine after noon
For some people, the effects of caffeine can linger for up to ten hours, so keep caffeine fixes to the mornings.
11. Keep the alarm clock dark
The artificial light from your alarm clock could be messing with your circadian rhythm, so try to turn it to face the other way. Besides, watching the clock as you try to fall asleep will only cause further anxiety!
12. Try progressive muscle relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation is a nightly meditation practice that involves focusing on the breath and preparing the body for sleep. Starting with the feet, tense the muscles and hold for a count of five before releasing. Do this for every muscle group in the body, working your way up to the head.
13. Regulate your internal clock
Each of us has an individual sleep schedule kept on track by our circadian rhythms – biological activity regulated by body temperature, sleep cycle, hormone secretion, and external factors like light and darkness. The best way to control these is to create a clear distinction between night and day; that is, exposing yourself to early morning sun and keeping your surroundings dim at night.
14. Create an electronic curfew
Artificial lights from computers, TVs, and mobile phones will wreak havoc on your sleep, confusing the body as to when it’s bedtime. Stay electronic free an hour before your desired bedtime.
15. Don’t toss and turn
Still can’t sleep? Tossing and turning? Hop up and try a relaxing activity like reading or listening to soothing music. Lying in bed for longer than 20 minutes and thinking about not sleeping will create anxiety, a vicious cycle that will further restrict your ability to sleep. Climb out of bed, do something relaxing, then give sleep another try.