A good night’s sleep is as essential to your physical and mental well being as a healthy diet and lifestyle.
However, so many of us do not get enough quality sleep.
Getting a good night’s sleep is certainly a problem that is far from uncommon for an awful lot of people you speak to and I’m sure you’ll find this is true in most Western countries these days.
I am not talking about people with ‘self-inflicted’ sleep deprivation due to staying out late and partying.
I mean those of us who need and want to sleep better each night, but are struggling to do so, depsite their best efforts.
So, what is the best way to get a good night’s sleep?
The good news is that, generally, there are quite a few things you can try to give yourself a better chance of falling asleep quicker and getting better quality sleep and most of them simply require nothing more than a bit of organization and the inclination to adopt a few good habits.
Why is good sleep important?
But let’s be real here – research or no research – you know deep down in your own mind that consistently surviving on a few hours’ sleep each night is neither fun, nor good for you in the long term.
Because, apart from feeling cranky during the day, long-term periods of poor sleep can have all kinds of adverse effects on your body. I’m sure you know a lot of these already, but check out some of the long-term effects of sleep deprivation according to numerous studies:
- Lack of concentration and difficulty thinking. Think about that if you’re operating machinery, driving a car or doing a job that requires you to be mentally alert in order to keep yourself or others safe
- Suppressed immune system. A chronic lack of sleep can make you more susceptible to everything from a common cold to more serious and chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and cancer
- Sleep deprivation affects the way insulin works in your body and consequently how fast your cells can take up sugar. This can contribute to the onset of diabetes
- A lack of good quality sleep can raise blood pressure and put stress on the heart.
- Consistently poor sleep can affect mental health and increase psychological risks such as depression, anxiety and stress
How much sleep do we actually need?
According to conventional wisdom, the amount of sleep we need to function efficiently during the day is 8 hours.
For those of you who prefer to make decisions based on more than just conventional wisdom, you’ll be pleased to hear that there is actually a whole area of science dedicated to sleep and years of research and study backs this up, with the indicated ‘sweet spot’ being 7-8 hours per night.
It’s interesting though, because although modern science indicates that 7-8 hours per night is an optimal amount of sleep,
it wasn’t so long ago that we used to sleep in two shifts between dusk and dawn (known as bi-phasic sleep) and it is only since the advent of modern lighting that our sleeping habits changed.
Maybe this is the natural way that humans are meant to sleep and it’s modern society which has conditioned us to sleep in one segment, the same way as it appears to have influenced the way we eat three meals a day?
That’s food for thought and something to sleep on – it’s all up for discussion, but you’re here looking for some practical strategies to get a better night’s sleep, right?
How to get a good night’s sleep
To understand how to get a good night’s sleep, you first need to be aware of the factors that are known to interfere with your body’s ability to switch off for a solid night of quality zeds.
But what are they? Is it anxiety? Is it stress? Electrification? Is it the 4G and WiFi we’re surrounded by all the time? Is it blue light from our devices?
The first area within your control is the actual place where you sleep and for the majority of us, that will be the bedroom!
The bedroom should be clean, comfortable and connected with sleeping only.
Don’t eat, work or talk on the phone in bed or make the room itself a ‘multi-purpose’ area, which means, avoid setting up a computer desk in the corner or having your static bike or treadmill in here.
I know that sometimes space can be limited in the place where you live, which can make thigns more difficult, but try to do everything you possibly can to make the bedroom your little sanctuary where you can escape the madness of the world outside.
Remove any other clutter – kids toys, paperwork, anything else that is not associated with sleeping.
The next thing to consider is the temperature. Too hot or too cold will rarely result in a night of quality sleep. A comfortable environment for most people is about 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius).
Make sure there is good air flow and consider using a humidifier/dehumidifier according to the climate in your region.
A quiet environment
If you experience a lot of noise from outside, consider the use of ear plugs or if you want to try something fancy, you could go for these really cool Bose wireless ear buds.
Make sure that the room is dark when you feel like going to bed. If you find that your room is still not dark with the lights out due to streetlights outside, blackout curtains might help.
How about the actual bed you are sleeping on? Is the mattress comfortable? Too hard or too soft?
If you have been sleeping on the same mattress for a long time, it might be that you have become conditioned to what is actually a very poor mattress and you may not realize this until you get to sleep on a good one.
A good mattress
will make a world of difference to your sleep quality, so don’t brush this off as insignificant.
Don’t forget the pillow. There are all kinds available for different needs: feather, down, memory foam, buckwheat, to name just a few. They all have advantages and disadvantages and you’ll need to select the one that best meets your own comfort requirements and budget.
Suffice to say though, a bad pillow can lead to neck/back ache and generally poor quality sleep, so as with the mattress, don’t underestimate the importance.
There is a theory that blue light can affect our ability to fall asleep, because it tricks the brain into thinking that it is still daytime, which affects your body’s circadian rhythm that controls your sleep-wake cycle, inhibiting the normal physiological processes that need to occur in preparation for sleep.
Work deadlines, financial pressures, relationship problems, health concerns and a whole raft of other things going on in your head can prevent you from ‘switching off’ when all you want and need to do is rest and sleep.
Getting regular exercise shoudl generally help you sleep, but some say that exercise within 2-4 hours of sleeping can be detrimental. If you’re currently doing your workouts late in the evening and you’re not sleeping well generally, try switching your sessions to early morning, rather than close to bedtime.
Either way, exercise should be included in your daily routine anyway, so get it in there!
Having a pre-bed routine or ritual will prepare your body for sleep in a gradual way.
Studies show that the position you choose to sleep in can affect both how quickly you fall asleep and the quality of the sleep you get. This actually deserves a whole post of its own, so watch this space!
Sleep positions can be broken down into three main positions, those being back, side and stomach, and then there are some variations on each of those positions.
Developing an evening routine
You can find tips about getting better sleep all over the internet, but the most commonly repeated advice seems to be routine.
First, try to enforce a strict time when you stop working, taking calls, looking at emails and your electronic devices. Unplug and make this a trigger for the start of your winding down, pre-bed phase in the evening.
What to do if you can’t fall asleep
If you cannot fall asleep after 30 minutes or so, get out of bed, don’t try to force it to happen. The best thing to do is get out of bed and go and do something else.
But whatever you do, do not turn on your electronic devices!
Instead, read or listen to a book, do a puzzle, do some writing, listen to some music or a podcast and then go back to bed when you feel sleep coming on.