No matter how balanced your diet, or how healthy your exercise regime, if you don’t sleep well, it will all be for nothing. When you don’t sleep well, you wake stressed and tired. You are likely to compensate by drinking caffeine and eating sugar to temporarily boost your energy. Then, when you get home, you are too tired to cook or go for a walk so you crash on the couch with a pizza instead. Followed by a few glasses of wine, because they help you get to sleep.
This leads to a vicious cycle. Caffeine and alcohol disrupt your sleep the next night and cause you to wake up even more tired the next morning. And so you double up on caffeine and sugar because you feel you can’t function without them. If you want to be healthy, it is essential to restore a healthy sleep cycle. And although some nights will always be better than others, there are a lot of things you can do to optimize the quality of your sleep:
No caffeine after noon
Obviously, it would be best to eliminate caffeine altogether. But for most people, this is a good start.
Go to bed at the same time every day
Ideally, you pick a bed time that allows you a solid 8-9 hours of sleep before your alarm goes off again. 10:30PM is a healthy bedtime for most people. It’s interesting to note that recent scientific evidence suggests that getting out of bed at a consistent time might be even more important for your health than going to bed at the same time everyday.
Although naps cannot compensate for bad sleeping habits, they can improve mood, alertness and performance. Famous nappers include Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and Winston Churchill.
Make sure your mattress and pillow are right for you. There’s no such thing as an objectively good mattress. Some people sleep better on a firm mattress while others sleep better on a soft mattress. Find out what works for you. Replace your mattress on time.
Eating a big meal late at night can interfere with your sleep because your stomach is still too active digesting the meal. Try to eat at least 2-3 hours before you go to bed. If you get home late, skip dinner instead and have a hearty breakfast in the morning. Avoid caffeine and alcohol before going to bed, even if alcohol’s sedative effect can help you fall asleep (it will backfire later during the night).
To limit the noise in your bedroom, don’t use a TV or radio to fall asleep and keep your phone in another room. If you live in a noisy area, try using ear plugs. You can also “cover up” other sounds by putting something in your room that produces a constant white noise, like a fan or an air purifier. You can even get a white noise machine that lulls you to sleep with ocean or forest sounds.
To get a good night sleep, remove all lights from your bedroom, including the night lights and the alarm clock. Get dark shades so you’re not troubled by outside light. If you use lights to read before sleep, select low wattage, incandescent lamps. And leave all screens out of your bedroom.
Go outside during the day
To stimulate a healthy circadian rhythm, you should not only maximise darkness at night, but similarly maximise light during the day. Make sure you get plenty of daylight when the sun is out, especially in the morning. If you spend a lot of time indoors and are having trouble getting to sleep, plan an outside walk every morning and see if it makes a difference.
Not only is the amount of light important to your sleep, the color of the light also has an impact. Warm, red light signals to your body that it should be getting ready to sleep. Cold, blue light signals that it should wake up. Most screens use blue light, but free blue light filters are available for computers and phones. These change the color of your screen to match the rhythm of the sun. We haven’t seen a similar filter for smart TVs yet, but that can only be a matter of time. Allowing your brain some time to wind down is a good idea anyway, so consider going offline an hour earlier. Go for a nice evening walk or read a book.
Keep it cool
Keeping your bedroom at around 65 degrees (18 celsius) makes for the perfect sleeping environment. As you sleep, your body cools down, and this effect is helped by a cooler environment. Make sure your mattress and sheets are made of breathable materials. A fan can also help you sleep during hot nights. Don’t worry about the noise, it’s a constant white noise that might actually help you sleep better. If you are considering getting an air conditioner, get one that uses a variable fan, not one that switches on and off constantly.
One of the easiest ways to keep cool is to sleep naked or with just some boxer shorts on. And sleeping naked has other benefits. During the day, your armpits, genitals and feet are generally covered. Sleeping naked can give those parts a chance to breathe. And, if both you and your partner sleep naked, you may get some bonus skin-on-skin contact. Skin-on-skin contact releases oxytocin, the feel-good hormone. And cuddling without clothes can also lead to a better sex life.
If you have allergies (for things like animal hairs, pollen or dust), the sniffling and sneezing could impact your sleep. To protect your sleep, wash your sheets once a week. Fit your mattress and pillows with an anti-allergenic cover and vacuum your house regularly. You could also consider getting an air purifier that removes allergens.