Sleep plays an important role in our physical and mental health. A good night’s rest can heal and repair our bodies and consolidate memories. Prolonged bad sleep, on the other hand, is linked to high blood pressure and problems such as anxiety and depression.
A good night’s sleep is crucial but not always easy to come by. Here are three tips to help you achieve a night of perfect sleep.
1. The importance of good routines
Adopting morning and evening routines – and sticking to them – can help to programme your body, aligning your sleep cycle with your chosen daily rhythm.
Partly this routine will come from going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, but what you do just before, and upon waking, is crucial too.
Your morning routine might include a walk or jog, and a healthy breakfast, before settling down with the morning papers.
You might have spent much of the year working from home but adopting a routine that mimics a ‘normal’ working day – complete with the fresh air and downtime of a morning commute – will allow you to begin the day in the best, and most effective, frame of mind.
An evening routine should involve winding down but that doesn’t mean it can’t involve exercise too. An evening stroll or run might relieve the stress of a difficult working day, but remember that exercise releases adrenaline. Be careful not to exercise too close to bedtime.
Having a bath, doing yoga, or reading a book could all help you relax and switch off. Find what works for you.
2. Controlling your environment: Light, sound, and temperature
Light, sound, and temperature play a key role in our sleep patterns.
Keeping mobile phones and laptops out of the bedroom is one way to help. The blue light emitted by these electronic devices suppresses melatonin production, upsetting your sleep patterns.
Blue light filters will help but scrolling through Facebook or watching Netflix in bed will never be as relaxing as a good book. What’s more, the Mental Health Foundation recommend you should stop using electronic devices at least two hours before you go to sleep.
Limiting screen time doesn’t mean abandoning technology altogether though.
Consider using sunrise alarms (also known as SAD alarm clocks, or body clock lights) such as the Lumie Bodyclock Luxe. It simulates daylight to wake you up naturally and includes a sunset mode to gradually lower the light in the room and send you gently to sleep.
You could also try relaxation and sleep apps. Here are three of the best:
- Calm – Calm was Apple’s ‘App of the Year’ in 2017, and is a previous Independent Best Buy. Drift off to the sound of a crackling fire or enjoy a bedtime story read by celebrity storytellers including Stephen Fry, Lucy Liu, and Matthew McConaughey.
- Portal – Portal is an ‘ambient sound app’ that sends you into a restful sleep using ‘beautiful and immersive ambience from around the world.’ Drift off to rainfall over misty mountains, the chirruping of a rainforest canopy, or the crashing of distant waves.
- Sleep Cycle – Rather than helping you fall asleep, Sleep Cycle aims to work out how you sleep. The app tracks and analyses your sleep to wake you up at the optimum time in your sleep cycle.
Controlling temperature is more difficult. Keeping windows open allows air to circulate but could lead to added noise or a chilly night in the winter.
If you’re sharing a bed with a partner you might find your body temperatures differ. Consider separate blankets or changing sides of the bed to take advantage – or shelter from – any draught.
3. Lifestyle is key to unlocking a good night’s sleep
A healthy lifestyle is one of the best ways to promote good sleep. This means looking after your physical and mental health.
Certain foods, such as rice, oats, and dairy products, can increase your desire to sleep while sugary food and drinks have the opposite effect.
Avoid eating a big meal after mid-evening and limit your caffeine and sugar intake too. Alcohol might make you feel tired, but the quality of your sleep could be poorer.
Smoking will also hamper a good night’s sleep as nicotine is a stimulant. Smoke too close to bedtime and you could find it harder to get to sleep, and more fitful when you do.
Consider keeping a sleep diary. You might think you know the factors which affect the quality of your sleep – stress at work, next door’s dog, or late-night suppers – but keeping a note of conditions on nights of both good and bad sleep might help you find patterns.
If a certain condition invariably leads to a restless night, try to eradicate it. Likewise, if a pattern of behaviour is linked to a good night’s sleep, repeat it.