It may seem like a simple thing to change, but there are plenty of factors that can impact the quality of your sleep or make it more difficult to drift off at night. Your lifestyle, habits and relationships all come into play, so the journey to a good night’s sleep actually starts from the moment you wake up.
Here are 10 top tips for a better night’s sleep from Eugene Farrell, AXA Health’s mental health consultancy lead.
1. Stay active during the day
Getting regular exercise, or at least making sure you keep moving throughout the day, will help you get off to sleep easier.
Moderate to vigorous exercise (even for just 20 to 30 minutes a few times a week) can gently tire the body out, promoting better sleep.1 Exercise can reduce daytime sleepiness and may reduce the need for sleep medication.
Insufficient sleep leads to lower exercise levels, creating a cycle which in turn affects our sleep. Being active also reduces stress and anxiety, which can make it easier to switch off and improve the overall quality and length of your sleep.
The ideal time to exercise is earlier in the day but, if you prefer an evening run or workout, make sure you give yourself a few hours to cool down and unwind afterwards.
2. Watch what you eat and drink, and don’t smoke
Your body needs time to digest food before you go to sleep, so you should avoid having your evening meal just before going to bed. Estimates vary, but experts recommend making sure you don’t have a meal two to four hours before bedtime.2
That doesn’t mean to say you shouldn’t eat anything. Going to bed hungry can also negatively impact your sleep, so a snack is fine. But, when it comes to eating and drinking before bed, there are a few rules to try and remember.
- Avoid foods that are high in fat or very spicy. These take longer to digest and may also trigger heartburn.
- Avoid caffeine. Ideally you shouldn’t drink caffeinated drinks like coffee in the afternoon or evening as it’s a stimulant that can stay in your system for hours and disrupt your sleep.
- Avoid alcohol close to bedtime. While it might feel as though a glass of wine or a few beers helps you fall asleep quicker, alcohol is difficult for the body to process and break down, so it negatively affects the quality of your sleep. It can also make you dehydrated, leaving you feeling bad the next day.
- Milky drinks, certain nuts, some fruit juices and light snacks are generally okay to help curb any hunger before bedtime. But try having a drink of water first, as you might just be thirsty.
And finally, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t smoke before bedtime – you shouldn’t smoke at all. But, on top of all the other health risks, did you know nicotine is another stimulant that can disrupt your sleep?
So, quitting smoking will improve your sleep.3
>Read more 10 health benefits of stopping smoking
3. Make your bedroom a sleep-friendly environment
Create a calm sleeping environment by turning your bedroom into a haven. It needs to be dark, quiet, clean, comfortable and cool for the best night’s sleep. And it should also be a relaxing environment before and after you’ve slept.
- Try installing black-out curtains or wearing an eye mask to make things as dark as possible.
- Consider wearing ear plugs for a silent night or listen to white noise to drown out anything that might go bump in the night.
- Keep it cool. The ideal temperature is thought to be around 18.3c, but this varies from person-to-person. It’s also different for children and adults, but doctors recommend keeping your room somewhere between 15.6c to 19.4c.4
- Make sure you have decent bedding. Is your mattress old? Is your pillow lumpy? We rely on these things every night and they’re essential for our wellbeing so, if the answer to either of those questions is yes, some new bedding would be a very sound investment.
- Try painting your room a calming colour to help when you’re winding down.
- Remove any distractions that may keep you awake or overstimulated, like computers, TVs and phones.
4. Relax and unwind before bed
You need to take time to let your brain and body wind down.
You could stretch your muscles with yoga, calm your mind with simple breathing exercises or escape into a book. Avoid too much conversation, both in-person and (particularly) by phone or text.
Some people find it soothing to use a few drops of aromatherapy oil, like lavender oil, on their pillow or to have a quiet moment with a cup of chamomile tea.
>Read more on how technology can impact your mental health
5. Resist the weekend lie-ins
One of the best things you can do to get a good night’s sleep, and maintain your overall wellbeing, is to keep a regular sleep schedule. That means you need to try and avoid naps and lie-ins in favour of going to bed and getting up at more or less the same time every day. Including weekends!
A Sunday morning lie-in might feel nice at the time, but it’ll make it more difficult to get to sleep that night. When the week gets off to a bad start, it can really impact your mood and your productivity, and it’s difficult to get back on track.
6. Develop a bedtime ritual
With these things in mind, try to develop a relaxing evening routine that prepares your body and mind for sleep. It needs to work for you, but here are a few DOs and DON’Ts for that hour or so before bed:
- DO have a set bedtime, and stick to it
- DON’T spend time texting or scrolling on your phone
- DO relaxing breathing exercises
- DON’T do intense exercise late at night
- DO have a warm bath or shower
- DON’T have difficult or important discussions with family or friends
- DO switch off your TV / video games and keep away from electronic screens
- DON’T read news articles or study in bed
- DO read a book or listen to calming music
- DON’T eat anything heavy, fatty or spicy
- DO have a milky drink or light snack if you’re hungry
7. Don’t toss and turn – get out of bed instead
If you’ve been in bed for about 20 minutes and find that you just can’t fall asleep, don’t lie there getting frustrated. Get up and do something else instead. Try something relaxing like reading or listening to music. Only go back to bed when you feel tired and calm.
Similarly, if you find you’re dozing off on the sofa too early in the evening, get up and do a few chores so that you save your snoozing for bedtime.
8. Monitor your sleep
If you’re having problems getting to sleep or staying asleep, it can be difficult to pinpoint the reason.
Keeping a sleep diary, or wearing a device that tracks your sleep, can help you monitor when you fall asleep and wake up, as well as how many times you wake up during the night. Make a note of your routine each night and how rested you feel in the morning.
After a week, reflect on your notes and try to work out what helps you sleep and what makes it worse.
9. Jot down your troubles
Life can often be stressful. It takes time and effort to understand which coping methods work best for you.
Try using a journal to note down things that are worrying you or any issues, thoughts or responsibilities that are keeping you awake at night. By writing them down, you’re effectively taking those worries out of your head and transferring them to a physical, tangible list. When written down, things seem more manageable and organised, ready to be tackled in the cold light of day. In turn, this then allows your brain to switch off.
Check out our article on how to stop worrying for a more in-depth look at managing your worries and not letting them take over your life.
10. Seek professional help
If your sleep problems persist, don’t suffer in silence. And don’t be tempted to self-medicate with over-the-counter sleep aids. These might treat the issue in the short-term, but they’re not going to get to the root of the issue. Speak to your GP for advice.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for insomnia can be very effective at helping people who have problems with getting to sleep.