Ten top tips to help you sleep better, by Dr Lauren KitaAnchor
There’s a big difference between sleep and good sleep, as anyone who has ever woken up feeling like they never went to bed will tell you.
Good sleep helps you feel refreshed and alert and is an important part of maintaining a sense of wellbeing. Dr Lauren Kita is an expert in good sleep and specialises in helping people enjoy all 40 winks.
If you’ve ever experienced a disrupted night, then take a look at Dr Kita’s ten top tips for better sleep.
Going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time every day is one of the best things you can do to support healthy sleep. Having a routine helps to train our internal body clock to expect sleep at particular times.
Every cell in our body is governed by our internal clock and consistency helps to keep our bodies working efficiently. Unfortunately, this means avoiding weekend lie-ins. Waking up late on a Sunday is likely to make it more difficult to fall asleep at your normal time on Sunday evening, and will inevitably lead to Monday morning tiredness – not a good start to the week ahead!
Get morning daylight
Our internal body clock constantly needs to be reset, since its natural cycle is actually slightly longer than our 24-hour day.
One of the main ways that this happens is through exposure to bright light, because this directly affects the release of the sleep hormone, melatonin. Morning light switches off melatonin production, helping us to feel more awake for the day ahead. It also trains our system to start producing melatonin in the evening, when we need it to help us to feel sleepy.
A morning walk outside is a great way to support our natural rhythm, and has the added benefit of being exercise. Remember, even when it’s dull outside it is still thousands of times brighter than indoors!
A wake-up lamp can be another great tool to help set your circadian rhythms (linked to daylight and regular routine) and make it easier to rise at the same time each morning.
Getting enough daylight exposure is also directly related to our production of serotonin, the feel-good hormone. Ever wondered why you feel so much better in the summer?
Avoid bright light in the evening
Given that bright light stops the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone, too much light in the evening will make it much harder to fall asleep.
In our modern society, evening light from electrical appliances can be difficult to avoid, so a conscious effort is required! Many of us find it difficult to disconnect from our phones, TVs and tablets. Aim to switch off these backlit devices at least one hour before bed. Use this time to allow your body and mind to wind-down naturally.
Make your bedroom a sleep nest!
Creating a cosy and comfortable bedroom will help support healthy sleep. Generally, your bed should only be used for two things: sleep and sex. That means no working on your laptop in bed!
The more you do non-sleep-related activities in bed, the more likely it is that you will start to condition your body to associate your bed with wakefulness rather than sleep. Make sure you have good interiors, such as blackout blinds or curtains that make your room as dark as possible at night, particularly if you live in a city with lots of light pollution.
Invest in a comfortable bed and quality sheets and place a few drops of lavender oil on your pillow to soothe your mind. Make going to bed a sensual and nourishing experience; something that you really look forward to.
Find healthy ways of winding-down
Making a definite transition from work to evening rest is really important.
Many of us are so used to being over-stimulated that we often turn to TV or alcohol as a way to relax, but both of these things can adversely affect sleep, particularly if used close to bedtime. While alcohol may appear to help you to drift off, it produces withdrawal effects that lead to fragmented, un-refreshing sleep.
Certain yoga postures can be wonderful for giving the mind and body some much needed time-out. My favourite is Legs up the Wall, which is pretty much what it says on the tin! Experiencing that shift in gravity feels amazing after being on your feet all day and helps your mind to settle. It also helps the flow of lymph in your body, which can improve the functioning of your immune system. Chill out here for at least 10 minutes and notice how relaxed you feel afterwards!
Ever noticed how difficult it can be to switch off your racing mind? A racing mind means your body is in a state of hyperarousal – not good for sleep! In fact, it’s one of the key factors that play a role in insomnia.
Being able to notice your thoughts for what they are – just thoughts – can help you to develop a healthier, more detached relationship with them.
Sit quietly and allow your attention to rest on your breath. Start with 5 minutes daily and gradually increase over time. Whenever you feel your mind wandering, just notice this moment, and rather than getting caught up in the content of your thoughts, gently invite your attention back to your breath.
Journal before bed
Writing in a journal every night is another good way of helping your mind to relax.
Write down anything on your mind, including worries and thoughts you need to remember to do tomorrow. This way, you can allow your mind to switch off, knowing that you don’t have to remember everything and it also gives you a chance to process your day. Then, write down three things that you are grateful for. It might be something positive from your day, like a nice conversation you had with a friend, the beautiful flowers outside, or just having a safe and comfortable home.
This process can help to quieten the parts of the brain involved in the stress response, and to activate those parts involved with safety and rest, which are conducive to sleep. It is much nicer to end the day on a positive thought rather than worry.
Don’t nap in the daytime
Two main factors control our sleep cycle: circadian rhythms and what’s known as the sleep homeostat (basically our need for sleep, based on how long it has been since we last slept).
By evening time, we need our sleep homeostat level to build up enough so that we can enjoy good sleep. Taking a nap during the daytime reduces our sleep drive, making it harder to sleep at night.
If you are really desperate, schedule any daytime naps before 3pm and limit time asleep to 20 minutes so that your sleep homeostat isn’t affected later.
Reduce stimulants such as caffeine and sugar
Many of us rely on caffeine and sugar to get through the day, yet they can negatively affect our sleep. Remember, if you prioritise sleep and ensure that you get enough shuteye on a regular basis then you shouldn’t need substances to keep you going!
Obviously, part of our need for caffeine and sugar is due to an addiction related to a tolerance that has built up over time, so you will need to wean yourself off gradually. Try switching to decaf coffee or herbal teas. Raw chocolate (cacao) has less caffeine than regular chocolate, but is also high in tryptophan (needed for the production of melatonin) and other vitamins and minerals such as magnesium that are good for your overall health. You can replace refined sugars with natural sweeteners, such as dates and maple syrup, to avoid highs and lows in blood-sugar levels.
Do things that energise you!
Good sleep is so much more than what happens at night – it’s linked to your overall lifestyle.
Make sure you exercise daily, and turn this from a chore into something you enjoy. However, don’t do too much physical activity in the lead-up to bedtime as this can negatively affect sleep.
Ditch the car in favour of walking or cycling when you can, and try to be mindful at the same time. Being mindful takes many forms – for a start try savouring the present moment by connecting with nature, noticing the colours and sounds in the environment and tuning into your body.
Yoga is another great way to integrate exercise and mindfulness. The more you can be mindful during the day, the easier it will be to switch off at night. Over time, you can literally rewire your brain so that this process becomes second nature – allowing you to drift off effortlessly!
About Dr Lauren Kita
Dr Lauren Kita is a psychologist and yoga therapist with a PhD focused on sleep and wellbeing. She specialises in helping busy, stressed out people to find ways of reducing anxiety and improving their sleep, integrating scientific and holistic approaches.
For more inspiration, you can download the free Ultimate Wind-down Guide for the Best Night’s Sleep on her website www.wakingwithwellness.com.