Sleep is described in Shakespeare’s Macbeth as the “chief nourisher in life’s feast” for good reason. It's vital for restoring your body as well as your mind, and many vital processes (such as muscle growth and tissue repair) occur mostly while you sleep.
Most animals, from giraffes to 1mm long nematodes, need sleep to survive. In fact, studies have revealed that animals lose all immune function and die in just a few weeks if they are deprived of sleep.
Humans are no exception. Sleep deprivation can weaken our immune systems, too, making us more susceptible to disease. It can also impact how fast we recover from illness because our bodies can’t properly produce the proteins and antibodies needed to protect us when we’re suffering from a lack of sleep.
It's safe to say that sleep is pretty important. But what do you do if you can’t sleep?
The first answer is to practice good sleep hygiene.
What is sleep hygiene?
Put simply, sleep hygiene means “healthy sleeping habits”. Practising good sleep hygiene involves following a healthy sleep routine - i.e. healthy sleeping habits - that prepare you for a deeper, more blissful night of rest.
Sleep hygiene tips: 5 rules for good sleep hygiene
Preparing yourself to catch some Zs is good for more than simply securing a few hours of beauty sleep. It can set you up to feel significantly more refreshed, energised and productive the next day.
So, to help yourself feel your best every day, here are some sleep hygiene tips you can put into practice starting tonight.
1. Have a regular sleep schedule
This means you should go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day. As basic as this sounds, it helps to set your body’s “internal clock” so that you can get the right amount of sleep each night.
2. Avoid caffeine and other stimulants
Caffeine works by blocking a chemical called adenosine in the brain. During the day, adenosine accumulates in your brain as a by-product of its normal activity. But at night, it’s believed this build-up is what encourages you to feel tired and go to sleep.
Since caffeine prevents the effects of adenosine, drinking it in the afternoon or evening can make you feel less tired when it’s time to go to bed. Therefore, it’s best to avoid drinking caffeine in the afternoon or evening, as it can remain in your system for around 10 hours even after you’ve stopped drinking it.
Nicotine, the addictive substance in cigarettes and tobacco, is another stimulant that can disturb your sleep. It’s associated with increased sleep onset latency (meaning it may take longer for you to fall asleep) and can make you wake up more frequently during the night.
This is likely to impact the amount of sleep you get and reduce your sleep quality, leaving you feeling more exhausted than refreshed. Kicking the habit would ideally be the best solution. However, if you're yet to quit, cigarettes should be avoided at least 2 hours before bed.
3. Make your room into a sleep haven
Making slight adjustments to the setup of your room can set you up for vastly better sleep. Getting things to help you sleep such as a comfortable mattress, duvet, and pillows should make it easier to fall (and stay) asleep. Likewise, a sleeping mask or blackout blinds can help to block any sleep-disrupting light from spilling into your room, and earplugs can muffle jarring sounds so you can sleep undisturbed.
Keeping the lights off in your room before bed is also beneficial, as bright lights interfere with melatonin production. Melatonin is known as the “sleep hormone” because it helps to regulate the body’s circadian rhythm (the internal process that regulates your sleep-wake cycle). It’s produced mainly in the pineal gland when it gets dark and plays a significant role in promoting sleep.
Light can stop melatonin production and disrupt your natural sleep-wake cycle. Blue light in particular - the kind of light emitted by phone and laptop screens - is especially bad for sleep. It has been found to suppress melatonin for about twice as long as green light and shift circadian rhythms by twice as much, too. Altering your room to maximise melatonin production can help to keep your sleep-wake cycle in check so that you get the rest you need to function at your best.
4. Consider taking a sleep supplement
To promote the best sleep possible, you may find it beneficial to take a sleep supplement as part of your sleep hygiene routine. Sleep aids such as Sleep Deep contain ingredients like Montmorency cherry (a natural source of the sleep hormone melatonin) to help you enjoy a more restful sleep. It’s also filled with 8 other key ingredients such as chamomile, which helps to support optimal relaxation.
Sleep Deep is best taken in the evening because this allows the ingredients to kick in before you enter into slumber. While you sleep, each ingredient is gently absorbed by your body to encourage a more peaceful night’s rest, allowing you to feel more revitalised in the morning.
Before taking any supplement, however, it’s best to talk to a clinician to make sure it’s safe for you to take and won’t interact with any medication you’re taking. Once you’ve got the all-clear, you’ll be one step closer to more blissful sleep.
5. Exercise for better sleep
Studies have shown that exercise helps people sleep better, regardless if they have sleep problems or not. What’s more, exercise improves sleep in those affected by sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea and insomnia.
Moderate-to-vigorous exercise is also able to increase sleep quality by reducing the time it takes to fall asleep, which may be beneficial for those who find it difficult to drift off at the end of the day.
For overweight and obese people who have obstructive sleep apnea (a sleeping disorder where the walls of the throat relax and narrow, making it significantly harder to breathe), shedding a few pounds can help to reduce the severity of the symptoms.
Over 70% of people with obstructive sleep apnea are overweight or obese. This condition can severely impact sleep, leaving you feeling very tired during the day. By improving the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea, weight loss may also be able to improve the quality and quantity of sleep you experience each night.
The bottom line
There are various sleep hygiene practices you can incorporate into your daily routine to promote better sleep and prevent sleep deprivation. Going to bed at the same time each night, avoiding stimulants, and exercising are just a few ways you can practise good sleep hygiene.
Other sleep hygiene tips include avoiding bright lights at night (as they suppress your melatonin production) and considering taking a sleep supplement. Before you do, though, talk to a clinician to make sure it’s safe for you to take and won’t interact with any medication you’re taking.
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