• Malin Rignéus

Eight simple steps to improve your sleep.

Updated: Mar 18, 2019


Don’t’ you just hate that feeling of tossing and turning in bed, anxiously counting

the hours until the alarm goes off. Worrying about how tired you’ll be the next day before that important meeting, test or presentation. But, set your mind

at rest, there are plenty of things that you can do to improve your sleep.


We all know that keeping a regular sleep pattern and having sound sleep is important for

our physiological and psychological wellbeing. But did you realise that insufficient sleep

increases the stress hormone cortisol? In turn, this has a negative impact on our immune

system, and it can eventually lead to illness (if exposed over long time).




Moreover, poor sleep affects not only our mental state (attention, concentration, memory,

impaired judgment), causing us to not perform well on the task at hand. It also has a direct

impact on our emotional (irritable, sensitive), and physical (coordination, reaction time,

stamina) states.

Poor sleep often leads to worsening relationships, reduced psychological wellbeing and impaired work performance (The Centre of Clinical Interventions, 2018).

So how can we make the few precious hours we spend in bed count and wake up feeling

more rested? The following suggestions might prove helpful.


Eight simple steps to improve your sleep.


1. Regular timings


Try to go to bed and wake up about the same time every day, even on a weekend (!). I know

this sounds harsh, but your body and mind will thank you for it. Avoid to take naps during

the day, as it is trickier to go to sleep in the evening and to stay asleep the whole night.


2. Log off and cool down


As we all know electronic devices, e.g. smartphones, tablets, TV, etc. confuse the body’s internal clock into thinking it should stay awake (our brains register the blue light as daylight). On your iOS devices you can turn the night shift feature on, which is located in settings. Dim the lights in the evening and create a cut off time (aim for one hour before bed) to unplug.


3. Create your own sleep routine


Create your own schedule of relaxing self-care practices before hitting the pillow. It is

considered one of the most effective ways to combat stress. For example, read a favourite

magazine, have a shower or bath, use a yoga app (I love the flexibility of the yoga studio

app, listen to some calming music playlists on Spotify or iTunes or try out a brief guided meditation.


If you are finding it difficult to quieting your busy mind, you have tense muscles or a racing

heart, try spend some time doing relaxation exercises, e.g. deep breathing, or progressive

muscle relaxation (The National Sleep Foundation, 2018).


Time yourself performing the routine, tweak it as fit and stick with this new habit. Not only

will the sequence make you sleepy, but it might also have the positive effect that it makes

you look forward to going to bed.


4. Investigate


Monitor your sleep at night with a FitBit app to detect if there are any specific associations,

e.g. when you sleep less deep, etc. Alternatively you can use a sleep diary recording simple data such as: https://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/~/media/CCI/Mental%20Health%20Professionals/Sleep/Sleep%20-%20Worksheets/Sleep%20Worksheet%20-%2001%20-%20Sleep%20Diary.pdf


This is useful in identifying any patterns and areas for improving sleep habits. If you are unable to fall asleep, don't stay in bed for more than 20 minutes and avoid watching the clock. Get up and do something non-exciting and repetitive, e.g. knitting, sort paperwork, etc. Keep the daytime activities the same, even though you have had a poor night sleep to avoid reinforcing insomnia.


5. Cut back on caffeine, nicotine and alcohol


Caffeine (coffee, tea, cola, chocolate) and nicotine (cigarettes) act as stimulants and stay

active in your system for a long time (about six to eight hours). Cutting caffeine at 2pm and

swapping your afternoon pick me up to decaf or herbal tea is likely to have a positive impact. I love www.pukkaherbs.com  and https://www.teapigs.com.hk for their intense and interesting flavours.


Although a glass of wine might make you feel relaxed and sleepy, its deceptive as alcohol is actually a sleep pattern disrupter. It may interrupt your circadian rhythm by affecting levels of chemicals that tell your body when its time to sleep or wake up. In addition, your body uses

a lot of energy and water to break the alcohol down. The dehydration and digestion can

therefore disturb your sleep and keep you awake.


6. Healthy diet and exercise


It probably goes without saying that a healthy balanced diet will improve your sleep. However, eating a large meal before going to bed can interrupt sleep. Experts suggest

exercising for about 30 minutes a day (if possible). Although its best to not engage in

strenuous exercise four hours before bedtime. Try to expose yourself to 20 minutes of daylight first thing in the morning to regulate melatonin levels.


7. Create a tranquil haven


Avoid working, studying or watching TV in your bed. It is important for your body and mind

to associate the bed with sleep and sex only. Invest in a comfortable mattress, pillow and

bedding.


Make sure the room is completely dark with black out curtains. You could use aromatherapy

oils like lavender in a humidifier to create a sleepy ambience. Use eye masks and earplugs

for obtrusive noise and make sure the temperature is pleasant (no full blast air conditioning).

If possible, try not to have pets and/or children in bed.


8. Go easy on yourself


If you have persistent thoughts, try to write them down in a worry diary and deal with it in the

morning. Negative thoughts, stress and worries about sleep can increase the risk of insomnia. Healthy balanced thinking is vital for sleeping soundly. Remember to give yourself

a break, no one is perfect and you can only do your best.


There are a number of things we can do to improve our ability to sleep well. Whether that is

tweaking the external environment, regulating our routines or changing our diets to induce

sleep.


This is by no means an exhaustive list. You might want to consider contacting a sleep specialist or other mental health practitioner for more support. They could work with you to

establish individualised sleep management strategies. Please share if you find this article

helpful or comment if you have any additional suggestions on how to improve sleep.


References:


The Centre for Clinical Interventions, 2018, Website:

http://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/Resources/Looking-After-Yourself/Sleep


The Centre for Clinical Interventions, 2018, Website:

https://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/~/media/CCI/Mental%20Health%20Professionals/Sleep/Sleep%20-%20Worksheets/Sleep%20Worksheet%20-%2001%20-%20Sleep%20Diary.pdf


The National Sleep Foundation, 2018, Website:

https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/3-signs-too-stressed-sleep-and-how-unwind

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