How to get a good night’s sleep
When dealing with a lot of demands, and particularly when experiencing stress, our sleep can be affected. When deadlines are near we may work until late in the night to finish projects we are likely to skip sleep to get our work done. In Western cultures there is a tendency to equate time with efficiency. And when feeling stressed, it can feel that there is not enough time to fit everything that we need to do.
Sleep is essential to our body and mind as eating well and maintaining our physical fitness. Sleep restores our brain and body, and it sets us up for the day. You probably have noticed that when you do not sleep well you do not feel well the next day, and you are likely to feel tired and sleepy. The brain will not function effectively, thinking feels hard work and likely to make poor decisions. We also have poor reaction times and feel sleepy during the day. This can be dangerous, especially when driving or operating machinery. In addition, poor sleep can lead to increased irritability, and easily upset.
Furthermore, research shows that sleep is important for memory consolidation. Lack of sleep hinders our ability to remember the material we need to store in long-term memory.
Benefits of a good night’s sleep
Getting regular sleep benefits our body and mind to function optimally. During sleep the brain has the opportunity to clear out toxins and restore energy. A good healthy routine that includes exercise, eating well, and keeping hydrated enables our body to regulate blood pressure, reduce the incidence of diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases. Research also indicates that sleep contributes to regulating our emotions and our immune system. So, when sleep is altered our immune system is suppressed leaving us more vulnerable to illnesses (Macciochi, 2020).
So what to do to improve sleep?
Create a regular pattern of sleep
Going to bed, and getting up at the same time every night of the week (including weekends) will restore our internal body clock and it is the best way to train our body to know when it is time to sleep.
We cannot catch up with lost sleep. If you have had several nights of poor sleep do not nap during the day as this will reduce sleep pressure, part of the sleep cycle that helps us to get to sleep.
Create a sleep routine
Our body responds to cues in the environment, so creating a nighttime routine will aid getting to sleep sooner. Dim the lights at least an hour before bedtime. Get into your pijamas and maybe read a book or listen to calming music.
Make sure that all electronic devices are turned off and out of the room about an hour before bedtime. Some research indicates that the blue light from the devices may prevent the production of melatonin which is necessary for sleep. Also, the notifications and tendency to keep watching the screens can be a distraction that can delay us getting to sleep.
Include relaxation in your sleep routine
If we are tense it is less likely that we will fall asleep. Instead of trying to control the time you get to sleep, focus on resting and relaxing. As your body becomes less tense, sleep will be more likely.
You may be familiar with mindfulness, the practise of focusing on the present moment and letting thoughts go by.
As part of your routine, practise mindful breathing. This is a technique were the focus is on our breath. Slow, deep breaths, and paying attention to the present moment is an effective way to release stress and trigger the body’s natural calming response.
In fact, practising taking a few deep breaths, inhaling and exhaling slowly throughout the day, can contribute to reducing tension.
Some people feel that as they are tired due to lack of sleep, they take more coffee to keep alert during the day. However, coffee is a stimulant that keeps us alert long after the time of drinking it and it can prevent sleep. It is recommended to stop taking coffee after 2pm.
Also, some people tend to drink some alcohol as a way to get to sleep. Although alcohol can make people feel sleepy, it prevents deep sleep, it dehydrates and it is likely to have interrupted sleep during the night.
We know that exercise is good for our health, to keep us strong and to maintain our cardiovascular system working well. Exercising regularly also had the benefit of promoting deep sleep, when the body repairs and restores energy.
Make the most of your exercise by going outdoors. Walking in nature, and enjoying the natural environment contributes to relaxation and a sense of wellbeing.
Exposure to daylight, and absorb sunshine for at least 15 minutes will help to regulate the production of melatonin (sleep hormone). Our body clock works on a 24-hour cycle, and for it to work well we need the changes in light of night and day.
Experiment with some of these techniques, and Identify what works for you.
Macciochi, J. (2020) Immunity. The science of staying well. London: Thorsons.
Walker, M. (2017) Why we sleep. The new science of sleep and dreams. London: Penguin Books