Are you considering making changes to improve your sleep, but don't know where to start? Read on for 7 tips for a better night's sleep.
Keep a consistent sleep schedule
Keeping a regular bed-time and wake-up time and sticking to it 7 days a week (yes, even on weekends!) is the first step to good sleep. This helps our internal body clock to do its’ job in regulating our sleep.
Get exposure to morning bright light
The part of our brain that controls our internal body clock receives signals from our eyes to tell us whether it is daytime or night-time. Therefore, exposure to morning bright light (e.g., from the sun) helps to signal our brain to wake up and this can boost our alertness. Try sitting outside in the sun to eat your breakfast, or perhaps go for a morning walk - but avoid wearing dark sunglasses!
Make your bedroom environment comfortable
It might seem obvious, but we tend to sleep best in rooms that are dark, quiet, and not too hot or cold. Make sure that your bedding is appropriate for the room temperature, and be aware that your core body temperature decreases during the night so keep an extra blanket nearby in case you wake up feeling cold in the early hours of the morning.
Keep your bedroom only for sleep
People who sleep well tend to develop helpful associations between their bed, bedroom environment, and sleep. Over time, their brains learn that whenever they get ready for bed, lie down in bed, and turn out the lights, they then fall asleep. The more we do other things in bed (e.g., work, gaming, watching TV, talking on the phone or to a bed partner), the more our brains get confused and the associations between bed and sleep become weaker.
If you like to read in bed and you don’t have any trouble falling asleep, then there’s no reason to change this behaviour. However, if you find yourself doing lots of other things in bed, and you have trouble falling asleep, it might be worth thinking about how you can do things differently.
Consider technology use
Technology use is not universally bad for sleep. However, it is a good idea to avoid using technology in ways that may be cognitively stimulating (e.g., difficult mental work) or emotionally stimulating (e.g., scary or exciting movies or games) within about an hour of your usual bedtime. Interestingly, passive technology use (e.g., watching TV or listening to music) tends to have less negative effects on sleep than more interactive activities (e.g., electronic gaming).
If you are using technology a lot at bedtime, it may be important to consider whether you are delaying your bedtime because you get caught up on your devices, or whether you are using your devices late at night because you can’t fall asleep anyway - if it is the latter, then you might benefit from additional treatment for your sleep difficulties.
Consider consumption of common substances
Caffeine is a stimulant with a half-life of about 6 hours (i.e., half of the caffeine is still in your system 6 hours after consumption). People vary greatly in their sensitivity to caffeine, but the general advice is to avoid caffeine after mid-afternoon, and also be mindful of your overall caffeine intake throughout the day. Even one cup of strong coffee in the morning can be enough to cause negative effects on sleep for some people.
Alcohol tends to have a sedative effect and can therefore help some people to fall asleep more easily. However, alcohol causes negative effects on sleep in the second half of the night (in particular, with more vivid dreams/nightmares and more awakenings).
Avoid long daytime naps
Sometimes it feels lovely to lie down for a nap in the afternoon when circumstances permit. However, taking long naps during the day can influence how easily we fall asleep that night. If you are feeling really sleepy and need a nap, try to keep it brief (about 10 minutes). Research suggests that brief naps can increase alertness, without making us feel “groggy” afterwards, and without detrimental effects on night-time sleep.
A great first step to improving your sleep is consideration of these 7 potential contributing factors. However, if you do have long-term sleep difficulties or a diagnosed insomnia disorder, then taking these simple steps is unlikely to be sufficient to “cure” your sleep problem. If this is the case, talk to a psychologist who specialises in the assessment and treatment of sleep disorders. Cognitive-behaviour therapy for insomnia (CBT-i) has the greatest evidence base for the treatment of long-term sleep difficulties and can be tailored to your individual circumstances.
Neralie Cain is a Clinical Psychologist with 10 years experience in treating sleep disorders. To make an appointment for assessment of your sleep difficulties, please call Move for Better Health on 8373 5655.