How to get a good nights sleep
On average, most adults need around 7-8 hours of sleep per night, but as we get older, our sleep patterns change and we tend to get less and less.
Making simple changes and following these tips could have a huge impact on the quality of your sleep.
1. Try to keep a regular sleeping schedule
Wherever possible, aim to go to bed and get up at the same time every day (even on your weekends or days off). The consistency will help to programme your internal body clock and get it used to a routine.
An irregular schedule can cause drowsiness and mood swings, as well as concentration and memory problems. There is also evidence to suggest that those who had a disjointed sleeping pattern were more susceptible to weight gain.
If you are constantly changing the time you go to bed and wake up, your body is unable to adjust to a set schedule.
2. Establish a relaxing sleeping routine
Take some time out to wind down before you go to bed. Activities, like reading or taking a warm bath, can help you separate your sleep-time from what’s been going on in your everyday life.
It may also be worth writing a “to do” list for the following day so you can organise your thoughts and clear your mind about any stress or anxiety you may be feeling about the next day.
3. Optimise your sleeping environment
Ensure your bedroom is the perfect place to get a good night’s kip! Firstly, make sure your room isn’t too hot or too cold – you should aim for it to be between 18-21 degrees Celsius. The room should be free from any noise that can disturb your sleep – if this is not possible consider purchasing some earplugs to block out any potentially disruptive sounds. Finally, your room should also be free from light – blackout curtains or eye masks may be able to help if your room is too light.
According to the Sleep Council, you should be getting yourself a new mattress every seven years. That means you’ll be spending around 20,000 hours lying on it – so it’s well worth making sure you buy one that suits you. Research indicates that sleeping in a bad bed is the equivalent of getting an hour’s less sleep every night.
4. Minimise stress and worry before sleep
Feeling worried or stressed can often be a key reason for getting a bad night’s sleep. Relaxation techniques such as meditation can also help you feel calm before you settle down for the night.
Relaxation music is also a great way to minimise stress before bed and there are also a number of apps designed to help with sleep, however it is important to consider that it is recommended that use of smartphones and tablets is minimised an hour before bed as the screen light can have a negative effect on your sleep.
5. No napping – only sleep!
If you are having trouble sleeping at night, you could be tempted to catch up with naps when you get home from work or on an evening. However, unless you are feeling dangerously tired, such as when driving, naps are best avoided as it can actually make it more difficult to sleep at night.
If you feel like you are getting tired during the day, stand up and take a walk, get some fresh air or do something that will challenge your brain for a while, such as a crossword or word search.
6. Avoid stimulants like alcohol or nicotine before sleeping
The effects of stimulants can take hours to wear off and can have a big impact on how quickly you fall to sleep and the quality of it when you do.
Alcohol may make you feel drowsy, but it can disrupt you later in the night and won’t allow you to fall into the deep sleep that you need.
Nicotine causes your heart rate and alertness to increase meaning that you feel more awake before you go to sleep. Nicotine enters the bloodstream within a few minutes but after a few hours it will begin to leave your body and due to its addictiveness, your brain will wake you up for more nicotine causing a more disruptive night.
7. Avoid eating big meals or sugary snacks before bed
If you have a big meal right before you go to bed it can take your body a while to digest it, meaning it may be difficult to get to sleep. A general rule to follow is to finish eating at least 2-3 hours before you intend to go to bed, particularly if you are eating heavy or sugary foods which may keep you awake longer.
Worst foods for sleep
Chocolate - has a high caffeine content, which during the latter stages of sleep can cause rapid eye movement to occur more frequently - leading to the grogginess you may feel in the morning.
Other high caffeine drinks such as tea, coffee and energy drinks should be avoided four to six hours before bed.
Cheese - Strong or aged cheese contains a high level of the amino acid, tyramine. This causes our bodies to release the "fight or flight" hormone which increases alertness for a number of hours.
As well as cheese, preserved meats like bacon, ham and pepperoni contain this amino acid which will affect your normal routine.
Curry - spicy foods like curries, hot sauces and mustard contain high levels of capsaicin which causes your body to elevate its normal temperature, interfering with the thermoregulation process which disrupts sleep.
Ice Cream - large quantities of sugar lead to a negative impact on our health, with obesity being a much-publicised risk factor. However, large amounts of sugar can also affect you.
Foods with high sugar content such as ice-cream, fizzy drinks and sweets, lead to blood sugar levels spiking at first, then during sleep, they crash which makes your body believe there is an emergency and wakes your body up from slumber.
Crisps - containing lots of salt, crisps and salted nuts dehydrate the body and increases water retention causing tiredness and fatigue. Research at the European Society of Endocrinology found that salty foods were some of the worst foods to eat before bed as they contributed to disrupted or “superficial” sleep. Experts recommend staying away from salty foods 2-3 hours before bed to increase the chance of a good night’s sleep.
Best foods for sleep
There are many foods that you can bring into your diet to actually help you sleep.
Cherries – well known for being one of the best foods for sleep as they naturally contain melatonin, the chemical that controls the body’s internal clock to regulate sleep. Research suggests that eating cherries or drinking cherry juice an hour before bedtime results in a better night’s rest.
Honey – raw honey stimulates melatonin and shuts off orexin in the body, the chemical that makes us feel sharp and alert. A mug of hot water, lemon and honey is a great evening drink for soothing the body and relaxation before bed.
Bananas – Bananas contain magnesium and potassium which are natural muscle relaxants – this, along with the fact they contain carbohydrates helps promote sleep.
Bananas are an excellent food swap to ensure you keep your blood pressure down – find out some of our best recipes for keeping blood pressure down.
Turkey – as well as been a great source of protein, turkey is great for encouraging sleepiness. It is high in tryptophan, an amino acid that calms the body, balances your hormones which helps to induce sleep.
Almonds – like bananas, almonds contain a high amount of magnesium that helps to relax the body. Magnesium is also great for regulating our blood sugar as we sleep which means the body naturally switches from its adrenaline cycle to what is known as the “rest and digest” cycle.
8. Exercising regularly helps you sleep
As well as making you feel great and giving your mental health a boost, regular exercise can help improve your sleep quality as physical activity increases your time spent in the deep sleep phase.
Research also suggests that those suffering with insomnia saw their symptoms reduce with regular exercise. The benefits tend to kick in overtime as opposed to immediately, so it is worth sticking at it if you see no instant change in your night’s sleep.
Try not to exercise too close to bedtime though, the burst of energy you get through working out may keep you wide awake. Try to finish at least 3 hours before you go to bed.