7 Tips to Improve Sleep Quality

Good quality sleep affects your mental and physical health as well as your daily activities. Not sleeping well can have a serious toll on your productivity, energy,  emotional state, and even your weight. Many of us toss and turn at night, struggling to get the sleep we need or postpone and reduce the amount of sleep we get because of commitments. Making simple but important changes to your daytime routine and bedtime habits can have a profound impact on how well you sleep, leaving you feeling mentally sharp, emotionally balanced, and full of energy all day long.  So you may be asking:

How can I get a good night's sleep?

Getting a good night’s sleep may seem like an impossible goal especially with today's demands, but you can have much more control over your quality of sleep than you may realize. The way you feel during the day or when you're awake often hinges on how well you sleep. So the cure for sleep difficulties can often be found in your daily routine.

Unhealthy habits and lifestyle choices can adversely affect your mood, brain and heart health, immune system, creativity, vitality, and weight. By experimenting with the following tips, you can enjoy better sleep at night, improve your mental and physical health, and improve how you think and feel during the day.

1. Keep in sync with your body's natural sleep cycle

If you keep a regular sleep-wake schedule, you’ll feel much more refreshed and energized. Small changes to your schedule, even sleeping the same number of hours at different times, can affect the quality of your sleep. So, as much as possible try to go to bed the same time each day. This helps set your body’s internal clock and optimize the quality of your sleep. Choose a bed time when you normally feel tired, so that you don’t toss and turn. You should wake up naturally and feeling well rested without an alarm, if you’re getting enough sleep.Otherwise, you may need an earlier bedtime.

Avoid sleeping in—even on weekends. The more your weekend/weekday sleep schedules differ, the worse the jetlag-like symptoms you’ll experience. If you need to make up for a late night, opt for a daytime nap rather than sleeping in. This allows you to pay off your sleep debt without disturbing your natural sleep-wake rhythm. But, be smart about napping. While napping is a good way to make up for lost sleep, if you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at night, napping can make things worse. Limit naps to 15 to 20 minutes in the early afternoon.

Fight after-dinner drowsiness. If you get sleepy way before your bedtime, get off the couch and do something mildly stimulating, such as washing the dishes, calling a friend, or getting clothes ready for the next day. If you give in to the drowsiness, you may wake up later in the night and have trouble getting back to sleep.

 

2. Control your exposure to light

Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone controlled by light exposure and helps to regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Your brain secretes more melatonin when it’s dark—making you sleepy—and less when it’s light—making you more alert. Many aspects of modern life can alter your body’s production of melatonin and shift your circadian rhythm. To influence your exposure to light:

During the day, expose yourself to as much light as possible. As soon as possible after you wake up, get light on your face. You can have coffee or breakfast outside, or even walk your dog. During the winter months with less daylight hours use a light therapy box if necessary, to simulate sunshine. Let as much natural light into your home or workspace and take work breaks outside in the sunlight.  Even incorporating exercise routines outside can also help.

At night avoid bright screens within 1-2 hours of your bedtime as the blue light emitted by your phone, tablet, computer, or TV is disruptive to melatonin production. You can minimize the impact by using devices with smaller screens, turning the brightness down, or using light-altering software such as f.lux. Many TV programs are also stimulating rather than relaxing. Try listening to music or audio books instead. Tablets and phones that are backlit are more disruptive than e-readers that don’t have their own light source.

When it’s time to sleep, make sure the room is as dark as possible. Use heavy curtains or shades to block light from windows, or try a sleep mask. Also consider covering up electronics that emit light. Keep the lights down if you get up during the night. Install dim nightlight in the hall or bathroom or using a small flashlight. This will make it easier for you to fall back to sleep.

 

3. Exercise during the day

People who exercise regularly sleep better at night and feel less sleepy during the day. Regular exercise also improves the symptoms of insomnia and sleep apnea and increases the amount of time you spend in the deep, restorative stages of sleep. The more vigorously you exercise, the more powerful the sleep benefits. But even light exercise—such as walking for just 10 minutes a day—improves sleep quality. It can take several months of regular activity before you experience the full sleep-promoting effects. So be patient and focus on building an exercise routine that sticks.

For better sleep, time your exercise right. Exercise speeds up your metabolism, elevates body temperature, and stimulates hormones such as cortisol. This isn’t a problem if you’re exercising in the morning or afternoon, but too close to bed and it can interfere with sleep.

Try to finish moderate to vigorous workouts at least three hours before bedtime. If you’re still experiencing sleep difficulties, move your workouts even earlier. Relaxing, low-impact exercises such as yoga or gentle stretching in the evening can help promote sleep.

 

4. Control what you eat and drink

Eating lots of sugar and refined carbs such as white bread, white rice, and pasta during the day can trigger wakefulness at night and pull you out of the deep, restorative stages of sleep. Try to make dinnertime earlier in the evening, and avoid heavy, rich foods within two hours of bed. Spicy or acidic foods can cause stomach trouble and heartburn. While a nightcap after a meal may help you relax, it interferes with your sleep cycle once you’re out. Also, drinking lots of fluids may result in frequent bathroom trips throughout the night.

You might also be surprised to know that caffeine can cause sleep problems up to 10 to 12 hours after drinking it! Similarly, smoking is another stimulant that can disrupt your sleep, especially if you smoke close to bedtime.

 

5. Quiet down and clear your head

Do you find yourself unable to sleep or waking up night after night? Residual stress, worry, and anger from your day can make it very difficult to sleep well. The more overstimulated your brain becomes during the day, the harder it can be slow down and unwind at night. During the day, many of us over-stress our brains by constantly interrupting tasks to check our phones, emails, or social media. Try to set aside specific times for these things, and focus on one task at a time. When it comes to getting to sleep at night, your brain won’t be accustomed to seeking fresh stimulation and you’ll be better able to unwind.

If anxiety or chronic worrying dominates your thoughts at night, learning how to manage your time effectively, handle stress in a productive way, and maintain a calm, positive outlook, will help you sleep better at night. Even counting sheep can help.  Many people are now using other non-drug methods such as weighted blankets with their many benefits to help reduce the their symptoms of stress and anxiety and improve sleep.

 

6. Improve your sleep environment

Keeping a tranquil bedtime routine sends signals to your brain that it’s time to calm down and let go of the day’s stresses. Sometimes even small changes to your environment can make a big difference to your quality of sleep. Keep your room dark, cool, and quiet:

Keep noise down by masking it with a fan or sound machine. Earplugs may also help if you cant eliminate noise from traffic or neighbours for example. Most people sleep best in a slightly cool room (around 65° F or 18° C) with adequate ventilation. A bedroom that is too hot or too cold can interfere with quality sleep.

Your bed covers should leave you enough room to stretch and turn comfortably without becoming tangled. Experiment with different levels of mattress firmness, foam toppers, and pillows that provide more or less support if you often wake up with aches and pains. And finally, by not working, watching TV, or using your computer in bed, your brain will associate the bedroom with just sleep and sex, which makes it easier to wind down at night.

 

7. Try different methods to get back to sleep

It’s normal to wake briefly during the night but if you’re having trouble falling back asleep, stay out of your head and make relaxation your goal whenever this happens. Stressing over your inability to fall back asleep encourages your body to stay awake. Instead, try practicing breathing exercises, visualization, progressive muscle relaxation, or meditation, which can be done without even getting out of bed. Even though it’s not a replacement for sleep, relaxation can still help rejuvenate your body.

 

If you wake during the night feeling anxious about something, make a note of it on paper and try to avoid worrying about it until the next day when it will be easier to resolve. Similarly, if a great idea is keeping you awake, make a note of it on paper and fall back to sleep knowing you’ll be much more productive after a good night’s rest. If you’ve been awake for more than 15 minutes, get out of bed and do a quiet, non-stimulating activity, such as reading a book. Keep the lights dim and avoid screens so that you don't cue your body that it’s time to wake up.

 

As you can see, small changes can have a big impact on the quality of your sleep.  Try a couple of these ideas and see what happens.  Remember, give it a chance, it has to be come routine before you can see the impacts on your sleep.  And, don't give up. Over time it will get better.

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