Are you getting a good nights sleep? Your behaviors during the day, and especially before bedtime, can have a major impact on your sleep. They can promote healthy sleep or contribute to sleeplessness.Your daily routines – what you eat and drink, medications you take, exercise and how you choose to spend your evenings – can significantly impact your quality of sleep. Even a few slight adjustments can, in some cases, mean the difference between sound sleep and a restless night.
The importance of sleep is well documented and the consequences of poor sleep can lead to increase in stress, anxiety and anger. In addition it can affect memory, decision making skills, the ability to focus and also effect your hormone levels that can lead to increased appetite and weight gain. If your constantly having trouble sleeping or not getting a good quality nights sleep, it might be worth considering the following points:
Day time features
- Consistency. Whenever possible, maintain a regular bedtime and awakening time (7 days/week). Go to bed at a time early enough for you to get around 7 to 8 hours of sleep. Try to go to bed at a similar time each night. The body has an internal clock and hormones that control sleepiness and wakefulness. This clock works best if there is a regular sleep routine. When working well, you will feel sleepy at bedtime. Try not to ignore this by staying up, as this is a window of opportunity for sleep. Going to bed too early can also disturb your sleep.
- Try not to sleep during the day. This can dissipate your sleep drive and adenosine build-up. However, if you are taking naps without any problems, and they are short naps (around 30 minutes) then this will not be detrimental to your night-time sleep. On the other hand, naps in the evening, or dozing in front of the TV, can make it harder to get to sleep at night.
- Avoid alcohol. While some people take alcohol to ‘relax’ them in the evening, alcohol is packed with short acting sugars that the body breaks down over the next few hours, hitting you with a burst of energy and fragmenting sleep. It can also worsen sleep problems like snoring and sleep apnoea.
- Avoid caffeine after noon. People are influenced by caffeine in different ways, caffeine can also be found in cola and energy drinks not just coffee. However, for most it is a powerful stimulant and blocks the production of adenosine, which is critical to your sleep drive. Generally, a cup of coffee takes 30 minutes to kick in and only 50% has been broken down in 5 hours. Have a cuppa with dinner and the residual caffeine will most likely affect your ability to initiate sleep. Many people find that their sleep improves with less caffeine or only having caffeine earlier in the day.
- Avoid cigarettes. Some people smoke to relax via dopamine and endorphin release. However, nicotine promotes the release of adrenaline, which results in an increase heart rate, blood pressure, metabolic and breathing rates. Studies show that smokers have a higher rate of sleep disturbances than non-smokers.
- Avoid over the counter sleeping medication. It is best to take them on your doctor or pharmacist’s advice. Sleeping pills are designed for short term or intermittent use only, and always under the supervision of your medical doctor, they are only a short term fix.
- If pain is keeping you awake, see an allied health practitioner such as one of our chiropractors to investigate, address and treat the underlying cause. If necessary, take adequate pain medication prior to sleep after discussion with your health care practitioner or pharmacist.
- Physical activity is so important for sleep. Regular exercise positively effects length of sleep, sleep efficiency and how quickly you fall asleep. Strenuous exercise is best done a few hours before bedtime. Being out in the natural daylight during the day may also improve sleep at night. This will help with your body clock and the melatonin levels in the body.
- Eating a well balanced diet of fruit and vegies, whole grains and protein is important for serotonin production that assists sleep. Consume your last meal a few hours before bed as having a full stomach makes sleep difficult. Go easy on spicy food or any foods that may affect you. It is also important not to be hungry when you go to bed as restricting calories can also effect sleep. Some people find that having a small nutritious snack at bedtime helps them to sleep better. Drinking a warm milk of your choice before bed provides benefits of warmth (relaxation) and a balanced blend of protein and carbohydrates for body function while resting.
- Limit exposure to bright light (i.e white and blue light) because we want to maximise the build-up of melatonin, and levels increase as the natural light decreases. If you have been camping in the past and enjoyed sitting around a campfire, your melatonin levels will have been building up naturally and you probably recall sleeping much easier. Reason enough to go camping more often! However, in the modern home with light only a switch away, it requires strategies to limit the amount of bright light our eyes are subjected to. Stop computer work, use of tablets and smart phones at least 30- 60 minutes before your anticipated bed time. If necessary utilise candles or low wattage light globes around your living spaces before going to bed.
- A warm shower before going to sleep means in the short term that your peripheral tissues are warm and when you get into bed your body will cool down. The temperature of blood flowing in the periphery has been found to be more influential on sleep-wake activity than core temperatures. In addition to the relaxation of a warm shower, the relative cooling down is another circadian rhythm signal to the brain that sleep onset is imminent.
- Limit mental stimulation for 30- 60 minutes before going to bed (e.g action movies, work tasks on the computer).
- Adopt a night time routine that involves some form of relaxation. Although this will vary from person to person, some things that you may find relaxing include having a warm bath, yoga, meditation, reading quietly, listening to quite music or a warm milk drink.
- Restrict bedroom activity to sleep and intimacy, so no screens in bedrooms to avoid e-somnia. Stay out of bed during the day, some people use the bedroom as a living room, where they study, watch television, make phone calls and read books. This will make it harder to sleep. It is important to train the brain to link the bed with sleep.
- No pets and ideally no children in the bedroom at sleep time.
- Keep the bedroom cool, dark and quiet. The ideal room temperature for sleeping is considered to range from 16-18 C (60-65F). This allows the body’s core temperature and organs to cool and therefore slow their function. The temperature of the skin is modulated by external temperature (i.e room temperature and bed coverings) and internal variations in blood perfusion.
- Consider the use of a white noise screen (e.g. an overhead fan) to reduce annoying background noises.
- The bed must be comfortable. Avoid being too hot or too cold. The mattress, pillow and blankets should be comfortable and restful. There should be no distractions in the bedroom. This may mean removing the television, radio and hand-held devices such as phones and laptop computers. If there is a clock in the bedroom, it should be covered to avoid clock-watching.
- Reduce your fluid intake before bedtime, to avoid your bladder waking you.
- Sleep is not something that you can force to happen. If you are not asleep within 30 minutes get out of bed. Go to another darkened room and sit quietly or do a quiet activity. Do not have screen time (e.g., television, smartphone, computer) eat, drink or do household chores. When you feel tired and sleepy again go back to bed. This helps your mind link bed with sleep – not with being frustrated and not sleeping. Rest is good – it does not have to be sleep.
- Some people lie awake in bed at night and cannot switch off their thoughts. If this is a problem, set aside a ‘worry time’ during the evening. Use this time to think about what has been happening during the day, make plans and possible solutions. Consider writing down thoughts or tasks you want to complete, then don’t think about these things until the next day. Keep the hour before bed as your wind down time –to calm and “still”your thoughts. If other thoughts come in, consider them for a moment and then try to gently replace them with calm thoughts. If you still can‘t sleep despite your best attempts at relaxing and trying to calm your thoughts, go out of the bedroom as above and wait until you’re sleepy and tired and then try again.
Try to stick to a good sleep routine. Improved sleep will not happen as soon as changes are made. But if good sleep habits are maintained, sleep will certainly get better. It is not possible to do the same thing every day, but it should be most days. Different things work for different people. Find what works for you and stick with it. If pain is effecting your sleep then make an appointment with one of our practitioners to assess and treat the pain. If you try everything and your sleep still doesn’t get any better, then see your GP who may refer you to a sleep specialist.
For great resources and additional information take a look at the Sleep Health Foundation and their extensive list of resources.