Simple tips to improve your sleep


A good night's sleep should look like no more than 30 minutes latency, 7-9 hours sleep and waking refreshed. If this isn't you then this article may help.  People often overlook the importance of sleep hygiene.   Sleep hygiene is a set of daily behaviours and principles designed to promote and enhance sleep when integrated into daily routine. 

Sleep is needed for the brain to function properly and for the body to restore itself.  Sleep deprivation is associated with chronic health problems such as depression, hypertension, obesity, diabetes mellitus and as well as affecting the way you think, learn, work, react, and interact with others. That weight you're struggling to shift, those people you keep snapping at, that lack of motivation, that feeling of needing to eat chocolate with a triple shot latte at 3pm- maybe you're just not getting enough sleep.  

I've personally experienced times in my life where I was only getting about 2-3 hours sleep and was still wondering why I felt absolutely terrible and had no energy. It never occurred to me that there were simple changes i could make in my daily routine which would have a phenominal impact of my night's slumber. 

Sleep–Wake Regulation

Establishing a regular bedtime and waking time is essential. If you can get into the habit of using an alarm clock instead of your phone to minimise screen time before bed.  Avoid oversleeping and napping- if a nap is necessary aim for a  10–15 minutes “power nap”.   Avoid exposure to bright lights in the evening/late at night and expose yourself to bright light after rising. Try having your breakfast in the sunshine and ditch the screens before bed because the blue backing light sends the same signal to our brains as seeing the sun in the morning and tells us it's time to wake up.

Bedroom Influences

Your bedroom needs to be a comfortable and safe space to sleep- ensure it's dark, quiet and the temperature is comfortable for sleeping.  Make sure your mattress and pillow are comfortable.  If you can't fall asleep within 30 minutes, get up and do something boring like sitting in silence or reading the phone book (still minimising light and mental activity)- avoid laying in bed worrying about sleep.  Reserve your bed for sleep and sex, time spent in bed doing other tasks diminishes the association between bed and sleep- know bed-desk is tempting but don't do it.  It's a good idea to remove laptop, television, stereo, mobile phone and internet access from bedroom and switch off power points.  Also avoid having pets in the bedroom.  Your cat might be cute and cuddly, but I bet she scratches at the door and headbutts your face at 5am (I know mine does).

Lifestyle Influences

It's recommended to avoid energetic physical activity within three hours of bedtime.  Leave the gym session or HIIT for earlier on and stick to a gentle yoga session or slow walk. By the same token, avoid mentally stimulating activity and stressful or alerting ruminations within two hours of bedtime- address these earlier in the evening. Avoid illicit drug use.

Dietary Influences

It's best to avoid heavy, spicey or pungent meals within three hours of bedtime.  Light snack low-GI snack with a protein component or warm drink such as herbal tea before bed can help you fall asleep.

You should eliminate stimulants such as soft drinks, sugar, and nicotine throughout the day, and especially before bed, these will make it harder to fall asleep and shorten sleep duration.  Caffeine of course is a big influencer on our sleep, it should be avoided after midday as it will make it difficult to fall asleep and make you sleep more lightly. Consumption of caffeine should be limited to 200mg, the equivalent of 1-2 cups of brewed coffee, 2-3 espressos, 3-4 black or green teas, one energy drink, one NoDoz or 330g of chocolate.  

Alcohol is another big one, avoid it within 4 hours of bedtime.  Sleep after drinking alcohol is associated with light sleep, frequent awakenings, night sweats, headaches and nightmares. Note: Binge drinking effects melatonin levels for up to 1 week.  An unmanaged food allergy or intolerance may cause an adrenaline reaction and interfere with sleep.

Dietary recommendation

Consume a variety of B-complex vitamins (e.g., meat, leafy greens), vitamin C (e.g., vegetables and fruit), magnesium (e.g., leafy greens, beans), and protein (e.g., beans, lean meat, nuts) that contribute to the synthesis of tryptophan and are depleted during with stress and sleep deprivation. Tryptophan is a precursor to melatonin, a hormone that aids in falling asleep and regulates sleep patterns.