Sleep Series, part two: 5 Tips for Better Sleep

5 Tips for Better Sleep

Last time, we examined the links between sleep deprivation and anxiety. Looking at the science gives us an understanding of why we can sometimes suffer in the ways we do, but it’s only useful if we have an idea of what action we can take right now to make positive changes in this department. In this post, I highlight a few key areas that, when addressed, can help us make improvements our sleep and, by extension, our mood.

For some, simply looking at the patterns and behaviours surrounding sleep (sometimes referred to as “sleep hygiene”) may provide clues as to where to begin getting back on track. By considering the effects that various environmental factors may play in getting a good night’s rest, we can start to make small changes to optimise our chances of nailing those eight hours of shuteye. This in turn improves our odds of successfully combating common problems, such as low mood and anxiety, as well as PTSD and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Let’s look at some of these in a little detail. Here are 5 tips for better sleep:

  1. Restrict caffeine intake 6 hours before bed: Most people are aware of the impact that caffeine has upon sleep, but what many don’t realise is the extent to which caffeine can affect our bodies long after we’ve drained our last cup of coffee. Caffeine can remain in the body for over 6 hours, affecting your sleep cycle, and therefore diminishing the quality of your sleep. So, try limiting caffeine intake to 3-4 cups a day, and ensuring a cut-off time around midday.
  2. Reduce alcohol intake before bed: A glass of wine of beer in the evening may be among the nation’s favourite ways wind-down in the evenings, but excessive intake of alcoholic beverages plays havoc with our sleep patterns. It does this by reducing the quality of REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement sleep), which plays a vital role in regulating our emotions.
  3. Exercise: One of the single-most important factors in regulating and improving sleep is exercise. Even just a 30-minute walk significantly improves the quality of our sleep. Be advised, however, that exercise is best avoided 2-3 hours before it’s time to go to bed. Which leads me on to my next point…
  4. Wind down rituals: A relaxing wind down ritual, such as reading, listening to relaxing music, or taking a hot bath, prepares the body and mind for sleep. Building such bedtime rituals is a good way of avoiding getting over-stimulated and stressed before sleep.
  5. Switch off: Are you the type of person who takes your phone, tablet, or laptop to bed? Studies have shown that the type of light, known as “blue light”, emitted from the screens of electronic devices can prevent us from getting to sleep. It does this by sending messages to the brain signalling that it’s still light, which in turn supresses melatonin and delays sleep times.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it does point out a few of the major factors that negatively affect the quality and quantity of sleep. Which of these resonates with you most? Can you see some scope for improvements? Leave a comment below if you’d like to join the discussion.

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