This blog starts off with a short book review on ‘Why We Sleep’ by Matthew Walker before moving onto my top 10 tips for improving sleep.
‘Why We Sleep’ is a critically acclaimed guide to the science behind our sleep and dreams.
Matthew walker delves deep into the neurological processes which occur during sleep and how our modern environment threatens to deprive us of this vital element of our lives which evolution has carved out and protected.
He discusses how sleep changes across our lifespan, sleep disorders and how harmful sleep deprivation is to health and both our physical and mental performance. He discusses elements of our society today which limits the quantity and quality of our sleep, from caffeine to blue-light emitting technology.
He ends with how he feels our society could progress to improve how we sleep.
He discusses in depth the scientific research on sleep. If you are someone who doesn’t enjoy or finds it challenging to read about experiments, this might not be the best read for you, or you might want to skim to the take home messages.
I found his last chapter on his vision for sleep in the 21st century rather optimistic. Revolutionising public policy, the educational system and our homes to focus around sleep would definitely improve our sleep and might be a great idea academically but optimistic practically.
This book does, however, highlight how vital sleep is. As such, here are some tips, some from the book and some I have been practising myself, which you can start doing from today to improve the quality and quantity of your sleep and help you to perform as the best possible version of yourself.
- Give yourself a 7-9 hour sleep opportunity window every night.
Everyone will have slightly different needs. Find out how much you need to feel refreshed and energised in the morning & let yourself get this much sleep every night.
- Enjoy your caffeine in the morning.
Caffeine is a stimulant and has a half-life of 6 hours. This means if you have a cup at 6pm, half of it will still be in your system at midnight. Would you drink half a cup of coffee just before you go to sleep? Leave at least 8 hours between your last caffeinated drink and your bed time.
- Avoid the nightcap.
Whilst you might think that an alcoholic drink in the evening helps you relax, it disrupts REM sleep, limiting you of its value and keeping you in a lighter sleep. Once the alcohol has worn off it often causes you to wake up, further disturbing your sleep.
- Keep your bedtime and wake up time similar every day, even in the weekends.
Keeping a sleep routine will help your body’s circadian rhythm. Having a long lie in during the weekends will hinder this, and make the alarm on Monday morning even more of a nuisance. Doing this will also keep you getting 7-9 hours of sleep on a nightly basis and avoid racking up a sleep debt you can’t repay.
- Keep your bedroom cool and dark.
Your body temperature has to drop slightly for you to drift off. Having a cooler bedroom helps with this. Being too hot makes it hard to go to sleep. About 17 degrees Celsius is spot on.
Getting black our curtains or blinds will stop any artificial or moon-light getting into your bedroom. Complete darkness will help melatonin secretion and drifting off to sleep.
- Keep heavy exercise for earlier in the day.
Exercising daily is a great way to improve sleep, but heavy exercise before bed can keep your core body temperature up and make it take longer for you to drift off. Also, getting out in some natural light in the morning and doing a bit of exercise outdoors can help your circadian rhythm and improve how well you go to sleep later. If you have trouble sleeping try increasing the amount of natural light you get in the mornings.
- Avoid blue light before bed.
The blue light emitted from your phone, computer and TV prevents melatonin (a hormone involved in signalling to your body it’s time for sleep) from being released. This can delay the onset of sleep dramatically.
Try and avoid technology for 90 minutes before bed. This is a big as, but start small and work up to it.
Another strategy and one I’ve been using for some time is blue-light blocking glasses. These filter out the blue wavelengths of lights and leave you looking into a room with a red hue!
I have an app called Twilight on my phone, and there’s a similar app called f:lux for iPhones. This filters the light emitted from your phone according to the sunset/sunrise, minimising the amount of blue light emitted from your phone in the evening.
Having a phone in the bedroom can also be distracting. Getting notifications can stimulate a stress response or get your mind racing, counterproductive for sleep. Try leaving technology out of the bedroom and using an old-fashioned alarm clock. If you do need to use your phone as an alarm clock put it on aeroplane mode so you don’t get notifications which can stop you going to sleep or keeping you from drifting off again if looking at your phone in the middle of the night
- On that note – keep clocks and phones face down.
If you’ve ever had trouble sleeping, you’ll know the stress that comes with watching the clock. Put the time out of sight so it’s not a stress whilst you try to go to sleep.
- If you’re having trouble sleeping get out of bed.
You don’t want to associate bed with feeling stressed. Get up, have a glass of hot milk or read a book, something to make you sleepy and when this comes, return to bed.
- Set an alarm for bedtime.
Most of us have an alarm in the morning, but few have an alarm that tells you it’s time to get ready for bed. Doing this can remind you not to procrastinate, keep working or let Netflix go onto the next programme. This will give you the nudge to prioritise your sleep.
These are my top 10 tips for sleep. If you try them I’d love to hear how you get on with them.