Do you get anywhere between 7–8 hours of sleep every night?
Probably not. A recent poll claimed that the average Briton gets only 6.8 hours of sleep per night, which is more than an hour less than the average 7.7 that we should be getting.
While we’ll all be familiar with the short term effects of a bad night’s sleep – grumpiness, drowsiness, lack of focus – in the long term sleep deprivation can actually cause significant damage. Some studies have suggested links between sleep deprivation and negative health effects like anxiety, obesity, cardiovascular disease, depression, Alzheimer’s, and some forms of cancer.
Just one bad night can actually leave you functioning at levels 90% worse than somebody who managed a full night of quality rest, so it’s hard to understate the importance of getting better sleep to help you perform at your highest levels throughout the whole day.
Good Habits for Better Sleep
When it comes to sleep, quality is just as important as quantity. These helpful tips should have you sleeping like a baby soon enough.
1. Control Your Exposure to Artificial Light
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that works to regulate your sleep cycle. Past studies have concluded that there is a direct link between our exposure to screen light, say from a mobile phone or eBook reader, and a reduction in sleep-inducing melatonin production.
Ideally, you would avoid exposure to bright screens for 2 hours before your usual bedtime. Personally, I have found that the Twilight app, which filters blue light from your screen, helps when using eBook readers and smartphones late in the evening.
Avoiding television late at night and keeping your room as dark as possible overnight will also help you towards better sleep.
2. Listen to Your Body’s Natural Rhythms
Going to sleep and getting up at the same time every day of the week will do wonders for improving your sleeping habits over time. Your body will learn when it should expect sleep and you will start to feel tired. This goes for the weekends, too. Avoid oversleeping on Saturday and Sunday mornings if you want to get better sleep during the week.
3. Get Regular Exercise
Exercising regularly throughout the week has been shown to improve the symptoms of insomnia and increase the amount of time you spend in good-quality, restorative sleep. You don’t have to run a marathon, either. Even light exercise like a ten minute walk will help.
4. Monitor Your Diet
You’ll have heard this advice many times before, but if you struggle with sleeping at night you should really try to reduce your caffeine intake after lunchtime. Caffeine can actually influence your energy levels for 12 hours after you consume it.
Eating earlier in the evening and avoiding alcohol will help too. Sitting down to fatty meals late at night is almost certain to contribute to insomnia as your stomach works to digest the food, while alcohol will interfere with your sleep cycle as the body breaks it down.
5. Use Relaxation Techniques
If you’re laying there and counting sheep isn’t doing the trick, employing some old-fashioned relaxation techniques could help. Deep breathing exercises and visualising a peaceful place, for example.
Before you go to bed, taking the right steps to wind down can help you on the way to better sleep. Try a warm bath with some soft music, read a book or magazine or listen to an audiobook. Whatever you do, don’t lounge in front of the TV waiting for sleep to come.