Getting a decent night’s sleep can be tough.
Often, we feel as if there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done, and end up on our laptops or phones in bed at 2am until we fall asleep – just to get rudely awoken by the alarm a few hours later.
New research from the Global Council on Brain Health has revealed that sleeping well becomes harder as we age, due to our sleep patterns changing.
As a result, people become more vulnerable to waking up in the night and earlier in the morning.
So here are a few tips to making sure you are getting the best sleep you can.
1. Give yourself a bedtime.
Pick a time at night when you typically start feeling tired and go to sleep every night at that time—even on the weekends. Sticking to a daily sleep routine keeps your biological clock in order so that you’ll sleep more soundly. If you do have to change your sleep pattern, do so in small increments, like going to bed earlier or staying up later by 15 minutes.
2. Move, move, move.
Did you know regular exercise relieves insomnia? People who got aerobic exercise four times a week improved their quality of sleep—and they were less tired during the day, reported less depressive symptoms and had more vitality. Keep in mind that while exercise can help you sleep better, you shouldn’t squeeze your workout into the hours before bedtime. Strenuous activity two or three hours before bed can raise the temperature of your body, which makes it harder for you to fall asleep.
Make time for a nightly “unwinding” ritual—like reading a book, taking a warm shower bath, preparing for the next day, listening to soothing music. Activities like these will help ease the transition between wakefulness and drowsiness, making you feel more relaxed. But be careful not to overdo it with the electronic gadgets—lights from these devices stimulate the brain, which makes it harder to unwind.
4. Smoke and drink no more.
Smokers are four times less likely to feel well rested after a night's sleep than nonsmokers. Why? Because of the stimulating effect of nicotine, as well as withdrawal pangs during the night. The bad habit can also lead to asthma and sleep apnea. So add “quit smoking” to your to-do list.And while you’re at it, you should consider giving up that nightcap, too. While alcohol might help you fall asleep initially, studies have found that it reduces REM sleep and can even suppress breathing.
5. Build a cave.
Your bedroom should be cool, dark and quiet if you want to get a solid night of sleeping. The temperature should be set around 18-18.5 degrees celsius—if room is too hot, it can interfere with your body’s natural dip in temperature throughout the night, disrupting your sleep. You also should make sure there is as little background noise and light as possible—turn off the TV, use low-wattage bulbs in your bedroom, and invest in blackout curtains to keep the room dark.
6. Nap—the right way.
Naps help restore alertness, increase productivity and can be used as a sort of mini-vacation, an escape from reality—which is why organizations like Google and The Huffington Post have places for employees to sleep on the job. While naps are nice in more ways than one, you should try to limit yours to 10-30 minutes per day, preferably in the mid-afternoon—if you nap for too long, you will throw off your sleep pattern.
7. Say no to supersizing.
Stay away from consuming large meals—especially ones that are acidic and spicy—before you hit the hay. Otherwise you’ll struggle to fall asleep because of digestion and heartburn. If you must satisfy your grumbling tummy, choose a snack that combines carbohydrates and calcium or a protein and the amino acid tryptophan to boost serotonin levels. Try a banana with a teaspoon of peanut butter, fruit with low-fat yogurt, or a piece of grain toast with low-fat cheese or turkey.
8. Make it a rule: Your bedroom is for sleeping only.
Your bedroom is where you sleep. It’s not where you watch TV, work or eat. By removing life’s distractions and dedicating the space to slumber, you’ll sleep more peacefully. Put your phone on charge downstairs and get yourself a real alarm clock.
9. Stress less.
When we’re worried, our sleep suffers. Manage your stress by meditating and relaxing before you get in bed. Write down your concerns, delegate tasks and create to-do-lists for the next day so that you can free your mind.
11. Strike a (healthy) pose.
What’s your go-to sleep position—back, side, stomach? Sleeping on your back should be your No. 1 choice because it prevents neck and back pain and reduces acid reflux. If you’re a back-sleeper, though, be sure that you have a puffy pillow so that your head and neck are properly supported. What about side-sleeping? That’s also good for overall health, but you’ll need a thick pillow to fill the space above your shoulder. And stomach sleeping is the worst because it prevents neutral spine position and puts pressure on your joints and muscles—so if you can’t help but sleep facedown, at least get a thin or no pillow at all.