Having Trouble Sleeping? — 5 Tips for Creating a Bedtime Ritual to Improve your Sleep
Most of us know the importance of a good night of sleep and the negative effects of sleep deprivation. It increases the risks of a myriad of disorders and diseases such as coronary heart diseases and diabetes. It affects long term memory and other cognitive functions. It impacts our mood, productivity and concentration during the day. It can cause major psychiatric conditions, including anxiety and depression — and the list goes on.
Despite the wide range of studies available on the benefits of regular sleep, most of us still can’t get enough of it. According to a 2017 survey, two thirds (67%) of UK adults suffer from disrupted sleep, and half (48%) admit they don’t get the right amount of sleep. If you often find yourself among this group — don’t worry. Creating an effective bedtime ritual could help you to get better sleep, and this article will teach you how. But first, we need to address the two of the most detrimental habits that might be impacting your sleep.
Caffeine & sleep problems
Caffeine is the number 1 stimulant in the world; over 2 billion cups of coffee are consumed daily. Caffeine works by blocking adenosine — the chemical responsible for promoting sleepiness — from binding to receptors, making us feel more awake. However, contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t boost our energy. It just masks the fact that we’re tired.
The masking effect can last a long time. Caffeine has a half-life of 5 to 7 hours, that means that it will take your body at least 5 hours to get rid of half of the caffeine. The remaining caffeine stays in your system for another 5 to 7 hours. So in total, it could take up to 14 hours to process the caffeine from one cup of coffee! Being alert for 14 hours might sound great, but when it’s time for bed, caffeine left in the body could stop us from falling asleep. Here’s an example:
Let’s say you have a regular cup of coffee at 4 pm. By 11 pm up to half of the caffeine could still be in your body, which might stop you from falling asleep. By 5 am, there’s a good chance that a quarter of the caffeine would remain in your system.
At 5 am, we should be in the deepest and most restorative stage of sleep. It helps us to process memories and information we acquired during the day, forms new ideas, makes new connections in the brain and so on. So if caffeine is still running through your body at that hour, it could have devastating effects on your recovery.
So, as a rule of thumb, avoid drinking coffee past lunchtime or 10 hours before your sleep time.
Blue light & sleep problems
Blue light is emitted from screens such as computer screens, smartphones and TVs. Exposure to this light at night can delay the release of sleep hormones like melatonin. Therefore, using electronic devices at night might disrupt the brain’s natural sleep-wake cycle.
Blue light can also upset our sleep because of its impact on the circadian rhythm.
The circadian rhythm works like an internal clock. It determines when we’re supposed to sleep and be awake by adjusting to external signals, such as darkness and daylight.
During the evening, blue light exposure tricks the brain into thinking that it’s day-time, consequently disrupting the natural sleep schedule. To prevent this, avoid looking at screens one to two hours before going to bed.
Now that we’ve discussed how these two common habits wreak havoc on our sleep, let’s look at some practices that have the opposite effect.
Sleep hygiene & 5 bedtime rituals
Developing good sleep hygiene (which refers to healthy sleep habits) can impact not only our sleep but also our mental and physical health. Moreover, our behaviours during the day, such as what we eat, what we drink (and don’t drink), how active we are and how much we work, all play a part in our sleep hygiene.
Here are 5 tips to improve your sleep hygiene for better sleep quality.
- Use your bed only for sleep (and sex)
Watching our new favourite TV show or a movie as a way to wind down or spending an hour scrolling through Instagram in bed can be quite tempting. However, if we stay in bed long hours before or after sleep, the brain might associate being in bed with being awake, making it harder for us to switch off.
Avoid watching TV, using any electronic devices or doing anything besides sleeping and having sex in bed will help you to train your brain to associate bed with sleep time.
2. Go to bed only when you’re tired
If you don’t feel tired, don’t go to bed just yet. You might take longer to fall asleep, which will likely cause you to feel frustrated. Even if it’s way past your bedtime, try doing something relaxing, like reading a book (not in bed, on the sofa!), meditating, listening to calming sounds (like mantras or binaural sounds), or anything that helps you wind down.
3. Sleep environment
Setting up a proper sleep environment will help your ability to stay asleep. Interruptions during the night like street lights, outside noises and room temperature should be taken into consideration.
For most people, a bedroom temperature between 15.6°C and 19.4°C (or 60°F and 67°F) is the optimal temperature for sleeping. And make sure you have a comfortable bed and pillows.
If you’re a light sleeper, you may benefit from earplugs. Also, using eye masks or having blackout curtains or blinds will block sunlight from coming in too early.
4. Exercise regularly
30 minutes of exercise per day can improve your sleep. If you can workout outside, that’s even better, since exposure to natural daylight improves your sleep cycle.
However, avoid aerobic or any intense training one to two hours before bedtime. Some good activities to do later in the day are yoga, tai chi and stretches.
5. Create a sleep schedule
Our brains love habits and repetitive actions. For instance, try to go to bed and wake up at the same time, because it’ll make it easier for you to fall asleep, and it might reduce daytime sleepiness throughout the day. If you create a sleep schedule and stick to it even on weekends, there’s a high chance that your sleep will improve.
Written by Camila Santiago
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