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How to improve your sleep habits

Photo by Rawpixel on Envato

Written by Charlotte Wiseman

When was the last time you woke up feeling refreshed?

Scientists agree that we all need 7-9 hours of sleep and if we are getting less than that our stress response will be heightened, leading to lower mood, impaired thinking and decreased performance. It also leads to a shorter temper and reduced patience which can quickly impact our relationships at work and home.

Let’s be honest, we have all snapped at a friend, colleague or loved one, and this is often because we are tired.

On the flipside, getting enough sleep can improve our ability to focus, improve decisions-making, creativity and problem-solving. It boosts our immune system, enhances motivation and willpower so we are more likely to keep up other healthy habits. So, whether you struggle to get to sleep, wake up during the night, or just don’t get enough hours in bed, most of us could do with a more restful night sleep. Here are some tips to help you work towards that goal...

5 lifestyle habits

  1. Set a ‘tech curfew’ so that you stop using your phone or any screens (including the TV) at least 1-2 hours before bed. You may need to work up to this, starting with just 15 minutes, then 30 minutes and so on. A main reason we all struggle to sleep is that we use our phones until the last minute of the day. This can inhibit the production of melatonin which is essential to help us sleep.

  2. Get an alarm. It has been shown that even if our phone is off, on airplane or silent, if it is nearby then we are naturally distracted by it so try charging your phone out of the bedroom. It can also be helpful to remove other technology from the bedroom, such as televisions and tablets, and make your bedroom a little cooler than you would want during the day as this will help your sleep.

  3. Create a new evening routine which you follow every night, regardless of when you are going to bed. This ‘trains our brain’ to know that it is time to go to sleep. Good options are reading a book, having a bath or a 10-minute mindfulness practice. Less good options are watching emotional or dramatic television, replying to emails or doing intense exercise.

  4. Include exercise in your daily routine - just 10 minutes a day of light to moderate exercise has been shown to improve sleep. For optimal sleep you should aim for 30-40 minutes of exercise to be done first thing in the morning on 3-4 days a week – just another benefit of staying active.

  5. Avoid stressful calls or conversations in the evening where possible. If you tend to worry, writing down your to-do list or worries about two hours before bed can be helpful. I call this a ‘brain dump’. Include everything that is on your mind on this list even, if the things seem small as we want them out of your head so you can sleep properly. Then leave this outside the bedroom and start your evening routine.

5 diet tips

  1. Avoid spicy, fatty, large or heavy meals late at night.

  2. Avoid caffeine after 2pm.

  3. Stop drinking alcohol at least 3-4 hours before bed ensuring you drink plenty of water in the interim.

  4. Eat a mix of complex carbohydrates, protein and vegetables in your evening meal. Particularly good options include turkey, tuna, spinach, bananas, soups, valerian or chamomile tea.

  5. Trying to have a cooked evening meal, rather than a raw one, as these are easier to digest and can be less stimulating for the body. While sleeping, we refill our physical and psychological reserves, our memories process, injuries heal, cells are generated, our bodies and minds refuel.

A few small changes could make a big difference.

Which one step from the above could you try tonight to improve your sleep habits?

Focusing on just one (or maximum two) ideas from the above menu of ideas, rather than trying to do everything, will make it more likely you stick with your new habits. I encourage you to commit to just one or two actions for one week. Watch for the changes that you notice and know that it may take some time and practice to make these feel natural. If you keep these up for two weeks then you might want to add another, or you might want to just focus on continuing these.

Keep experimenting, see this as a journey, and know that even 10 more minutes of sleep a night more can make a big difference in the long run.


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