The evidence is clear – getting enough sleep is essential for good mental and physical health. A lack of sleep can cause mood disturbance, weight gain, increases in blood pressure, memory and concentration difficulties, and irritability. But worrying about sleep increases the chance of insomnia. So what are the keys to getting a good night’s sleep?
Let’s start with the obvious:
- Don’t drink coffee or caffeinated drinks after mid-afternoon
- Don’t drink too much alcohol
- Don’t go to bed on a full stomach
- Don’t exercise at night
Now let’s consider the not so obvious. All parents of young children know how important it is to establish a nightly routine. Babies, toddlers, and preschoolers are fed and bathed around the same time, before their teeth are brushed and books are read. When the routine is messed up, parents expect a bad night. Teenagers go through that stage of wanting to stay up late and sleep in til noon. But come adulthood, we need to return to the idea of establishing a nightly routine.
Our mind needs to be given the signal to wind down. We can do this by eating and bathing at around the same time each night, reading or watching TV or listening to music, before brushing our teeth and going to bed. But life would be very dull if all we did was eat, watch TV and then go to bed by 10pm every night. So when we have had a night out, or we have worked late, or have stayed up to watch something on TV, it’s important to go back to the routine. If you come home late, take an extra 30 mins to read, watch TV or listen to music before brushing your teeth and going to bed. If you are drinking a herbal tea most nights, have one every night. In other words, the timing is irrelevant, the routine is what’s important.
Surprisingly, the time you set your alarm to wake up is more significant than the time you go to bed. Anchoring your wake-up time ensures a better night’s sleep. By getting up every morning (7 days a week) at the same time, whether that’s 5am, 6am, or 7am etc, you establish a pattern that makes it easier for the mind and body to feel ready to sleep at night. If you get up at 6am some mornings for work, but sleep in til 7 or 8 after a late night during the week and then try to sleep in til 10 on the weekends, your ability to sleep well will be affected. That’s why shift work is so tough. Dozing on and off til 10-11am on the weekends will usually make you feel worse because most of the dozing time will be spent in REM or dream sleep which is not restful sleep. Far better to wake up and enjoy not having to rush off anywhere. Getting up to exercise or lying in bed having a cup of tea, reading the paper, or having sex are far better for your sleep routine than sleeping in.