The perfect night’s sleep, for something so natural and necessary, can sometimes seem fairly elusive. We know it’s a non-negotiable for a healthy body and brain, yet our last 2018 Sleep Census revealed that 1 in 5 Australians are getting less than 8 hours sleep at night.
In light of that, let’s look at some ways (set out in no particular order) to help set the stage for a good night’s rest.
1. Ditch the devices
Blue light is emitted from electrical devices such as your smartphone, computer, TV or tablet. This light can disrupt our melatonin levels, which is a hormone that helps our internal biological clock regulate our sleep cycle. If this gets disrupted, our bodies are unable to tell when it’s morning or night, or when we should be asleep.
In addition, the mental stimulation can be quite disruptive. Scrolling, engaging with social media or reading emails engages your mind. Many people will find it harder to fall asleep or rest peacefully.
2. Create a pre-sleep routine
Give yourself a buffer between wakefulness and sleep. A warm bath or shower, meditation or calming breathing techniques are good ways to start winding down. You may also choose to engage in aromatherapy, light reading or music.
3. Ensure you have a good quality mattress and pillows
If your mattress is old or not right for your needs, you may find your sleep is more disrupted than it should be. Make sure your mattress and pillow are correct for your sleeping position and offer the right amount of support. Our mattress selector tool can get you started on figuring out which options are better suited to you and your lifestyle.
4. Make exercise part of your daily routine
Not only does exercise release endorphins (chemicals that help relieve us of stress or pain), research has shown it can help strengthen our circadian rhythms. This means it helps us stay alert during the day and feel sleepier as night approaches. By incorporating exercise into your daily schedule, you can boost your mood and your sleep quality. It is recommended to exercise in the morning rather than at night, so that you are not waking yourself up close to bedtime.
5. Create a dark, cool and quiet environment
An optimal sleeping environment should be a cool temperature (roughly 15—20 degrees Celsius) and quiet. Here are some tips on how to keep cool in bed. If your room feels too bright, invest in some block-out curtains or an eye mask.
We can generally control light and temperature, but noise can come from external sources that we have no control over. If your room is often disturbed by inconsistent outside noise, you may want to consider a sound machine or ear plugs.
6. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and stimulants before bed
While you may think a drink before bed helps you to feel drowsy, alcohol actually disturbs our normal sleep rhythms and may disrupt restorative sleep.
One option is to switch to water a few hours before bedtime so you’re hydrated and naturally drowsy. When it comes to caffeine, try to limit your intake to the early afternoon at the latest. If you indulge later in the day, you are more likely to disturb your sleep.
7. Avoid eating heavy meals just before bed
You want to give your body time to digest your food, so try not to eat anything too heavy or rich too close to bedtime. It is also advisable to avoid spicy foods close to bedtime, as this can cause heartburn.
8. Keep a regular bedtime
If your sleep times are irregular, your body doesn’t know when to lay the foundations for sleep. Pre-sleep rituals can help you get started, relaxing your body and encouraging drowsiness. If you know what time you want to be asleep by, start preparing your body for it, rather than just getting into bed and willing yourself to sleep.
9. Don't stress about not being able to sleep
If you find yourself staring at the ceiling, don’t fight it. Just take yourself to another room (if you can) and do something relaxing.
You can also try this quick meditation while lying down: tense your feet (curl your toes, flex your feet) while silently, slowly counting to three then relax for a count of three. Next, tense both your feet and your legs below your knees (calves and shins as well as your feet), again counting to three then relaxing for a count of three. Continue upwards, tensing more of your body each time until you have reached your head, then relax again. Sometimes, just focusing intensely in the moment can help ease anxiety and nudge your mind and body into a ready-to-relax state.
If you suspect that your sleep problems are of a medical nature, check in with your GP or specialist.