We spend almost a third of our time sleeping and without it, facing the day can be challenging and, well, exhausting.
And while we all know how to naturally have a snooze, getting a good night’s sleep can be difficult, especially when there are external stressors.
Here, we look at the 12 secrets, according to a poll of Australian sleep experts, on how to get a good night’s sleep.
1. Stick to a schedule
The golden rule for consistently getting a good night’s sleep is to maintain a sleep schedule, even on the weekends and when you’re on holidays.
Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day regulates your body’s clock, and helps you fall asleep easily and wake up feeling refreshed.
2. See the sun
Natural light exposure during the day promotes a healthy level and cycle of melatonin in our bodies, which helps us get to sleep at night.
Go for a morning or midday walk or take your lunch breaks out in the sun — every little bit of sunlight helps. Aim for 30 – 45 minutes of sunlight.
Try to leave your sunnies in your bag for some of the time, as the light hitting the receptors in your eyes is what schedules your body clock.
3. Exercise early
Exercising in the morning not only encourages you to keep to your sleep schedule and exposes you to early morning sunlight if you’re training outside, it also helps your body feel ready for bed at night time.
If you’re an afternoon trainer, make sure you finish up your workout at least 3 hours before bedtime to give your body enough time to wind down.
4. Wind down ritual
An hour or more before bedtime is when you should start to relax.
Turn down the lights, turn off your computer and TV and do some low-energy activities like reading (from a book or magazine) in soft light, listening to music or meditating. Find out what works for you and make it your bedtime ritual.
5. Create a sleep sanctuary
Your bed should be reserved for two things only: sleep and sex. Any other activity — reading, browsing the web on your phone or watching TV — should be done elsewhere.
Make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet, and as free of blue-light emitting technology as you can make it.
6. Keep it cool
Studies have shown that the majority of people sleep best in a room cooled to about 18C. You can amplify the feelings of sleepiness by having a hot shower or bath before bed, as the cool plunge from the bathroom to your bedroom will help you feel tired.
7. Watch what you eat (and drink)
Large meals before bed may help you feel sleepy as your body digests, but they ultimately cause poor sleep.
Try having your dinner early in the afternoon, and avoid meals that disagree with you, such as spicy, acidic or fatty food. The same goes with alcohol: while it may appear to help you go to sleep, it can drastically reduce your sleep quality during the night.
Caffeine can affect your body up to 12 hours after taking it, so keep your coffee to the morning only.
8. Work your legs
Just before you go to bed, do some light leg stretches or exercises to get your blood flowing away from your brain.
Stretching your legs can also alleviate symptoms of nighttime calf cramps and restless leg syndrome.
9. Lie on your side
Research has uncovered that sleeping on your side is the best position to remove waste chemicals from your brain, and can reduce your chances of developing neurological diseases later in life.
It makes sense — the majority of people find that sleeping on their side is the most comfortable and natural position.
Side sleeping also helps to keep your airways open and can improve your circulation. Placing a firm pillow between your knees will help you keep your spine in alignment during the night.
10. Try a nasal dilator
If snoring is interrupting your sleep, you could try a nasal dilator (similar to those worn by some athletes) to reduce your snoring and get more oxygen into your lungs and brain. An example is the Rhinomed Mute, a piece of medical-grade polymer plastic you insert into your nose at night, which claims to deliver an average 38% more air through your nose.
It’s $19.95 and can be ordered online from rhinomedshop.com.
11. How to power nap
A power nap can be a good way to refresh yourself if you’re feeling tired during the day. But to prevent it from interrupting your regular sleep cycle, or making you feel groggy, there are some rules you should
—Pick your time: you should take your nap between 1pm and 4pm so as not to interrupt your sleep cycle.
— Set your alarm: the ideal power nap lasts between 10 and 30 minutes. Any longer than this and you can develop sleep inertia — that unpleasant groggy feeling you can get upon waking.
— Get comfortable: choose a place to nap that is dark and quiet, and take a blanket or cover-up as your temperature drops when you sleep.
— Practice makes perfect: don’t expect to fall asleep instantly if you’re new at napping. Set aside time to relax and wind down before napping to give you the best chance at success.
12. Snooze foods
Having a big, spicy meal or drinking caffeine before bed can stop you from getting a good night’s sleep.
The good news is that there are also foods you can eat that can help you get a restful night.
Look for food containing the amino acid tryptophan, which helps your body make serotonin and melatonin. These include walnuts, chickpeas and turkey.
— Calcium helps your brain use tryptophan to make melatonin, so reach for a glass of milk, some cheese, yoghurt or even kale.
— Food high in B6 such as oily fish, garlic, pistachio nuts and bananas help your body to make melatonin. Walnuts and cherries are two foods that naturally contain high amounts of melatonin. Having a small handful of walnuts or a glass of tart cherry juice is proven to help you sleep.
— High-GI grains such as jasmine rice can help you get to sleep faster when had with dinner. Studies suggest that the higher amounts of insulin triggered by the high-GI grains increase the amount of tryptophan in your blood and brain.
— Chamomile tea is an old bedtime favourite. It increases the glycine in your body, which relaxes your nerves and muscles. Add a splash of honey to raise your insulin levels for easier sleeping.