We do not realize, but most of us do not get adequate sleep. Either the quantity is insufficient, or the quality is bad, or both. We like to believe that we can do with very little sleep. Or that we can make up for it, if needed. Our minds have been corrupted on this issue with stories of world leaders and successful people making do with fewer hours of sleep. People like Narendra Modi, Barrack Obama and Shah Rukh Khan claim to sleep for only four hours a day. As a result, we may have begun to believe that less sleep equals to success. But Margaret Thatcher, who also slept for not more than 4 hours per day, died of Alzheimer’s disease, which is associated with poor sleeping habits.
It is borne out by research that the human body needs on an average, seven hours of sleep a day. Some people may need eight hours, and some may need six, but believing that you can make do with fewer hours of sleep than that is a recipe for ill-health.
Some people want to get good sleep but are unable to. They toss and turn in their beds, sleep late and their whole cycle is disturbed. They feel lethargic throughout the day, find themselves nodding off during meetings or drag themselves to do any physical activity (or altogether avoid it if they can help it).
Sleep is one of the most important requirements for maintaining good physical and mental health. Poor sleep can lead to or worsen many physical and mental ailments. We may also know what we need to do to get better sleep but we still end up not doing it. In the hope that this article will encourage some readers to look at sleep a little more considerately, here are 23 simple tips for better sleep.
1. A comfortable bed, bedding and pillow: Make sure that the bed that you are sleeping in is clean and comfortable. The mattress should be comfortable, and there should be no bedbugs (obviously). Make sure that the bedding and blanket you are using are soft, comfortable and clean, with no unpleasant odors. Make sure that the pillow you use is of the right thickness so as to keep your neck straight, to avoid any aches and pains due to uncomfortable sleep posture.
2. Avoid sleeping in a room with the light on: The human circadian rhythm develops on the basis of light and dark parts of the day. The circadian rhythm is like a built-in alarm clock that lets your body know it is time to sleep when it is dark, and it is time to stay awake when it is bright. Trying to sleep in a room that is not dark can disrupt the circadian rhythm and affect the quality of sleep. Make sure that the room is dark or use an eye mask in a room that is not dark.
3. Sleep in a quiet room: It is difficult to sleep in a room where there is noise and it also affects the quality of sleep. Make sure that when you are trying to sleep, the room is as quiet as you can make it. If you try to sleep, while someone else is watching TV in the same room, it will definitely affect the quality of your sleep.
4. Sleep in ambient temperature: Sleeping in a room that is either too hot or too cold can affect the quality of sleep. The agreeable temperature can be different for different people, and hence there is no benchmark to follow. In the US and UK, the agreeable temperature is said to be between 18 and 20 degrees Celsius, but in India, it could be different. Make sure that the temperature in your room is right for you.
5. Use pleasant aromas: In recent times, aromatic oils like lavender have been used for relaxation purposes. Lavender oil has also been suggested for relieving anxiety and depression. Using it in your room for mild fragrance can be soothing and help you sleep better.
6. Don’t eat anything heavy before sleeping: Eating heavy food right before sleeping can disrupt your digestion, generate acidity in the stomach and affect your sleep.
7. Avoid caffeine before sleeping: Most of us have used caffeine to keep us awake when we have an exam or a presentation the following day. Caffeine is a stimulant and delays the body clock, so it is harder for us to fall asleep with caffeine in our body. Hence use of caffeine should be avoided before sleep.
8. Avoid sugar: Consumption ofsugar, particularly refined sugar, is associated with poor sleep. In addition to harmful effects like obesity and sugar addiction, excessive sugar consumption can also lead to ‘sugar rush’ that disturbs the body clock and interferes with sleep. Hence, sugar should also be avoided before sleep.
9. Avoid alcohol to induce sleep: Although alcohol can cause drowsiness, giving the illusion that it aids sleep, it actually affects sleep quality. As a result, a person may not be able to sleep unless he has a nightcap, leading to a much larger problem. Using alcohol to fall asleep is not a solution.
10. Cut down liquid intake before sleeping: Consuming liquids maycause nocturia, which is excessive urination at night. It can not only adversely affect sleep at night, but also make you feel drowsy in the day time. Also, it is advisable to use the washroom to relieve yourself before hitting the bed, to further reduce the chances of needing to go.
11. Take a relaxing bath: Bathing in the evening before sleeping can induce relaxation and will help you sleep better. Research shows that bathing before sleeping can improve the overall quality of sleep and also help you sleep longer.
12. Avoid exposure to blue light: Blue light from gadgets hampers sleep. It is strongly recommended to not use gadgets such as smartphones, tabs, and laptops before bedtime. This affects the circadian rhythm and makes it difficult to sleep well. There are blue light cancelling softwares and apps available. If you absolutely must be using your gadget until before sleep, use these apps.
13. Avoid smoking: Smoking is associated with a wide range of illnesses and disorders. Smoking also throws your sleep pattern out of gear. While physiologically, if you are addicted to nicotine, you may feel that smoking helps you sleep, it isn’t true.
14. Exercise: Ifthebody burns calories and becomes physically tired, the tiredness will allow better sleep. Working out increases the heart rate and that improves sleep. It also helps to release extra energy and calms the body down, which can lead to improved sleep.
15. Get sunlight: Being out in the sunlight reinforces the correct circadian rhythm, which as mentioned also works on the light and darkness. Exposure to sunlight creates a distinct differentiation between light and darkness. In addition, exposure to sunlight releases serotonin which allows better focus. And when you move from the sun to the dark, the body releases melatonin which helps in better sleep.
16. Free your mind: Ruminating over events that went wrong in the day will affect your sleep. Turn to relaxation exercises like mindful breathing, grounding, and progressive muscle relaxation to cast of your worries for the evening. You can always pick them back up the following morning. But if you want to sleep well, free your mind every evening.
17. Wake up at the same time: No matter how much or how little you sleep, make sure that you get out of bed at the same time every morning. Getting out of bed means not using the snooze button, and jumping out of bed, no matter how late you have slept. When the body is allowed to learn the time allocated for sleep, better sleep follows.
18. Avoid long naps in the afternoon: If you have been unable to sleep well in the night, you may take a power nap, but the power nap should not exceed 30 minutes. Any more than that and will disrupt the sleeping pattern again, and make it difficult for you to sleep at night.
19. Don’t force yourself: If you realize that even after 20 minutes of trying to sleep, that you are still not sleepy, get out of bed. There is no point in tossing and turning in bed and not being able to sleep. Engage in some light activity like reading a book for some time.
20. Avoid sleeping in on weekends: If we have worked hard during the week, we believe that if we wake up later in the morning on weekends, it is sufficient to cover up for the lost sleep. But that is not true. You must avoid doing that and for that you should try to get sufficient sleep on weekdays.
21. Do not try to average out: Like the previous point, it is no good trying to average out sleep. You cannot say ‘I have to sleep 56 hours in 7 days so I will sleep for 4 hours per day on weekdays and 18 hours per day on weekends’. It doesn’t work that way either.
22. Beds are for sleep and sex only: The bed should be used for only two reasons. Sleep and sex. If what you are doing is neither of these two get up and do whatever you are doing sitting up. So, avoid watching TV in bed, reading in bed or eating in bed.
23. Change your schedule gradually: After reading all this and other tips that you come across, if you intend to change your schedule, do so gradually. Do not jump right into changing your schedule at once. Allow your body to get used to the changed pattern. Give it time.
If you follow these tips regularly, you should notice an improvement in sleep. If despite doing all this regularly, you are still not able to sleep, you should consult a doctor to rule out a sleeping disorder.