10 Healthy Sleep Habits (you may need to learn!)

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1. Go to bed at approximately the same time every night – sleep researchers insist that even on weekends and holidays, we shouldn’t vary this routine by more than an hour if you want your body to remember its healthy sleep cycle.

2. Have a bedtime routine – have you ever noticed that most parents go to great lengths to help their kids wind down before bed – the most popular being the bath, book, bed routine? Did you know that you need a routine of your own that allows you to switch out of ‘doing’ mode and get ready to rest. How about a bath? Reading for pleasure? Meditating or listening to relaxing music – the more you repeat this routine the more quickly your brain will start preparing for a good night’s sleep.

3. Go to bed when tired – those waves of tiredness and sleep signals that most of us experience in the evening are our body trying to direct us down the runway to a good night’s sleep. If we ignore that ‘sleep cue’, based on the body’s cycles, we may have to wait another 60–90 minutes for the next one to come along.

4. Dim the lights – keep in mind that the biggest determinant of your body clock and therefore your sleep patterns is your exposure to light. Making sure you get outside during the day a few times to help your brain register the light signals and adjust its clock accordingly. Likewise, avoid excessive light during night by minimising the time spent in front of a TV or computer.

5. Sleep in a cave – okay, not quite but often bedrooms contain things that distract or interfere with your sleep, things like digital clocks, power buttons on TVs or stereos, recharging mobile phones, light creeping in from outside or unnecessary noise from a range of sources. In order to maintain a deep, restful, unbroken sleep, your body needs to be in complete darkness, be warm but not overheated and have silence. Although it may be difficult for some, try and ensure pets and kids don’t interrupt your cave-like environment unless necessary.

6. Keep the bedroom for sleeping – it is important not to turn your bedroom into an office, or living room, or TV room. It helps with a healthy sleep routine if your brain recognises and associates the bedroom with sleep only.

7. Avoid alcohol, coffee and cigarettes in the evening – all of these can significantly interfere with your ability to get to sleep and maintain a restful sleep throughout the night.

8. Not too hungry, not too full…just right – eating a large meal too close to bedtime can aggravate digestive complaints such as gastric reflux and heartburn. Going to bed hungry will trigger the release of the stress hormone cortisol which effectively ‘switches on all the lights in your brain’ and will significantly impair your ability to initiate sleep. Consuming your evening meal at least three hours before going to bed is a good idea. If time constraints won’t allow you to do this, then consider making your main meal lunch and eating only a light supper in the evening – this is good for your health in lots of other ways too.

9. Worrying about not sleeping is counter-productive – it may help you to know that most people take around 20 minutes to initiate sleep and will wake at some point during the night. So you may not in fact be any different to anyone else! Clock watching should be avoided at all costs – both when going to bed and if you wake during the night. If you are having difficulty sleeping at any stage – get out of bed and move to another cool dark room in the house (do not
switch on any lights if possible) and simply sit in the dark for a while (no reading and no TV). Then when you feel a sleep wave coming return to bed and try again to sleep. If this fails, remain in bed and reassure yourself that resting is a great second to sleep and you are still doing your body good.

10. Avoid sleeping tablets except for extreme short-term circumstances – sleep medications should only be used in exceptional circumstances, because they have a number of serious drawbacks. The first is that they are known to be highly addictive, which means that people often find themselves developing a ‘need’ for them. Secondly, although they can help with sleep initiation, they actually change your sleep architecture, in particular interfering with or inhibiting REM sleep (dreaming), which will ultimately, compromise memory and cognition.

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