Practical Tips For Better Sleep According To Our Experts
Sleep Awareness Month - We're here to help
We asked Mike Wakeman, our Vitmedics founder, clinical nutritionist & pharmacist with lifetime of experience in the health and nutrition sector - What are your top tips for better sleep?
He explained, the following are some ways to improve your sleep. These good habits are known as “sleep hygiene,” because they represent scientific thinking about maintaining healthy sleep patterns.
- Sleep Hygiene
A sleep-friendly bedroom can make it easier to fall and stay asleep, so take time to address issues which act as distractions and that affect or prevent falling and staying asleep in bed.
A quiet bedroom is especially important for older adults, who spend less time in deep sleep. As a result, they are more easily awakened by noises. Here are some ways to reduce or disguise noises that can interfere with sleep: Decorate with heavy curtains and rugs, which absorb sounds; Use earplugs; consider relaxing background sounds that help induce sleep.
Bright light at night can suppress the body’s production of melatonin and make it harder to sleep. Keep pre-bedtime light intake down with these steps: Avoid watching television or using a computer after 9 p.m; Don’t read from a backlit electronic device (such as an iPad) at night. Replace bright lights with lower-wattage bulbs, or install dimmer switches that allow the lights to be kept low at night. Bright bathroom lights can be an issue, especially since most people use the bathroom immediately before retiring (and often in the middle of the night). In the latter situation consider using night-lights to light the way to, in and from the bathroom to ensure personal safety.
A bedroom that’s too hot or too cold may interfere with sleep. Most people sleep best in a slightly cool room (around 65° F). Replace the mattress and pillows if they’re worn or uncomfortable. If aching joints are a problem seek professional advice. Some people say they are more comfortable sleeping on “memory foam” mattresses and pillows.
Worrying about a problem or a long to-do list can be a recipe for insomnia. Well before bedtime, try writing down worries and make a list of tasks to remember. This “worry journal” may help move these distracting thoughts from the mind.
Closer to bedtime, try comforting rituals that may help lull you to sleep: Listen to soft, calming music; Take a warm bath.
- Relaxation and reinforcing your circadian sleep cycle
Once in bed, relaxation techniques can help calm the body and mind. Mindfulness meditation has also been proven helpful for combatting insomnia. This type of meditation involves focusing on breathing and then bringing the mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future.
A regular sleep schedule keeps the circadian sleep/ wake cycle synchronized. If falling asleep doesn’t happen within 20 to 30 minutes or wakening up again and not being able to fall back to sleep within that amount of time occurs, get out of bed and do something relaxing until sleepiness returns again. Regardless of how good or poor a night’s sleep has occurred, get out of bed at the regular time each morning to keep the circadian cycle synchronized.
If the main goal is to sleep longer at night, taking naps is not a good idea. The total daily amount of sleep needed stays constant, so naps take away from evening sleep. But if the goal is to be more alert during the day, a nap built into the daily schedule may help. Where insomnia and feeling anxious about getting enough sleep is an issue, then a short, scheduled nap may help better sleep at night by alleviating that anxiety. If possible, nap soon after lunch. People who nap later in the afternoon and/or evening tend to fall into a deeper sleep, which causes greater disruption at night. An ideal nap lasts no longer than 30 to 40 minutes, and even a 15- to 20-minute nap has significant alertness benefits. Shorten or eliminate naps that produce lingering grogginess.
Caffeine, which is found in coffee, tea, some carbonated soft drinks, and other beverages blocks adenosine, a brain chemical that helps with falling asleep. Caffeine can also interrupt sleep by increasing the need to get up to urinate at night. If sleep is continuously problematic, avoid caffeine as much as possible, since its effects can last for many hours and can help cause insomnia. Because caffeine withdrawal can cause headaches, irritability, and extreme fatigue, some people find it easier to cut back gradually rather stopping immediately. Those who can’t or don’t want to give up caffeine should avoid it after 2 p.m., or noon if they are especially caffeine-sensitive.
Alcohol depresses the nervous system, so an alcoholic drink makes some people fall asleep more quickly. But the sleep won’t necessarily be very good. Alcohol suppresses REM sleep, and the soporific effects disappear after a few hours. Drinkers have frequent awakenings and sometimes frightening dreams. Alcohol is responsible for up to 10% of chronic insomnia cases. Also, because alcohol relaxes throat muscles and interferes with brain control mechanisms, it can worsen snoring and other nocturnal breathing problems. Drinking during one of the body’s intrinsic sleepy times— mid-afternoon or at night—will make a person more drowsy than at other times of day. Even one drink can make a sleep-deprived person drowsy.
Nicotine is a potent stimulant that speeds heart rate, raises blood pressure, and stimulates fast brain-wave activity which maintains wakefulness. People who kick the habit fall asleep more quickly and wake less often during the night. Sleep disturbance and daytime fatigue may occur during the initial withdrawal from nicotine. But even during this period, many former users report improvements in sleep. Avoid smoking or using tobacco substitutes for at least one to two hours before bedtime.
Walking, jogging, swimming, or any type of exercise that gets the heart pumping faster provides three important sleep benefits: falling asleep faster, more time spent in deep sleep, less awakenings during the night. Exercise seems to be of particular benefit to older people. Even gentle exercise, such as stretching and toning, can help people sleep better, as can yoga, tai chi or pilates. Exercising outdoors in the morning is ideal, because bright, natural daylight can help reinforce natural circadian rhythms. Try to avoid exercise within two hours of bedtime because exercise is stimulating and can make it harder to fall asleep.
- Eating and Drinking
Hunger can be sufficient distraction to keep people awake, so a small healthy snack, before bedtime should overcome this disturbance. But being overly full may be even more disrupting. Avoid eating a big meal within two to three hours of bedtime, especially any foods that contribute to acid reflux (heartburn), as lying down can provoke or worsen the problem. Avoid common culprits such as coffee, chocolate, alcohol, and fatty foods, and whilst medications that suppress stomach acid secretion can provide help for acid reflux, preventing the issue is a preferable strategy. Also, it appears sleeping on the right side aggravates heartburn, so look at lying on the left side when trying to fall asleep. Finally, drinking too much of any fluid too close to bedtime may cause night-time awakenings to use the bathroom.
Mike’s Recommended Supplementations
Inadequate intake of magnesium has been linked to sleep disorders. Results of two studies showed that there is an association between magnesium supplementation and REM, muscle tone, and gross body movements and a positive relationship between serum magnesium levels and quiet sleep. Another study showed that the most important magnesium supplementation effect in healthy elderly subjects was short wave sleep increment (23-25).
A significant relationship has been reported between daily sleep rhythm and vitamin D. Specifically a delay in sleep phase was accompanied by the lack of dietary vitamin D. Vitamin D supplementation in a group with sleep disorders stabilised sleep after normalization of 25(OH)D levels (26). Another study showed the use of vitamin D supplements improved sleep quality, reduced sleep latency, raised sleep duration and improved subjective sleep quality in patients with sleep disorders (27).