Sleep hygiene

GSS web copy: How to sleep better

Whether or not you have trouble sleeping, there are some basic principles you can follow and lifestyle changes you can make to improve your ‘sleep hygiene’ and increase your chances of a good night’s sleep so you feel refreshed in the morning.

Create a sleep-friendly environment

A quiet, dark and cool bedroom is best for a good night’s sleep. It’s also advisable to keep televisions, laptops and other digital devices out of your bedroom and use your bed for sleep and sex only. Watching television, playing video games or surfing the Internet just before going to bed – or when you’re in bed – engages your mind, increases alertness and promotes wakefulness. There is enough evidence to show that the blue light emitted by these devices has a deleterious effect on sleep.

Schedule your sleep

Just as your body gets used to a feeding routine – and functions best when it is fuelled at regular, consistent intervals ­– it also grows accustomed to a certain sleep pattern. This is known as the circadian rhythm. By going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time each day, you make it easier for your body to adopt and maintain this sleep rhythm. Circadian rhythm is genetically determined but a sleep routine is more important for maintaining it. Light is the main factor which affects these ‘circadian’ genes, turning them off or on to help or deter sleep.

Avoid pre-sleep stimulants

You generally have a coffee or tea to start your day, or perk up if you’re flagging midway through, so it makes sense to avoid a caffeine pick-me-up shortly before going to bed. Heavy or spicy foods should also be avoided in the 4-6 hours before going to bed. Alcohol should also be avoided or minimised in the evenings if you have trouble sleeping. Although it may help some people to fall asleep, it can also reduce the quality of your sleep.

Monitor your medication

Some medication can cause sleep problems. If you suspect your medication is disrupting your sleep, talk to your doctor about the effect of the medication and if there are any adjustments or alternatives possible.

Watch your diet

A light evening supper such as cereal with milk or crackers and cheese at least an hour before bed can lead to better sleep. Likewise, warm milk and chamomile tea are good pre-sleep snacks as they raise body temperature and make many people feel sleepy. Avoid drinking too much tea close to bedtime, or you will end up waking to visit the toilet and disrupting your sleep. 

Exercise regularly

Regular physical activity has been proven to enhance the quality and duration of sleep, and may reduce insomnia. However, persistence is crucial as the benefits may not be immediate. If you have a sleep condition, timing your workouts is also important. Exercise in the late afternoon can make it easier to fall and stay asleep, but exercising within a couple hours of bedtime can have the opposite effect as it increases blood flow and endorphins, which make you more energised and alert immediately after a workout.

Bedtime rituals

Performing a relaxing pre-sleep ritual can signal to your mind and body that it's time for sleep. Try getting into the habit of taking a warm bath, reading a chapter of a book, listening to relaxing music, or practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing.

Keep a sleep diary

Charting your sleeping habits for one to two weeks can help you identify the factors that enhance and detract from the quality of your sleep. Key points to note down are:

  • the time you go to bed, fall asleep, and wake each day
  • how long and well you slept
  • number of times you woke up during the night
  • the amount of caffeine and/or alcohol consumed and at what times of the day
  • what and when you ate and drank
  • any emotional or stressful events
  • any drugs or medications taken.