Life seems to get more and more hectic. Our days seem to be more and more packed with demands on our time. And the one area of life where we often feel we should improve (but seldom do) is that of sleep.
Nobody is still quite sure of the optimum amount of sleep, or even if such a thing exists. But one thing is for certain theres nothing to beat feeling refreshed after a nights rest.
So what are the ways to get the best out of a nights sleep? Lets take a look at some of the most effective methods:
1. Sleep hygiene
The term sleep hygiene might sound like it refers (somehow) to either washing or staying clean during sleep. But actually it refers to the conditions that are most conducive towards good sleep. The single most important thing you can do when addressing quality of sleep is to look at not just the physical factors (e.g. light levels in the room) but also the non-physical ones such as sleep cycles and bedtimes. Think of sleep hygiene as the overarching strategy towards a better nights sleep, with everything else mentioned in this list as a series of actions in support of it.
2. Respect your internal clock
To an extent, nature made us all creatures of habit. This is why, when after crossing time zones, were prone to jet-lag. Our habitual waking and sleeping cycles suddenly go up against a clock that seems to have its hour hand perpetually in the wrong place.
You can work with your internal clock to help aid restful sleep by not going against it. Many of us are apt to do this and I am as guilty as anyone. The most familiar scenario is the average Friday or Saturday night. After a long week at work, you find yourself staying up later. And getting up later the next morning. By the time Monday morning rolls around, what do we have? Yes, an out-of-synch body clock. What works for me is to ensure getting up at the same time every day (regardless of what time I went to sleep.)
3. Gear up the right habits for optimum sleep
Much of what you do in the evening will likely have an effect on your nights sleep. So this goes without saying, really plates of rich food, vigorous exercise, caffeine all of these are to be avoided during the time prior to going to bed. Chances are that after a certain time in the evening you wouldnt feel like eating rich food or firing up the espresso maker anyway. But its good to be aware of the things that can boost sleep, such as being in a quiet place, being hydrated and avoiding too much blue light (e.g. from computer screens) before bed.
4. Ritualise and make associations
Its amazing what the power of ritual can do to help sleep. It may be down to the fact that if you carry out a series of actions every night (say, setting the alarm clock, filling the hot water bottle, reading a few pages of a favourite book) you are sending signals to the brain that bedtime is near. Its almost as if the subconscious starts to prepare your body for the sleep ahead. Some people use a sleep aroma that they associate with sleep and you can even buy dispensers that give off a calming lavender type smell. These wont (of course) have any medical effect making you drowsy, but they really can make the bedroom smell very pleasant, and nothing wrong in that when you close your eyes at night.
5. Leverage the power of light
Our brains are actually programmed to sleep when were in darkness hence presumably why as a species we tend to sleep at night (unless working shifts.) So obviously its best to sleep in dark or near-dark. But what about waking? Well, the opposite is true. Bright light aids alertness. So when the morning comes, if its dark outside and in the room, the sound of the alarm may be intrusive enough to make you groan. Using a dawn simulation clock can really help wake you up by degrees in much the same way as you would if sunlight started streaming in through the window.
6. Embrace the Zen aspect of the Zzz
I used to sleep in a cluttered room. The floor was (I am embarrassed to admit) strewn with clothes. The surfaces crowded with books, empty soft drink cans, and all manner of random detritus. Then I read about de-cluttering. So I de-cluttered the room. The effect was so powerful that I could hardly believe it. The room felt calmer and it suddenly seemed to contain more space. What this made me realise is that an untidy room is like a three-dimensional to-do list its a whole litany of things that need done. Wash this garment. Put away this no longer required novel. And so on. The reason you feel calmer in a tidy, ordered, Zen-like room is that it doesnt require any action other than for you to enjoy being there.
7. Build your day around your nights sleep
This may sound counterintuitive, as if day is somehow subservient to the night time hours. But this is not what I mean at all. If you look at all the healthy behaviours that were enjoined to include in our day, many of them are also very good sleep boosters. The following in particular are definitely a great help in preparing the path from wakefulness to sound sleep:
Sources and further reading:
AXA PPP Healthcare Sleep getting the right balance and Guide to getting a good nights sleep
Sleepfoundation.org - Sleep hygiene, sleep tools and tips
Oprah How to sleep and have more energy