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How to sleep well

Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger HendersonReviewed on 29.04.2024 | 5 minutes read
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Why is sleep important?

Well, around 1/3 of your time is spent sleeping and it is as necessary for survival as water and food are. Optimising sleep can help you exercise better, improve your self-control and be all-around healthier. Here are our top tips for getting a great night's kip.

Be exposed to sunlight or bright light in the day

Vitamin D and exposure to light play important roles in regulating the body's internal clock, sleep-wake cycles, and overall sleep quality. Here's how they can help with sleep:

1. Vitamin D:

  • Vitamin D helps regulate the body's circadian rhythms, which are internal biological processes that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle. These rhythms influence sleep-wake patterns, hormone secretion, body temperature, and other physiological functions.
  • Vitamin D is involved in the synthesis of neurotransmitters and hormones that play key roles in sleep, such as serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin is a precursor to melatonin, the hormone responsible for regulating sleep-wake cycles and promoting relaxation before bedtime.
  • Adequate levels of vitamin D have been associated with a reduced risk of sleep disorders such as insomnia, restless legs syndrome, and sleep apnoea. Supplementing with vitamin D may help improve sleep quality and reduce the severity of sleep-related symptoms in individuals with vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency.
  • Vitamin D may influence the structure and duration of sleep cycles, including rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep stages. Maintaining optimal vitamin D levels may support healthy sleep architecture and promote restorative sleep.

2. Exposure to Light:

  • Exposure to natural light, especially in the morning, helps synchronise the body's internal clock with the external environment, reinforcing the sleep-wake cycle and promoting alertness during the day and restful sleep at night.
  • Natural light exposure, particularly exposure to blue light wavelengths present in sunlight, suppresses the production of melatonin during the day, keeping you awake and alert. In contrast, reduced exposure to light in the evening signals the body to increase melatonin production, promoting relaxation and preparing you for sleep.
  • Light therapy, also known as phototherapy, is a treatment method used to regulate circadian rhythms and manage sleep disorders such as delayed sleep phase disorder, shift work sleep disorder, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Light therapy involves exposure to bright artificial light sources, mimicking the effects of natural sunlight, at specific times of day to reset the body's internal clock and improve sleep-wake patterns.
  • Exposure to natural light, particularly during daylight hours, has been linked to improved mood, energy levels, and overall well-being. Spending time outdoors and getting adequate sunlight exposure can positively impact sleep quality and mental health by promoting a healthy circadian rhythm and supporting the production of mood-regulating neurotransmitters such as serotonin.

Healthwords top tips to help aid sleep

With a few simple adjustments to your bedtime routine and sleep environment, you can improve your sleep quality and wake up feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. Here's how:

1) Stick to a Consistent Sleep Schedule

Routine is key!

Establish a regular sleep-wake cycle by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This helps regulate your body's internal clock and promotes better sleep quality over time.

2) Create a Relaxing Bedtime Routine

Develop a calming pre-sleep ritual to signal to your body that it's time to wind down. This may include activities such as reading a book, taking a warm bath, practising relaxation exercises, or listening to soothing music.

3) Optimise Your Sleep Environment

Make your bedroom a sanctuary for sleep by keeping it cool, dark, and quiet. Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows that provide adequate support, and use blackout curtains or a sleep mask to block out unwanted light. Consider using white noise machines or earplugs to drown out disruptive sounds.

4) Limit Exposure to Screens Before Bed

Minimise exposure to electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets, computers, and televisions in the hour leading up to bedtime. The blue light emitted by screens can interfere with the production of melatonin, the hormone responsible for regulating sleep-wake cycles.

5) Watch What You Eat and Drink

Avoid heavy meals, caffeine, and alcohol close to bedtime, as they can disrupt sleep patterns and lead to nighttime awakenings. Opt for light, easily digestible snacks if you're hungry before bed, and limit fluid intake to prevent disruptive trips to the bathroom during the night.

6) Get Regular Exercise

Engage in regular physical activity during the day, but avoid vigorous exercise close to bedtime, as it can stimulate the body and make it harder to fall asleep. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week to promote better sleep quality.

7) Manage Stress and Anxiety

Practice stress-reduction techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or progressive muscle relaxation to calm the mind and promote relaxation before bedtime. If worries or racing thoughts keep you awake at night, consider keeping a journal to jot down your concerns before bed, allowing you to clear your mind and ease into sleep more peacefully.

8) Limit Napping During the Day

While short naps can be beneficial for boosting alertness and productivity, excessive daytime napping can interfere with nighttime sleep. Limit naps to 20-30 minutes and avoid napping late in the afternoon or evening to preserve your natural sleep drive.

9) Seek Professional Help if Needed

If you continue to struggle with sleep despite making lifestyle changes, consider seeking guidance from a healthcare professional or sleep specialist. They can help identify underlying sleep disorders or other health conditions contributing to your sleep difficulties and recommend appropriate treatments or interventions.

Optimise your sleep environment

Blocking out as much noise and light from your sleeping environment can really aid sleep and help prevent you from waking up prematurely. It is also important not to get too hot in the night, so don’t cover yourself in all the duvets. Your core body temperature when asleep naturally drops and this helps aid sleep so if you raise your body temperature in the night it will disrupt and affect your sleep.

Avoid the sleep disrupters

Caffeine and alcohol, screen time (on your laptop or phone), and large meals late at night can make getting to sleep or staying to sleep difficult and can lower the quality of the sleep you do get. It is the blue light from screens that disrupt sleep as it suppresses a natural sleep hormone called melatonin. If you want to continue the use of your laptop or phone then we recommend getting a blue light blocking filter on your devices or using blue light blocking glasses.

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 29.04.2024
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