Ever wonder how to get a good night’s sleep? This article is for this who struggle with getting to sleep and staying asleep. We offer some tips to sleep better so you wake up alert and refreshed.
In our last article, we talked about the importance of good sleep for the health of your brain, both day to day, and in the long term. We looked at some of the connections between sleep deprivation and serious neurological conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s, and explored exactly how much sleep is the right amount.
What was clear is that getting good sleep is a crucial factor in maintaining brain health. And surely it’s got to be one of the easiest goals to achieve—you can do it with your eyes closed! Jokes aside, getting good sleep isn’t always as simple as it sounds. So, in this article we’re going to look into some top tips for getting the best night’s sleep possible, to ensure your brain and body are well rested and performing at their best.
A good night’s sleep depends heavily on how you behave in the lead up to bedtime, so I’ve split these tips into two sections—pre-bedtime and bed time, in which I’ve explained some methods to guarantee that you drift off to the land of nod and stay there until morning.
Top Tip: Get with a Program
But first, my absolute top tip for a good night’s sleep—routine! Our bodies are in-sync with a natural biological clock, known as the circadian rhythm, as explained in this fascinating article1.
Detailed studies2 have proven that we’re inherently programmed to be asleep at night, and awake during the day. Make it a mission to go to bed at around the same time each day, and get up at the same time each morning. Try to go to sleep when it’s dark, and get up when the sun is rising, or has risen. If you can, maintain this routine even at weekends.
This will mean making some changes to your lifestyle, and embracing another important tip for your brain health—making sleep a priority. Think of sleep as just as important as eating or drinking water. Schedule at least nine hours of your day for sleep preparation and actual sleep. Your brain will thank you for it!
Remember I said we need to prioritize sleep? Well I like to think of my ‘pre-bedtime’ as any time after I wake up in the morning! By following a few simple tips throughout the day, you can make a big impact on the quality of your rest. Here’s a few simple tips to keep in mind.
That’s right, exercise isn’t just good for the body. Taking at least 30 minutes of exercise has been proven to give you a better night’s sleep3, so get out there and get active. This doesn’t have to mean pumping iron at the gym—a hike,swim or yoga session all count too.
Keep in mind, however, that exercising too close to bedtime leaves your blood pumping and your brain and senses alert. Time your exercise so that you have a few hours before you plan to go to bed.
Eat your Way to Better Sleep
People who have healthier diets get better sleep. A 2015 study4 found that those who eat less fiber, more saturated fat and more sugar tend to have worse quality sleep.
If you struggle to get adequate good sleep, try to make sure that you eat well. This lifestyle choice will benefit you in more ways than one, and you’ll sleep much easier knowing that what you eat is improving your quality of life.
Lay off the Coffee
Overall, coffee in moderation is good for you, in particular your brain5. Studies have found that it can be protective against cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s and dementia. However, experts recommend not having any caffeine in the six hours before bedtime6, so as not to disturb your sleep. Have your final coffee, or other caffeinated beverage, around lunchtime, and the effects will have time to wear off before you start your night time wind-down.
Take it Easy on the Booze, and Quit the Cigarettes
But a drink helps you sleep, right? Nope. It might knock you out, as it’s a sedative, but the sleep that it induces is poor quality. In particular, a drinker’s sleep is disturbed7 in the second half of the night. This portion of the night is very important for our brains as this is when we get the most REM sleep.
Smoking cigarettes doesn’t do your sleep any favors either, as nicotine is a stimulant, and smoker’s suffer more from sleep apnea. In fact, non-smokers statistically8 sleep better than smokers overall.
Clear Your Mind
Stress is one of the leading causes of insomnia, so we should do our best to leave the stresses of the day out of the bedroom. In the lead up to bedtime, try to de-clutter your mind. Going to sleep with a list of things to do weighing on your mind often means that your subconscious is unable to put those issues to bed9. This causes your sleep to be disturbed, and may cause you to wake up too early.
For a quick de-stressing exercise before sleep, try this simple but effective breathing technique10.
Tips for Bedtime
So we’ve done all the above in preparation for a fabulous night’s sleep. Now it’s time to make a few final adjustments, and then drift off into a luxuriously peaceful, long, deep slumber to give our brains and bodies the rest they deserve.
Keep the Screens out of the Bedroom
Screens are the scourge of the modern bedroom. We carry a huge amount of the world’s information around in our pockets these days, and it’s incredibly tempting to take it to bed with us. Don’t.
Taking in large amounts of data before sleep, whether from scrolling through social media or catching up on emails, makes our mind race when it’s supposed to be relaxing. Notifications from your devices during the night also disturb the natural patterns of your sleep.
As well as that, most screens emit blue light, meaning that those who look at screens before bed sleep worse and for less time11. Lighting is very important for your body’s production of melatonin, as we’ll see in more detail later.
Create a Comfortable Cave
Your bedroom should be like a serene, snug cave—the perfect habitat for a long, peaceful hibernation. Think dark, quiet, cool. And there’s real science behind this.
Remember I mentioned the circadian rhythm above? Humans, and most animals, are programmed to sleep when it’s dark12. In nature—in other words throughout 99.99% of our history—we have experienced natural patterns of light throughout the day. Unfortunately, with the advent of electrical light, and more recently the all-encompassing screen, our brains are now exposed to highly unnatural light patterns.
A key chemical element in our ability to maintain a proper sleep rhythm and get great sleep is the hormone “melatonin”. Interestingly, melatonin is also important in protecting the health of your brain as it ages13.
Light, even at low levels, decreases our production of melatonin14, and skews our circadian rhythm. Dim the lights in the hour or so before bedtime, and make sure not to look at devices that emit blue light15, as this is particularly bad for your sleep. Close the blackout curtains if necessary, and sleep in the pitch dark, if possible.
Next step, peace and calm. Make sure that your sleeping space is quiet, and if that’s not possible, get earplugs. Ambient noises affect your sleep negatively16. Even if they don’t wake you up fully, noises during the night can disrupt your sleep cycle, leaving you groggy and unrested in the morning.
The final factor in your ideal sleeping cave—temperature. The effects of temperature upon sleep are well documented17. According to modern research, humans sleep best during the coldest part of the day. Researchers believe that this is all part of our inherent natural body cycle18 (circadian rhythm again). At the coolest part of the day—the middle of the night/very early morning—our bodies are most inclined to get better, deeper sleep.
Between 60 and 67 degrees is the ideal temperature for a good night’s sleep. Below that, you are at risk of disturbing your sleep by being too cold, and above that the body does not receive its natural cues to go to sleep.
Give Your Brain a Break
We’ve seen how vital sleep is for a healthy brain, and looked at some excellent ways to achieve good, restorative rest. The next step: put them into practice! For some more information, here’s an engaging TED talk19 explaining the benefits of a good night’s sleep for your brain health and memory retention. Just don’t watch it right before bed!
In future articles we’ll explore many of the ideas above in much more detail, and explain some of the science behind the links between sleep and the maintenance of your brain health, especially as we start to reach our more ‘senior’ years.
We look forward to seeing you there, and in the meantime, sweet dreams!