As promised last week, this week we show you some ways to improve on your sleep and how you can get the most out of your sleep.

When you have problems falling asleep, some simple bedtime routines will help you wind down and prepare you for bed.

Few people manage to stick to strict bedtime routines. This is no problem for most people. But for insomnia sufferers, keeping irregular sleeping hours is not helpful.

Your routine depends on what works for you, but the most important thing is to find out a routine and to stick to it.

Here are some lifestyle suggestions that can make a big difference in your quality of sleep.

 

Sleep Quality

The quality of your sleep can also impact how much you need.

If your sleep quality is poor, you will feel tired after getting what is considered enough.

But if you are getting good quality sleep, you may be able to manage better with a little less.

 

Make sure you wind down

Winding down is a critical stage in preparing for bed. Here are a few ways to relax:

  • Take a warm bath (not hot), this will help your body get to a temperature that’s ideal for rest.
  • Writing your “to do” lists for the next day helps to organise your thoughts and clears your mind of any distractions. If you often lie in bed thinking about everything you have to do tomorrow, you should set aside time before bed to make plans for the next day. The aim is to avoid doing these things when you’re in bed, trying to sleep.
  • Do some relaxation exercises, such as light yoga stretches, they help to relax the muscles. Do not exercise vigorously, as it will have the opposite effect.
  • Listen to some relaxation music, this works even better when you use this in combination with a carefully narrated script. Gentle hypnotic music, affirmations and sound effects will relax you.
  • Read a book or listen to the radio, this relaxes the mind by distracting it.
  • Avoid using smart-phones, tablets or other electronic devices for an hour or so before you go to bed. The light from the screen on these devices seems to have a negative effect on sleep.

 

Keep regular sleeping times

First of all, it is important that you keep regular sleeping hours. This programmes your brain to get used to the routine and regulates your inner clock.

Most adults need between 6 and 9 hours of sleep every night. Work out what time you need to get to sleep by counting back from the time you need to wake up. That way you can set a regular bedtime schedule.

It is also important to wake up at the same time every day and to do this even at weekends and holidays. It is not a good idea to try and catch up on sleep after a late night, because doing so on a regular basis can also disrupt your sleep routine.

 

Make your bedroom sleep-friendly

Your bedroom should be a relaxing environment. Experts suggest that you create a strong association in your mind between sleep and the bedroom.

Yet, there are things that disrupt that association. It is better to avoid TVs and other electronic gadgets, as well as light, noise, and a bad mattress or bed.

Keep your bedroom just to sleep and have sex in. Unlike most vigorous physical activity, sex makes us sleepy. This has evolved in humans over thousands of years.

Your bedroom should be dark, quiet, and tidy. The best temperature is around 18C, a cool room is more relaxing. Get some thick curtains to keep the light out. And when there are noise disturbances, you might want to consider investing in double glazing or, for a cheaper option, use earplugs.

And when you have a pet that sleeps in the room with you, you might want to move it somewhere else if it often disturbs you during the night.

 

Minimize caffeine, alcohol and nicotine

Studies have linked caffeine, alcohol and nicotine use to poorer sleep quality. Cut down on the caffeine in tea, coffee, energy drinks or colas, especially in the evening. Caffeine interferes with the process of falling asleep and also prevents deep sleep. Instead, have a warm, milky drink or herbal tea.

 

Do not over-indulge

Too much food or alcohol, especially late at night, can interrupt your sleep patterns. Alcohol may help you to fall asleep initially, but it will disrupt your sleep later on in the night.

 

Be more active

Being inactive is associated with poorer sleep, while getting exercise during the day may help you sleep better at night.

 

Practice meditation

Meditation and relaxation training seems to help improve sleep quality and brain function. You can use the apps that are designed to help with sleep meditations.

 

If you cannot sleep, get up

Stop worrying about not falling asleep, that will certainly keep you awake.

If you cannot sleep, get up and do something you find relaxing until you feel sleepy again, then go back to bed.

 

Keep a sleep diary

When you keep a sleep diary you may find out some lifestyle habits or daily activities that could contribute to your sleeplessness.

This sleep diary might also reveal underlying conditions that explain your insomnia, such as stress or medicine.

 

How many hours of sleep do you really need?

Sleep is absolutely essential for your health. However, when life gets busy, it usually is the first thing to get neglected or sacrificed. This is unfortunate because good sleep is just as vital to good health as eating healthy foods or getting enough exercise. It is also working against you because when you sleep enough, you are clear in your mind and can achieve a lot more in less time. So sacrificing sleep is counter-productive.

 

How much sleep you need depends on several things

Every individual has their unique needs and preferences, and this is also true for the number of hours of sleep you need. The amount of sleep you need per night is very much determined by your age.

Official recommendations for sleep duration are broken down by 14 age groups:

Older adults (65+): 7–8 hours

Adults (18–64 years): 7–9 hours

Teenagers (14–17 years): 8–10 hours

School children (6–13 years): 9–11 hours

Preschoolers (3–5 years): 10–13 hours

Toddlers (1–2 years): 11–14 hours

Infants (4–11 months): 12–15 hours

Newborns (0–3 months): 14–17 hours

However, there are some exceptions. Some people might need more or less sleep than is generally recommended. This depends on their genetic make-up and the quality of their sleep.

 

Genetic Make-up

Genetics determine for a big part how many hours of sleep you need per night.

Certain genetic mutations can affect how long you need to sleep, at what time of day your body prefers to sleep and how you react to sleep deprivation.

For example, with a specific genetic mutation, you can get by fine on around six hours. Without it, you need about eight hours, on average.

And with another genetic mutation, you can be more or less affected by sleep deprivation or experience deeper sleep.

Unfortunately, your genetic make-up is not something you can change, and there’s no practical way to know if you carry one of these mutations.

Therefore, it’s important to simply pay attention to how you feel to determine if you’re getting the right amount of sleep.

 

Sleep Quality

The quality of your sleep can also impact how much you need.

If your sleep quality is poor, you may find that you still feel tired after getting what is considered enough sleep. Unfortunately, even more hours of sleep can not completely make up for that.

But, if you are getting good quality sleep, you may need less.

The main things that are responsible for many negative sleep-related effects are short sleep duration and poor sleep quality. Therefore, you should not only focus on sleeping long enough, but also on sleeping well enough.

Additionally, there are many common sleep disorders, such as sleep apnoea, that can have negative effects on your sleep quality. If you often feel like you aren’t sleeping well or are extremely tired and don’t know why you should go and ask your doctor.

 

The bottom line

The amount of sleep you need varies for each person and is affected by several factors. However, for most adults, 7–9 hours per night is the ideal amount.

Paying attention to how you feel during the day allows you to determine whether you’re getting the right amount of sleep or not.

When you are sleeping enough, you should feel awake and energized during the day. If you find you are sluggish or often tired, you may need to sleep more or better.

To make the most out of bedtime, create good habits. These include minimizing your caffeine and alcohol intake, following a regular sleep schedule and creating a comfortable sleeping environment.

If you have any comments, questions or experiences you wish to share, please do so here in the Facebook group.