A good night's sleep has immediate benefits for your energy and sense of wellbeing the day after. But in the longer term, sleeping well is an important factor in both mental and physical health.
Unfortunately, increasing numbers of people find the stresses of the modern world make sleep difficult, and many opt for fast solutions such as medication as a temporary fix. But the real key to healthy sleep is found in managing your metabolism and internal cycles as part of your daily routine. Here's what to do.
In the Morning
Try to establish a waking routine, getting up at roughly the same time each day even if you have no need for an early start. Starting your days at the same hour helps your body find a natural rhythm, and you'll start to find sleep comes easier in the evenings.
If possible, try and get some natural light on your skin as soon as you can after waking. This will give your body's diurnal cycle a reference point, and help keep your internal clock in sync.
Lastly, eat a healthy breakfast, however small. Taking in food will kick your metabolism into action, increasing your energy levels to overcome any grogginess, while also giving your body a firm signal that the day has begun.
During the Day
Keep your metabolism ticking over through the daytime by eating small amounts of healthy foods at regular intervals. Importantly, avoid eating the large, carb-laden lunches which can make you drowsy in the afternoon, adding confusion to your sleep cycle.
Also, try to take a little exercise if possible, even if it's only a short walk. The more active your metabolism is during the day, the greater your body's need to recharge later, and the easier you'll find restful sleep becomes.
Crucially, drink plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated. Dehydration can cause feelings similar to tiredness, such as irritability, headaches, and mental fogginess. However, if the root cause is a lack of water rather than a lack of rest, sleep will be difficult to find until your dehydration is dealt with, and your insomniac frustrations will grow.
For similar reasons, avoid caffeine from late afternoon onward. The stimulant effects can last up to eight hours, keeping you awake, and too much caffeine can also lead to dehydration. But perhaps more importantly, caffeine can cause more feelings of false tiredness as the stimulating effects wear off, making you crave rest while hindering sleep at the same time.
In the Evenings
As well as avoiding caffeine, go easy on alcohol, especially as your regular bedtime approaches. While a nightcap may help usher you to sleep, it also impairs sleep quality, often waking you in the small hours as the sedating effects leave your system.
If you haven't managed any exercise during the day, taking a little in the early evening can help induce tiredness. However, leave at least two hours between finishing your workout and going to bed, so that the adrenaline has time to leave your system.
Establish an evening routine that will help you wind down, signaling to your body that the time for sleep is approaching. Maybe read a few pages of a book in a specific chair, or write a daily journal. Whatever you choose, so long as it's a relaxing activity you do at roughly the same time each day, it will help your body clock to keep in time.
Lastly, avoid devices with electronic screens for at least an hour before trying to sleep. The high levels of blue light they emit can fool your body into thinking it's still high noon rather than late evening. Activating a device's night mode is helpful if you absolutely must use a screen, but complete avoidance is better.
Making your bedroom a peaceful haven is vital unless you want to undo your good work preparing for sleep through the day. Do what you can to ensure the room is dark, quiet, and cool. Use good-quality pillows which support your head for easier breathing, and use a firm mattress that supports your reclining posture.
If you're struggling to fall asleep, or if you wake during the night, don't lie there watching your alarm clock slowly mark the passing hours. Instead, get out of bed and take a brief walk around your home to give your frustration a little release. Maybe read a few pages of a book to distract and reset your mind. However, avoid turning to your smartphone or other electronic devices with their blue-tinged light.
Most people experience some level of insomnia from time to time. But rather than falling back on medical solutions or other quick fixes, making sleep preparation a full part of your daily routine can achieve all-natural and longer-lasting results.