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How to Improve Sleep Quality | 21 Tips

When it comes to our health, a good night’s sleep is highly important. Regular poor sleep leaves you at risk of certain medical conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, lower life expectancy and obesity1. Also, if nothing else, it can make you incredibly irritable.

However, for many of us, getting 7-8 hours of quality sleep a night is easier said than done. Here are some tips, backed by science, to help you sleep better.

Tips to improve sleep quality

  1. No caffeine 6 hours before bed
  2. Increase exposure to natural light
  3. Avoid alcohol
  4. Find the right temperature
  5. Block out external noise
  6. Create a healthy sleep environment
  7. Don’t look at screens before bed
  8. Stop taking long naps
  9. Stick to a sleep schedule
  10. Avoid snacking and eating too late
  11. Practice relaxation techniques
  12. Upgrade your bed
  13. No fluids 1-2 hours before bed
  14. Ensure it’s not a medical condition
  15. Don’t exercise too late
  16. Take a hot bath or shower
  17. Avoid lie ins
  18. Sleep in the dark
  19. Quit smoking
  20. Learn techniques to get back to sleep
  21. Avoid working in your bed

Food & Drink

No caffeine 6 hours before bed

Sleep is an essential part of self care, so it’s important to prioritise it. While caffeine has numerous benefits, including increasing attention and alertness2, it’s a stimulant that has been proven to stop your body naturally relaxing at night.

Caffeine can stay in your system for 6-8 hours, so it’s recommended to stop consuming it long before you go to bed. Particularly if you’re having trouble sleeping, coffee after 3pm should be avoided. Opt for a decaf instead.

Avoid Alcohol

Alcohol and sleep do not mix well. Not only can it disrupt your sleep pattern, but it alters melatonin production, throwing off your circadian rhythm. It will also heighten the symptoms of sleep apnea and snoring. You might think alcohol sends you into a deep sleep, but in fact, it leads to poor-quality sleep.

Avoid snacking and eating too late

Avoid eating too late, as this can raise your blood sugar levels, making your body less prepared to sleep3. If possible, try having dinner a bit earlier and not snacking at least two hours before bed. You should avoid sugary snacks in particular.

No fluids 1-2 hours before bed

Excessive urination at night is known as nocturia4, which can disturb sleep. Most of us don’t need to go to the toilet during the night and can sleep uninterrupted for 6-8 hours, but others suffer multiple disruptions.

Consuming too many liquids, particularly before bed, is a common cause of this. Try reducing fluid consumption in the evenings.

What to do during the day

Increase your exposure to natural light

Your circadian rhythm is a natural process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle, helping to control your sleep schedule5. It’s influenced by light and darkness.

Natural sunlight can help keep your circadian rhythm healthy, improving your energy during the day as well as your sleep quality at night. Exposure to bright light has also been proven to help people with insomnia6.

Of course, sometimes your natural rhythm can be thrown out of sync due to:

  • Working night shifts
  • Stress
  • Medication
  • Eating and drinking late at night

Maintaining a sleep schedule can help keep it consistent, as can spending time outdoors when the sun’s out. Try sticking to a routine and ensuring you do regular exercise too.

Ensure it's not a medical condition

Feel you’re doing everything right already? Even with the right temperature and the most comfortable mattress, some things are out of your control. There are many sleep disorders that might be the cause of your problems, such as:

  • Sleep apnea
  • Narcolepsy
  • Parasomnias
  • Restless leg syndrome (RLS)7

It’s worth checking to see if one of these is the cause of your poor sleep quality.

Don't exercise too late

Studies show that exercise helps you fall asleep more quickly and improve sleep quality8. However, performing it too late in the day can have the opposite effect, as it increases alertness, raises core temperature and releases endorphins.

These endorphins can stimulate the brain in a way that keeps you awake. For this reason, avoid exercising at least 1-2 hours before sleeping.

Avoid working in your bed

Even if working from home is your new normal, it’s important you have a separate area, or room, in which to work in. Associating your bed with work will make it more difficult to relax and fall asleep there.

Stop taking long naps

While short naps can have a positive impact when promoting healthy sleep, long daytime napping does the opposite. It can confuse your body clock and throw your natural rhythms off, causing you to struggle when trying to fall asleep at night.

Optimise your bedroom

Find the right temperature

It’s important to get the temperature right. Feeling cosy and warm at night is one thing, overheating and having your sleep disrupted is another. Or, do you find yourself shivering more than you’re sleeping?

While it can vary person to person, the best temperature for sleep is around 18.3°C9. Anything between 15.6 to 19.4°C results in the most comfortable sleep. So, if you’re struggling to get a good night’s sleep, it might be time to adjust the radiator settings.

Sleep in the dark

Too much light will negatively impact your melatonin levels. Ensure all lamps are off and there’s no light coming in through the windows or blinds. Eye masks and black-out blinds can be great aids.

Also, if you have to get up in the night for any reason, keep the lights dim so as not to disrupt your sleep too much.

Block out external noise

Unsurprisingly, sleep quality is significantly improved when noise is diminished10. This could be from traffic, for example. If you live on a noisy street, ear plugs could help you get a decent night’s sleep.

Create a healthy sleep environment

Some tips for a healthy sleep environment include:

  1. Finding the right pillow & mattress
  2. Decluttering
  3. Trying aromatherapy
  4. Hiding your alarm clock

Essentially, you want to create an environment that makes you want to sleep, while taking your mind off sleep itself and the stresses of the day.

Upgrade your bed

Are you sleeping on a lumpy, uncomfortable mattress that’s had better days? Is your pillow feeling worn out? Are your bed sheets old and scratchy?

It might be time to upgrade the environment you sleep in. Your mattress will need a refresh after 10 years, pillows after 1-2 years, sheets after 2 years and duvets every 15 years11.

Learn techniques to get back to sleep

Do you wake up in the night, and have trouble drifting off again? Some tips include:

  • Avoid looking at your phone
  • Do simple breathing exercises
  • Read quietly
  • Try to relax, don’t over-focus on sleep – you’ll stress yourself out
  • Focus on the feelings in your body
  • Listen to a calming playlist12

Lifestyle changes

Stick to a sleep schedule

Consistency is key when it comes to long-term sleep quality. Those who have irregular, later bed and waking times, and therefore an irregular sleep schedule, are more likely to be subject to poor sleep13.

Avoid lie ins

Sleeping in on the weekend is a temptation that can be tough to resist. However, it can cause jet lag-like symptoms14, particularly if your weekend/weekday sleeping schedule is dramatically different.

Quit smoking

Like caffeine, nicotine is another stimulant that not only disrupts sleep but raises your chance of worsening conditions such as sleep apnea15. So, ideally, quit smoking or, at the very least, reduce your amount of cigarettes.

What to do before bed

Take a hot bath or shower

Taking a hot bath or shower is a great way to relax and can help you fall asleep faster. Bathe 1-2 hours before bed for the best sleep16; you don’t need to be in there more than 10 minutes (but you can if you want to!)

Don't look at screens before bed

It’s not just children who are vulnerable; electronics can diminish sleep quality in adults too. Staring at the TV, or your phone, while trying to fall asleep will likely have the opposite effect. This is because electrics produce blue light, which reduces or delays the body’s natural production of melatonin, decreasing feelings of tiredness17.

Practice relaxation techniques

Relaxing before bed has been shown to improve sleep quality18, as well as reduce the symptoms of insomnia. Even if you don’t feel particularly stressed, this might be highly beneficial. Some techniques you could try include:

  • Breathing exercises
  • Visualising calming scenes or stories
  • Meditation
  • Listening to relaxing, quiet music
  • Reading
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