A restful night of sleep is vital to living a healthy life, so if you’re having trouble getting to sleep or find yourself waking up during the night, here’s how you can optimise your sleep with 10 tips that might really help.
1. Don’t consume caffeine after midday
Throughout the day, adenosine binds to adenosine receptors to increase your desire for sleep, so that when the evening comes, your body is ready for bed. Caffeine blocks these adenosine receptors, thereby reducing your sleep drive. This is how drinking coffee keeps you awake. Of course, the caffeine doesn’t stay in your system forever, but it does take up to 9.5 hours to clear. Therefore, it’s best to avoid caffeine after midday. Although we all know about coffee, other sources of caffeine also include cocoa (so yes, that unfortunately means chocolate too), green and black tea and some soft drinks, and energy drinks.
2. Eat low-GI carbs at dinner
You’ve most likely heard of melatonin, the sleep-hormone that signals night-time is coming. Along with adenosine, it’s one of the major triggers in the body that prepares us for sleep. A great way to exploit this is to include a source of low-GI carbs with dinner, as these cause the body to release tryptophan, which is the precursor to melatonin. Some examples are green vegetables, legumes, soy products, whole fruit and pasta.
3. Regulate your dinner time and size for sleep
Try to avoid large meals at dinner and leave a 2-3 hour break from finishing eating to going to bed. This prevents you from putting extra strain on your digestive system, ensuring that your body can relax completely and is not kept up having to digest your food. It can also help you stay asleep throughout the night.
4. Limit bright light before bed
We have receptors in our eyes that detect the levels of light in our environment and use this information to set our circadian rhythm (body clock). If it’s light, it signals to the body that it’s daytime and when it gets dark, it signals to the body that it’s night-time and that we should be asleep. To sync your circadian rhythm, try to get direct sunlight (if possible, watch the sunrise) in the morning to alert your body that it needs to wake up. As evening comes, you should dim and switch off overhead lights, and turn on lamps instead to optimise your sleep. For the same reason, avoid blue light from screens (which signals to the body that it’s daytime because the sky is blue) at least 1 hour before getting into bed. This includes shutting off phones, laptops and TV.
5. Limit high fat foods before bed
In the evening, it’s best to stay away from high fat foods, as these take longer to digest. When it comes to dinner and late-night snacks, avoid ice cream, creamy or buttery sauces, fatty meats and large amounts of cheese.
6. Avoid high sugar foods before bed
Towards the afternoon and evening, you don’t want a huge spike in your blood sugar, so it’s best to limit sugary foods, like chocolate, lollies, ice cream and cakes.
7. Avoid large calorie deficits
Although some of these tips may sound restrictive, they only apply to the evening and there are plenty of other foods that are perfectly fine to enjoy all day long, so it’s important to still eat enough throughout the day. Being hungry at night makes it hard to relax, fall asleep and then stay asleep. No one likes a rumbling tummy and neither does your sleep.
8. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time
We’re creatures of habit, so your sleep thrives off of consistency. To work with, rather than against, your circadian rhythm, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can be an effective way to optimise your sleep, as well as an easy wake-up in the morning.
9. Limit alcohol
Alcohol has been found to decrease sleep quality. Although some people find a glass of wine before bed helps them get to sleep, alcohol reduces rapid eye movement (REM sleep), which is really important for dreaming, emotional processing and memory formation. Without it you may end up feeling sluggish and foggy-headed the next day.
10. Reduce stress
Stress is a huge contributor to disrupted sleep because it is a response of the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight), which works against your parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). So, the more stressed you are, the more your parasympathetic nervous system will be drowned out, preventing you from getting to sleep because your body thinks it’s in grave danger and is ready to fight or run. To get you into sleep mode despite the stresses of the day, you could try doing some stretches, taking some deep breaths, having a bath or reading a book before bed. This will signal to your system that you are safe and will start to deactivate your sympathetic nervous system. However, it might also be time to address unnecessary stressors in your life and make adjustments to minimise these – your health should come first.
Are you a new mum hoping to optimise sleep for your little ones as well? Read my article on breast milk components that promote sleep, including a great option for mums who aren’t breastfeeding. For more healthy living tips, follow me on Instagram.