We’ve always known you need a good night’s sleep to be at your best. There’s nothing worse than feeling drained because you can’t figure out how to sleep better! Recent research shows that sleep is even more important for our overall good health than we previously thought. The team at Mingara One Fitness wants everyone to benefit from better sleep. To help you crack out the zeds, they’ve drawn on all their health and wellbeing knowledge to bring you this guide on how to sleep better.
If you have been burning the candle at both ends, take the time to read this guide. It will probably motivate you to head to bed much sooner tonight!
Why sleep is important
We are universally groggy, irritable and hungry when we have not had enough sleep. When we’re overtired we are snappy with the people around us and we find ourselves making silly mistakes at work and at home.
However, there is more to the story than feeling under par for the day after a night without enough sleep. Scientists have now found sleep loss to be linked to a range of diseases.
For example, research has also shown that after just one night of only four or five hours’ sleep, the cells in your body responsible for killing off cancer cells are diminished by 70 per cent.
If that’s not enough to send you to bed, consider that over 200 studies have found that getting less sleep leads to a shorter lifespan. If you are over the age of 45 and sleep for less than six hours a night, your risk of a heart attack or stroke is 200 per cent higher than someone who gets their full eight hours of snooze time. This is because going without sleep has been known to result in raised blood pressure.
Lack of sleep can also be related to weight gain as it limits your body’s ability to control blood sugar levels (hello diabetes). What’s more, if you don’t sleep enough, your immune system will be impacted almost instantly. This means you are more susceptible to colds and flu. That’s a lot of motivation to learn how to sleep better.
Listen to the experts
As shared by sleep expert Dr Matthew Walker, “No aspect of our biology is left unscathed by sleep deprivation. It sinks down into every possible nook and cranny.” Dr Walker believes that in the UK, sleep loss costs the economy over £30bn a year in lost revenue (or 2% of GDP.)
Here are some further insights from Dr Walker, which explain why a good, restful night’s sleep is so important:
“During NREM sleep, your brain goes into this incredible synchronised pattern of rhythmic chanting. There’s a remarkable unity across the surface of the brain, like a deep, slow mantra. A vast amount of memory processing is going on. To produce these brain waves, hundreds of thousands of cells all sing together, and then go silent, and on and on. Meanwhile, your body settles into this lovely low state of energy, the best blood-pressure medicine you could ever hope for.”
The above quote makes it clear why sleep is also important for good mental health. Adequate rest gives your brain time to sift through all the information it has absorbed during the day. It prepares itself for the challenges of the day ahead. Without it, you will find it difficult to process information and become stressed and anxious.
How much sleep do you really need?
The Sleep Foundation recommends healthy adults aim for 7 to 9 hours asleep in bed each night as a basic guideline. However, this does depend on your individual circumstances. The Foundation urges people to pay attention to their own individual needs by assessing how they feel on different amounts of sleep.
For example, ask yourself whether you:
- Are generally productive, healthy and happy on seven hours of sleep? Or does it take nine hours of snooze time to get you into high gear?
- Have health issues such as being overweight?
- Think snoring or sleep apnoea impact the amount of sleep you need?
- Are experiencing sleep problems such as difficulty falling asleep, frequent waking or trouble waking up in the morning?
- Depend on caffeine to get you through the day?
- Feel sleepy when driving?
- Look forward to the weekend so you can catch up on sleep?
- Feel tired most days?
Depending on your answers, you may need to boost the number of hours you sleep each day, or you may be able to get away with slightly less than the advised amount.
Even more sleep is recommended for children and teenagers. Take a look at the following and consider if your kids need to switch off their devices earlier:
- Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours each day
- Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours
- Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours
- Preschoolers (3-5): 10-13 hours
- School-age children (6-13): 9-11 hours
- Teenagers (14-17): 8-10 hours
What factors can affect your sleep?
It’s not just partying all night or working late which can impact the duration and quality of your sleep. The following factors also play a part:
There is nothing worse than lying awake with something on your mind. This is a challenge faced by most people at some stage in their lives but some face regular ‘fizz brain’ more than others. In some cases, playing soothing music at a low level or learning to meditate can help the mind to calm down.
Having a big meal right before bed can make it very hard to go to sleep as your body will be struggling to digest the food you ate. Some specialists recommend avoiding heavy foods like pasta, hot chips, crisps or rich desserts less than four hours before bedtime as these can interfere with your rest time.
Lack of exercise
If your body isn’t ‘tired’ enough, you may find it difficult to switch off at night, particularly if you are feeling stressed. Studies have found people sleep better and feel more alert during the day if they get at least 150 minutes of vigorous exercise during the week. That’s only three workout sessions of less than an hour, which should be easy to find time for, even if you have a busy schedule.
You may need that first cup of coffee to get yourself going in the morning but if you are still reaching for your cappuccino at 4 pm, you could be trapped in a vicious cycle. Having caffeine this late will affect your ability to nod off, meaning you are still fighting to stay on top of things the next day. We all love our coffee, but drinking too much is definitely not part of the ‘how to sleep better’ plan.
Too much alcohol makes you drowsy but unfortunately, it can affect the quality of your sleep. You are more likely to snore and wake frequently, plus alcohol has been found to impact melatonin production, confusing your body’s understanding of when to rest.
Unfortunately, having kids can be one of the biggest inhibitors to sleeping well at night! In the early days, experts recommend you forget about the housework and try to snooze while they nap. It is important parents prioritise their own health and try to find the time to sleep where they can. This may mean taking the time to exercise so you get a better quality sleep, or cutting back on activities to allow more hours to rest.
The WHO estimates Western Europeans collectively lose 1 million years of healthy life due to traffic-related noise. Sounds as low as 30 decibels can affect rest, and by comparison, busy traffic comes it at 70 dB. If you live on a busy road, consider using earplugs to block out the sounds which may be disrupting your rest.
How to sleep better
Getting enough sleep isn’t always a matter of getting to bed on time. As an individual, it makes sense to assess your own needs and habits before determining how much sleep you need and how to maximise the quality of your rest each night.
After you have paid attention to your mood, energy levels and overall well-being after a bad night’s sleep vs a good one, think about how often you are actually getting a good night’s sleep. If it is only once or twice a week, you may need to rethink your bedtime practices.
Here are some ways you can ensure you sleep enough at night:
- Enjoy the sunshine during the day. Heading outside into the bright light boosts your circadian rhythms so your body responds to darkness by slowing down.
- Stick to a sleep schedule. Try to go to bed at the same time each night, even on weekends.
- Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual. For example, having a warm bath, sitting quietly for a few minutes or writing down your troubles and your to-do list for the next day so you find it easier to switch off. You can also try writing down the things you are grateful for so you end the day on a positive note and don’t turn over negative thoughts in your head
- Set a ‘bedtime alarm’, which goes off half an hour before you usually go to bed so you can start winding down
- Exercise daily. This can be anything from a brisk walk on the treadmill to a high-impact workout session.
- Start practising yoga. This thoughtful, low-impact workout gives you time to quiet your mind and encourages your body to relax through gentle movements which you can work through at your own level of ability.
- Learn meditation. Studies have found meditation can reduce stress, which in turn can help you sleep better
- Evaluate your bedroom to ensure the ideal temperature, sound and light. Invest in some ultra-comfy bedding and try to avoid working or using an electronic device in bed.
- Limit your alcohol and caffeine intake. Save the mid-afternoon coffee for emergencies only and make it a habit not to have more than a couple of drinks in the evening.
- Encourage your children to practice good bedtime routines so they go to bed at a decent hour.
- Work out the best way to sleep with children in the house. If co-sleeping is the only thing that works for your family, do it! You will wake up feeling refreshed instead of being interrupted all night (this is not recommended for tiny babies). Alternatively, put a mattress by your bed so your children can come in without disturbing you. You could also work on a reward system for older children which encourages them to stay in their rooms until morning
- Book a night away from your children whenever possible so you can catch up and repay your sleep debt.
Experts recommend against relying on sleeping pills as a way to catch up on sleep. These drugs can have adverse side effects including dependency and memory loss.
What to do if you’re still not getting enough sleep
So you’re doing all the right things in terms of exercise and you’re practising mindful sleeping habits. Still not feeling rested in the morning?
You may find joining a gym can make a big difference to how well you sleep. Even if you feel too tired to work out, the result can be a better night’s sleep. Your body’s exhaustion will override a busy brain. It’s one of the sure-fire answers to the question of how to sleep better.
At Mingara One, we offer a range of workout options and equipment. Join us for a high-energy body attack, cycle or body pump class to leave yourself feeling exhausted (in a good way!), or come along to yoga or meditation as a way to find the peace you need and unwind. Alternatively, you can use the weights and cardio equipment on your own to work up a sweat.
While sleep expert Dr Walker believes doctors should prescribe sleep to their patients, it is important to take responsibility for your own health. Make sleep a priority. Live as healthy a lifestyle as possible, with lots of good food and exercise. In combination with yoga or meditation, you’ll catch those zzz’s more easily. If you haven’t managed to sort your sleep out after reading our guide, you may need to visit your doctor. They will give you some guidance on how to sleep better, and this will rule out any underlying problems.