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9 Ways to Improve Sleep

The secret to a restful sleep is in your sleep hygiene plan

Struggling to fall asleep?
Frequently waking during the night?
Constantly going to bed later than you should?
Feeling tired and wired? 

You need to address your sleep hygiene.

Learn what causes sleep issues, how to adopt a healthy sleep routine and 9 ways to improve sleep.

What causes sleep issues?

  • Stress and anxiety
  • A racing mind
  • Stimulants like coffee, energy drinks and alcohol
  • Being too hot or too cold
  • Sleep apnoea (breathing stops and starts when asleep)
  • Excess screen time and electromagnetic radiation
  • Poor sleep habits and lack of sleep routine
  • Poorly ventilated bedroom and uncomfortable bedding/ mattress
  • A diet that is high in sugar and lacking in nutrients
  • Certain medications such as corticosteroids, ACE inhibitors and SSRI antidepressants
  • Circadian rhythm disruptions due to shift work or jet lag

 Health problems from lack of sleep

Lack of sleep is incredibly detrimental to your health and can cause a whole host of health issues. Sleep deprivation is cumulative so if you’re regularly getting less sleep than you need, your sleep debt will soon wrack up. It’s very difficult to catch up on cumulative lost sleep, especially if you’re losing out on 1-2 hours of precious sleep per night.

Health issues that can arise from poor sleep include:

  • Concentration and memory issues
  • Low mood, anxiety, paranoia and depression
  • Poor immune function and frequent infections
  • Coordination and balance problems
  • Weight gain and increased risk of obesity
  • Cardiovascular issues such as high blood pressure
  • Blood sugar imbalance and diabetes
  • Lowered libido and fertility complications

What is sleep hygiene?

Sleep hygiene relates to your sleep habits; the behavioural and environmental factors that contribute to your sleep quality, which can be both positive and negative. You may or may not be aware of your sleep hygiene, but paying attention to it is vital if you want a better night’s sleep. Sleep hygiene is essential for physical and emotional well-being and your overall vitality as it enables your body and mind to wind down after a busy day and prepare you for a restful sleep.

Poor sleep hygiene can lead to:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Sleep disturbances and frequent waking
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Decreased productivity and focus
  • Chronic fatigue and exhaustion

How to adopt a healthy sleep routine

Having a relaxing and comfortable bedroom environment is essential as it should encourage sleep, not impede it. This means:

  • No tv or devices in the bedroom
  • Avoid charging your mobile in the room overnight
  • Keep your phone on airplane mode or switched off – it needs to be as far away from your head as possible
  • Turn off your Wi-Fi at night to remove excess sources of electromagnetic radiation
  • Low lighting – salt lamps are great in the bedroom
  • Good quality pillows, duvets and mattresses
  • Black-out blinds or curtains to prevent light seeping in
  • Aim to keep your bedroom clutter-free and tidy so it’s an enticing environment to be in

Maintain a stable sleep schedule so that you go to sleep and wake up around the same time each day. This helps to regulate your body’s internal clock and makes falling asleep and waking up much easier. Avoid napping as this can also disrupt your sleep cycle.

Aim for between 7 – 9 hours of sleep per night. This is the ideal amount of sleep that adults need to allow the body and mind to rest and recharge.

Adopt a relaxing bedtime routine to help you wind-down for bed and reduce stress. Do this same routine every night so it becomes a healthy habit.

  • Stop using screens at least an hour before bed – so no checking emails or social media in bed!
  • Listen to some relaxing music
  • Have an Epsom salt bath with a few drops of lavender essential oil
  • Read a light-hearted book
  • Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises to calm the nervous system and journal writing to clear a cluttered mind

How to improve sleep

  1. Avoid eating heavy meals before bed. Eat dinner at least 2 hours before going to sleep to allow the food to digest properly. Lying down straight after eating impedes digestion and can cause digestive complaints such as heartburn, reflux and bloating, as well as disturbed sleep.
  1. Cut out caffeine completely – even your morning coffee. Caffeine is a stimulant and a known sleep disruptor as it interferes with your circadian rhythm and the production of melatonin (the sleep hormone), delaying sleep onset. Replace coffee with herbal teas or coffee alternatives like a golden latte, chicory root coffee or chai latte.
  1. Don’t drink alcohol as even one glass of wine or beer could interrupt your sleep. Alcohol disrupts your REM sleep and decreases total sleep time and quality. REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep is important for mood, memory and learning so a reduction in REM sleep can result in memory issues, mood swings, reduced coping skills and poor focus. Alcohol is often used as a sleep aid as it can make you feel sleepy and help you fall asleep quickly. However, most people will wake a few hours later and struggle to get back to sleep.
  1. Ensure your bedroom is well ventilated and has good air flow. A well-ventilated room helps to reduce carbon dioxide levels and balance humidity to improve sleep quality. A poorly ventilated room is not good for your health.
  1. Don’t do use sprays, perfumes or chemical-laden cleaning products in your bedroom. The fragrances used in common household and personal care products such as deodorants, perfumes, candles, cleaning products and air fresheners contain multiple toxic chemicals that can interfere with sleep in sensitive individuals. Learn more about the dangers of fragrances.
  1. Reduce sugar consumption including refined carbohydrates (bread, cakes, biscuits, pastries, pizza), fruit juices and fizzy drinks. High-sugar diets have shown to increase restlessness at night, reduce sleep quality and instigate frequent night waking. Sugar also contributes to inflammation in the body which can negatively impact your sleep.
  1. Sleep-inducing herbs like Valerian, Passionflower, Hops, Chamomile and Lavender help to calm the mind and body and initiate the onset of sleep. Herbalists have used these herbs for centuries to address sleep issues, stress and anxiety due to their hypnotic and sedate actions. Herbs can be taken as a tea (using the dried herbs), capsules or liquid tinctures. There are many “sleepy tea” formulas available or you can purchase the dried herbs and make your own. Liquid tinctures are more concentrated and offer a therapeutic dose of the herb – speak to a qualified herbalist who can advise you on the best herbs and dose for you. Learn more about herbal medicine.
  1. Bach flower remedies are particularly helpful for a restful night’s sleep. Specific Bach flowers for sleep include White Chestnut (to calm a restless mind), Impatiens (to reduce tension and irritability), Aspen (to create inner peace) and Vervain (to help you wind-down after a busy day). Learn more using Bach flower remedies.
  1. Exercise during the day as physical activity can improve sleep quality and reduce the time it takes to fall asleep. Going for a walk towards the end of the day is very therapeutic, helping to clear the mind and relieve stress and anxiety. Evening walks have shown to improve sleep pattern and facilitate deep sleeping.

Quality sleep is the key to health

Having consistent, good-quality, restful sleep is key for good health. Don’t underestimate how damaging lack of sleep can be to the body. Improving your sleep hygiene is essential – create a relaxing bedtime routine, minimise screen time, cut out caffeine and alcohol and keep sugar to a minimum. Natural remedies like Bach flowers, sleep herbs and lavender essential oil can also help induce sleep by quietening the mind and helping you wind-down.

To learn more about how you can use herbs and nutrition to improve your anxiety, take a look at CNM’s Herbs for Everyday Living short course and Nutrition for Everyday Living short course.

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Blog/Article content reflects the author's research and diverse opinions, not necessarily CNM's views. Items may not be regularly updated, so represent the best available understanding at the time of publication.

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