Sleep is vital for the repair and regeneration of our bodies and brains, and it is one of the most important things we can do for our health.
Sleep is as important as regular exercise and a healthy diet for our wellbeing and without enough sleep, or with poor sleep quality, our mental and physical health will suffer.
Sleep deprivation has long-term health effects, so it is vital to find ways to improve your sleep if it is something you struggle with.
To ensure better quality sleep we can do the following:
Create a sleep schedule and stick to it
The average adult needs anywhere between 6 and 8 hours of sleep daily, but ideally, we should go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
Regularly going to bed too late will negatively impact your brain and physical capacity the next day. Trying to “catch up” by sleeping in is also not helpful because it can put you into a jet lag-like state, which sets you back more than it helps you.
Establish a wind-down pre-sleep routine that you start a few hours before bedtime. Only go to bed when you are tired. Trying to go to sleep too early if you are not tired can be counterproductive. Make sure your bedroom is tidy, well ventilated, and at a comfortable temperature.
As appealing as daytime naps are, they can interfere with our ability to sleep well at night-time. If you absolutely must nap, make it a short nap – not more than 20 minutes. It would be a good idea though to establish why you have the need to nap. There could be some other underlying health issues that need to be addressed.
Get enough exercise
Exercise alleviates daytime sleepiness and reduces the need for naps. Moderate to vigorous exercise can reduce the time it takes for us to fall asleep and improve the quality of our sleep.
Exercise helps us to manage our weight which is important because a higher-than-normal body weight increases the likelihood of sleep apnea which interferes with sleep quality and reduces the amount of oxygen supply to the brain. Sleep apnea causes daytime sleepiness which can be dangerous if you fall asleep or have micro-sleeps while driving or operating machinery.
Avoid exercising too late as this can have a stimulating effect that can keep you awake rather than help you sleep.
When we have high amounts of stress our bodies release stress hormones that can prevent our minds from switching off so that we can fall asleep. Stress can cause us to be restless and wakeful during the night, and it can prevent us from going into the deep restorative level of sleep that we need.
Avoid large meals late in the evening
Your body takes time to digest your food and if the digestive processes are not complete your quality of sleep can be compromised. It’s also not a good idea to go to bed hungry. Blood sugar fluctuations during the night can be disruptive to your sleep too.
Natural supplements that can be used include:
- Chamomile tea
- Valerian, hops, or passionflower. Some remedies have a combination of a few of these herbs
- Magnesium taken at night can relax our muscles and nervous systems and help for a better sleep quality
- L-theanine. This is an amino acid that helps to ease anxiety and stress and can be very helpful for people who struggle to sleep.
- Essential oils such as lavender can be very calming so can be great to use for sleep
Listen to my interview with Brad Kirsten from Radio Cape Pulpit on 4 August 2022 to learn more. Listen to my next interview on Thursday at 7.45am