health

12 ways to improve the quality of your sleep.

There’s more to a good night’s sleep than going to bed early or sleeping in the next day. Trust me, I know this for a fact. I have been going to bed at my new, early, daggy, anti-social bedtime of 9.30pm for the past few months and despite this, I wake up each and every morning feeling like I’ve only slept for a couple of hours.

As a result, getting out of bed is a major struggle. As is completing the millions of tasks I have to do each day. I find myself mumbling “that’ll do” several times a day, nothing quite being “good enough”, thinking that one day I will wake up refreshed and rested with laser-like focus.

A bit like in that movie Limitless, except they have to take a synthetic drug to achieve that effect. He writes a book in a day. I want me some of that.

'In the movie Limitless a writer completes a book in a day thanks to a synthetic drug. This is the effect I imagine just one good night's sleep will have.' Image: Limitless, Relativity

That's how I imagine it will feel if I am well-rested. Okay, it might not give me magical powers. But at least it will be easier to get out of bed in the morning.

When it comes to getting a good night's sleep there are some simple mistakes we are all making according to Lisa Bond, Marketing Director at UK sleep advice company Dreams, which commissioned research into sleeping habits.

The resulting report found that the average adult will spend an hour and 30 minutes trying to get to sleep each night, three times a week. This equates to a loss of four-and-a-half hours of precious sleep every week.

Also, women lose more sleep than men, struggling to fall asleep four times a week compared to a man's three times a week. (So not fair.)

The good news is that for every simple mistake, there's a simple fix.

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Don't eat in bed

I've always believed that eating at bedtime, particularly in bed, disturbs your night's sleep because you are: keeping your brain awake digesting food which can cause nightmares; associating your bed with eating instead of sleeping; and dropping crumbs in bed which can make your bed uncomfortable and sleep more difficult.

Eating in bed at bedtime is an easy habit to break. If you have to replace this habit with something, try some nice, relaxing herbal tea or a good book, preferably not an electronic one you've downloaded onto a device.

Michael Grandner, PhD, a psychiatry instructor and member of the Behavioural Sleep Medicine Program at the University of Pennsylvania, says it's particularly important to avoid foods that cause acid reflux. He told Health, "Ideally, you should have dinner at least two hours before going to sleep to give your body enough time to begin digesting it. If you're used to eating something right before bed, stick with sleep-promoting foods like simple carbs or a glass of milk."

No more sleeping with pets

Sleeping in bed with a pet is like sleeping in bed with a toddler. Your cat or dog may fall asleep in a reasonable position, however at some stage throughout the night they spread out and you and your partner end up clinging to the edges of either side of the bed.

Cats need to use the bathroom throughout the night and will meow in your face to let you know they need the door opened. My dog barks at every early worker who parks their car on our street before walking to the nearby bus stop... It's a type of chaos you don't need when you're trying to get a good night's sleep.

Get your pets used to sleeping in another room, preferably one without humans. They don't have to work the next day. You do. Your sleep is more important than their sleep is.

Bulldogs playing with a sleeping baby. Awww... Article continues after this video.

Your partner needs to stop snoring

My husband is a snorer and I'm happy to report that instead of it waking me up every night, I have completely adjusted to his snoring habit. I only wake up now when he stops snoring because that normally means he has stopped breathing and I have to elbow him to change positions. Partners of overweight snorers know what I'm talking about.

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If you sleep with a snorer there's a number of things you can do. The first step is to visit a doctor and see what they suggest. If that fails, consider separate bedrooms.

Change your pillow or mattress

When is the last time you changed your pillow? Still using the one you took with you from your childhood home? Mistake. Pillow technology ha advanced so much. These days you can get a pillow that is perfect for your needs. You can find pillows made out of memory foam that cushion your head uniquely so you are supported and don't get a sore neck or back.

'If you are too hot or too cold or have the wrong mattress you'll have a terrible night's sleep.' Image: Jessica Jones, Netflix

Like pillows, mattresses have also advanced since you first moved to a queen size bed. Or, it may not be that your mattress is old at all, it might just not be the right mattress for you. Most furniture stores have staff who know so much about spinal support and which mattress to recommend for your particular needs.

If you find it difficult to get comfortable or wake up with aches and pains, changing up your mattress and your pillow might do the trick.

Hold off on the night caps

It may seem like the perfect way to fall asleep at night, downing a couple of relaxing glasses of wine and then nodding off easily, however health experts warn this is not a good idea. While alcohol will help you fall asleep, it robs you of getting a quality sleep throughout the night because it messes with your deep sleep patterns.

Dr. John Shneerson, head of the sleep centre at Papworth Hospital in Cambridge, told Drink Aware, that falling asleep with the help of alcohol of any kind robs you of quality sleep. "Deep sleep is when the body restores itself, and alcohol can interfere with this. As the alcohol starts to wear off, your body can come out of deep sleep and back into REM sleep, which is much easier to wake from. That's why you often wake up after just a few hours sleep when you've been drinking."

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Change your sheets more frequently

Changing your sheets once a week is a great habit to help with your sleep. It's not just because clean, crisp sheets are more comfortable, it's also because your sheets, like everything else in your house, retain all sorts of germs and dust mites and dead skin cells. You don't want these festering around you as you're trying to sleep.

Buy two or three sets of sheets so you don't have to do laundry too often and can change your sheets whenever you feel like getting some good shut-eye.

Limit screen time before bed

Using your device in bed at night stimulates your brain activity which can make it difficult to get to sleep, particularly as the light the screen emits can signal to your brain that it isn't nighttime at all.

But let's be realistic. Going cold turkey on device use in bed at night is probably a bit extreme. Instead, you can limit how much time you spend on your device, or you can use it to assist you in relaxing - try meditation apps or soothing music.

Robert Rosenberg, author of Sleep Soundly Every Night, Feel Fantastic Every Day, told Health we should avoid any light-emitting technology for at least one hour before bedtime. "The blue light given off by computers, smartphones, tablets, and TV prevents the production of melatonin which helps the body become sleepy."

Regulate your temperature

How many of us has realised we're too hot or too cold at night but are too tired to get up and do anything about it? Come on people, we are grown ups. Get up, fix your bedding and bed sheets and then get at least a few decent hours of sleep. Otherwise you know you'll be tossing and turning all night. It can be difficult when you sleep with someone whose body temperature is completely different to yours.

Don't hesitate to pile on extra blankets on your side and remove some from theirs to ensure you're both perfectly cocooned.

Relieve stress

There isn't anything stress doesn't affect so it makes sense that stress can make sleep incredibly difficult. Not only does stress make it hard to fall asleep in the first place, anxiety can cause a restless night of dreams and nightmares and you'll wake up wondering if you got any sleep at all.

'The key to a good night's sleep is to be comfortable and relaxed.' Image: Jessica Jones, Netflix
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Try some relaxation techniques to calm your mind ahead of bedtime. There are some good Apps that will teach you how, or just look them up online and then do them in bed at night. Happy thoughts only.

What about the children?

I often joke that I haven't "slept through" since I had my first child twelve years ago and this problem is a difficult one to solve. What has worked in the past for me, is my partner and I taking turns to get up for the kids. We divvy up the nights so at least one of us gets a good night's sleep. On the weekend we take turns sleeping in.

Then, as your kids get older, they get better at sleeping. You can also explain to them that your sleep is important too so it's best not to call you too often at night. This helps you to be a happy parent the next day.

Don't have that extra coffee

So many products contain caffeine including, tea, coffee, some fizzy drinks, biscuits and chocolates. Be careful how much caffeine you consume after 4pm or you could find yourself wide awake with nowhere to go. If you do your best to avoid caffeinated products after 4pm it can help you fall asleep faster and sleep much better. Drink water instead and choose herbal teas over black tea.

"Even caffeine at lunch can be too close to bedtime for some people," Grandner told Health. "Perhaps even more surprising: decaf coffee may not even be a safe bet. A 2007 Consumer Reports report found that some "decaf" samples" contained up to 20 milligrams of caffeine."

Don't go to bed if you're not tired

Don't go to bed just because it's bedtime. You may have gotten enough rest the night before and can get away with staying up for an extra hour or too. Sometimes if you go to bed too early your inability to fall asleep can stress you out and make it impossible to fall asleep at all, even by the time you are starting to feel tired.

Instead of deciding on a regular bedtime, aim for a bedtime "window". Just make sure you don't overshoot and stay up too late.

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