Dr Kate Owen
Tips for Better Sleep
Updated: Feb 5, 2022
Do you feel tired? Do you wake up aching and sore? Do you find it hard to get to sleep or stay asleep?
Read this article to learn more about optimal sleep patterns, and tips for creating the right conditions for better quality sleep.
How Much Sleep?
Research tells us that adults need 8 hours and 15 minutes of sleep on average every night for optimal brain and body functioning.
Let's round that out to 8 to 9 hours on average.
Just note that children and teenagers run on a different sleep cycle.
How much sleep are you getting on average?
Stages of Sleep
The first stage of sleep is a transition phase between waking and sleeping. During this stage your brain waves are initially active and fast (Beta waves) and slowly move into a more relaxed and calm state (Alpha waves).
The second stage of sleep is light sleep. During this stage your brain waves slow to Theta state where you are still awake but your body is drifting into sleep. This is the stage of sleep that many people with insomnia stay in. Theta state is also associated with deep states of meditation.
Stages three and four are considered deep and restorative sleep. When in deep sleep your brain frequency is usually in Delta wave. Deep sleep gives your immune system a boost.
Stress and Sleep
When you are stressed your body releases chemicals which interferes with the deep sleep process. This is when we feel "sleep deprived". And when we consistently miss out on deep and restorative sleep, our body feels sore and aching. This is a sign that our immune system has been suppressed.
Stress and Weight
Research tells us that there is a link between sleep deprivation and weight gain.
When you are sleep deprived your body produces chemicals that promote hunger and craving for starchy, high-carb, sweet, and high-calorie foods.
Tips For Better Sleep
With this knowledge you have the power to change your approach to sleep and create the conditions to reach deep and restorative sleep.
Below are several simple tips that you can implement into your daily life. Keep a record of which strategies work best for you. The key is to consistently implement these changes over a three to four week period until you have created a new habit.
(1) Sleep Routine
The best starting place for creating healthy sleep habits is to establish a predictable sleep and wake cycle. Try to get to bed around the same time every night, and set your alarm for the same time every morning.
Most people like to "unwind" by looking at their devices while laying in bed. However, the research tells us that this is counterproductive for helping our brains to unwind.
In fact, the blue light from the screen replicates some of the UV light that we see in the sun. Therefore, when we are looking at screens at night time, our brain is given the message that it is daylight and that we should stay alert.
A screen filter that removes the blue light can be helpful.
But seriously consider putting down devices at least two hours before your bed time.
(3) Hot Shower
Your body temperature also affects your sleep quality. To promote sleep it can be helpful to have a hot shower just before bed, so that your body cools rapidly as you get into bed.
The research tells us that your body temperature should be in the process of dropping as you go to sleep, and so it might be helpful to use air conditioning to induce a temperature reduction.
(4) Dark Room
Make your room like a cave! When it is dark, the retina sends information to the brain that it should produce melatonin to start the sleep cycle. Melatonin is a key chemical in quality sleep.
In fact, it can be helpful to adjust the lighting in all parts of the house two to three hours before bedtime to kickstart the "circadian rhythm". Turn off bright lights, dim lights if possible, or use lamps.
(5) Reduce Caffeine
Ideally everyone should be aiming for 0 to 2 serves of caffeine per day.
If you like your coffee, tea or energy drinks, then seriously consider how much you are consuming, and setting a "cut off" time in the afternoon to allow your body and brain to recover from the stimulation in time for bed.
Caffeine contributes to sleep problems because it blocks a sleep promoting chemical called 'adenosine' which is vital for the deep sleep stages.
Alcohol can assist in falling to sleep quickly, as most people report feeling "relaxed" after consuming alcohol. However, drinking alcohol leads to disrupted sleep as you will wake up several times in the night as the alcohol wears off.
Ideally for quality and restorative sleep, you should stop drinking several hours before bed, or have no alcohol at all in your system.
Research tells us that 30 minutes of exercise during the day (but not right before bedtime) helps promote sleep.
Lots of protein before bed can increase your energy levels, and avoid simple carbohydrates (e.g., white bread, pasta, and baked treats).
Consider consuming a small amount of complex carbohydrates, as these foods are rich in amino acids that convert to serotonin that promote sedation. These include popcorn, oatmeal, and other wholegrain foods.
Other foods that promote sleep include almonds, walnuts, cottage cheese, raspberries, and chamomile tea.
(9) No Daytime Napping.
I think that this is fairly self explanatory!
You have the power to train your brain to switch off from the stimulation of the outside world. Meditation is a powerful tool to calm your brain and body. And with so many apps available, it is now very easy to listen to a 5 minute meditation before bedtime.
My favourite apps are the free version of "Simple Habit" and the free app"Smiling Mind".
Sometimes sleep problems are a "symptom" that lets you know that something is not quite right.
If you are overly stressed, anxious, worried, or depressed, then I would encourage you to seek help from family, friends or a trained professional.
Getting back to basics with sleep will be just one piece of the puzzle.
Watch Dr Kate Owen's YouTube video on getting better sleep.
Visit the National Sleep Foundation website.
Download "Top Tips For Sleep" handout.
Please note that this article provides general advice and might not suit your personal circumstance.