Do you have trouble falling asleep no matter how exhausted you are? Are you spending hours counting sheep or frequently wake up in the middle of the night, unable to get back to sleep? Are you feeling tired throughout the day?
More than 1.5 million Australians experience sleeping problems each day (1). Sleep is one of life’s biggest necessities, yet it rarely gets the attention it deserves. Does this sound like you?
Below are our top 8 tips to get more sleep but first, let’s learn a little bit about the topic of sleep.
What is insomnia?
Insomnia is defined as difficulty getting to and staying asleep (2). It does not necessarily mean having a short sleep or being laying awake for hours. Some people experience chronic insomnia even when their sleep is long enough in duration, but never feel completely rested or rejuvenated (2). If you often find that you can’t get a good night’s rest, there may be a chance you are experiencing insomnia.
How does sleep work?
Sleep has two phases. The first phase is rapid eye movement (REM), and the second is non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) (3). You enter the non-REM phase first. The mind slows down, heart rate and blood pressure reduction and breathing are slow and steady. 45- 60 minutes later, the body moves into the REM phase (3). During this time, the eyes are closed but they move rapidly in all directions. Muscles become limp and immobile.3 Vivid dreaming often occurs during this phase and REM sleep is believed to benefit learning, memory and mood.
Factors affecting sleep
There are numerous factors that can affect our ability to have a good night’s snooze. An important thing to consider is what could be the cause of this. It may be beneficial to ask yourself a few of these important questions surrounding the below topics.
- Are you feeling emotionally flat or are experiencing low feelings?
- Do you feel stressed and worried?
- Are you caring for a sick child or relative?
- Do you struggle with feelings of anxiety?
- Are you using technology prior to bedtime?
- What does your sleeping environment look like?
- Do you have a regular bedtime routine?
Medication and stimulants:
- Have you been taking any medication that may have side effects?
- Are you drinking caffeine before bedtime?
- Do you rely on alcohol to fall asleep?
- Are you a tobacco smoker?
Upon reflection of your answers to these questions, consider if any of these factors may be contributing to your lack of sleep. It’s important to seek support and explore potential coping mechanisms to boost your quality and quantity of sleep when needed.
How much should you be sleeping each night?
Studies show that the optimal amount of sleep for adults is around 7 hours each night (4). One study showed that sleeping more than 8 hours or less than 6 hours increased the risk of illness (4). A good night’s rest is essential for optimal hormonal and body function. If you lack sleep or get too much sleep, you may experience symptoms including:
- Extreme daytime tiredness
- Poor performance
- Muscle aches and pains
- Lack of motivation and concentration
- Anxiety and depression
- Mood disturbances
- Poor memory
8 tips to get more sleep
To make sure you're getting good quality shut-eye, here are eight tips to get more sleep.
1) Increase your exposure to sunlight
The circadian rhythm is your body’s natural time-keeping clock. It influences when you are awake, fall asleep and dictates hormone production in your brain and throughout your body. Exposing yourself to natural sunlight can help maintain your circadian rhythm. Sunlight exposure also has benefits in improving daytime energy and night-time sleep quality and duration (5,6).
2) Improving your sleep environment
Your bedroom should be a dark, cool and relaxing environment. Studies indicate that external noise, light and temperature can impact your ability to get a good night’s rest (7,8,9). Here's how you can improve your sleep environment:
- Limit artificial and natural light
- Minimise external noise from devices such as alarm clocks and traffic
- Keep the bedroom clean and comfortable
- Ensure the room is at a comfortable temperature.
- Avoid technology and working in the bedroom
3) Stick to a regular sleep schedule
The body thrives on routine. Studies show that people with irregular sleeping patterns report poorer sleep quality (10). Support your body clock by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day and practice a relaxing bedtime ritual to calm and relax e.g. slow and deep breathing techniques or guided meditation.
4) Limit stimulants such as caffeine
Caffeine, often found in the form of coffee is one of the most widely consumed stimulants worldwide. It has many benefits, including keeping us alert as it stimulates the nervous system. However, coffee can also have negative effects on our ability to rest and relax. Coffee generally stays in your system for 6-8 hours (11). Aim to keep your coffee drinking in the am or at least 6 hours before bedtime (11).
5) Limit electronics such as TV, phone and computers.
It is important to be exposed to light during the day. This helps to keep our body’s circadian rhythm healthy. This rhythm is dictated by an important hormone called melatonin.
Melatonin is released during darkness at night (12). It sends signals to the body that it should be going to sleep. Conversely, when we are exposed to light during periods when we should be in bed, this negatively affects our melatonin production. As a result, your brain thinks it’s daytime and stops you from dozing off (12).
Top tips to limit bright lights:
- Limit watching TV, computer games, laptops and phone use. Turn off electronic devices at least two hours before bedtime. If your device has night-time mode turns it on.
- Swap bright lights in your bedroom for dim lights or darkness prior to bed
- Consider wearing glasses that block out blue light (13, 14).
6) Exercise regularly
Moderate aerobic exercise has been well recognised to improve the quality of your sleep (15). Why not try adding a walk during the afternoon or a resistance training session on your lunch break.
7) Schedule in a power nap
A short 20-minute “power nap” can potentially improve mood, performance and alertness (3). Some studies indicate that voluntary naps can also be protective against heart diseases. It’s important to keep the naps short to ensure they don’t interfere with night-time sleep. 20 minutes is generally optimal, and don’t forget to set an alarm (3).
8) Try relaxation techniques
Progressive muscle relaxation is a deep relaxation exercise. It has been effectively used to help relieve insomnia, chronic stress and anxiety. The exercise involves the simple practice of tensing then relaxing all the muscles in your body one by one.
Try these steps at home:
- Inhale and contract one muscle group for 5 to 10 seconds
- Exhale and release the tension in that muscle group
- Relax for 10 to 20 seconds, then move onto the next muscle group
- When relaxing the muscles, focus on the changes that you may feel whilst doing this. Picture the stressful feelings leaving the body
- Gradually work your way up to all muscles in the body. Contract and relax each muscle group
Extra sleep support
Sleep is essential for a healthy body and mind. If you need a little extra support to get a good night’s sleep, you may want to consider a supplement.
Vitable’s Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb that helps the body adapt to stress. Ashwagandha has been traditionally used in Ayurvedic (Indian) medicine to help promote restful sleep by improving quality and sleep onset latency.
Find out more about other areas that the above supplements can help you with:
*Always read the label. Follow the directions for use. If symptoms persist, talk to your health professional. Vitamin and/or mineral supplements should not replace a balanced diet.
- The Sleep Health Foundation. (2019). Re-Awakening the Nation. Published on: https://www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au/component/content/article.html?id=76
- The Sleep Foundation (2019). What is Insomnia? | National Sleep Foundation. Published on: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/insomnia/what-insomnia.
- Harvard Health. (2019). Insomnia: Restoring restful sleep - Harvard Health. [online] Harvard Health. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/insomnia-restoring-restful-sleep
- Kripke, D., Garfinkel, L., Wingard, D., Klauber, M. and Marler, M. (2002). Mortality Associated With Sleep Duration and Insomnia. Archives of General Psychiatry, 59(2), p.131.
- Sanassi, L. (2014). Seasonal affective disorder. Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants, 27(2), pp.18-22.
- Tuunainen, A., Kripke, D. and Endo, T. (2004). Light therapy for non-seasonal depression. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.
- Halperin, D. (2014). Environmental noise and sleep disturbances: A threat to health?. Sleep Science, 7(4), pp.209-212.
- Libert, J., Bach, V., Johnson, L., Ehrhart, J., Wittersheim, G. and Keller, D. (1991). Relative and Combined Effects of Heat and Noise Exposure on Sleep in Humans. Sleep, 14(1), pp.24-31.
- Waye, K., Clow, A., Edwards, S., Hucklebridge, F. and Rylander, R. (2003). Effects of nighttime low frequency noise on the cortisol response to awakening and subjective sleep quality. Life Sciences, 72(8), pp.863-875.
- Giannotti, F., Cortesi, F., Sebastiani, T. and Ottaviano, S. (2002). Circadian preference, sleep and daytime behaviour in adolescence. Journal of Sleep Research, 11(3), pp.191-199.
- Drake, C., Roehrs, T., Shambroom, J. and Roth, T. (2013). Caffeine Effects on Sleep Taken 0, 3, or 6 Hours before Going to Bed. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.
- Gooley, J., Chamberlain, K., Smith, K., Khalsa, S., Rajaratnam, S., Van Reen, E., Zeitzer, J., Czeisler, C. and Lockley, S. (2011). Exposure to Room Light before Bedtime Suppresses Melatonin Onset and Shortens Melatonin Duration in Humans. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 96(3), pp.E463-E472.
- Higuchi, S., Motohashi, Y., Liu, Y. and Maeda, A. (2005). Effects of playing a computer game using a bright display on presleep physiological variables, sleep latency, slow wave sleep and REM sleep. Journal of Sleep Research, 14(3), pp.267-273
- Sasseville, A., Paquet, N., Sevigny, J. and Hebert, M. (2006). Blue blocker glasses impede the capacity of bright light to suppress melatonin production. Journal of Pineal Research, 41(1), pp.73-78.
- Buman, M. and King, A. (2010). Exercise as a Treatment to Enhance Sleep. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 4(6), pp.500-514.