We all know we need to eat healthier and exercise to feel good. But what about sleep? We spend roughly one-third of our lives aslumber, and rest is essential to better health. But many of us are struggling with sleep. Four out of five people in the UK suggest that they suffer from sleep problems at least once a week and wake up feeling exhausted. So how do you become a more successful sleeper?
How much sleep do you really need?If you wake up tired, it's more than likely you're not getting enough sleep. These strategies may help you determine your sleep needs.
Is there a magic number?
The best person to decide how much sleep you need is you. Of course, if you feel tired, you probably need more rest. But science does offer some more specific guidance. On the whole, People who sleep at least seven hours a night are typically healthier and live longer. But it's worth remembering that sleep demands vary significantly by individual. Age, genetics, lifestyle, season and environment all play a role.
What are the problems associated with a lack of sleep?Sleeping less than seven hours is associated with a range of health problems, including:
- Heart disease
- Impaired immunity
If you're looking to lose the blues, you'll want to see our tips for a calmer state!
Ask yourself: are you feeling sleepy?
This single question is the most dependable way to determine whether you're getting adequate sleep. If you often feel tired at work, long for a nap or fall asleep on your morning or evening commute, your body is telling you that it needs more sleep.
On the other hand, if you're getting seven or eight hours of rest a night but still feeling tired and sleep-deprived, you may be suffering from interrupted sleep or a sleep disorder. In this case, you may need to talk to a doctor and undergo a sleep study.
Sleep strategy: keep a sleep diaryEven if you think you're getting enough sleep, you may be surprised once you see your sleep patterns laid out. Some activity trackers monitor your sleep patterns for you, but you can also do it easily yourself. Try keeping a sleep diary:
- Write down the hour you hit the pillow, and the hour you wake up.
- Determine the total number of hours you sleep. Note whether you took naps during the day or woke in the night.
- Note how you felt in the morning. Are you refreshed and ready for the day? Are you feeling groggy or fatigued?
Escape your alarm clock
We've all wished bad things on our alarm clocks. If you're looking to find a novel way of ditching the siren, try this method.
To do this, you will need two weeks when you don't have somewhere to be at a specific time in the morning. If you have a flexible job, you can do this any time, or you may have to wait until a holiday.
The experiment requires a little effort:
- Pick the same bedtime every night.
- Turn off your alarm.
- Record the time you wake up.
You'll likely sleep longer during the first few days as you catch up on lost sleep, so your first few days of information won't be helpful. But over a few weeks, if you stick to your scheduled bedtime and allow yourself to wake up naturally, you'll see a pattern start to emerge of how many hours of sleep your body requires each night.
Once you've discovered your natural sleep needs, think about the time you need to wake up to get to work on time and pick a bedtime that allows you enough sleep to wake up naturally.
Early bird or night owl?
Do you pop out of bed bright and early, ready to take on the world? Or do you find yourself making friends with the snooze button after staying up all night? This hardwired need is what's now known as your chronotype. If you're not sure which type of chronotype you are, ask yourself:
- Do you like exercising in the morning or the night?
- When in the day do you think you're at your peak performance?
- If you went to bed at 11 pm every night, how tired would you be?
- How easy do you find getting up in the mornings?
- Are you hungry when you first wake up?
Sleepyhead = Tired Brain
A sleepyhead is not a smart brain, and people who are sleep deprived often make more mistakes. Worldwide, it's estimated that 10% to 20% of all road crashes are fatigue-related. Why does this occur? While the body goes into "rest mode" as you sleep, the brain becomes highly active.
One of its big jobs is consolidating the knowledge and skills learned that day. The brain creates links between memories and creates new neural pathways for you to retrieve memories. It also forms connections between thoughts and ideas. That's why we often have big ideas when we're on the verge of sleep or on the cusp of waking up. It's also why, when you don't sleep, thinking and memory can be hazy. Recent research has suggested that memory retention can drop by approximately half if sleep is interrupted or severely reduced.
Our 12 Best Tips for Better Sleep
Ever hear of the circadian clock? No, it's not the time when cicadas or crickets start chirping; it's a 24-hour internal timer that keeps our sleep patterns in sync with our environment. At least, this used to be the case until our busy routines started becoming more complicated. So if you're looking to get this more in-synch (we promise this isn't a Justin Timberlake reference), check out these tips.
1. Prep your bedroom to sleep
We know this is easier said than done in cities, but try and keep your bedroom a place only for sleep (so no exercise bikes, televisions, work-related stuff that takes your mind off relaxing into the land of nod).
2. To nap or not to nap?
The scientific vote is still out on whether short breaks of sleep work throughout the day. If it works for you, great! But siesta-ing after 3 pm is a big no-no.
3. Screen your screens
The blue glare of your screen is an excellent imitation of sunlight, and it tricks your brain into staying away. Try switching off tablets, phones and televisions a few hours before bedtime.
4. Exercise earlier
Cardiovascular and muscle workouts before bed involve keeping your heart rate up, which can significantly affect your ability to relax. Keep it calm before bed with something like yoga. We've an informative article on how CBD can help with exercise - see it here.
5. Drop the midnight snack
Meals too close to bedtime mean your body is having to digest as well as relax - it's not an award-winning combination. Instead, try to eat earlier and lose the sugary snacks.
6. Catch some rays
While we're not plants, sunshine is still essential to helping our biological clocks harmonise with the time of day. So head outside and grab some photons.
7. Keep It Cool
It's a fact that cooler bodies sleep better, so take the thermostat down a couple of notches (or get a fan for the room).
8. Working Out Work Outs
The relationship between exercise and better sleep can be a little complicated. Strenuous exercise before bedtime can rouse the body, but studies show that regular exercise may lead to better sleep as it helps tire the body and prepare the mind for sleep. The key phrase here is "regular exercise".
In one 2014 study, it was found that, over time, exercisers who made training a regular part of their routine acquired better subjective and objective sleep and improvements in their quality of life (such as reduced depressive symptoms, more vigour, less fatigue).
Some sleep issues are often caused by anxiety and stress, so meditation can help you sleep better if you can calm your mind. Meditation is a great technique to help with this. You can do it on your own, led by a yoga teacher or with an app. Want to find out more on meditation? Breathe deep with our blog article here.
10. Try Melatonin
If you've ever had trouble sleeping on a plane, you'll probably of heard of Melatonin. It's a hormone and can often be found in dietary supplements. It's a popular alternative and quick-acting remedy for sleep problems.
Sleeping pills can be a valuable tool for helping people get better sleep during a difficult time, such as stress or hard-hitting life events. But they're not a long-term solution.
12. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
If you've ever had the strange spiral of anxiety that comes from not being able to drift off, CBT-I might be the best course of action for you. A 2015 study from Harvard Medical School showed that CBT was much more effective at treating chronic and persistent insomnia than many types of sleep medication. We don't want to oversimplify CBT treatment, but one of its central tenets suggests looking at your situation creatively, replacing the negative thought with a positive one. This internal thought could be something like "I'll fall asleep eventually." or "I can handle this if it only happens a few nights a week."
13. Bonus: CBD for Sleep
In the last decade, there's been positive research into how CBD might support better sleep. We're keeping our finger on the pulse - find out more on how it might benefit a sweeter slumber here.
Big Tip: Changing your sleep routines
For those that want to make the most of the mornings, hope is at hand. While it's difficult and changing your sleeping pattern requires commitment and often means changing old habits. The process is not too different from recovering from jet lag.
Step 1: Set your wake-up time objective.
Step 2: Move your current wake-up time by 15 to 20 minutes each day. For example, if you regularly rise at 8 am but want to start getting moving by 6 am, set the alarm for 7:40 on Monday morning. Then, on Tuesday, rewind it to 7:20 am. Continue with this method until you reach 6:00.
Step 3: We know how easy it is to fall back asleep. When your alarm goes off in the morning, don't delay. Hit yourself with light, whether outside or your lamp.
Step 4: Go to bed earlier the next night. In theory, you should get sleepy about 20 minutes earlier each night.
A word of warning: As suggested regarding chronotypes, this method can work, but it doesn't work for everyone immediately. Long-term night owls can have a difficult time changing this routine, but you can do it with perseverance!
How to wake up
If you are struggling to wake up in the morning, sleep experts suggest a few simple ways to train your body.
One of the best cues to wake up your brain is sunlight (or any kind of light you can get). Leaving your blinds open, so the sun shines in will help you wake up sooner if you regularly sleep late into the day. There are also a range of great sunrise clocks out there to help with this!
Eating a good breakfast every day will train your body to expect it and help get you in sync with the morning. If you've ever flown across time zones, you'll notice that airlines often serve scrambled eggs and other breakfast foods to help passengers adjust to the new time zone.
Don't blow it all on the weekend
Besides the world of computer screens, the biggest issue for any morning person is the weekend. Late Fridays and Saturday lie-ins tells your brain an entirely new set of routines, so by Monday, a 6 am alarm can feel like 4 am. It's tough but try and stick to your good sleep habits. We know it can be tough sometimes!