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12 Tips for Better Sleep

Written by Tanya Lee

We’ve all heard people say – I’ll sleep when I’m dead! People pride themselves on how little sleep they can have and how they still manage to function during the day. But in reality, we should be proudly admitting how much sleep we are getting! 


Sleeping is our body’s chance to repair from the day that we just had, and process new bits of information and sort out what’s valuable to retain in our brain and what’s not. Especially for athletes, getting at least 8 hours is necessary for optimal performance, and anything less is only increasing the risk of injury. By getting a good night’s sleep, we have improved productivity, mental and physical health and immune function. 


A study conducted at the University of California found that in a group of healthy young men, a single night sleep of four hours decreased natural killer cell count by 70%, relative to a full 8 hour night of sleep. These cells are integral for immune function and are used to fight off pathogens, and without them we are dramatically decreasing our immune function with just one night of poor sleep. 


In Matthew Walker’s book Why We Sleep, he concludes the less we sleep the less we live. The Whitehall II study found that when we sleep less than 5 hours a night, we are almost doubling our risk of cardiovascular disease which is the biggest killer in the US. We are also increasing our risk of mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression when we consistently have less sleep. 


Also, a lack of sleep can be the reason why some people gain weight. When we are sleep deprived, the hormone ghrelin, which is responsible for making us feel hungry, is increased. This means we’re likely to be eating more on days we do not sleep enough, and also if we are awake for longer we will naturally eat more.  Levels of leptin, a hormone that makes us feel full and regulates fat storage, is decreased when we are sleep deprived, so it becomes difficult for our body to regulate hunger and fullness. 


Melatonin is a hormone that regulates our circadian rhythm in our body and is released in response to darkness. Light exposure at night, such as the blue light from our phones and laptops, suppresses melatonin release and makes it harder for our body to unwind for bed. We should aim to be off technology at least half an hour before bed so that our body has a chance to release melatonin before we sleep, but ideally 1-2 hours before bed to properly allow our bodies to unwind before bed. 

Sleep scientist has Matthew Walker 12 sleep tips for better sleep hygiene:

  1. Have a sleep schedule: try and stick to similar times of day to wake and go to bed which will get your body into a natural sleep cycle. 
  2. Exercise: aim for at least 30 minutes everyday. However try and avoid exercising 2-3 hours before bed.
  3. Avoiding caffeine and nicotine: caffeine can take about 8 hours to leave our system, meaning that late afternoon coffees are not a good idea. With nicotine, it is also a stimulant so can be a reason why smokers sleep very lightly.
  4. Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed. While they can make us feel drowsy and help us fall asleep, they rob us of precious REM sleep. People also tend to wake up in the middle of the night when the effects of alcohol have worn off. 
  5. Avoid large meals and drinks late at night: large meal can cause ingestion which interferes with sleep.
  6. Don’t take naps after 3pm as it can make it hard to fall asleep. Naps are best had right after lunch. 
  7. A hot bath or shower before bed will result in a drop in body temperature can help make you feel sleepy.
  8. Make sure your surroundings are facilitating a good night’s sleep. Keep your bedroom dark, cool (around 18 degrees), and without technology. Might be time to get a separate alarm clock from your phone!
  9. Relax before bed and schedule unwind time. Reading, listening to music should be a part of your night time routine to help switch off.
  10. Having the right sunlight exposure during the day. We should aim for at least 30 minutes outside everyday to help regulate our circadian rhythm. Try to wake up with the sun in the morning if possible as well. 
  11. Don’t lie in bed awake for long periods of time. If you are still awake for over 20 minutes, find an activity to do such as reading which will tire you out.
  12. Avoid medication that’ll disrupt sleep. Check the side effects for medications for asthma, blood pressure and the heart, as these have been known to disrupt sleep. 

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