Optimal sleep hyegiene
Optimal sleep hyegiene
Image: 123rf.com

Alongside nutrition and exercise, sleep is one of the three most important pillars for good health. Inadequate rest can increase the risk of illness from heart disease, stroke to dementia, while good sleep hygiene and some of the practices shared below can improve mood, brain performance and your immune system.

Rise right

The blast or bleep of an alarm might jolt you awake, but there are better ways to start the day. Using a sunrise alarm clock can be more calming and natural, as these devices are able to simulate dawn by bathing your bedroom in warm light. You can also preset ideal sounds to hear such as birdsong, meditation tracks or your current favourite power anthem. The orange and yellow LED lights of this type of clock can be set to become brighter over the morning, just as a natural sunrise would. Accessing light at the start of the day signals the body to boost serotonin production and slow down release of the sleep-inducing hormone — melatonin. 

Add resistance

Exercise is a good way to set your body up for fatigue and sleepiness. But, a 2022 study by the American Heart Association reveals that some types of movement are better than others for somnolence. Their research showed that resistance exercise is better than aerobic for sound sleep. In their experiment, one group participated in aerobic movement on treadmills, bikes or ellipticals, while another group worked out on resistance machines targeting major muscle groups in each session. The machines included leg press, chest press, abdominal crunch, lower back extension, torso rotation and hip abduction. After 12 months, the resistance group reported significantly improved sleep duration and sleep efficiency.

Study author Dr Angelique Brellenthin says it is a strategy that can be employed by anyone. “Consider incorporating two or more resistance exercise training sessions into your regular exercise routine to improve your general muscle and bone health, as well as your sleep.” 

Set a light curfew

Sunrise and sunset help our bodies know whether it’s time to get up or fall asleep. Artificial light, particularly, in the evening, makes it confusing to determine the time of day and by consequence how to respond appropriately. Light from screens and lamps disturbs the body’s natural rhythm, making it difficult to know it’s time to release melatonin. Strategies to reduce this confusion include dimmable lights that you can turn down in the evening and going screen-free at least an hour before bed. Using low wattage bulbs in places like the passage or bathroom can also help keep spaces darker. Exposure to light can reduce melatonin production so also consider using blackout curtains in the bedroom to minimise physiological disruption.

Keep it cool

It’s difficult to fall asleep if you’re too hot or too cold, so it’s important to have a room temperature that works for you. But, even if you feel snug and cosy, being too warm is not conducive to quality sleep. Most people maintain a core temperature of 37°C, which naturally drops slightly at night-time. A cool room is one of the ways to indicate to the body that it’s time for rest. Neuroscientists have found that when it’s not busy with temperature regulation such as sweating or shivering, the body can more efficiently produce melatonin and induce deep sleep, which allows for relaxation, healing and restoration.

Resistance exercise is better than aerobic for sound sleep
Resistance exercise is better than aerobic for sound sleep
Image: 123rf.com

Be open to some pressure

Being held, hugged or swaddled often helps soothe babies to sleep. The adult version of this can be a weighted blanket. By providing a calming amount of pressure, weighted blankets have been shown to improve the quality, length and experience of sleep. The pressure-therapy they provide can bring down heart rate and induce deep breathing, which contributes to dozing off, and staying in a restful state. Weighted blankets come in different sizes and weights, making it likely you’ll find one that is just the right level of comforting pressure for you. 

Mind the numbers of your slumber

  • Settle short-term sleep debt before it snowballs: Life happens and there will be occasions where you don’t get the amount of rest you’d like or need. If you miss 10 hours of sleep over the course of a week, add three to four extra sleep hours on the weekend and an extra hour or two per night the following week until you have repaid the debt fully.
  • Address long-term deficits that you’ve normalised: Running on fumes will affect your health, so if you’ve shorted yourself on sleep for decades, correct this with a clear and intentional recovery strategy. Perhaps you could plan a vacation with a light schedule and few obligations. Then, turn off the alarm clock and just sleep every night until you awake naturally.
  • Determine your ideal amount for optimum functioning: Once you've determined how much sleep you really need, factor it into your daily schedule. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day to avoid slipping into a new debt cycle.
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