Get a Better Sleep With These 5 Tips
Updated: Dec 21, 2022
Having trouble falling asleep lately? You aren’t the only one. More than half of Canadian adults report struggling with sleep, according to a 2017 Statistics Canada report. The problem has gotten worse, too. Statistics Canada recorded a 42% increase in nighttime insomnia symptoms over an eight-year period from 2007 to 2015 among Canadians aged 18 or older.
Getting a night of good sleep is essential for a healthy mind and body. Insufficient sleep (short duration and poor quality) is linked to a number of health problems including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Lack of sleep can also affect your mental well-being causing exhaustion, sadness, irritability and depression.
While sleep struggles like insomnia and narcolepsy require more serious attention, there are strategies to help quiet the mind, alleviate distractions and help you fall asleep quicker. While not all of these tips work for everyone, some in combination can have powerful effects when it comes time to turn out the lights.
There are some basic sleep facts you should know before I get to some sleep tips. First, sleep has two stages: Rem and Non-Rem. Non-rapid eye movement otherwise known as non-rem sleep, or slow-wave sleep, includes periods of both light and deep sleep.
Non-REM sleep begins with slower brain activity which means you are experiencing a lighter sleep. This is often followed by deeper sleep, which is a restorative time where the body repairs physical damage.
REM sleep occurs approximately every 90 minutes for five to 30 minutes. REM sleep, and periods of dreaming, alternate with non-REM sleep. While REM sleep is deep sleep, it is also characterized by choppy breathing, rapid eye movements and brain activity similar to when you are awake.
The total time when you are asleep, 75% to 80%—about six hours of an eight-hour night—is non-REM sleep. The other 20% is REM sleep.
#1 Make a Sleep Schedule
Going to sleep and waking up at the same time each night is really important.
It sets your internal clock and keeps it regulated. You can even set your sleep schedule on your iPhone to keep you in check. One mistake people often make is to change it up on the weekend and throw all routine out the window. This will eventually work against you because you end up spending the following week trying to settle back into your normal routine.
#2 Exercise Regularly
Recent research suggests that exercise decreases sleep troubles and insomnia in certain people. In fact, some studies have likened the effects of aerobic exercise on sleep appear to be similar to sleeping pills.
A recent study involving adults tested the chronic effects of exercise by combining a twice-a-week, six-week aerobic training program with daily physical activity. They used a PSQI to assess sleep quality and saw a positive linear relationship between the global score and daily physical activity measured by step count.
Essentially, as the participants' physical activity increased, so too did their sleep quality scores. The results of this study support the use of long-term exercise programming as an intervention for adults struggling with sleep issues.
All of this is to say that daily exercise can play a huge role in helping you sleep better at night. Whether you wake up early and hit the gym or find time for an at-home workout after the day is done, most people report longer and more sound sleeps as a result.
#3 Set up a Night Time Ritual
Unwinding before you make your way to bed might seem like a no-brainer, but a lot of us forget. Instead, we pack our evenings full of activity and then immediately lay down, hoping our brains will automatically shut off. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that.
One of the easiest ways to help yourself get a good sleep is to create stability and routine in your life. Especially before bed. Set up an hour before bed where you slowly begin to prepare. Whether you dim the lights, light a candle, or turn on a fan, notice the things in your environment that calm your mind.
Certain activities before bed can be helpful too. Some people find baths with Epsom salts to be relaxing. Others enjoy reading a book. Certain genres of music such as classical music have been found to be calming before bed.
Heard of Ed Sheeran? Spotify recently reported that his hit track “Thinking Out Loud” is the most common song found on “sleep” playlists created by its users.
#4 Say No to Screens
We are all guilty of it. Sliding into bed and scrolling through our phones endlessly before we hit the lights and close our eyes. The only problem is, we actually set ourselves up for sleep failure when we do this.
Electronic devices emit a blue light that actually suppresses the release of melatonin in the body, the chemical responsible for helping you fall asleep. This can also interfere with your internal clock, confusing the body on when the right time to go to sleep is.
The effects of blue light on sleep patterns are true across all age demographics. Recent studies investigating the link between youth screen usage and sleep found a 90% association between screen media use and delayed bedtime and/or decreased total sleep time. To avoid this, spend the last hour before bed completely away from screens. Read a book instead of watching TV and plug your phone in for the night.
#5 Avoid Alcohol
You might think that a drink after dinner is going to help you fall asleep later, and you might be right. Research shows that because alcohol is a sedative, it can initially help people fall asleep more quickly. However, that’s where the benefits end. Overall, alcohol actually works to disrupt the sleep cycle, make certain sleep problems worse and can create negative consequences during waking periods… like a hangover.
Need more proof? Studies looking at the effects of alcohol on sleep have found that while alcohol does often reduce the time required to fall asleep and increases the amount a person deep sleeps, it also reduces the amount of REM sleep, which is responsible for increased brain activity, learning promotion, and dreams. So, if you want to get a full sleep, say no to that glass of wine before bed.
Sleep is a fundamental part of your health. When we miss out on proper rest, our bodies can begin to feel weak. Our mental health suffers as well. As adults, we often de-prioritize sleep in favour of our careers or children, or a fun event or outing.
While it might not seem like it at the time, this eventually takes a toll on our health. Putting yourself and your health first means prioritizing sleep and having a healthy relationship with the alarm clock.