There's plenty you can do to help encourage healthy sleeping patterns with diet and exercise – from cutting down on alcohol, avoiding caffeine after midday, drinking a calming herbal tea before bed, exercising during the daytime – the list goes on.
But there are also simple changes you can make to your bedtime routine, which can have a powerful effect on the quality of your sleep.
1. Stick to a schedule
Research shows that sticking to a regular bedtime is thought to help us get to sleep at night and also wake up more easily and naturally in the mornings. In order to do this effectively, it's important to try and keep your wake-up time the same, even if you have the occasional later night.
Choose a regular bedtime and waking routine which is realistic for how much sleep you know you need each night. Also plan so that it allows you to have enough time in the evenings / mornings. If you choose a bedtime of, say, 11.pm then start winding down and preparing for bed at least 30 minutes before so you are in bed and ready for sleep by 11, not just heading upstairs.
It can take approx 30 days for your body to become trained in a new sleep routine, so do stick to it even if you're not seeing much improvement at first. These things are never a quick fix, but long-term they can be well worth it.
2. Light Matters
The white and blue lights we experience from phone and TV screens and electric lightbulbs are literally under their own spotlight at present.
More and more research is suggesting that this type of light can be damaging to our natural circadian rhythm by affecting the natural production of the sleep hormone Melatonin. It is therefore generally advised to turn off bright lights and stop looking at screens at least one hour before you go to bed. Ideally screens of all types should not be used in the bedroom at all, as their EMFs may also disrupt melatonin production while you sleep.
Melatonin is not just essential for our healthy sleeping patterns, it also supports the immune system, and is the subject of various current research into cancer treatment. Sleeping in complete darkness is the ideal way to ensure that your body produces Melatonin so blackout curtains are a great solution if you live in a bright, streetlit area.
If you do need to have light present for getting to the bathroom, or for use as a nightlight - Red, orange and yellow lights don't seem to cause the same disruption to Melatonin as blue and white lights. The theory behind this is that humans evolved with natural firelight at night. Himalayan salt lamps are a great solution for childrens' nightlights, and also for corridors and hallways at night.
3. Take a Magnesium Bath
Take a 30 minute bath with Westlab magnesium flakes before going to bed. Magnesium not only helps relax muscles, but also calms the central nervous system, which helps towards a more restful nights sleep. The ideal time for this as approx 1-2 hours before bed so that your temperature can rise in the bath and then cool down to signal to the body that it is ready to sleep.
4. Write it down
Keep am old fashioned paper notepad and a pen by your bed and empty your head of cluttered to-dos before you settle down. This will help prevent your mind trying to keep alert to stop you forgetting your tasks for tomorrow. You can sleep easy knowing that you can just pick up where you left off in the morning, rest assured you wont forget anything in the night. If you wake up with your mind racing during the night – it's worth jotting down any thoughts that start circling.
5. The right timing
Recent research suggests that we naturally sleep in cycles of around 4 hours. Therefore it could be quite natural to wake up during the nights. One of the most effective ways to keep yourself awake in the night is to worry or stress that you won't be able to get back to sleep. This worry can stimulate the brain into an alert state, therefore compounding the problem.
A healthier approach to being awake in the middle of the night is to gently acknowledge that your body may have woken between sleep cycles and to do some yoga, breathing, mindfulness or gentle reading by an orange or yellow light to maintain resting and re-charging your mind and body until you naturally fall back to sleep.
If you have got to bed early enough, then there will be no need to worry or stress, even if you end up being awake for an hour or so. You will still be getting enough sleep overall. You may also find that this peaceful, quiet relaxation time during the night can become quite enjoyable and help you de-stress. If you take this approach to waking during the night you could help prevent forming patterns of Insomnia, which are often made worse by stressing and worrying about lack of sleep.