Nine Tips for Better Sleep

Dr Jess Milsom

I’m sure most of know the feeling of having a bad night’s sleep and how it impacts the rest of the day. Sleep is a crucial aspect of overall health and well-being. It is the most effective brain enhancer, stress reliever, immune booster, and hormone balancer. Despite its importance, many people struggle to get enough quality sleep. 

To understand your sleep properly, I’m going to briefly explain what a “sleep cycle” is. Our bodies cycle through two different sleep phases, rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM). NREM is further divided into 3 stages: wake, light sleep, and deep sleep. A healthy sleep will normally consist of 4 – 6 cycles. The first stage is light sleep, which involves slow muscle and eye movements, and you’ll be easier to wake up. You’ll then transition into a deep sleep in which eye movement will completely stop, muscle movement will slow further, and your blood pressure will drop. This is also when your breathing and heart rate will drop to their lowest point. During this stage, it will be harder to wake you and you may feel disorientated and agitated if woken during this phase. From there you’ll enter your REM phase. Your brain activity will be high, your eyes will move rapidly, and your dreams will be more vivid. Your muscles will become nearly immobile. The next phase may or may not be a wake phase. These can be very quick, and you may not even remember them. Generally, you’d want this phase to be as short as possible, however, if you do wake in the night (and it’s long enough for you to remember), don’t stress! It’s very normal.

So now you know what your sleep cycle should look like, read on for some tips to improve the length and the quality of your sleep.

Get outside and look at natural light within the first hour of waking. Do the same thing in the afternoon just before the sun sets. Try not to wear sunglasses, and don’t look directly at the sun! This is going to help to wake up your circadian clock which is essentially your body’s built-in alarm clock. 

Maintain a consistent sleep schedule. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. A good rule of thumb to find out your optimal time to go to sleep is to note the time of day you get an afternoon dip in energy. If this is consistent across most days, you can assume your optimal sleep time is roughly six hours after that dip. 

Don’t snooze the alarm! Going back to sleep put’s you back into the sleep cycle, snoozing the alarm and waking up later may mean you wake during a deep sleep phase and you may wake feeling irritated and tired. 

Avoid caffeine too close to bedtime. Limiting consumption of caffeine within 8 – 10 hours of bedtime will help ensure your body is moving into a parasympathetic nervous system, that focuses on you resting and digesting. 

If you struggle with anxiety around sleep, try relaxation techniques before bed. These can include deep breathing, meditation, and yoga. There are lots of free resources and some awesome ones that require a subscription. My favourites include the “Sam Harris Waking Up” app, the “Calm” app, and Yoga Nidra which you can find easily on Spotify or YouTube.

Limit screen time and bright lights before bed. This can include bright ceiling lights, opt for as little light as possible after the sun sets (but obviously enough for you to be able to see where you’re going!). While blue blockers are a great option, just viewing bright artificial light too close to bedtime can shake up your circadian rhythm and lead to sleep disturbances. 

Avoid alcohol. Alcohol can really mess up your sleep. This is because your body is too busy trying to process the toxins in alcohol to be able to repair tissues, and you won’t be able to achieve the deep sleep stage of your sleep cycle. In fact, most of the hangover feeling you get after a big night is due to poor sleep patterns and dehydration! 

Create a sleep-conducive environment. Make sure your sleeping environment is dark, quiet, cool, and comfortable. Your body requires a drop in temperature by 1-3 degrees to sleep, and stay asleep. Getting too hot is one of the main reasons people wake up through the night. 

Try magnesium optimised for sleep close to bedtime. If you’re taking it before bedtime, I’d recommend a Magnesium Threonate or Magnesium Bisglycinate. If you don’t like magnesium there are also sleep teas that contain valerian root, chamomile, lavender, or lemon balm. All these options can help to settle into the parasympathetic nervous system, thus promoting a deep restorative sleep cycle. 

Sleep is a vital aspect of overall health and well-being. Sleep lays the foundation for our mental and physical health and performance in all aspects of life. We’re all human and no one’s sleep will be perfect all the time…the odd night out here and there is bound to happen (having a healthy social life is important as well!). Life, not to mention young kids, will sometimes wreck your sleep no matter how hard you tried, but don’t obsess over those nights too much. However, if bad sleep habits creep up often our life and health will start to suffer. Master your sleep and reap the rewards.