We should be sleeping for between 7.5 hours to 9 hours each night but the average adult sleeps for 6 hours or less. Even though you might “feel fine”, you’re likely to be impaired when it comes to tasks involving thinking, reasoning, problem solving and more.
Sleep is one thing that should be viewed as far more than just a luxury. Despite its known importance, a wellbeing study from Auckland's AUT University estimates that around 1.5 million people in NZ (~1 in 3) are struggling with sleep and were less likely to lead happy and healthy lives.
Improve your health and wellbeing with these Five Sleep Tips
Sleep Tip 1 - Develop a routine for sleep
We create bedtime routines for children, but for some reason, we tend to shun them as adults. By following the same patterns of behaviours around bedtime, you’re training yourself that it’s time to actually wind down and sleep.
It's totally up to you what you want to include in your relaxing routine:
- Listening to music
- Taking a shower or bath
- Going for a walk
- Writing your To Do list for tomorrow
The point is to build repetition so you know that at the end of the routine, it’s time to sleep.
Another component of this routine is going to sleep and waking at roughly the same time. Erratic bedtimes make it hard to train your body and brain, stopping you from falling asleep.
Sleep Tip 2 - Consider using magnesium before bed
Magnesium is a vital nutrient that is important for muscle function, electrolyte balance, cellular energy production and more. It also helps with a feeling of relaxation, and is great to take before bedtime.
Whole food dietary sources rich in magnesium include dark leafy greens, sea vegetables and nuts. Interestingly, some minerals such as calcium compete with magnesium for absorption, so if you’re taking it internally, avoid calcium-rich foods at the same time. Many of us, particularly if we’re physically active, still struggle to get enough magnesium from diet alone.
There are several popular and safe ways to use magnesium, among them Epsom salt baths, topical magnesium oil and supplements.
It’s best to take your magnesium about 30 minutes before bedtime.
Sleep Tip 3 - Use Lavender oil
Lavender is renowned for its ability to calm and relax the body, and it makes a great addition to your bedtime routine to help you fall asleep faster. Here are some ways to use lavender oil for better sleep:
- Add lavender to your Epsom salt bath
- Mix a few drops in a spray bottle with water and mist your sheets and bedding
- Put a drop or two on your temples or on the bottom of your feet
- Diffuse lavender oil while you sleep
Lavender is one of the essential oils that is safe to use neat (undiluted) but, as always, check for skin sensitivities before using on large areas.
Sleep Tip 4 - Avoid night time blue light
Televisions, computers, tablets and phones are always close by, and they’re negatively impacting our collective sleep. The backlit electronic devices that are so prevalent in our modern world but they are oozing with blue light.
Daytime exposure to blue wavelengths is important because it helps maintain the “awake” part of our circadian rhythms. Unfortunately, night time exposure to the blue wavelengths that mimic sunlight is incredibly disruptive to melatonin. This hormone is responsible for helping to put us to sleep - and keep us asleep.
Reducing or avoiding blue light once the sun goes down is one key to falling asleep faster.
Here are some things you can do to cut down on the amount of night time blue light your eyes get:
- Install the free program f.lux on your computer. It dims your screen and turns it yellow/orange as dusk turns to darkness outside. It’s not available on most phones - and certainly not on your television - so if you can’t avoid those screens 100%, there’s another option…
- Wear amber glasses/blublockers. They may look nerdy, but these orange-lens glasses function to block much of the blue light coming from your screens. At $20 a pair for the generic kind, they’re a pretty inexpensive solution to help you fall asleep faster.
- Eliminate light sources in your bedroom, such as digital alarm clocks, electronic devices with glowing power lights and ambient light coming through your windows. Blackout curtains are a must.
Sleep Tip 5 - Reduce stress, especially in the evening
Okay, it’s hard to 100% eliminate stress from your life but night time stress can make it particularly hard to fall asleep because of the effects of cortisol.
Cortisol, a stress hormone, is also associated with a normally functioning circadian rhythm; it ramps up as morning approaches and peaks in the mid-morning, helping us wake up. When cortisol rises at night though, it can make us feel too alert to be able to wind down.
Psychological stress is the type we often think of, but physical stress - especially from evening training sessions - can also make it difficult to fall asleep. If you train in the pm and are having trouble sleeping, you may want to reconsider your training schedule.
Some other ways to reduce evening stress:
- Do some light stretching or yoga
- Practice deep breathing or meditation
- Avoid suspenseful/ psychologically thrilling books and programs
- Disengage from work emails, online message boards and social media if it’s likely to stress you out or spike your adrenalin
- Read a book or take a warm bath/shower
A healthy diet rich in nutrient-dense foods is the best foundation for getting the hormones responsible for circadian rhythm and sleep in check. Of course, there are several other things you can try to improve your sleep such as avoiding caffeine after noon time, eating a protein-rich breakfast, getting morning exposure to sunlight and avoiding alcohol at night.
If you continue to suffer from sleep issues, seek the help of a physician or health professional.