Sleep to Be At Your Best – Part 2

Man sleeps in bed at night. Flat design vector illustration.

Simple tips for improving sleep

In Part 1 of this series on sleep, we looked at the what, why and impact of sleep.

In this article we share some simple tips that you can use to improve your sleep.

As with any behaviour change, it is important to start super small. So if you want to improve your sleep, try incorporating just one or two of the following tips, then experiment to see whether it makes a positive impact. 

Consider if you need to set an anchor or cue to ensure you actually follow the tip. For example you could set a reminder on your phone/calendar, share the commitment with a partner or use location/appearance of certain objects to remind you.

You can also measure your sleep using a range of different devices and approaches. Objective insights help you determine the impact of the behaviour change on your sleep quality and % of recovery during sleep.

During the Day

  • Regular daytime recovery (10-20 min breaks) promotes better sleep, as you help your body align with its normal ultradian rhythm of activity and rest. This is especially useful in the afternoon between 14:00-16:00 when many of us experience a dip in performance. Recovery also assists the body in reducing any excess stress/activation, whilst boosting engagement and performance
  • Limit salt at dinner and after, as high salt intake will increase the chance that your sleep is sub-optimal and disturbed (plus it increases trips to the toilet).
  • Limit fluid intake 1-2 hours before bed to help reduce trips to the toilet.
  • Limit heavy meals (especially ones high saturated fats) before bed. If you are hungry and want a snack, opt instead for something lighter that has a balance between carbohydrates and protein.
  • Cut out caffeine/stimulant intake after 12:00-14:00 (depending on how sensitive you are to these substances). It can take up to approx eight hours for the effects to wear off.
  • Avoid alcohol during the evening, especially after 20:00 as it reduces the quality and quantity of recovery, especially the important REM phase of sleep
  • Cut out sugar during the evening. This will promote a sharp rise then drop of your blood sugar levels which will increase the levels of the stress hormone (cortisol) in your body. 
  • Finish intense exercise by 20:00 (or two-three hours before sleep), so that your body has enough time to clear the exercise induced, elevated stress hormones, from your body (plus other regulated processes like body temperature, etc).
  • Set a specific time for when you want to get into bed to sleep. Based on this, set a time for when you should start getting ready for bed so that your bedtime routine is relaxed. Maintaining a specific bedtime schedule will also promote better sleep.

During the evening before bed

  • Practice appreciation to reduce stress and induce positive emotions. See this article for how.
  • Practice breathing exercises. For example you could perform the following for 3-5 mins. Breathe in for a count of five to seven, hold for a count of two, then breathe out for a count of six to eight, then pause for a count of two, before repeating.
  • If your mind is active with what you have to do tomorrow or with other thoughts, try writing them down somewhere you know you will find them. Or use a little as 5-10 minutes to write a personal journal. You could combine this with the appreciation exercise. 
  • Avoid work, emails and tasks that are mentally or emotionally demanding 60 mins before bed. 
  • Avoid electronic devices with screens (TV, PC, Tablet, Phone) for 30-60 minutes before bed. If you HAVE to use the phone or computer use F.lux or Apple’s Night Shift setting. The aim here is to reduce your exposure to blue light which disrupts your biological clock, by causing a reduction in the release of the rest and recovery hormone melatonin (which is produced by the Pineal gland). You can read more about this process here.
  • Spend 30-60 minutes doing something that relaxes you like reading a fiction book.
  • Practice Meditation like a guided Bodyscan or Yoga Nidra (Yoga of sleep). Apps like Calm or Headspace are helpful.
  • Perform some light Yoga or light stretching. 
  • Dim the lights about 2 hours before bed time for the same reason as above.
  • Keep the bedroom as dark as possible.
  • Associate your bed with sleeping, resting/reading and sex. If you have to work or complete other tasks before bed this is best done out of bed.
  • Unplug all electromagnetic devices in the bedroom as they can disturb sleep. Even better, leave all such devices outside of the bedroom (including your phone).
  • Keep the bedroom cool, ideally around 16-18 degrees C. Your body temperature naturally lowers during the night. If your bedroom is too warm this makes it harder for your body to regulate its temperature.
  • Leave the window open for a few minutes before going to bed to get some fresh air circulating (also helps to decrease the temperature).

Still struggling?

  • Take a warm bath or shower.
  • Sip Chamomile or red tea.
  • Sip Slippery Elm tea to relax and help your gut at the same time.
  • Rub some lavender oil on your neck (or have your partner give you a massage) or burn a natural lavender candle.
  • Play relaxing music, a recording of a fire place, a dog sleeping or even white noise before and during sleep.
  • If you have an alarm clock, turn it so you cannot see the time whilst lying in bed.
  • If you can’t fall asleep within 20-30 minutes, try getting up and reading a book in another room or practicing the breathing/meditation exercises mentioned above.
  • Gain 30-60 minutes of exposure to natural light during the day (especially important in the Northern territories). 
  • Speak to a specialist about the use of liquid Melatonin supplements

We hope this list can provide you with some benefit to your sleep.

Resources for further reading