Young woman yawning, perhaps a sign of sleep problems.

Sue tries to get in bed by 11.30 pm every night to get her seven hours of sleep. She then struggles to fall asleep for the next hour or so. She has difficulty staying asleep and often wakes up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet. At the same time, every day at 6.30 am, the alarm goes off and she hits the snooze button. By 7 am, she’s made herself a big cup of coffee—the first of many for the day. She gets through the day constantly battling yawns and refilling her coffee mug. The cycle repeats.

If this scenario is familiar to you, then you may not be getting the quality sleep that you need. Experts tell us that the long-term effects of sleep deprivation can affect us negatively in several ways.

Related: Sleep Deprivation

Stages of Sleep

Young woman getting healthy sleep.

There are several stages in your sleep cycle, alternating between NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Each complete sleep cycle lasts around 90 minutes[1] and repeats several times throughout the night.

NREM sleep is composed of three different stages. In stage 1, you experience light sleep and can be woken easily. In stage 2, you start becoming disengaged from your surroundings and your body temperature begins to drop. In stage 3, you enter deep sleep (also known as slow-wave sleep), whereby your breathing slows down and your muscles relax. Experts believe that this stage is critical to restorative sleep, allowing for bodily recovery and growth. It may also bolster the immune system and other key bodily processes.

During the last stage which is REM sleep, your brain is most active, nearing levels when you are awake. REM sleep is believed to be essential to cognitive functions such as memory and learning.

How to Sleep Better and Improve Sleep Quality

Having stressed the importance of sleep, here are some simple tips on natural sleep remedies that you can incorporate to hopefully achieve more restful sleep.

Related: The Importance of Sleep

Making Lifestyle Changes

Exercise can help improve sleep quality.

  • One of the most effective changes you can make to improve your slumber is to sleep at the same time every day. Try to maintain this even during the weekends. After a while, your body clock or circadian rhythm will get accustomed to these timings. This will help you to fall asleep at night and make it easier for you to wake up in the mornings. As your body starts to get used to these new timings, you will automatically wake up—even without an alarm clock. It is a good idea to make this change slowly, for instance, try sleeping earlier each day. You should also avoid using your mobile phone, computer or tablet at least 30 mins before bedtime as the blue light emitted can make it harder for you to have a good night’s sleep  If you’re not already exercising regularly, it may be a good idea to start.

  • Regular exercise, particularly in the morning or afternoon, can impact sleep quality by raising your body temperature a few degrees. Later in the day, when your internal thermostat drops back to normal range, this can trigger feelings of drowsiness and help you sleep better. If you exercise outdoors, you will be exposed to natural light, which helps your body establish a good sleep-wake cycle.

Try and aim for 150 minutes of physical activity per week and 10,000 steps daily for a healthier you.

Related: Snooze

Creating a Conducive Sleeping Environment

Dim your lights and keep your surroundings cool and quiet for better sleep.

Do not underestimate the benefits that a comfortable environment can do for your sleep. If your surroundings are noisy, play white noise, nature sounds or calming music to mask the noise. Shades, eye masks, and earplugs are other things you can use to help achieve a cool, dark and quiet environment.

It might also be a good idea to start a bedtime ritual to get yourself ready for bed. Try winding down by dimming the bright lights, listening to soft music, reading a book or taking a warm bath. If you still can’t fall asleep, try listening to soothing music—or noise—such as white noise or nature sounds. Try each of these and see which you respond to the best. 

Related: Catch Your Zzzs: Tips for a Better Night’s Sleep

Diet Changes

A healthy diet can improve sleep quality but eat at least 2 to 3 hours before bed.

Finally, making some changes to your diet may help to improve your sleep. Avoid heavy meals just before bedtime. Also cut down on your caffeine as it is a stimulant that can keep you awake. Do avoid alcohol as well as it can dehydrate you and disrupts your sleep by making you wake up in the middle of the night to get a drink.

For more dietary tips to improve sleep, check out this article.

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References

  1. National Sleep Foundation. (n.d.). What Happens When You Sleep? [National Sleep Foundation].
    Retrieved June 2016 from https://sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/what-happens-when-you-sleep
  2. Field, A. (2009, Jan 14). Why Sleep Is So Important [Harvard Business Review].
    Retrieved June 2016 from https://hbr.org/2009/01/why-sleep-is-so-important.html
  3. National Sleep Foundation. (n.d.). No need to go on a yoga retreat: Beat stress with some easy techniques. [Sleep].
    Retrieved June 2016 from https://sleep.org/articles/learning-relax/