Updated: Jul 20
Not getting enough sleep affects both your physical and emotional health and has an 'ageing effect'. All major sleep foundations recommend getting 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night, so if you aren't getting that much right now, this guide provides some proven strategies to help.
Strategy 1: Set time aside to improve your bedroom
Your bedroom environment is critical to a good nights sleep, so it is worth spending some time building in these sleep friendly changes.
1. Keep electronics out of the bedroom. Many of us have got into the habit of keeping our phones next to the bed. This means we can find ourselves checking e-mails, texts and social media right up until the last minute before trying to get to sleep. Unfortunately using a laptop or mobile to work in bed is a bad idea. Instead, we need to be able to relax our minds before going to sleep, otherwise the intrusion of thoughts can be just too difficult to ignore.
2. Block out sources of light. Another reason to get mobile phones and laptops out of the bedroom is to minimise the influence of artificial light. Electricity is a relatively recent invention in human history, and whilst helps us extend our waking periods, it also can disrupt our ability to sleep. To help our bodies cope we need to use softer lighting just before bed - and black out blinds or eye masks can be very helpful during the hours of sleep.
3. Stay cool. Our bodies sleep better in cool temperatures, so having the heating on full blast may be working against your efforts to sleep. If you are struggling to get off to sleep it you should try to keeping the temperature in your bedroom to between 16 to 19 degrees to help your body cool down (what it naturally tries to do to get to sleep). You can do by using fewer, lighter blankets or duvets and keeping the central heating low or off.
4. Are you lying comfortably? Having a good quality mattress is important for a good nights sleep and often people keep the same mattress for decades. This is a false economy given the impact of a poor nights sleep on our lives! Invest in a good quality mattress before it reaches it's 10 year lifespan as well as some good pillows so that your bed is inviting and comfortable experience.
5. Kill the noise. Essentially our bedrooms should be relaxing places, producing as calm an environment as possible. Remove annoying sources of noise where possible and keep windows closed if you are unable to sleep because of people or traffic passing by late at night. Ear plugs and white noise machines can also be helpful.
Set time aside in your diary to create a checklist of things you need to change in your bedroom. Your checklist might include:
New mattress, pillow or duvet
Thermometer to check temperature
Black out blinds / eye mask / ear plugs
Electronic screens removed, and mobile chargers placed outside the bedroom
Separate alarm clock from mobile phone
Remove unnecessary clutter
Strategy 2: Get into a regular sleep routine and create goals based on understanding your sleep profile
If your sleep isn’t perfect, getting into get a regular sleep routine can be very useful.
Even if your lifestyle isn't that structured, your body has a natural rhythm defined by genes called ‘clock genes’ (literally!). These genes create the conditions for your body’s hormones to ebb and flow over the course of the day. These hormones play an important role in slowing down the body’s metabolism and core temperature to set the scene for sleep.
Having a regular routine where you go to sleep and wake at roughly the same time works with these genes to regulate your body’s natural rhythm. So, if you most regularly go to bed at 10pm and get up at 7am, then try to stick to this every day of the week - even at the weekend.
Deal with specific sleep problems with specific solutions
When it comes to improving your sleep, it's important to look at the specifics of the problem you are having and then to take practical steps to focus on this specifically.
1. If your problem is getting off to sleep then you need to think about the behaviours that promote getting to bed at a time when you are ready to sleep and are in a more relaxed state.
2. If your problem is waking up too early, you may need to focus on preventing light or noise from getting into the bedroom in the early hours.
3. If your problem is waking during the night, you need to understand the underlying cause and the behaviours that might be responsible and which you could change. For example, is it a physical problem related to health? Or could you be drinking a lot of water before bed, which means you need to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night?
Strategy 3: 'Live younger' to improve your sleep
The great news is that many of the age-reversing habits that you learn as part of 'living younger' have the added benefit of improving your sleep.
That's because sleep, stress, exercise, healthy eating, body weight and sleep are all linked. Living younger helps creates a positive feedback loop that helps us getting healthier and feel years younger. For instance, when we eat well and move more, we are less likely to suffer from stress and therefore more likely to go to sleep faster and sleep longer - and similarly, if we get a good nights sleep we are more likely to want to do more exercise and less likely to eat unhealthily.
Take a look at this simplified 'living younger' check list of things that can help you to get a better nights sleep:
Exercise for 20-30 minutes every day
Avoid excessive alcohol consumption & caffeine in the evening (these both disrupt sleep)
Limit the amount of fluid you drink just before bed (so less likely to have to get up in the night for the bathroom).
Avoid heavy meals in the evening and keep to your calorie target across the day
Stay a healthy weight (being overweight can affect sleep quality and increases the likelihood of issues such as sleep apnea and snoring)
Use proactive stress management techniques to manage any issues you are having
Spend time winding down before bed so you feel relaxed and ready to sleep
Make sure you have set up your bedroom properly (see strategy 1)
Use a sleep diary
One way to work out where to start is to keep a sleep diary.
Each day write down how long you have slept and if you woke up during the night, plus how you are feeling in the day (energetic, exhausted, stressed etc). Then check how well you did against the 'living younger' check list above.
This will help you identify where the issues lie and start to prioritise some potential solutions.
Then choose one area to work on and see how that improves your sleep (and other areas of your life). Once you have mastered that, then move on to the next area.
Remember to stay practical, write down the techniques that work for you best and keep repeating it until it becomes second nature.
Habit change tip: Using an ‘IF-THEN’ statement can be helpful to practically remind yourself of how to change your behaviour in a given situation. For example:-
“IF I need to work in the evening on my laptop THEN I will set a time limit and give myself time to wind down before bed”
IS LACK OF SLEEP AGEING YOU?
If you want to find whether your sleep patterns (along with other lifestyle factors) might be ageing you - our Life Age test is just what you need. To find out more about our Life Age test and all our Age-Reversing support click the button below: