As someone who has had difficulty sleeping from time to time, it has been my aspiration to understand how to get better quality sleep.
I have a panic attack – a type of anxiety disorder – and sometimes wake up in sheer panic in the middle of the night. There were times when I got out of bed and my heart was racing in pure “fight or flight mode”. It takes me a while to calm down and get back to bed. Sometimes I have a little hamster on high alert, racing in my head on its little wheel from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. A metaphor for my thoughts.
Fortunately, there are ways to prepare you for success in sleep.
At Women’s Health we hosted an event with sleep expert Dr. Dale Rae, whose current research focuses on the study of sleep and circadian rhythms, which are related to both general health and athletic performance. Dr. Rae is also director of sleep science at the Sports Science Institute in South Africa.
7 hacks to help you sleep better
Below, I’ve made a list of hacks and tips that I got from Dr. Rae learned. We are also continuing research in this area.
1. Set up your sleeping environment for success
Take a look at your bedroom. Does it seep away with comfort? What about security? And is it a place where you can really relax? Making small adjustments to your bedroom can set you up for a better night’s sleep. Note any noise that can be fixed: that creaking door, the shutters, a clock ticking. Think about fragrances too. Maybe light a candle or get a diffuser that will create soothing scents for the room. We all know lavender is a win!
2. Check your lighting
Are your curtains dark enough Are there any flashing or distracting lights in the room? Make sure you minimize artificial light. Another great idea is to invest in a twilight simulator light that works before bed and in the morning and adjusts the light level in your room over time so you can relax and wake up.
3. What is your temperature?
Contrary to what you might think, when we are too warm, we actually have trouble sleeping well. I know – you think “but it’s so easy to doze off on the couch in the sun”. That said, it’s hard to dismount even if you’re too cold! Your body heat peaks in the evening and then drops to its lowest levels while you sleep. Therefore, it is believed that a cool 16-18 ° C is an ideal temperature in a bedroom. Temperatures above 24 ° C are likely to cause restlessness, while a cold room around 12 ° C makes it difficult to fall asleep.
My solution is to have a lighter comforter in the summer and a heavier comforter and blanket in the winter. I also like to put a hot water bottle in my bed in winter to warm the sheets. In the summer I also use a portable air conditioner for those scorching evenings.
4. Put your phone aside
A great way to calm the mind is to turn off sensory overload. Many of us take our laptops and phones to bed to play games, reply to texts, and scroll through TikTok. But beeps, buzzing sounds and even the smallest lights can destroy the body’s daily rhythm. So try to put your phone or laptop aside while relaxing. And avoid sensory overload!
I started putting my phone in my bedside drawer. Also, I have a couple of books on my bedside table so instead I try to put one of them away while I relax.
5. Avoid stimulants
If you consume caffeine or alcohol or sugar late in the day, it can affect your sleep. My rule is that I run out of caffeine after noon. When I’m tired, I have more water (we often get dehydrated and feel sluggish). While a few glasses of wine can help you fall asleep, it often leads to trouble sleeping a few hours after you go to bed. Hello hamsters!
6. Establish a bedtime routine
I set up a routine to “tell my body” that it is bedtime. I make a cup of black rooibos or chamomile tea every night. Yes, I travel with tea bags. And that’s part of my bedtime.
Whenever I’ve had a stressful day or am in a time when my anxiety is high, I practice yoga and meditation for 10 to 20 minutes before going to bed. Gentle, light stretches and mindful breathing can help you relax physically and mentally. As a qualified yoga teacher, I can recommend some postures to relax the mind and body.
Here is a quick, beginner-friendly yoga sequence I created:
Also try the following: 14 Yoga Stretches To Do If You Want To Relieve Anxiety And Find Peace
7. Examine your bed
The biggest investment you can make in your sleep hygiene is investing in a good mattress. We’re all different and have different likes and dislikes when it comes to what feels comfortable. But it’s not always easy to know what is actually working for you unless you spend some time sleeping “on it” – am I right?
There is a local South African company called SLOOM that has invested in an adjustable mattress. This is how it works: In every Sloom mattress there are two replaceable foam layers, each of which has two sides with different levels of comfort. So that means four different comfort options. Place the clearly marked layer of your comfort choice on top.
I tested the Sloom mattress and I love it! I have a queen size bed and the advantage of that size is that the mattress can be split for independent comfort. So you don’t have to argue with your bed partner if you have different sleep needs. Just customize each page to suit your needs!
They also offer a 100 night sleep sample. Click here for more information.
I now also sleep with the Sloom Pillow, which has breathable technology so it doesn’t get too hot. Bonus!
CONTINUE READING: The 10 best sleep apps to help you fall asleep faster and sleep through the night
How to get back to sleep
It is important to note that sometimes, during times of high stress, the above methods may not completely prevent poor sleep, but they will certainly make them less frequent. So if you find yourself in a state of fear at 3 a.m. or with a little hamster in the brain, here are some options to calm yourself down in the moment:
- Do a breathing exercise. Focusing on your breath and breathing in and out longer can activate your parasympathetic nervous system. One pranayama that I try is: inhale through the nose until four; hold your breath until four; and exhale through your nose until four. Focusing on the breath helps calm your mind and body.
- Listen to a meditation. I know it’s not always easy when you have a partner. I put one of my little earphones in, roll over to the other side, and listen to a meditation or sleep story from the Calm app.
- Diary. If the above two methods don’t seem to help anyway, I sometimes get up and write down my thoughts and stressors. This helps me to feel more in control and to have “worked through” the problems in my head.
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