Tips for better sleep

Make sure that you allow yourself enough time to sleep. The average person needs seven to eight hours sleep per night; some people may require more than this and others can cope with less. With enough sleep each night, you should wake feeling refreshed and alert and be more productive during the day. Sleep is often the first thing that busy people squeeze out of their schedules. Making time to sleep will help you protect your health and well-being now and in the future.

The term ‘sleep hygiene’ refers to a number of behaviours or environmental factors that can have a detrimental effect on our sleep if not adequately controlled. Changing your daytime habits and improving your sleep hygiene may enable more restful and effective sleep that will in turn promote daytime alertness.

Rules for good sleep hygiene

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Try to keep the same sleep schedule on weeknights and weekends. Limit the difference to no more than about an hour. Staying up late and sleeping in late on weekends can disrupt your body clocks natural sleep–wake rhythm.
  • Use the hour before bed for quiet time. Avoid bright artificial light, such as from a TV or computer screen. The light may signal the brain that it’s time to be awake.
  • Avoid heavy and/or large meals within a couple hours of bedtime.
  • Limit evening alcohol to one or two drinks. Alcohol initially enables people to fall asleep and may deepen sleep. As alcohol leaves the body withdrawal symptoms occur and this leads to frequent awakenings and very poor sleep. The more you drink the longer it takes for the alcohol to be metabolised out of your system and the more severe the sleep disruption is likely to be.
  • Have no more than two cups of coffee a day and none after 2.00pm. Caffeine is a stimulant and its effects persist in the body for a considerable length of time. Caffeine has a stronger effect of disrupting and fragmenting sleep than of preventing sleep onset from initially occurring.
  • Exercise 20 to 30 minutes a day, preferably in the late afternoon, within three to six hours of bedtime. When our central body temperature falls we become sleepy, this process is part of the natural drive for sleep we experience in the evening. Exercise initially raises the central body temperature, several hours later there is a compensatory drop in body temperature. If exercise occurs in the late afternoon it will help maximize drowsiness around bed time; if we exercise too late in the evening it may act to delay our sleep onset.
  • If the bedroom is too warm it will be difficult to cool down so that you can fall asleep. A cool, but not too cold, room will help promote the cooling that makes sleep possible.
  • Try to expose yourself to bright light in the morning. This entrails the circadian or 24 hour body clock. Morning sun or bright light helps you feel more alert in the morning and promotes drowsiness in the evening.
  • Keep the bedroom both quiet and dark. Noise and bright light disrupt our ability to fall asleep; keeping the bedroom noise free and as dark as possible helps natural sleep occur.
  • Orientate the clock face away from you. Clock watching can be very disruptive to sleep. This is because of the stress caused by being aware of the slow passage of time during the night. This increases awakeness and makes it harder to fall asleep.
  • Napping during the day may provide a boost in alertness and performance. However, if you have trouble falling asleep at night, limit naps or take them earlier in the afternoon. Adults should nap for no more than 20 minutes.

Some people have schedules that conflict with their internal body clocks, for example, shift workers and they may have trouble getting enough sleep. This can affect how they feel mentally, physically, and emotionally.

If you’re a shift worker, you may find it helpful to:

  • Take naps and increase the amount of time available for sleep
  • Keep the lights bright at work
  • Limit shift changes so your body clock can adjust
  • Limit caffeine use to the first part of your shift
  • Remove sound and light distractions in your bedroom during daytime sleep (for example, use light-blocking curtains)

If you’re still not able to fall asleep during the day or have problems adapting to a shift-work schedule, talk with your doctor about other options to help you sleep.