Everybody wants better sleep. Many of us invest considerable money, time and effort in search of that perfect night’s rest. We spend on pharmaceutical sleep aids, gadgets and devices, anything that promises to help us sleep easier.
Too often our issues stem from what we do immediately before bedtime. In the interests of promoting better sleep for all, let’s take a look at some nightly habits, and whether they lead to forty winks or tears at work the next morning.
Reading Vs Watching TV
“One more episode,” is the lie oft-repeated by many who then stagger into work the next morning struggling to stay awake. Television has never been a friend to sleep, since the advent of on-demand entertainment, screen time has become an even bigger drain on our sleep time. But it’s not just the non-stop entertainment that hinders sleep.
As the National Sleep Foundation writes, the blue light emitted by screens – whether your television, mobile phone, computer, or tablet – diminishes the production of melatonin, an important hormone in sleep. Melatonin helps to regulate your sleep/wake cycle and when its production is reduced, it becomes harder to fall asleep and any sleep you get will be lighter and of poorer quality.
Lots of us read before bedtime as part of our nightly routine and for the most part, this is a good thing. Studies have found reading can be more effective at reducing stress than other popular calm-inducing activities, such as taking a walk or having a cup of tea. The ritualistic aspect of reading before bed is also beneficial, as it signals to your brain that it’s time to get ready to sleep. Perhaps most of all, reading gets you away from the TV and that pesky phone screen.
On the whole, reading before bed time can be an effective sleep aid. However, as some commentators have pointed out, it’s important to be selective in your choice of reading material. Reading a particularly exciting or suspenseful book can inspire you to keep reading, on into the night, or could stimulate you to the point where you’re predicting the next chapter instead of sleeping. This doesn’t mean that you have to stick to Gardener’s Digest, of course. Many have found re-reading a book they’ve previously read is a good solution, or sticking to magazine articles.
The Winner: Reading
Exercise Vs Meditation
Expert opinion is split on the benefits of vigorous exercise before bed. We know that raised body temperature isn’t conducive to falling asleep, and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that many find it difficult to drift off if they work out top close to bed time. Conversely, many people report that the exhausted feeling after a good work out leaves them craving bedtime and enjoying a deep sleep.
The key is to listen to your own body. We know that exercise in general is beneficial to good sleep habits but how close you do it to bed time depends on your personal preference. If you do exercise close to bed time, we recommend a gradual cool down rather than finishing abruptly. You could also try a cold shower to drop your body temperature quickly.
Most of us are probably familiar with meditation and its mentally restorative benefits. We picture those who meditate as perpetually calm, serene individuals who float through life without letting any of modern life’s ceaseless pressures and anxieties get to them. We think of words like ‘peace’, ‘calm’, and ‘enlightened’.
And yet despite the reputation that meditation and those who engage in it boast, so few of us actually attempt it ourselves. That’s a shame, because as this article from Harvard Medical School will tell you, meditation is almost tailor designed to evoke the “relaxation response”, a very real physiological phenomenon which serves as the opposite of the aptly named “stress response”.
The Winner: Meditation
Nightcap Vs Midnight Snack
Many people say a nightcap helps them snooze easier, but research on the matter shows alcohol to be detriment to sleep as it metabolises quickly and forces you awake throughout the night.
You may have to get up in the night to go to the toilet. Alcohol is also a diuretic, costing the body extra fluid though sweat, making you dehydrated. Drinking can also make you snore. Alcohol relaxes the muscles in your throat, mouth and nose which can stop air flowing smoothly.
Most of us enjoy food as much as we enjoy a good rest, but some of us have a love-hate relationship when it comes to eating before bed. For starters, if you experience acid reflux, it’s probably best to avoid food close to bed time and it probably goes without saying that caffeine should be cut off after 5pm, unless you’re finishing an essay or staying up for some other reason. On the other hand, it isn’t recommended to go to bed hungry as this can cause a drop in blood sugar which can bring on insomnia or at least a fitful sleep.
Winner: Midnight Snack (in moderation)
Dark Room Vs Natural Light
If you’re one of those people who simply finds it impossible to sleep with any amount of light in the room, you’re not alone. Many of us need absolute darkness in order to comfortably drift off to sleep and this is where heavy curtains or sleep masks can prove invaluable. The darkness triggers the production of melatonin, which in turn helps you sleep.
In fact, your night-time haberdashery can have quite the impact on the quality of your sleep and how quickly you drift off. Your bed sheets have a surprising level of influence over how you sleep. Having perfect darkness won’t be much good if you’re feeling hot and bothered, so make sure your sheets are made out of cool, breathable fabrics, such as bamboo. Bamboo sheets are considered the most comfortable, in addition to being antimicrobial and hypoallergenic.
Sleeping with the curtains open is much less popular but there are some disciples out there. Advocates enjoy waking with the sun and claim it makes them feel happy and fresh to start the day. For this technique to work you probably need to be a deep sleeper who doesn’t need to get up and go to work before the suns up. Lucky for some!
Winner: Whatever works for you
Phoebe Yu is CEO & Founder of Ettitude, Australian bamboo bedding startup. She also founded 2 international sourcing companies, and has 15+ years experience in supply chain management and merchandising.