How to Sleep Better

A good night’s sleep is one of the most important things you can achieve for optimum health and wellbeing. Chronic poor sleep can increase your risk of heart disease, certain types of cancer, and shorten your life. It can also make it harder to burn body fat, to build muscle, and to concentrate. Millions of people in the UK suffer from poor sleep – are you one of them? Check out the following tips to improve your sleep:

Reduce caffeine intake

One of my personal training clients, on the day I first met him, told me that he found it difficult to get to sleep, then woke up at three in the morning and found it hard to get back to sleep. I asked him how much coffee he drank, and his answer was eight cups a day. I suggested he cut down to two cups a day, and none after midday. He took my advice and the following week he was sleeping better than he had in years.

Caffeine affects everyone differently, but generally speaking, caffeine leads to poor sleep, particularly if you drink it in the afternoons or evenings. Try switching to decaf, green tea, or even better, mint/herbal tea. Even ordinary tea is quite high in caffeine at around 50mg caffeine a cup, compared to green tea which is 15mg caffeine a cup. Green tea is harvested earlier, so it contains more antioxiants as well as less caffeine. Contrast this with the average cup of coffee at 100mg caffeine, or an expresso which is around 200mg caffeine. A safe threshold is 300mg caffeine a day, but ideally consume less than this.

Don’t eat a large meal late in the evening

If you’re in the habit of eating large meals at 9pm, you’re less likely to get a good night’s sleep than if you ate at 7.30pm. Aim to finish your meal at least two hours before you go to bed, and keep the portion size small. I have personal training clients who come home late from work, eat a three course meal, and go to bed with a full stomach, not ideal.

Reduce your alcohol intake

This is good advice anyway, but especially in relation to your quality of sleep. Some people think a couple of glasses of wine before bed will help them relax and sleep better, but that’s not the case. Alcohol prevents you falling into deep sleep for a sustained number of hours, and over time this will adversely impact your health.

Exercise more

Exercise is a great stress-buster, and stress really messes up your sleep patterns. Exercise outdoors in the fresh air (away from London traffic-fumes, ideally) will help you sleep even better.

Reduce your stress levels

Entire books have been written on how to reduce your stress levels, but suffice to say that reducing the amount of stress in your life is conducive to better sleep. If you’re stressed when you go to bed, you’ll find it hard to get into the relaxed state crucial to falling asleep. One simple way to reduce stress is to focus on deep breathing, which will get more oxygen to the brain and take your mind of your worries.

Improve your sleep environment

A cool, well-ventilated, dark and uncluttered bedroom is the best environment for sleep. Most people keep their bedroom (and entire home) way too warm, particularly in the winter. Keep the heating turned down lower in the bedroom. The less cluttered your bedroom is, the more restful it will be. Invest in a decent mattress (not too hard, not too soft), such as a memory-foam or Tempur mattress, and change your mattress every few years.

Sleep routine

Aim to go to bed and get up at regular times, such as 10pm to 6am, even at weekends. Avoid the temptation to have long lie-ins on the weekend. Also avoid going to bed after midnight. The more regular your sleep hours, the more likely you’ll sleep well. Turn your mobile phone off at night. I had a personal training client who was a high-powered entrepreneur who kept his phone on all night to make sure he didn’t miss the chance to progress a business opportunity (he had interests all over the world), and I managed to persuade him to value his sleep more in order to be more effective during the day.

I hope these tips help you get a better night’s sleep. Don’t underestimate the importance of good quality sleep for your health and wellbeing. Sleep well!

(Dominic Londesborough is a personal trainer in London and an online nutrition coach).

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